Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Don’t believe the myths about the flu

Would you like to spend a few days or even weeks this winter sniffling, sneezing, coughing, wiping your nose and feeling exhausted and maybe nauseated?

I think it’s safe to assume that everybody would respond “no.” So if nobody wants to get the flu, why isn’t everybody getting the flu vaccine?

The flu vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and reduce your chances of getting the flu. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), everyone who is at least 6 months of age should get a flu vaccine. Getting vaccinated is especially important for people who have certain medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes or chronic lung disease, and for pregnant women, young children and people 65 and older.

Many people may avoid getting a flu shot because they believe one of these myths:

Myth #1: The flu shot is expensive.
In most cases, the cost of a flu shot is covered by your health plan, whether you buy health insurance on your own or are covered through your employer, Medicare or Medicaid. More employers are now offering free onsite flu shot clinics at the office. The financial and personal costs and the potential for missed days of work or school from the flu far exceed the cost of the vaccination.

Myth #2: Flu shots are only for people who have other health problems
Influenza does not discriminate against age or health habits. Just because you’re young or don’t typically get sick doesn’t mean you can’t catch the flu. You can catch the flu from someone who has yet to exhibit any signs or symptoms of being sick.

Myth #3: Flu shots are inconvenient
Getting a flu shot takes no more than five minutes. Most neighborhood pharmacies even offer walk-in options, so you don’t need to make an appointment. If you are unemployed or your employer doesn’t offer flu shots, you can go to your primary care doctor or nearby wellness clinic, most retail pharmacies or contracted flu shot providers. To find a list of flu shot providers near you, visit Flu.gov and enter your zip code.

Myth #4: The flu isn’t serious
Influenza is a serious disease that can lead to hospitalization and sometimes even death. Thus, everyone should do everything they can to prevent getting sick with the flu. In addition to getting vaccinated, please remember to wash your hands regularly to help reduce the spread of germs. And if you are sick with the flu, stay home to prevent spreading flu to others.
Flu activity typically begins to increase in the late fall, so be sure to make your and your family’s health a priority and get a flu shot this year. If you do, you’ll likely be able to enjoy the fall and holidays a little more.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Three Questions You Should Ask Before You Select Your Health Insurance Plan

Open enrollment is the time each fall when most Americans select or change their health benefits for the following year. 

Choosing health care coverage is one of the most important decisions people make. Therefore, it’s essential that consumers fully understand their options during open enrollment so they can choose a plan that will help them enhance their health and possibly save money. 

Even with health insurance coverage now available in many states through government exchanges, the vast majority of Americans – nearly 158 million – continue to obtain health benefits through their employer. Many companies set aside a two-week period between October and December for when their employees can select health benefits.  So, if you are purchasing health insurance through your company’s health plan now is the time to start getting prepared.

Here are three important questions you should ask before selecting your health care benefits:

What are my options?
It may sound simple, but taking the time to review your options is very important. In many cases, people who review their health plan options carefully may find ways to save money on their health care costs – whether it’s through selecting a plan that will cover more of their expected health costs for a major event (such as having a baby or surgery), evaluating prescription drug coverage, or having the opportunity to enroll in an incentive-based wellness program.

Some insurers, including UnitedHealthcare, offer wellness programs or incentive programs that may help you lower your cholesterol, quit smoking or lose weight. These incentives may include gym membership discounts, lower premium costs or merchant gift cards.

Is my doctor in-network?
Even if you don’t plan to make any changes to your health insurance this year, it’s always good to ensure that any doctor you see – or plan to visit in the coming year – is in your plan’s care provider network.

Many insurers offer a broad choice of local in-network health care professionals, and these in-network care providers agree in advance to what they’ll charge for specific procedures. You should also call before your procedure to verify the care providers are in-network. If you plan to visit a doctor or hospital outside the network, be sure to understand how your costs will differ from those of an in-network care provider.

Should I look for a plan that includes vision and dental coverage?
Specialty benefits like dental and vision plans are often available at a minimum cost, and cover annual teeth cleanings and eye exams. Many vision plans also offer reduced pricing on frames and lenses. Research suggests that there is a connection between oral health and overall health, so adding a dental plan may help prevent more serious medical problems.

For help navigating open enrollment, visit www.uhc.tv, a public online resource with simple, fun videos that help people learn about health care, open enrollment and what to consider when choosing a plan. UHC TV features a “Health Insurance 101” channel with short videos like this one that gives tips on open enrollment:

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Pennsylvania women are leading the way

Have you experienced the hottest new trend in tailgating, the Phan Cave?

