Thursday, December 12, 2013

Pennsylvania is 29th healthiest state

We often hear bad news about health: rising rates of obesity, rising rates of diabetes, rising rates of heart disease, and much more.

But what about the good news?  Are any of the current health initiatives that aim to improve the health of Americans working?  Are there any areas of health that need more attention? Let's take a look.

This week, the United Health Foundation in conjunction with the American Public Health Association and the Partnership for Prevention published their 2013 health report, titled America’s Health Rankings®: A Call to Action for Individuals & Their Communities.

This year’s study found that the nation as a whole is making considerable progress in their overall health. The most notable gains came in key behavioral measures, including smoking, physical activity and obesity.  Overall, Hawaii is the healthiest state, while Mississippi ranked 50th.

As it has for the past two decades, Pennsylvania came in just below the average among all states, ranking 29th this year with several strengths and challenges.

Pennsylvania’s Strengths
  • Pennsylvania has a high rate of high school graduation with 84.1 percent of incoming ninth graders graduating from high school.  Higher levels of education are associated with better health. For example, 55 percent of adult Pennsylvanians aged 55 years and older with at least a high school education report that their health is very good or excellent compared to only 27.5 percent with less than a high school education.
  • In the past year, physical inactivity decreased from 26.2 percent to 23.4 percent of adults, although 2.3 million Pennsylvanians are still inactive.
  • Immunization coverage among adolescents increased in the past year from 68.6 percent to 74.1 percent of persons aged 13 to 17 years.  Pennsylvania’s immunization rate of adolescents is among the highest in the nation, ranking third among the states.
  • The number of smokers decreased nearly 5 percent in the past year.  More than 21.4 percent of adults in Pennsylvania are still smokers, however.
Pennsylvania’s Challenges
  • While the average obesity rate nationwide held steady at 27.6 percent in the last year, obesity in Pennsylvania increased from 28.6 percent to 29.1 percent of adults in one year.
  • Pennsylvania has one of the highest levels of pollution of any state and is ranked 47th for air quality.
  • More than 15 out of every 100,000 Pennsylvanians die from drug-related causes, the 38th worst rate of drug deaths in the nation.
This report is important to Pennsylvania in that it shows how the state and the people who work in health care within the state are working collaboratively to help people across the Commonwealth live healthier lives.

To see the Rankings in full, please visit: www.americashealthrankings.org



Thursday, December 5, 2013

Thanksgiving started with a trot

Even in the cold weather, what better way to start off Thanksgiving morning than with a little outdoor exercise before the feast?

While this may not be your idea of fun, this is exactly what some UnitedHealthcare employees and their families did.  They joined more than 7,000 people who participated in the 23rd Annual YMCA Turkey Trot in downtown Pittsburgh.  The YMCA Turkey Trot included 5-mile and 5K races and a 1-mile fun run. 

UnitedHealthcare employees and their families got together for a photo with Y of Greater Pittsburgh CEO Rig Riggins (second from right) and Senior Vice President of Development Carolyn Grady (far right) before the YMCA Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving Day

The race benefitted the Y of Greater Pittsburgh’s urban branches. The funds help to ensure that all members of the community can participate in Y programs, regardless of income.  The Y also collected nonperishable food items in its 1,000 pound challenge to support its food bank at its branch in the Hazelwood neighborhood of Pittsburgh.

Turkey trots are about more than just burning off a few extra calories to offset the extra helpings of turkey, stuffing and pie.  They are also an excellent reminder to all of us to be thankful for what we have, including our health.

During the holiday season, it’s easy to get carried away by the endless list of things that we need to do. Between the shopping, decorating, cooking and cleaning, plus the holiday parties and family gatherings, it’s easy to put health on the back burner.

But I urge everyone to make health a priority this holiday season.

Taking the time from our busy schedules to cook a healthy meal and get some exercise can provide tremendous physical and mental benefits.  Not only does a regular routine of exercise and good nutrition prevent holiday weight gain, but it also contributes to good mental health.  Many studies have shown that exercise can help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, which many people experience during the holiday season.

I’m not suggesting that anyone forego making cookies with the family this year or skip out on holiday parties.  But perhaps instead of watching the football game on TV, it might be a good time to start a tradition of playing a game in the backyard or the park. And making sure that piece of pie is balanced with plenty of fruits and vegetables can go a long way toward feeling physically and mentally better this holiday season. 

I hope all of my readers had a wonderful Thanksgiving, and are beginning a happy and healthy holiday season!

Monday, November 11, 2013

The latest and greatest in health care innovations

“The health care system is just so complicated.”

I’ve been hearing that complaint a lot these days, and I admit that I agree.  Part of improving the health of our nation involves making the health care system simpler to understand.

That’s why UnitedHealthcare is constantly at work on new innovations that simplify the health care experience.  For example, our “Health Information Chauffer” program helps schools keep track of children’s medical records.  Instead of keeping children’s important medical information stored in a file cabinet or putting the burden on the school nurse, the “chauffer” program keeps a digital record of children’s medical information.  Parents enter their children’s information only one time, and then update as needed.  The method allows for improved medication tracking and dispensing and better monitoring of chronic conditions such as allergies, asthma and diabetes.

Part of a partnership between UnitedHealthcare and Force for Health Foundation, the pilot program is taking place for the first time in a Pennsylvania school district.

We are also testing a new flexible health insurance product called Wrks4Me that aims to bring simplicity, flexibility and affordability to employers and employees at large corporations.

Wrks4Me helps employees choose from multiple health plans to find the one that best fits the needs of their families.  The Wrks4Me website portal allows employees to see the benefit choices available to them, use decision tools to help them understand the option that fits their financial and health situation, and enroll online.  This also helps employers cut down on the cost and administrative tasks associated with health plan administration.

