Friday, February 22, 2013

Engaging in Oral Health for Children

A little boy was taken to the dentist. It was discovered that he had a cavity that would have to be filled. "Now, young man," asked the dentist, "what kind of filling would you like for that tooth?" "Chocolate, please," replied the youngster.

Chocolate would certainly have been my first choice when I was a child, but with three boys of my own, I know that oral hygiene is a key aspect of our overall health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, gum disease, or periodontitis, is the second most common oral disease in the world after tooth decay. Beyond all of the trouble it can cause in the mouth – from bad breath and swollen gums, to jaw infection and tooth loss - periodontal disease causes chronic inflammation, which could play a role in other diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.

Experts recommend children begin seeing a dentist before their first birthday. Beginning life-long practices of good oral hygiene in childhood is just as important as instilling healthy eating and exercise habits to make sure our kids live long, healthy lives. But more likely than not, those children who are not eating well also lack access to proper oral hygiene.

Recognizing this need in our community, UnitedHealthcare teamed up with Temple University’s Kornberg School of Dentistry to launch Project Engage, an initiative designed to improve the oral health of children enrolled in the state’s Medicaid health plan. The program will begin by working with children and families in North Philadelphia with the goal of expanding the initiative to other parts of the state and country.

UnitedHealthcare's donation to Temple University will help build
an oral health registry to improve the dental health of Philadelphia children.

Project Engage focuses on improving the oral health of children by creating an oral health registry, which will use dental claims information and operating and emergency department histories to identify children at risk of developing tooth decay. Those children and their families will then be contacted by a community health worker to receive information, counseling and assistance with scheduling dental appointments. Public health dental hygienists will also be available to provide in-home care and additional treatments, such as fluoride varnishes and sealants, if needed. In addition, primary care physicians and general dentists will be trained on preventive screenings.

UnitedHealthcare has had great success with other oral health interventions across the country, so I’m looking forward to having one here in Pennsylvania. It’s certainly something worth smiling about! 

Friday, February 8, 2013

Make it Your Business to Prepare for Changes to the Health Care System

Yesterday I had the privilege of participating in a Main Line Society of Professional Women panel titled, “From the Oval Office to Your Office.” On the panel with Farah Jimenez, president and CEO of the People’s Emergency Center and Karen Dougherty Buchholz, VP administration at Comcast Corp., I was charged with giving my perspective on what businesses should be doing now to prepare for provisions of the Affordable Care Act which go into effect next year.

It’s a particularly relevant question. Real changes are taking place within the health care industry and employers need to prepare themselves for what the new legislations will mean in practice.

In my opinion, the first step for any business or individual is to become an educated consumer. Although the law is hundreds and hundreds of pages, there are many resources available that break down the basics into understandable pieces. In fact, UnitedHealthcare has a very comprehensive website - - offering videos, brochures and other information designed to help business owners and consumers learn about the changes.

It’s also a good idea for employers to reach out to their broker or consultant, well in advance of their 2014 plan renewal date, to discuss their specific group size and current health benefit package. The changes brought about by the law will compel employers to go through a rigorous analysis, assessing cost and potential impact on employee productivity, satisfaction, turnover and recruitment. It makes sense for them to start early. Learn everything they can about what the Affordable Care Act means to their business and take the time necessary to choose how best to handle it.

Change can be unsettling, but in the end, the best leaders use it as an opportunity for improvement. I challenge all business owners to make the most of this opportunity for their company!
From left to right: Eileen Connelly Robbins, Sue Schick, Karen Dougherty Buchholtz, Renee Amoore, and Farah Jimenez

Friday, February 1, 2013

HEROES Fighting Against Childhood Obesity

From the First Lady to this season’s Biggest Loser, the subject of childhood obesity is getting high-profile attention - and rightly so! Childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, bringing with it a rise in obesity-related preventable medical conditions in children that aren’t normally seen until adulthood – elevated cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, etc.

These diseases come along with a huge cost to both our children and our health system. Former Surgeon General Richard Carmona summed up the severity of the childhood obesity epidemic when he stated,Because of the increasing rates of obesity, unhealthy eating habits and physical inactivity, we may see the first generation that will be less healthy and have a shorter life expectancy than their parents."

As a mom, this statement really scared me.  As parents, all we want is for our children to live long, happy, healthy lives…longer, happier and healthier than ours. To think that might not be possible for a whole generation due to a preventable disease is unacceptable!

At UnitedHealthcare, we’re proud to be part of the fight against childhood obesity with our HEROES program - a wellness initiative we developed with YSA (Youth Service America) to encourage young people, working with educators and youth leaders in their communities, to create and implement walking, running or hiking programs. The program provides grants of up to $1,000 to fund youth-led projects that include both an activity element and a service component that increases awareness, provides direct service, enables advocacy on behalf of a cause, or features youth philanthropy around the issue of childhood obesity. This year’s grant recipients began Jan. 21, on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service and will end on Global Youth Service Days, April 26-28.

This year, we’ve provided more than $175,000 in HEROES grants to nearly 200 schools and nonprofit organizations nationwide. Locally, in Pennsylvania and Delaware, our HEROES are:
·         The Allegheny Valley YMCA, Natrona Heights - The “Moon Walk Challenge” for students in Allegheny and Butler counties will combine fitness and education. During the course of the program, students will walk a combined total of 2,160 miles, which is equal to the diameter of the moon.
·         Northern Cambria High School - the Family, Community and Career Leaders of America (FCCLA) group’s 45 high school students will plan “old school” physical activities such as hula hoop contests, wheel barrow races and sack races and share nutritional information at North Cambria school and community throughout the year.
·         Campus Community School in Dover received a grant to implement running programs for three groups. One will consist of a running club for students who will train together twice a week for a 5K run. Another group of students will take part in running activities for 40 minutes a week during “Club Time,” and a third group of staff and students will participate in a “Couch to 5K” program.
·         The Delaware Adolescent Program, Inc. (DAPI) in Wilmington received a grant to support prenatal and family health by adding exercise planning to its nutrition program for pregnant women and their families.
I congratulate these programs and the children behind them. They are standing up for themselves and their peers by saying “no” to a shortened, unhealthy life. We should all take a page from their book and learn to live healthier, more active lives. Working together is the best chance we have to get childhood obesity under control!

A complete list of grant winners and their projects is available online at

Exercise is always more fun in a group!