If so, you can thank a couple of intrepid Philadelphia entrepreneurs, Jacqueline McDevitt and Colleen O’Hara, who came up with the idea to provide a hassle-free tailgating experience that maximizes the parking lot experience while minimizing the time and effort to coordinate it.

In fact, their business idea is so great that it just won a $10,000 prize at the 2014 Pennsylvania Business Plan Competition, which challenged women entrepreneurs across Pennsylvania to submit their business plans for a chance at the prize. The finalists pitched their business presentations, “Shark Tank-style,” to judges Lori Greiner, known as the “warm-blooded shark” on ABC’s hit TV show “Shark Tank;” Julia Hearthway, Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry; and Renee Amoore, founder and president of the Amoore Group Inc.

Phan Cave co-founders Colleen O’Hara, left, and Jacqueline  McDevitt, right, won the Business Plan Competition after pitching their business to a panel of judges that included Lori Greiner, center. Photo Credit: Joe Appel Photography.

The Business Plan Competition was part of the Women’s Mentorship Symposium held on September 30, a day that celebrated women’s leadership roles in Pennsylvania businesses, non-profits and government. More than 500 women attended the symposium, which was hosted by the Pennsylvania Commission for Women. As chair of the Commission, I was honored to be a featured speaker alongside Governor Tom Corbett, First Lady Susan Corbett, and Lori Greiner.

The symposium also included a speed mentoring program that matched up entry level and mid-level career women with senior-level executive women in a variety of professions. Topics ranged from work-life balance to career transitions to salary negotiations, all in a fast-paced setting.

It was a pleasure to see so many women come together to celebrate the accomplishments that women have made in Pennsylvania and encourage future women to take leadership roles in the economic and civic development of our commonwealth.

After all, it was not so long ago that young women had trouble finding mentors in the workplace because so few women held positions of leadership. But because of initiatives like the Pennsylvania Commission for Women and the Women’s Mentorship Symposium, it’s getting easier for women to find their roles as leaders. Today, women like the founders of Phan Cave are forging ahead confidently to build successful businesses across our commonwealth.

I look forward to seeing how the next generation of women leaders will use the helping hands of their mentors to accomplish great things and solve big problems. As Lori Greiner said in her keynote address, “You can make anything happen!”

From left to right:  Gina Pferdehirt, Vice Chair of the Pennsylvania Commission for Women and Public Relations and Community Relations Director of UPMC Health Plan; Pennsylvania First Lady Susan Corbett; Lori Greiner, the “warm-blooded shark” on ABC’s hit show “Shark Tank;” and Sue Schick, Chair of the Pennsylvania Commission for Women and Chief Growth Officer at UnitedHealthcare Community & State. Photo Credit: Joe Appel Photography.

Monday, September 29, 2014

YouTube videos give health tips and some laughs

For those of us with a tightly packed schedule, YouTube videos are a great way to sneak in a little entertainment or education. In just a couple of minutes, you can learn how to make a healthy new recipe or get a much needed laugh.

UnitedHealthcare has its own YouTube channel, called UHC-TV, that provides a wide variety of entertaining videos about different aspects of health. Our education series offers evidence-based medical tips about common health concerns, such as managing diabetes, performing a breast self-examination, or treating your child’s fever. Other videos feature experts with valuable advice on nutrition, exercise, preventive health care and healthy habits.

We also show “Sidewalk talk” videos, in which our hosts interview passersby to find out what they know (or don’t know) about various health items, such as common terms used in health insurance plans or healthy blood pressure levels.

Of course, my favorites are the “Laugh Rx” videos from our professional comedy event in Chicago. A little laughter can go a long way to improve your mood and provide a much-needed energy boost.

Here are the top ten most-viewed videos on UHC-TV. A few have been watched more than 50,000 times!
1. Losing 50 Pounds Safely
Take some time to enjoy these great resources and have a few laughs!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Health on the Go: New Tools are Helping Consumers Make Better Health Care Decisions

The health care system is rapidly evolving. People are paying more personally for their health care and taking more control of decisions regarding the care they receive.

Simply put, it has become increasingly important for you to have access to resources and services that help you make informed decisions about the quality and cost of the health care you receive, helping to protect both your health and pocketbook.

Online resources have paved the way to better information which leads to better decisions. Today you can comparison shop for health care services, much like you would airline tickets or electronics. According to a recent survey by UnitedHealthcare, 14 percent of respondents report using online resources to comparison shop for health care services. This number is likely to increase, given the popularity of mobile technology coupled with consumers taking a more active role in making health care decisions.