The pilot program is currently being tested by a few large employers, but we expect positive returns for both employees and employers.

While these programs are still in early stages of testing and development, they are great examples of some of the most innovative ideas to help simplify our health care system.

For more on the latest UnitedHealthcare innovations, check out our innovation news.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

When it comes to health insurance, what’s essential?

New laws, and new benefits.  From the elimination of catastrophic health plans to the introduction of metallic health plans, changes in health care are one of the hottest topics of discussion in the news lately.  So, what’s essential?

Individual and small group health plans are required under the Affordable Care Act to offer a minimum set of health services called “essential health benefits,” beginning in 2014.  People who have plans that do not meet these minimum standards may receive a notice that their plan is being replaced by one that includes additional mandatory benefits. 

Although the rule does not apply to all health plans, most individual and small group plans must now offer coverage for all of the following 10 essential health benefit categories:
  • Ambulatory patient services
  •  Emergency services
  • Hospitalization
  • Laboratory services
  • Maternity and newborn care
  • Mental health and substance abuse services
  • Prescription drugs
  • Rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices
  • Preventive and wellness services and chronic disease management
  • Pediatric services, including oral and vision

While the federal government has determined the broad categories that must be covered, each state determines the specific services that are covered under each category.  Each state has selected a “benchmark” health plan to define the specific services that must be included in the state’s essential health benefits package.

Many health plans have not traditionally included the services that are now required by the federal and state governments, such as pediatric oral and vision care.  For 2014, insurers must redesign such plans to cover all required services.  An insurer may also end plans that don’t meet the requirements and offer an alternative plan that does.

For more information about essential health benefits, click here to view an overview of essential health benefits, frequently asked questions or “FAQs,” and more.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Open Enrollment Season

It’s the time of year when many people are thinking of getting relief from the summer sun, taking in the colorful tree leaves and enjoying a pumpkin latte.  But for those of us in the health insurance industry, this is open enrollment season. With the launch of state and federal health insurance exchanges, ‘tis the season for lots of changes. 

Open enrollment season, usually between September and December, is when millions of Americans have the opportunity to select or switch their health insurance plan for the following year. This fall, the Congressional Budget Office estimates an additional 7 million people may participate in open enrollment as a result of the government’s newly created state health insurance exchanges, otherwise known as “marketplaces.” The exchanges are designed to give individuals, who are currently without health insurance, and small business owners, who sometimes find it too costly to provide, a resource to purchase health insurance.

Regardless of how you research and purchase your health insurance, it’s important to pay attention to the following open-enrollment dates and tips:
  • Employer-Provided CoverageSeptember - December; specific time frame depends on the employer
    Most Americans receive employer-provided health benefits. Large employers and some small employers typically schedule a two- to three-week period during the fall when their employees can select health benefits for the following year.
    • Tip: Ask about wellness programs. Some health insurers, including UnitedHealthcare, offer incentive-based wellness programs that provide financial rewards for completing health assessments, lowering your cholesterol, losing weight, or even signing up for a health coaching program.

  •  Medicare Oct. 15 through Dec. 7, 2013
    For most Medicare beneficiaries, the Open Enrollment Period is their only opportunity all year to make changes to their Medicare coverage. 
    • Tip: Think about what’s changed regarding your health and your options. A lot can change in a year. Consider if your current plan is still meeting your health and budget needs. Medicare plans can change each year, too, so spend time reviewing the options available. Some Medicare Advantage plans offer additional benefits that can help enhance your health and well-being and save you money, such as vision coverage and hearing aids. You can compare your options using the plan finder tool on www.Medicare.gov.

  • Health Insurance Exchanges Oct. 1 through March 31, 2014
    A public health insurance exchange may be a good option for people who don’t have health insurance since they may be eligible to receive a government subsidy that lowers monthly premiums.
    • Tip: Find out if you qualify for a subsidy. In general, subsidies are available to individuals who meet household income requirements and who are not eligible for certain government insurance programs (such as Medicaid) or do not have access to affordable coverage through their employer.
Unfortunately, just 14 percent of Americans understand basic health insurance concepts such as deductible, copay, co-insurance and out-of-pocket maximum, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Health Economics.  So before you dive into the selection process, make certain that you understand the basic definitions, for example “what’s a copay?”
For helpful information that’s simple and easy to understand visit UHC.tv.com  or MedicareMadeClear.com. To learn more about health insurance exchanges visit www.healthcare.gov or your local state government website

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Options for purchasing health insurance

One of the major goals behind health care reform is to give those without health insurance affordable options for health care.  For those who cannot get affordable insurance through their employers, the individual marketplace in each state offers a new way to purchase individual insurance.  Health reform also includes some incentives for employers to offer health coverage to employees, so employees should check first with their employers to find out if they qualify for coverage.

Here are a few different scenarios that people without insurance may experience, and some options they may want to consider:
  • I work part-time, and I’m not eligible for my employer’s health insurance plan.  What can I do?  If your employer doesn’t offer you coverage or their coverage doesn’t meet the new government standards, you can buy a plan in your state’s Individual Marketplace.  You can also buy insurance from a health insurance company directly or through an insurance agent outside of the Marketplaces.
  • I can’t afford my employer’s health insurance.  How can I get a plan I can afford?  Health reform includes some incentives for employers to offer affordable plans to their employees. First, check with your employer to see if they are offering new, more affordable plans. If so, their plan is likely to be your best choice.
    If your employer doesn't offer a plan that is affordable, use an online subsidy calculator to see if you can get help paying for a plan through the Individual Marketplace in your state. But only the Marketplace can determine if you will be eligible for government financial assistance. If you have a low income you may be able to get a government subsidy to buy a plan in the Individual Marketplaces. You'll have a range of plans from which to choose.
  • I’m new to this whole thing!  I don’t have health insurance.  Where do I start?  If you work at a small company, health reform is making it easier for your employer to offer a plan that meets the new government standards. Talk with the person in your company who handles benefits to learn what's available.
    If you're not working, or your employer doesn't offer an affordable plan, you may be able to get a subsidy to help you buy a plan through the Individual Marketplace in your state.
For more information on health care reform and why it matters take a few minutes to view this video, then go to our website to learn more about your health care reform options.

