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Did We Learn Everything We Need to Fix Health Care in Kindergarten?

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Do you remember at age 5 sitting anxiously at your desk waiting for the teacher to pass back that math or grammar test you took the week before? During those anxious moments, your eyes lit up and joy coursed through your body when you saw your test come back with three gold stars on the top. All the hard work, the foregoing of cartoons, the hours not playing with Fido and the missed opportunities to show off your stealthy kickball skills to study became worth it when you were rewarded with those gold stars. This is the basis of the fix to the health care system.

We have grown up since those simple days but we should not ignore this valuable lesson from kindergarten. Of course, we should study and do well in school at a young age because Mom and Dad said so and it will lead to a life of growth, fulfillment and prosperity. But convincing a 5-year-old to study instead of doing all the things a 5-year-old loves to do is a tough sell. It's like getting a kid to eat their vegetables. We all know the most useful tool is the promise of a sumptuous dessert at the end of the meal. Here's a recent study where rewarding kids helped them eat vegetables.

It turns out that those 5-year-olds are onto something and may hold the key to fixing the healthcare system. What if we rewarded consumers with incentives for healthy behavior? Just like the five year old that gives up his daily vices to study in return for the gold stars, or who braves the broccoli and Brussels sprouts in exchange for an ice cream sundae, we can apply the same system to adults in order to get them to engage in healthy behaviors. Imagine, going for a colonoscopy and buying a new pair of sneakers with the rewards, or getting a mammogram and buying that handbag that you have wanted, or quitting smoking and being able to put aside an extra chunk of money for the college fund as a result. This is why rewards work, because human behavior is determined by motivation and very often external rewards that speak to "what's in it for me?"

Kindergarten teaches many life lessons. Perhaps if our kindergarten tests on verbs and nouns were replaced with tests on deductibles and co-pays, our health care system would be a lot healthier. But for now, if we can look back on those days when life was simple and apply a few of the principles that gave us the foundation of productive behavior, then we can jump start a fool proof solution to the health care crisis.