New online and mobile resources can help you more easily anticipate and manage health care expenses. One example is Health4Me, a free mobile app for iPhone and Android devices. Health4Me provides cost information for more than 635 medical services, including MRI, knee replacement and childbirth. The app also enables people to locate nearby health care providers, and convenience care, urgent care and emergency care facilities.

Some insurance carriers have mobile apps that can provide you with personalized price estimates based on actual contracted rates with health care providers and facilities. These personalized resources can also give you 24/7 access to registered nurses, access to personal health benefits information and ID card, and the ability to receive a callback from a customer service representative.

Greater use of medical price transparency services could help make health care more affordable. Providing health care prices to consumers, health care professionals and other stakeholders could reduce U.S. health care spending by more than $100 billion during the next decade, according to a 2014 report by the Gary and Mary West Health Policy Center.

In addition, the use of online comparison tools can also help you select high-quality health care providers,
according to a new study from UnitedHealthcare.
The study found that users of myHealthcare Cost Estimator™, an online and mobile quality and price comparison service available to all consumers through the Health4Me app, were more likely than nonusers to select high-quality health care providers across all specialties, including primary care physicians (7 percent more likely) and orthopedists (9 percent more likely).

There are also significant price variations for health care services and procedures at hospitals and doctors’ offices nationwide, yet research has shown that higher-priced care providers do not necessarily deliver higher-quality care or better health outcomes.

In this new era of health care, transparency and education through technology can help you get better control your health and the cost of care. Take a few minutes to download the Health4Me app, or log in to your insurance provider’s website and learn more about the tools and services that can help you make the best health care decisions for you and your family.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Celebrating America’s Health Centers and Healthier Communities

As the health care system changes around us, more people are gaining access to health insurance coverage - yet there are still more than 60 million Americans who do not have access to primary care. According to the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC), nearly half (42 percent) of these individuals are low-income, 28 percent live in rural areas—and do have health insurance.

That’s where Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) come in.  In the United States, more than 1,200 Centers receive grants under Section 330 of the Public Health Service Act (PHS) and serve 22 million patients (including more than 920,000 farmworkers and 1,145,000 people who are homeless) at 9,000 locations. The FQHCs qualify for enhanced reimbursement from Medicare and Medicaid, as well as other benefits as long as they assist underserved populations, offer a sliding fee scale, provide comprehensive services, and have an ongoing quality assurance program and a community-based governing board of directors.

UnitedHealthcare helps support Health Centers through a broad network of dedicated health care specialists and hospitals – and the need is great; one out of every 15 people living in the United States seeks primary health care from a Health Resources Services Administration (HRSA)-funded Health Center. As part of our partnership with FQHCs, UnitedHealthcare regularly seeks advice and input from FQHC leaders through our National FQHC Advisory Group; participates in the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC) industry conferences; collaborates with local Primary Care Associations (PCA) and, during National Health Center Week each year, takes time to recognize our nine-year involvement and shared mission to help people live healthier lives regardless of their age, income or ability. 

Last week UnitedHealthcare celebrated National Health Center Week with centers across the country, we are thankful for each and every one of our partners and the commitment we share to help people access the quality health care services they deserve.

Monday, August 4, 2014

PA’s Diverse Scholars attend health forum in D.C.

Meet Sophia Barrios, a sophomore majoring in bio-behavioral health at Pennsylvania State University who intends to become a doctor of osteopathic medicine and serve underrepresented communities, particularly children. Sophia is the secretary of Penn State’s Latino Caucus, an umbrella organization for 19 Latino organizations, and a 2014 United Health Foundation Diverse Scholar.

Chiemeka Onyima of Philadelphia’s East Falls/Germantown area is a first year medical student at Drexel University College of Medicine. He holds a bachelor of science in biochemistry and molecular biology from the University of Maryland-Baltimore County.  Onyima intends to become an anesthesiologist and specialize in pain medicine. He hopes to devote much of his career to developing hospitals and improving health care in West Africa.

Sophia and Chiemeka were awarded scholarships from United Health Foundation’s Diverse Scholars Initiative to pursue careers in primary health care. 

United Health Foundation’s Diverse Scholars Initiative, will award nearly $2 million in scholarships during the 2014-15 school years to students from diverse, multicultural backgrounds. The initiative aims to increase diversity in the health care workforce by supporting promising future health professionals as they pursue their education. The Diverse Scholars program is part of United Health Foundation’s ongoing commitment to building a more diverse health workforce.

Since 2007, United Health Foundation has awarded more than 1,400 scholarships totaling $9.3 million to support diverse students pursing health careers.