Monday, September 30, 2013

How health reform affects those who already have insurance

Maybe you already have health insurance through your employer, but are concerned that your plan is going to change.

Maybe you work part-time and are not eligible for your employer’s insurance.

Or maybe you’re about to turn 26 and will no longer be eligible to stay on your parents’ insurance plan.

The point is, health care reform means different things to different people depending on their current situation.  In my next few blog posts, I’m going to discuss some different situations that many people may be facing, and some approaches they may want to consider when making decisions about their health care.

Let’s start out with a discussion of some different scenarios for people who already have insurance:
  • My employer offers health insurance, but I want to know my other options.  State marketplaces offer a new way to get insurance.  But if your employer’s plan meets government standards and is affordable, it’s likely that you won’t qualify for government financial assistance – meaning individual marketplaces probably won’t help you save money on a plan.

  • My employer offers me health insurance, but I need coverage for the rest of my family.  If your employer does not offer coverage for spouses or children, your spouse and children can buy coverage separately, directly from an insurance company or agent, or in the Individual Marketplaces.
    Health reform does provide potential government financial help for people to pay toward the premium for a plan purchased in the Individual Marketplaces. Subsidies are based on household income and family size, so you'll want to complete an application for the Individual Marketplace, to determine whether or not you and your family qualify for financial help.
  • I like the plan I have through my employer.  Is my plan going to change?  In most cases, the best choice is to continue getting coverage through your employer. Many employers pay part of the cost for the plan, and this can be a big help to you.
    Under health reform, you can expect your old plan to offer new protections. For example, your plan can't limit the amount it will pay per year or over your lifetime for essential health benefits. And you can't be denied coverage or charged more because of a pre-existing condition.

To help control rising health costs, many employers are choosing high-deductible plans which allow employees to set up an HSA or health savings account to help them pay for health expenses with pre-tax dollars.  For more about these plans review the following video:


If you want to learn more about different approaches to health care for people who may already have insurance, here’s some helpful information.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Health Care Reform: What’s All the Buzz About?

With one of the most visible parts of health care reform set to take effect in less than a week, I feel compelled to share with you some of the resources available right here at UnitedHealthcare to help you better understand what all the buzz is about.

When President Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) into law on March 23, 2010, we entered a new era of comprehensive health reform. The act includes several provisions designed to improve the health care delivery system.

The new law is changing how people get health care, how they get health insurance, what it costs and who pays for it. Many people are asking:
  • How will the new law affect me personally?
  • If I need health insurance, how and where do I get it?
  • Should I sign up for a different plan, or keep what I've got?
New laws and new health benefits mean more decisions.  Our goal at UnitedHealthcare is to help you find answers to your questions and get the health care coverage that best suits your needs. From children to seniors, changes are happening and we are with you every step of the way.

Here are some resources that you may find help simplify the complex task of understanding health care reform.


The Facts Behind the Buzz


Keeping it Simple


I will be posting some more information about health care reform in the upcoming weeks.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Injured veterans cycle from Boston to Philadelphia

On Saturday, September 14 more than 200 injured veterans and their supporters rode into Philadelphia, completing the final leg of their 425 mile cycling journey that began in Boston.

The long-distance bike ride is known as the Minuteman Challenge, organized by Ride 2 Recovery and sponsored by UnitedHealthcare.  Ride 2 Recovery is a nonprofit organization that aims to help injured veterans heal and recover from their wounds by getting them involved in the physical and mental challenge of long distance bike riding.  With a variety of training programs ranging from indoor spinning training at military installations to multiday, long-distance rides, Ride 2 Recovery adapts bikes to fit the needs of each veteran, including using hand cycles, recumbents, tandems and traditional road bikes.

Ride 2 Recovery long-distance journeys are not races.  Instead, the focus is on riding together, supporting one another along the ride and fostering camaraderie among the riders. 

For the fourth year in a row UnitedHealthcare has been the title sponsor of the Ride 2 Recovery’s Minuteman Challenge, providing financial, in-kind and volunteer support to help America’s injured veterans. 

Programs like Ride 2 Recovery and others that aid veterans after their service has concluded are essential to helping our nation’s finest live the healthy, active lives they so richly deserve.  Thank you to all the men and women who have served our country!

Bucks County Courier Times also stopped by to cheer on the riders. Check out the article they ran here

Friday, September 6, 2013

Dream bedroom makeover helps Norwood teen with life challenging illness

Children dealing with a serious medical illness often spend countless hours in their bedroom, sometimes after spending days in a hospital or treatment center.

And when hour upon hour is spent in one room, the paint on the walls, decorative style and comfort of the furniture can dramatically influence how they feel.

That’s why the nonprofit organization Special Spaces makes it its mission to give children with life-threatening illnesses the bedrooms of their dreams.  With the help of volunteers and the generosity of donors, Special Spaces coordinates dream bedroom makeovers for sick children so that their rooms are a place of peace and comfort.

On August 27, UnitedHealthcare employees had the pleasure of teaming up with Special Spaces and Bob’s Discount Furniture to give 13-year-old Nicole from Norwood, PA a dream bedroom makeover. 

