King County, Washington's Healthy Incentives Earns Harvard Innovation Award

May 6, 2014
King County, Washington's Healthy Incentives Earns Harvard Innovation Award

Cambridge, Mass. – The Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University today announced King County, Washington’s Healthy Incentives program as a winner of the 2013 Innovations in American Government Award from a pool of more than 600 applicants.

King County launched Healthy Incentives in 2006 to address employee health care costs that were rising at rate of three times the Consumer Price Index. A benefit plan rewards employees with lower out-of-pocket expenses for choosing high quality healthcare plans and participating in wellness activities, while work through the Washington Health Alliance drives healthcare quality improvements. Since implementation, the Healthy Incentives program has saved King County $46 million on employee health care by supporting health improvements and encouraging use of higher quality health care.

“Motivated by the desire to stem the rising cost of healthcare coverage at unsustainable rates, King County partnered with its employees to address cost with quality,” said Stephen Goldsmith, director of the Innovations in American Government Program at Harvard Kennedy School. “Healthy Incentives takes a creative approach to a significant problem faced by jurisdictions across the country – resulting in tremendous savings to municipal budgets and taxpayers. It is our hope that by recognizing Health Incentives, we can encourage government entities to learn from the program’s innovation.”

“This honor belongs to all of our King County employees,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine. “Healthy Incentives has created a culture in which employees make the tough choices and do the hard work to live healthier lives. By adopting an early morning exercise routine, sticking to a healthy diet, or trying again until they finally kick cigarettes, they have become healthier while saving tens of millions of dollars in health care costs, preventing cuts to critical public services.”

Beyond the county’s financial savings, participants in Healthy Incentives have seen significant improvement in their overall health. Since the program’s inception, the smoking rate dropped from 12 percent of county employees down to less than 5 percent. More than 2,000 employees classified as overweight or obese at the start of the program lost at least 5 percent of their weight, for a combined weight loss of 24 tons. The program has helped to reduce health-related absenteeism and helped increase productivity among county employee participants.

Established in 1985 at Harvard University by the Ford Foundation, the Innovations in American Government Award Program has honored nearly 200 federal, state, local, and tribal government agencies. The Innovations Award Program provides concrete evidence that government can work to improve the quality of life of citizens. Many award-winning programs have been replicated across jurisdictions and policy areas, and some have served as harbingers of today’s reform strategies or as forerunners to state and federal legislation. By highlighting exemplary models of government’s innovative programs for more than 20 years, the Innovations Award Program drives continued progress and encourages research and teaching cases at Harvard University and other academic institutions worldwide.

For more information about the Healthy Incentives program, visit

For more information contact:
Daniel Harsha
Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation

King County contact:
Chad Lewis, Deputy Director of Communications

About the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation
The Roy and Lila Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation advances excellence and innovation in governance and public policy through research, education, and public discussion. Three major programs support our mission: the Program on Democratic Governance; the Innovations in Government Program; and the Rajawali Foundation Institute for Asia. For more information, visit