United Health Foundation announced the 2014-15 scholarships at its sixth annual Diverse Scholars Forum. This year’s forum is the largest yet, bringing more than 100 scholarship recipients to Washington, D.C., from July 23 to 26, to celebrate their accomplishments and inspire them to work toward strengthening the nation's health care system. This year's forum provided the scholars with opportunities to hear from members of Congress and leaders in a variety of health fields, and to network with and learn from one another.

Congratulations to Sophia, Chiemeka and all of the scholarship recipients. I look forward to the celebrating the advances in health care that will come from your dedication and commitment to helping all Americans.

For more information about the Diverse Scholars Initiative, visit http://www.unitedhealthfoundation.org/Initiatives/FutureHealthWorkforce/DiverseScholars.aspx

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Business Plan Competition for Women Business Owners

Two years ago when the Governor asked me to be chairperson of the Pennsylvania Commission for Women I was humbled and honored to serve this group of sharp, accomplished and dedicated women, all business and community leaders. 

Serving as the chair of the Pennsylvania Commission for Women has been especially rewarding to me because the goals and objectives of the Commission so closely align with those of the company I represent, UnitedHealthcare.  Through its employee programs, women’s health initiatives, and outreach into the community, UnitedHealthcare is committed to helping women achieve their full potential in their careers, their families, their communities and their health.

In just two short years the Commission has made great strides identifying and advancing the diverse needs and interests of Pennsylvania women and girls.  By monitoring women’s educational and employment needs, promoting job training and encouraging the operation and support of women owned businesses, the Pennsylvania Commission for Women has truly made a difference. 

And, there is much more to come. Partnering with the Pennsylvania Chapters of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) we are proud to announce a Business Plan Competition for women business owners in Pennsylvania.  The competition will showcase emerging businesses and celebrate female entrepreneurship.

The Business Plan Competition is open to women business owners in Pennsylvania who started their business on or after January 1, 2012.  NAWBO Greater Pittsburgh, NAWBO Greater Philadelphia and NAWBO Northeast PA, will each select one finalist based on the application information and interviews. The finalists will compete at the 2014 Women’s Mentorship Symposium on Sept. 30, 2014, in Pittsburgh.

Finalists will present fast-pitch business plans to a panel of three judges, including Lori Greiner, the “warm blooded shark” on the hit entrepreneurial business show “Shark Tank” on ABC; Julia Hearthway, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry; and Renee Amoore, founder and president of The Amoore Group, Inc.

The winning business owner will receive a $10,000 cash prize to assist in the implementation of their business plan and each of the three finalists will receive a one year NAWBO membership or renewal.  Private contributions will fund the competition.

Eligible business owners must submit an “Intent to Compete” form by Thursday, Aug. 14.  For additional information on the Business Plan Competition, including the rules and application process, please visit www.nawbopabizplancomp.org.

For more information about UnitedHealthcare’s dedicated resources visit us on Facebook.  Our “Source4Women” online community is making a difference in the health of women across the country.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Ron Jaworski and UnitedHealthcare volunteers built playground for Darby, PA community

Swing sets become make-shift airplanes.  A brand new tree bench can become home base for an old school game of tag. And slides are the perfect place to lie down and figure out what animal shapes the clouds resemble.

For children, a playground is far more than just a set of equipment. Playgrounds are brain-expanders, friend-makers and muscle-builders. 

That’s why UnitedHealthcare’s “Do Good. Live Well.” employee volunteer initiative teamed up with nonprofit organization Kaboom! to build a new playground for the children at Park Lane Elementary School in Darby, an urban neighborhood in Pennsylvania’s Delaware County.  In addition to over 50 UnitedHealthcare volunteers, our team of hard working builders included over 100 community members and our special hands-on helper, former quarterback and ESPN football analyst Ron Jaworski.

Ron Jaworski helping the Darby community build their new playground!

In June, we held a Design Day and asked Park Lane Elementary School students to submit drawings of their dream playgrounds.  The kids got pretty creative, and we hope the finished playground continues to inspire creativity in their play for years to come.

Dan Tropeano, Executive Director of UnitedHealthcare of Pennsylvania and Delawre helping a community volunteer.

Active, healthy play is central to a child’s ability to grow into a thoughtful, productive adult. This playground will bring more than 1,500 kids in Darby one step closer to having the physically, mentally and socially active childhood they deserve. 

Thank you to all of the volunteers from UnitedHealthcare, KaBOOM! and the Darby community!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

How do others perceive you in the workplace?

The most eye-opening feedback I ever received was from my young son.  One night when he was seven years old, he asked for my help with his homework.  I was delighted, and we sat down together at the table.  While he worked through his assignment, I managed to get a little of my own work done on my Blackberry.

When my son finished his work, I asked him what he had learned.  He said, “Well, I learned you really love your Blackberry.”