Volunteers spent the day painting, assembling furniture and decorating Nicole’s bedroom, transforming it from a childhood bedroom to one that fits the needs and style of a young teen girl.  Nicole, who spent the day out of the house with her family, could hardly believe her eyes when she got home.


In addition to the challenges from her illness, Nicole has also struggled with the loss of her father a year and a half ago.  Our volunteers worked to restore her father’s rose garden, and make it a peaceful spot for Nicole to enjoy.


The UnitedHealthcare volunteers were honored to have the chance to make Nicole’s bedroom a happy place where she can rest and dream.  We wish you and your family all the best, Nicole!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Simplify your life by simplifying your health care management

Whenever I hear about something designed to make my life easier and usually, by default, much more enjoyable, I’m all for it!  Online banking, mobile apps and using a straw to remove the stems from strawberries, are a few of my favorites.  So when I heard that UnitedHealthcare launched a new online service that lets consumers pay their medical bills online, I knew what my next blog topic would be.

This completely free, secure, online electronic bill-payment service allows more than 21 million UnitedHealthcare participants nationwide to pay their medical bills online with a credit card, debit card, health savings account or bank account via the InstaMed payments network while managing their health care claims and related health care expenses on the plan participant portal www.myuhc.com.

By enabling consumers to more easily monitor, manage and understand their health care expenses, people can make more informed decisions regarding their care. In fact, we have already seen many consumers catch medical billing errors by using the enhanced service. This new feature adds convenience for consumers to pay their medical bills more easily, while also helping health care providers to get paid faster and easier.

But this new service is not only blog worthy because it can make your life easier, it’s important because consumers continue to pay a larger percentage of their medical bills, according to a recent report from the American Medical Association. And in addition, a third of physician practices still do not accept credit cards, according to a recent report from SK&A Information Services.   

Designed in collaboration with InstaMed, the leading health care payments network company, the online service is available UnitedHealthcare’s entire network of physicians and other health care providers who register and receive online payments through InstaMed.  Here in Pennsylvania, that’s over 33,000 physicians and health care professionals.

So check it out at http://welcometomyuhc.com/myclaims-pre-post/.  You’ll see that this latest innovation adds convenience and simplicity to your life.  Something I think we’re all in favor of.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A more diverse health care workforce will help us improve care for minorities

Trust and understanding between health care professionals and their patients is absolutely critical to ensuring that the patient gets the most appropriate and effective care.

But for patients of diverse backgrounds, differences in language, culture and ethnicity can be barriers between them and the health professionals who care for them.  Research by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services shows that when patients are treated by health professionals who share their language, culture and ethnicity, they are more likely to accept and adopt the medical treatment they receive.

The problem is that the number of health professionals from multicultural backgrounds is disproportionately low compared to the overall population, according to the American Medical
Association and the Association of American Medical Colleges. For example, while about 15 percent of the U.S. population is Hispanic/Latino, only 5 percent of physicians and 4 percent of registered nurses are Hispanic/Latino. About 12 percent of the population is African American, yet only 6 percent of physicians and 5 percent of registered nurses are African American.

To foster a more diverse health care workforce, United Health Foundation’s Diverse Scholars Initiative awarded $1.2 million in scholarships in the 2012-2013 school year to 200 students from diverse backgrounds. 

Here in Pennsylvania, I’m proud to say that we had two outstanding students win scholarships. 

Shelah McMillan
Philadelphia resident Shelah McMillan is a senior at Thomas Jefferson University School of Nursing and intends to become a nurse practitioner.  Shelah had worked as an accountant for a decade before deciding to devote her career to health care. Her goal is to serve as an educator and advocate for healthier lifestyles, bridging the gap between the medical jargon of physicians and patients from underserved communities.



Vivienne Meljen
Vivienne Meljen of Scranton, PA is a 2013 Truman Scholar beginning her first year of medical school at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, pursuing both a Doctor of Medicine and a Master of Public Health degree and specializing in internal medicine and rural health. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Scranton with a minor in modern Spanish.  Vivienne currently serves as a volunteer and Spanish translator at the Leahy clinic, a free clinic for the uninsured in Scranton.  She intends to begin her career as a rural internal medicine physician in an underserved rural region of the U.S.

In addition to receiving financial awards, Shelah and Vivienne attended the fifth annual Diverse Scholars Forum, which brought more than 60 scholarship recipients to Washington, D.C., July 24-26 to celebrate the scholars and inspire them to work toward strengthening the nation’s health care system. The event gave Vivienne, Shelah and other future health care professionals, the opportunity to meet and interact with members of Congress and leaders from a variety of health care fields.

Congratulations, Shelah and Vivienne!  I wish you all the best as you help our health system better serve all members of the community.

United Health Foundation’s diverse scholar recipients making connections
with other healthcare students and professionals at the
Diverse Scholars Forum held in Washington, DC. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

It’s time to recognize the excellent health care delivered at federally qualified health centers

When we talk about high-quality health care, many people immediately think of world-class health centers, like Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia or Johns Hopkins Hospital.

But in our admiration for these cutting-edge medical centers, we shouldn’t forget about the excellent health care that is given in our communities every day at federally qualified health centers (FQHCs).  Since August 11-17 is National Health Center Week it’s a good time to give top-performing FQHCs the recognition they deserve. 

FQHCs are community-based health centers that provide primary care and preventive health care to economically or medically disadvantaged populations.  Health care professionals at FQHCs are specially trained to address the often complex needs of people living with chronic conditions and those with high-risk medical, behavioral or social challenges.

