Disease-management programs have traditionally focused on complications for people already known to have diabetes. With the new Diabetes Health Plan that UnitedHealthcare has just started offering we are targeting a much bigger segment of the population. Our objective is to slow the progression of the disease for people with diabetes, and in as many cases as possible to reverse the condition for people in the pre-diabetes stage.
We’re offering a special health insurance plan for diabetics and pre-diabetics for two reasons:
1. To provide better care to diabetics and pre-diabetics
2. To save employers and employees money.
A decades-long epidemic of obesity in the U.S. is a major reason for the sharply rising numbers of diabetic and pre-diabetic adult Americans. Diagnoses of people with diabetes increased by 13.5 percent between 2005 and 2007, with 1.6 million new cases reported in 2007 alone, according to the ADA.
The key to our program is to engage individuals as soon as possible and design personalized, specific self-management steps for them that can decrease the odds they will move into higher-cost categories of treatment. For example, research shows that a typical person in the pre-diabetic group who reduces body weight by 7 percent through activities such as adopting better eating habits or walking 150 minutes per week reduces the risk of becoming diabetic by 58 percent.
There is a massive, untapped opportunity for millions of American who have pre-diabetes diagnoses to stop, and perhaps even reverse, the progress of the disease before its too late. By encouraging people to take the right preventive steps, with clear incentives including lower out-of-pocket costs, we can help people improve the quality of their lives.
UnitedHealthcare anticipates that increased preventive steps by Diabetes Health Plan participants can also help lower health care costs for employers and employees. Total estimated annual cost of a diabetic is greater than $22,000 a year, which is 13-times higher than the average cost of a “healthy” employee (defined as an individual with no chronic disease), according to UnitedHealthcare data.
The cost of diabetes to the U.S. economy has increased 32 percent since 2002, or $8 billion a year, reaching $174 billion in 2007, according to estimates by the ADA. The disease also takes a significant toll on the resources of the U.S. health care system. One out of every five health care dollars is spent caring for someone with diagnosed diabetes, while one in 10 health care dollars is attributed directly to diabetes, according to the ADA.
What a win-win the Diabetes Health Plan is for employers and employees. It will do what health insurance innovation is supposed to do: improve the health of those covered while reducing overall costs.