It was tough feedback, but I needed to hear it.  Many of us never realize how our actions are perceived by the people around us.  In my case, I had thought I was being an incredibly effective Supermom – spending time with my son and keeping up at the office at the same time.  But to my son, my multitasking made it feel like work was more important than he was.  That kind of tough feedback can feel like a punch to the gut, but it’s also an opportunity to change.

Recently, I had a wonderful chance to talk about mindfulness in the workplace and how we give and receive feedback with Dr. Dan Gottlieb on “Voices in the Family” on WHYY-FM.  Dr. Gottlieb interviewed me and several experts on feedback and workplace psychology about how businesses can use feedback to create a better and more effective work environment.

I was proud to talk about the culture of mindfulness and feedback that we strive for at UnitedHealthcare.  As a healthcare company, we need to have a well-rounded perspective on health that we can only get by listening to feedback from our employees, members, medical experts and the community.  Here are a few of our strategies:
  • Positive feedback is just as important as constructive feedback.  Many people brush off compliments about their work, modestly saying, “It was nothing!” But at UnitedHealthcare, we teach our employees to say “thank you” when they receive kudos on their work because it helps them identify what is working.
  • Compassion and empathy play key roles in understanding how others perceive your words and actions.  We train our customer service representatives to be fully engaged when talking to members, and even encourage them to follow their instincts and write compassionate notes to people who are experiencing particularly challenging situations.  By examining a situation through someone else’s point of view, we can better understand how that person perceives our own behavior.
  • Difficult as it is in our hi-tech world, mindfulness is more critical than ever.   At UnitedHealthcare, the leader of our Center for Nursing Advancement is a certified expert on mindfulness and hosts monthly calls to which any employee can dial-in for a 20-minute mindful experience.
Most importantly, feedback doesn’t have to wait for a formal meeting or an annual performance review.  It only takes a minute to give someone a compliment or constructive comment about their work, but the rewards are long-lasting.

If you are an early riser, the full interview, “Mindfulness at work: How do you come across?” will be rebroadcast on Sunday at 6 a.m. on WHYY-FM, Philadelphia.  If not, you can hear the interview now on WHYY-FM here.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Study shows benefits of new cancer care payment model

As part of its commitment to help modernize the health care system, UnitedHealthcare is consistently looking for ways to develop new methods of care delivery and payment models.

The results from UnitedHealthcare’s newest study about changing the way we pay for cancer care demonstrates that a new payment system that rewards quality of care instead of quantity of care can lower costs by 34 percent while maintaining excellent patient care.

Cancer is among the most difficult diseases to treat, and the most costly.   Costs for cancer therapy, which were estimated by the National Cancer Institute at $124.6 billion in 2010, are projected to reach as high as $207 billion in 2020, suggesting there is an urgent need to rein in costs while finding the most effective treatments. 

Under the traditional “fee-for-service” payment model, oncologists are paid for each service they perform and drug they prescribe.  Instead of rewarding quality care, the fee-for-service model tends to reward volume of care and the use of more expensive drugs.

Under the new payment system, UnitedHealthcare paid oncologists upfront for an entire cancer treatment program, based on the expected cost of a standard treatment regimen for the specific condition as predetermined by the doctor.  The oncologists were paid the same fee regardless of the drugs administered to the patient – in effect, separating the oncologist’s income from drug sales while preserving the ability to maintain a regular visit schedule with the patient. Patient visits were reimbursed as usual using the fee-for-service contract rates, and chemotherapy medications were reimbursed based on the average sales price.

The study compared the cost and quality of care among 810 cancer patients at medical oncology centers across the country.  Researchers evaluated the treatment regimens based on more than 60 measures, including the number of emergency-room visits, incidence of complications, side effects and, most importantly, health outcomes to determine which treatment regimens do the best job of helping to fight cancer.

The new cancer care payment model resulted in a 34 percent reduction in overall medical costs but delivered the same outcomes in terms of overall patient health.  The results of the study show that higher cost care does not necessarily translate to higher quality care for the patient.

The details of the study were recently published in the report “Changing Physician Incentives for Affordable, Quality Cancer Care: Results of an Episode Payment Model” in the Journal of Oncology Practice.  For the full article, click here.

Monday, June 23, 2014

UHC & Sickle Cell Disease Association launch new support program

A sharp, sudden pain awakens you from a deep sleep.  As you gather your senses you begin to realize the pain is in your leg.  It strikes again, and this time it takes your breath away—like a sharp serrated knife twisting slowly. Again and again, constant stabbing as you try to convince yourself that this is not happening, you experience another surge of pain, and then another. You call 911 and an ambulance comes to rush you to the hospital.  This scenario is one that Dr. Marjorie Dejoie, medical director of the Sickle Cell Disease Association of America’s Philadelphia/Delaware Valley Chapter and a sickle cell patient described when we met to discuss how UnitedHealthcare might better support UnitedHealthcare members who live with this disease.