Despite the challenging circumstances facing many FQHCs, many of them go above and beyond to ensure that patients receive high quality, cost-efficient care.  UnitedHealthcare recognizes those health centers that ensure that care is accessible to the entire community and demonstrate excellence in providing high-quality, effective care in its Gold Star program.

This week, the United Health Foundation, a private, not-for-profit foundation, will recognize the superior clinical care and patient support that Gold Star FQHCs provide to our most vulnerable Americans.  In addition to recognition, the foundation will award grants to high-performing FQHCs across the nation, with more than 50 grants going to Pennsylvania health centers. In total, the foundation has committed nearly $40 million to community health centers since 2003. 

Here in Philadelphia, we have several FQHCs that demonstrate excellence in health care.  Among the many statewide FQHCs that we will recognize,  the city health centers operated by the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, a group of eight Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) is one that I want to shout out here for their commitment to providing access to quality health care for economically and medically disadvantaged Philadelphia area residents. 

I have deep respect for the work Federally Qualified Health Centers are doing to address the most pressing health concerns facing our communities, and I’m proud to support their efforts.  Keep up the good work!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Grateful for the chance to give back

Around Thanksgiving last year, many of you may remember that I talked about my team’s “Gratitude Challenge”

Even now in August, I’ve still been trying to keep up with the challenge.  This week, I found a lot to be grateful for, especially as I learned that Modern Healthcare magazine has chosen me as a finalist for its national Community Leadership Award.

I was excited and humbled to hear about the award, and it made me reflect on how grateful I am for the time I have been able to spend working on community projects.  It is truly been a privilege to work with the wonderful people who are dedicated to making our world a better place.

It also made me very grateful that the culture of volunteerism at UnitedHealthcare encourages community work, because I am not alone.  Many members of my team also devote their time to community projects, just as our fellow employees are doing nationwide.  In fact, 81% of our employees and 96% of our executives reported volunteering in 2012. 

And it helps to have the support of your employer.  Many of our employees find volunteer opportunities by working on UnitedHealthcare’s community initiatives, such as events related to our HEROES program, like the Moon Walk Challenge event at the Allegheny Valley YMCA or throwing a puppy shower for a kid in the Make-A-Wish program.

As I’ve gotten involved with my own volunteer projects, UnitedHealthcare has been supporting me every step of the way.  One project dear to my heart has been the annual UnitedHealthcare Dash to Make a Difference with the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure.  I had been interested in doing an event to help young kids get involved in the fight against breast cancer ever since I had two friends, both with young children, call me in the same week to tell me they had breast cancer.  When I joined the board of directors at Komen, UnitedHealthcare was happy to support my idea for the Dash to Make a Difference.

UnitedHealthcare and my coworkers were also very supportive when I spoke about healthy pregnancies at the March of Dimes 75th Anniversary celebration earlier this year,  and when JDRF honored me at the annual Promise Ball in April to raise money for type 1 diabetes research.

So I’m feeling very grateful lately – grateful to have the opportunity to work with the wonderful people at  Susan G. Komen, March of Dimes, JDRF and others, grateful to work for a company that supports community involvement, and grateful to be honored as a finalist for the Community Leadership Award.

The public will have a chance to vote for the winner for the award.  Voting has already begun and will last until September 20th.  If any of you would be so kind as to take a moment and send a vote my way by clicking here, I’d be – you guessed it – grateful!

Monday, July 22, 2013

One way to modernize our health care system…change how we pay

Paying a fee for a service is typically how we pay.  Many of us pay to have our hair cut and colored, our cars washed or repaired, and even when our time is crunched, we pay for our bi-weekly “mani-pedi.”  And it makes sense to pay a fee for each of these services.

But it doesn’t make sense in health care.

Most medical care is currently paid for using the fee-for-service model: each time someone visits a physician or undergoes a test, the insurance company or individual is billed.  But the flaw in fee-for-service payments for health care is that medical professionals are not paid for the best outcome – a healthy patient – but for individual services performed. 

“Physicians have increasingly decided that the current fee-for-service model is not sustainable in the long term, but they want payment models that are more customized to meet their specific needs,” said Ruth Benton, CEO of Denver-based New West Physicians. “One size certainly doesn’t fit all, and UnitedHealthcare has worked with us closely to create a model that provides financial incentives and infrastructure support for delivering evidence-based high-quality care.”

Yes, UnitedHealthcare is moving away from contracts that reward the volume of care and replacing them with contracts that reward the value of care.

Currently, more than $20 billion of our reimbursements to hospitals, physicians and ancillary care providers are paid through contracts that link a portion of the reimbursement to quality and cost-efficiency measures.  But as you may have heard in the news recently, we are planning to more than double that number to $50 billion by 2017 as more care providers join the transition to accountable care contracts that reward quality and value-based health care.

UnitedHealthcare’s accountable care strategy, which includes three categories of programs, focuses on achieving the triple aim to improve population health outcomes, patient experience, and reduce medical costs. Early results show promising trends in improving evidence-based care and quality outcomes while reducing costs.  All programs are showing promising results:

Performance-based Programs have demonstrated improved quality and cost-efficiency outcomes such as a 14% reduction in the use of non-Tier 1 prescriptions and a 25% reduction in the use of out-of-network laboratory services.

The transplant Centers of Excellence program has demonstrated a 25% reduction in average length of hospital stays for transplant patients, a 16% reduction in transplants due to applying evidence-based care approaches and improved transplant survival rates at Centers of Excellence.

Accountable Care Programs have proven results that demonstrate improved health outcomes, such as a 4 to 4.5% reduction in medical cost trend, a 16% reduction in emergency room visits and a 17% reduction in inpatient days, in addition to clinical quality results trending above program targets on 95 percent of all measures

Changing the way we pay our physicians and health centers doesn’t mean we value them any less,  it just means we want to pay them more for the value of care they provide.