Sickle cell disease (SCD) is a global health issue; the World Health Organization calls it a public health priority. SCD primarily affects African Americans, occurring in one out of every 500 African-American births. 

June 19th was World Sickle Cell Day, a day not only to raise awareness of SCD, but also to act as community to fight this truly awful disease. And Philadelphia did its part, as many Philadelphians participated in a blood drive at the Park West Town Center. SCD patients often need blood transfusions, so the blood drive was a big help to local efforts to fight the disease. The event was hosted by the Philadelphia/Delaware chapter of the Sickle Cell Disease Association of America (SCDAA), which also provided free blood pressure screenings, “True Age” assessments and free passes to local gyms were also available.

The blood drive was part of UnitedHealthcare and the SCDAA Philadelphia/Delaware Valley chapter’s much larger effort to create a care management program for people with SCD living in Southeast and Northeast Philadelphia and enrolled in UnitedHealthcare Medicaid plans.

The Sickle Cell Disease Care Management Program – the first of its kind in Pennsylvania – aims to improve patient health, eliminate gaps in care and reduce the need for emergency care for patients with SCD. 

UnitedHealthcare specialized care management team members will work with patients one-on-one to discuss the patients’ psychosocial needs, help them follow the prescribed treatment and connect them with appropriate care resources.  The team will also help to educate patients about SCD and work to eliminate any gaps in care.

SCD is a genetic disorder that causes long strands of hemoglobin to form within some red blood cells, forcing the cell into a sickle shape.  Besides having to live with sometimes excruciating pain, persons with sickle cell disease are much more prone to contract severe, sometimes life-threatening, infections. 

Our SCD Care Management Program will focus on patients prescribed the only available disease-modifying treatment for SCD, a drug called hydroxyurea.  Hydroxyurea works by increasing the levels of fetal hemoglobin in red blood cells, which promotes the production of healthy red blood cells and decreases the likelihood of sickle cell disease complications.

The result of our Sickle Cell Disease Care Management Program will be healthier SCD patients, fewer hospitalizations and lower overall health care costs for the community.

Team members from the SCDAA helped out at the Blood Drive on June 19th to celebrate World Sickle Cell Day in Philly! 

Friday, April 18, 2014

One hockey game fulfills a life-long wish

For kids with serious diseases and their families, life often seems to revolve around hospital stays, medications, doctor visits, treatments and pain.  The challenges, restrictions and emotional toll of daily life with serious disease often pushes many of the joyful things in life off to the side, from playing basketball with friends after school to family vacations.

The nonprofit organization Make-A-Wish works hard to help sick kids and their families forget about the disease for a little while to experience their dreams. The compassion that Make-A-Wish shows for these children and their families led UnitedHealthcare to partner with Make-A-Wish back in 2007.  Since then, we’ve helped make the wishes come true of more than 600 children.  In addition to funding wishes, our employees regularly volunteer their time to help make the wishes happen.

Recently, we had the chance to help fulfill the wish of a young teen in the Pittsburgh area suffering from a rare type of bladder cancer. Riley’s wish was to attend a hockey game in which the Pittsburgh Penguins played the Philadelphia Flyers. 

UnitedHealthcare planned a party for Riley on Friday, April 11 to celebrate both his wish fulfillment and his 14th birthday.  Riley, his family and two best friends were picked up by a limo and whisked off to our offices in Forest Hills near Pittsburgh where 80 UnitedHealthcare workers were waiting to yell, “Surprise!”  Riley received an authentic Pens jersey with the name of his favorite player on the back, goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, a DVD of his favorite show, Duck Dynasty, and other gifts while we all enjoyed ice cream cake.

On Saturday, Riley and his friends and family attended the Penguins vs. Flyers game, and enjoyed dinner and an overnight stay in downtown Pittsburgh.

At UnitedHealthcare, we know that access to high-quality medical care is the number one priority for kids like Riley, and we work hard every day to help people get the care they need.  But our mission to help people live healthier lives extends beyond access to quality, affordable healthcare.  We believe that a few smiles along the way can help kids like Riley find the emotional strength they need along their journey.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Kids help create joke book to raise funds for children with health needs

Why did the clown go to the doctor? 

He was feeling kinda funny.

This is no April Fool’s joke — kids are helping kids feel better.