For more information about how UnitedHealthcare is modernizing our health care system by helping to transform the way health care is delivered, paid for and rewarded, visit www.AccountableCareAnswers.com.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Don’t forget about your eye health this summer

Slather on sunscreen. Drink lots of water. Spray on bug repellent. Wear a wide brim hat.

There’s a lot we can do to protect our health before heading out for Fourth of July picnics or other fun summer activities.  But, according to our summer savvy regional medical director, Dr. Phil Benditt, one area of health many of us neglect to protect in the summer is our eye health.

So, I asked Dr. Phil to tell me more…

According to Dr. Phil, the same ultraviolet radiation that causes sun burns can also cause serious eye damage.  Both long-wave UVA rays and short-wave UVB rays are known to contribute to the development of cataracts and macular degeneration, which can result in blindness.

Many people may not be aware that intense short-term exposure to ultraviolet light can cause “eye sunburn,” a painful condition associated with long hours of outdoor recreational activity.  Long-term exposure to ultraviolet radiation can also lead to skin cancer around the eyes.

Sunglasses and a wide-brim had can protect your eyes from the sun.  Ideally, sunglasses should block out 99 percent or more of both UVA and UVB radiation.

For those who prefer a cool indoor movie theater to the heat outside, Dr. Phil says 3-D movies are also an opportunity to check up on your eye health.  The American Optometry Association’s (AOA) report, “3D in the Classroom” states that 3-D movies have the potential to help identify vision problems that may otherwise go unnoticed.  After watching a 3-D movie, if you or a family member experience blurred vision, dizziness, discomfort, double vision, or eye fatigue, schedule a visit with your eye doctor.  According to the AOA report, about one in four children might have vision problems that may be detected with 3-D viewing.

So, whatever eye wear you are sporting this weekend – sunglasses or 3-D – have a safe and happy Fourth of July holiday!

Dr. Health E. Hound sporting his favorite eye wear
 

Monday, June 24, 2013

Navigating health insurance after graduation: Advice for the Class of 2013

The big news in the Schick family earlier this month…my son’s graduation from Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, VA – my alma mater! The commencement was beautiful and the speaker, Katie Couric, bestowed her wisdom and life advice on the graduates, and got me thinking about advice in general.


The Schick family with the president of Randolph-Macon College, Robert Lindgren
I had the opportunity to spend a few minutes with the commencement speaker, Katie Couric

One piece of advice that recent college grads must consider has to do with health insurance.  Some lucky graduates have jobs lined up with health benefits.  God bless ’em.  My son is not one of the lucky few.  So as he begins his search, he, like many others, may have to stay on our family health plan until he lands a job.

But many grads may go uninsured.  In fact, the U.S. Census measures that nearly three in ten people age 19 to 35 are uninsured, the highest proportion among all groups.

Statistically speaking, people in the 19-35 age group are typically fairly healthy. But nobody is free from the risk of being in an accident or developing a disease, and it’s important that young adults make smart decisions to protect their future health and finances.

So, here’s my advice:
  •  Don’t risk going uninsured. If you are eligible, consider staying on your parents’ health insurance plan until you turn 26.  Buying your own individual coverage, however, may actually be more affordable, so be sure to compare the cost.
  •  If you decide to buy your own coverage, make sure to include all health costs when determining how much you can afford, including monthly premiums and any out-of-pocket costs for health care services and prescriptions.
  •  Ask questions. Solicit parents’ and family members’ advice, check out reputable insurance company websites or visit with a local independent insurance broker to learn the basics about health insurance.
  • Consider a high deductible health plan. For many young, healthy people, high deductible plans make sense because they provide quality coverage at lower premium rates.
  • Consider short term health insurance plans that can offer you temporary coverage for the remainder of 2013. Be sure to find a plan that lets you drop your coverage without penalty if you find a job with employer-sponsored health insurance benefits in the meantime.
  • Do your homework.  Check out this video for more information http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QalUZsnkPDc
While you may or may not follow my advice on this one, when I asked my UHC team about the power of really good advice, an interesting theme emerged; most people, even young people, are inspired by advice that calls them to action, pushes them to get results and move forward without regrets. 



My husband and son (front left) walk with other parents and students as students prepare to receive their degree.
 
My son, Andy, says the job market is really tough. But, he has a final interview this week so he may have a full-time gig soon…can you say “proud Mom”?

Congratulations class of 2013!


Friday, June 14, 2013

Defined contribution health plans come to companies with 51-99 employees

The hottest thing in health insurance—the defined contribution plan—is now available to organizations with 51-99 employees in Pennsylvania and other states across the country.

Last year UnitedHealthcare was the first health insurer to begin offering defined contribution health plans to Pennsylvania employers with 50 or fewer employees. Effective June 1st, we expanded our offering to include Pennsylvania groups with 51-99 employees.

The plan, called Multi-Choice, includes access to UnitedHealthcare’s strong national and local provider network which consists of over 33,000 providers, over 200 hospitals across the state of Pennsylvania and all hospitals in Western Pennsylvania including the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center facilities and West Penn Allegheny Health System. The newly expanded plan also includes additional broker distribution and the ability to add specialty benefits, such as dental, life and vision, to standard health plans.

With defined contribution health care, the employer gives employees a defined amount for the health benefit and a menu of many health care plans from which to choose. Depending on the plan selected, the employee will pay more or less of a premium. Many health insurers are going to the defined contribution model, because it gives employees more choice without raising the cost to employer.

The flexibility of this plan design makes offering health insurance more cost-effective and financially predictable. It also gives small businesses parity with their larger competitors when it comes to this important employee benefit, something they’ve never had before. In a defined contribution world, it’s easy for people to address the specific health needs of their family.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it over and over again, now more than ever, everyone involved in the health care industry has a vested interest in making our health care system simpler and smarter – allowing for a better patient experience, delivering the best possible outcome and reducing the overall costs of care. An innovative product like Multi-Choice is just one of the many ways we at UnitedHealthcare are doing our part.



 
 

Monday, June 10, 2013

Cycling clinic, kickboxing, cultural dancing – we did it all at our South Philly office


We Philadelphians love our bicycles.

In fact, a study from the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia shows that Philadelphia has twice as many bicycle commuters per capita than any other big city in the U.S., and the number continues to grow.

At UnitedHealthcare, we love our bikes, too. We even sponsor a pro cycling team that competes worldwide. In fact, our team was in town for the Philly Cycling Classic on June 2nd and took time from their training schedule to conduct a cycling clinic for over 40 kids at our South Philly office.

Pro cyclists Jeff Louder and Danny Summerhill talked about how to eat, train and ride like a professional cyclist. The program was geared toward students from the World Communications Charter School, but contained great health and fitness education for the whole community. Both Jeff and Danny made it clear that you don’t have to aspire to be a professional to enjoy cycling, and everyone can see the benefits of good nutrition and regular exercise in their daily lives.

During the clinic, UnitedHealthcare and the cycling team were also proud to donate $1,000 to the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation to purchase a stationary bike for community use.

UnitedHealthcare and their pro cycling team donated $1,000 to the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation to invest in a stationary bicycle.  Left to right: UnitedHealthcare’s Angelica Cuellar Hardin; pro cyclist Jeff Louder; Lisa Wright; pro cyclist Danny Summerhill; and John W. Chin, executive director, Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation.

The cycling clinic was held at our retail office in South Philadelphia, which we opened last year to better serve the community on a face-to-face basis. The office offers information and assistance to anyone who wants to learn more about their health care options, and provides special service to the unique health care needs of people of diverse cultural backgrounds, including those that do not speak English.

The clinic coincided with the one-year anniversary celebration of the office opening. In addition to the cycling clinic, the day was filled with fitness activities like kickboxing, zumba and line dancing, as well as cultural performances, such as hip-hop dancing, salsa dancing by George Dennis of Mambodelphia, and the Rejang and Randa Nabia Indonesian dances. Families also enjoyed fun activities such as face painting and Wii console gaming.

UnitedHealthcare mascot Health E. Hound cheered on dancers from a youth hip hop dance group.


After a great day of fitness tips and multicultural celebration, we had further reason to celebrate on Sunday when a member of UnitedHealthcare’s pro cycling team, Kiel Reijnen, won the Philly Cycling Classic. Kiel finished the 120-mile race in only 4 hours, 35 minutes, and 34 seconds. I’m very proud of Kiel and the entire UnitedHealthcare cycling team for such a great win in my hometown!



Friday, May 31, 2013

Philadelphia employers make employee wellness fun

If you peek in the offices at Fox Rothschild during lunch, you might see people doing yoga or participating in Salad Bowl Wednesday, when the office supplies the greens, and employees bring in favorite toppings.

At American Heritage Federal Credit Union, employees might think twice about what’s in their lunch box if they’re competing against their coworkers to win the “Losers R Winners” competition.

And those employees eating at their desks at Bentley Systems won’t suffer the ill effects of prolonged sitting, thanks to flexible new sit-stand desks.

These are just some of the innovative initiatives Philadelphia companies have taken to keep their employees healthy.  In partnership with the Philadelphia Business Journal, UnitedHealthcare invited employers, large and small, to tell us about their wellness initiatives.  We received over seventy nominations for the Healthiest Employer Award and we learned a lot about the healthiest employers in Philadelphia.

As it turns out, almost all of the companies advocating workplace wellness have a few things in common.  The companies that focus on wellness have healthier employees, increased productivity, reduced costs and a healthier bottom line. Most of the wellness programs these companies use are based on sound principles.

Senior level support and involvement was critical to helping employees understand that wellness was a high priority in the organization’s strategic plan.  Executives tried to  create a culture of wellness with such activities and programs as promoting stair use, encouraging a smoke-free workplace and making vending machine snacks healthier.

Smaller companies stressing workplace wellness tend to have a wellness coordinator, while larger companies put a committee in charge of wellness.

The healthiest employers in Philadelphia are also among the smartest.  They used data from health assessments, claim reports and employee surveys to help identify and understand the needs of their employees.  Then they created a wellness program that best augmented their existing benefits package.

Finally, and here’s where the fun began, they came up with innovative programs that generated excitement about wellness in the workplace.  But don’t take my word for it, go to  http://www.bizjournals.com/philadelphia/feature/healthiest-employers-2013.html and check out these Philadelphia companies who are making the health of their employees a top priority.  It doesn’t get much healthier than that!

Friday, May 17, 2013

$5,000 Grants Help Children Get the Care they Need

Four-year-old Alexander could hear the sounds. He could see the way the lips of others moved and he understood everything he needed to do to say the words. But his mouth and tongue didn’t seem to work and no one could understand what he said. It was frustrating for this happy and sociable pre-schooler, and even more frustrating for his parents who were running out of money to pay for the therapy he needed.

It’s called Apraxia of speech, and the special speech therapy needed to help Alexander and other children with this physical disability to overcome it is usually not covered by health insurance.

Luckily, Alexander’s mom, found out about the UnitedHealthcare Children’s Foundation (UHCCF) from a friend she saw at a business conference. Alexander's mom applied for and was awarded a grant.