With the help of kids from around the nation, the UnitedHealthcare Children’s Foundation (UHCCF) collected more than 600 popular and original jokes, funny one-liners, knock-knock jokes and silly tongue-twisters for a new joke book designed to be an uplifting, boredom-busting page turner that would inspire any reader, whether in a hospital, doctor’s waiting room or long car ride.

The "Little Book – Big Laughs Joke Book,” will be available April 1 at www.Amazon.com for $5.99 and in addition to creating smiles, proceeds from the book will be used to help fund child medical grants for local families in need. 

Since 1999, the Foundation has funded more than 6,500 child medical grants totaling more than $20 million. Last year, six grants were awarded to families in Pennsylvania while more than 1,700 grants, worth more than $5.6 million, were awarded nationwide 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.  Unfortunately, many families in Pennsylvania and across the U.S. are unaware of this great resource which is another reason why the Foundation came up with the idea for the book.  Our goal this year is to award 2,100 grants nationwide and the proceeds from the sale of this book can help us reach our goal.

To be eligible for a grant, children must be 16 years of age or younger. Families must meet economic guidelines, reside in the United States and have a commercial health insurance plan (does not have to be with UnitedHealthcare). Grants are available for medical expenses families have incurred 60 days prior to the date of application as well as for ongoing and future medical needs. Parents or legal guardians may apply for grants at www.uhccf.org. Applications are accepted throughout the year, with no deadline to apply.

 The UnitedHealthcare Children’s Foundation is a 501(c)(3) public charity which is governed by an independent National Board of Directors. It is not a division or department of UnitedHealthcare or UnitedHealth Group, but enjoys their strong support.

UnitedHealthcare wants to help as many families as possible.  Families with multiple qualifying children can apply for multiple grants.  The limit for each child is $5,000 within a 12-month period and $10,000 within the child’s lifetime.  Applications take approximately 15-20 minutes to complete.  The length of the review process varies, but usually takes between one and three months.  UnitedHealthcare Children’s Foundation is now accepting applications at www.uhccf.org.

Knock, knock…who’s there? 
I am. 
I am who?
You don’t know who you are?

Laughter truly is the best medicine!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Pay it forward

Many of my readers may be familiar with the concept of “paying it forward,” a term popularized by Catherine Ryan Hyde’s book Pay It Forward.  The idea is to do something to help someone, and instead of them paying back the favor, they pay it forward by helping someone else in need.

The action might be small, such as paying for a tank of gas for someone at the gas station who may need it, or it may be large, such as helping someone buy a plane ticket to get home to their family.  The point is that people will help others as they have been helped, thereby starting a chain of good will.

The concept has been on my mind often lately in light of a recent award I received and the good will that I myself was the recipient of as a student at Randolph Macon College.

On March 14, the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce honored me with their 2014 Paradigm Award.  Now in its 22nd year, the annual award honors a local business woman whose leadership and dedication to family, career and the community makes her a strong role model for others. 

While the award is certainly a flattering accolade, the award focuses on the importance of being a strong role model for others, serving to help, support and inspire them just as other people have done for me along the way.  In other words, I need to pay it forward!

At UnitedHealthcare, paying it forward is a part of our culture.  Last year, in Pennsylvania we gave more than $350,000 to organizations such as Bridge Educational Foundation, the YMCA, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, March of Dimes, Team Pennsylvania and others that help build stronger, healthier communities.  Our Pennsylvania employees donated more than 2,000 volunteer hours to help nonprofit organizations.  And as part of our employee giving campaign, pledged more than $325,000, which UnitedHealthcare matched dollar for dollar.

So it’s time for me to pay it forward, too.  I’ve designated the $25,000 charitable gift that accompanies the Paradigm Award to support Leadership Philadelphia, a nonprofit organization which helps connect businesses and professionals with opportunities to serve the community.  Leadership Philadelphia is using a portion of the donation for its “Pay It Forward” campaign and is giving a random group of people who attended the Paradigm Awards luncheon a small amount of cash to complete acts of service and compassion for someone in need without the expectation of personal reward.

As they use the cash to selflessly help others, they are encouraged to share their experiences with Leadership Philadelphia.  I can’t wait to hear their stories, and I hope they will inspire my readers just as they inspire me.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Healthy babies are worth the wait

As part of the 75th anniversary celebration of the March of Dimes, UnitedHealthcare is a proud partner of the campaign to educate the public about the importance of the last few weeks of pregnancy titled, “Healthy Babies are Worth the Wait.”  While some women may need to have their babies early for medical reasons, physicians and families schedule far too many births before the full gestation period of 40 weeks for non-medical reasons. 