Alexander’s grant paid for intensive speech therapy sessions with a licensed speech therapist.  Alexander improved rapidly and his mom reports that she now understands nearly 50 percent of what he says, whereas it used to be only about 20 percent.

UHCCF awards grants of up to $5,000 to families nationwide to help pay the cost of their children’s health care treatments, medical services and equipment not covered or fully covered by their commercial health insurance such as physical, occupational and speech therapy, counseling services, surgeries, prescriptions, wheelchairs, orthotics, eyeglasses and hearing aids. UHCCF grants are available throughout the year for families with children aged 16 and under.

 To be eligible for a grant, your child must be 16 years of age or younger. In addition your family must meet economic guidelines; you must reside in the United States and have a commercial health insurance plan. Grants are available for medical expenses you have incurred for your child 60 days prior to the date of application as well as for ongoing and future medical needs. A parent or legal guardian may apply for grants at www.uhccf.org, and there is no application deadline.

In 2012, UHCCF awarded more than 1,300 grants, worth more than $4.1 million, to families across the United States for treatments associated with medical conditions such as cancer, spina bifida, muscular dystrophy, diabetes, hearing loss, autism, cystic fibrosis, Down syndrome, ADHD and cerebral palsy. Parents or legal guardians may apply for grants at www.uhccf.org

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Pink never looked so good

Almost everybody has a breast cancer story.  “My mom had it,” “my sister has it,” “my wife had it,” “I have it.”  As I look at the 30,000 people gathered in photos and videos of the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Philadelphia this Mother’s Day, I’m reminded of just how many people have been touched by the disease.

But what really stands out is the number of pink t-shirts, which are worn by the survivors.  Every year, there are more pink t-shirts at the race, and an increasing number of breast cancer stories end with “but now she’s five years cancer-free,” “ten years cancer-free” or “twenty years cancer-free.”

pk|CV: 2013 Susan G. Koman Race for the Cure  2013 SGK Race for a Cure 048
Breast cancer survivors and supporters at Susan G. Komen's Race for the Cure
 Mother's Day, Philadelphia.

And not only are many, many more women breast cancer free, but because of organizations like Susan G. Komen that support breast cancer research, a diagnosis of breast cancer is no longer a death sentence.  In fact, 90 percent of people with breast cancer will survive for at least five years after they are diagnosed.  When the cancer is detected early, the five-year survival rate is 99 percent.

I have been personally involved with Susan G. Komen for the Cure in Philadelphia for several years, and I am so pleased that my employer, UnitedHealthcare, supports the organization.  At this year’s race, UnitedHealthcare sponsored two events.

The first was Children’s Fun Fest, a place for families to gather and enjoy magicians, clowns, music and games.

The second event was one that we launched last year, the UnitedHealthcare Children’s Dash to Make a Difference for kids between ages three and twelve.  “The Dash” was created to help young children take part in making a difference.  No matter their age or the distance they walk or run, “The Dash” teaches a child that they, too, play a part in the fight against breast cancer, and encourages them to grow into adults who will continue the fight against the disease.

This year’s “Dash” leader was Michelle Goglia, vice president of sales at UnitedHealthcare. Michelle and many other UnitedHealthcare employees took part in the day’s activities including holding “The Dash” finish line tape.  According to Michelle, watching this very special group of breast cancer fighters who were there for their moms, neighbors, teachers, aunts and grandmas was like watching the next generation of cancer researchers dash towards a cancer free future.



Friday, May 10, 2013

JDRF Promise Ball showed delicate balance of life with diabetes

“Both children and adults like me who live with type 1 diabetes need to be mathematicians, physicians, personal trainers and dieticians all rolled into one. We need to be constantly factoring and adjusting, making frequent finger sticks to check blood sugars, and giving ourselves multiple daily insulin injections just to stay alive.”

- JDRF International Chairman Mary Tyler Moore

Although I have worked with JDRF for several years, attending the JDRF Promise Ball last weekend really heightened my awareness of just how difficult it is to live with type 1 diabetes. For these people, many of them children, staying healthy means maintaining a difficult and fragile balance – almost like working with glass.

Glass sculptures played a big role in this year’s Promise Ball, in addition to the fun Beatles theme. A stunning glass sculpture by glass artist Andy Paiko was specially designed for the live auction at the Ball to raise money for diabetes research.

Titled “Ladder to Light,” the sculpture conveyed the ups and downs of type 1 diabetes as voiced by the diabetes community. Diabetics, their families and their friends shared powerful words about diabetes with Paiko, who translated the emotions into glass. According to Andy, the words told him of darkness, but also of personal growth and the abundant strength that comes from managing diabetes.

Andy’s piece was beautiful and incredibly moving. But it was another glass sculpture that truly took my breath away.

As this year’s JDRF honoree, along with my company, UnitedHealthcare, I was humbled when to my surprise I was presented with a glass sculpture of my own, inspired by Andy’s work and created by diabetic children involved with JDRF. It turns out that the kids had spent an afternoon at East Falls Glassworks to learn about working with glass and worked together to make the sculpture for me.


The glass sculpture was a beautiful way to represent the delicate balance of life with diabetes, and I’m honored that the kids took the time to create the sculpture for me.

The hopeful note that was captured in both glass sculptures reminded me of just how much these people are relying on scientific research to help them live healthier lives. And despite the evening’s celebration of the scientific advances into the causes, treatment and possible cures for diabetes that were made in 2012 with the support of JDRF, there is still much work ahead of us. We’ve got to keep on going, until we find a cure!

JDRF ambassaors present Sue Schick with "balance of life" scupture at 2013 Promise Ball