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) classifies a baby as “full term” at 37 weeks, but advises against elective deliveries before 39 weeks.  A UnitedHealthcare study, which surveyed 650 insured, first-time mothers from various geographic, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, found that more than 90% of respondents thought that it was safe to deliver a baby before 39 weeks.

But those last weeks of pregnancy count.  In the last few weeks, babies are still developing important body functions, and babies born before 39 weeks are at increased risk of complications such as respiratory distress, jaundice, infection, low blood sugar, extra days in the hospital and even death.

The March of Dimes wants babies to get at least 39 weeks of gestation. For pregnant women, the March of Dimes offers information on why it is important for labor to begin on its own and not to schedule delivery by convenience.  It also encourages health care professionals to participate in quality improvement initiatives aimed at eliminating early elective deliveries.

“Healthy Babies are Worth the Wait” is an important component of the March of Dimes Prematurity Campaign, a nationwide effort to address the growing problem of premature birth, the leading cause of newborn death and a major cause of serious health problems. Premature births cost society billions of dollars every year. 

As an expansion of the “Healthy Babies are Worth the Wait Campaign, the March of Dimes has created the “CineMama” iPhone app.  Women can create a time-lapse video of their pregnancy – and get health tips along the way – through this free interactive app.    Time-lapse pregnancy slideshows and videos are a trend among expectant parents as a way of creating a digital keepsake of their pregnancy to share with loved ones. 

“CineMama” allows expecting moms to take and upload their photos to the web, easily turn the still pictures into video, and share it all through social media, such as Facebook and Twitter.  “CineMama” will prompt women to record the ups and downs of their pregnancy, as well as important milestones in a diary that can be easily shared.

You can find more information at marchofdimes.com/39 weeks here or by calling 610-945-6050. You should also check with your insurance company. UnitedHealthcare has a Healthy Pregnancy program that connects our members who are expectant mothers with the care and education they need. The program is at no additional cost to the member and provides 24-hour* toll-free access to experienced maternity nurses and other resources.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Day of service trumps day-off

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, anyone can serve and everyone should serve.  So when thousands of volunteers, including twenty-two UnitedHealthcare employees, family and friends showed up to participate in the 19th annual Martin Luther King Day of Service hosted by Girard College in Philadelphia, I was extremely pleased. 

Many activities for this year’s Day of Service were designed to pay tribute to the 60th anniversary of the Supreme Court's 1954 ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, the decision that barred racial segregation in public schools.  So it seemed appropriated that UnitedHealthcare’s service activity took place at the Martha Washington elementary school in west Philadelphia where the UHC team took on the task changing the color of the schools lunchroom from a drab light blue to a vibrant yellow. 

For the last several years, the Greater Philadelphia Martin Luther King Day of Service has been the largest event in the country celebrating Dr. King by doing good works. UnitedHealthcare has been a part of the day’s activities for the past ten years. In fact, this year, we helped with a total of 1,700 King Day projects throughout Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. 

UnitedHealthcare’s mission to help people live healthier lives can be seen in all aspects of our organization.  But I am especially proud of our employees who turned their day-off into a day of service.

Thank you UnitedHealthcare team! 

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Getting to Know You

At UnitedHealthcare, we spend a good deal of time listening to and connecting with our customers because we want to deliver integrated product offerings when, where and how our customers want to be reached.  So it makes perfect sense to us (although I get many confused looks when I tell others) that we should kick off the year at the 2014 International Consumer Electronics show in Las Vegas this week.

In addition to showcasing myEasyBook, an online healthcare shopping service, UnitedHealthcare representatives at the electronics show are demonstrating how our health benefits, services and technologies help to simplify the consumer health care experience by making helpful, practical information more accessible and affordable through personal technology devices such as smart phones, video game consoles and television programming.

CES attendees who visit the UnitedHealthcare booth can interact with a wide range of innovative health tools, including:

Virtual Diabetes Prevention Program: The NOT ME Virtual Diabetes Prevention Program (VDPP) is the online version of the Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP), an evidence-based group lifestyle change program that helps people at high risk for developing type 2 diabetes prevent or delay the disease through modest weight loss via healthy eating, increased physical activity and other lifestyle changes. The VDPP was recently named an International CES Innovations 2014 Design and Engineering Awards Honoree in the “Technology for a Better World” category.

DanceDanceRevolution Classroom Edition: A collaboration with Konami is bringing DanceDanceRevolution (DDR) Classroom Edition, to another school. Konami is the wildly popular dance game that has shown to encourage physical activity among adults and children. The participating school will use the game to track its impact on students’ health, well-being and exercise habits. The collaboration last year brought DDR Classroom Edition to schools in Longwood, Fla.; Gainesville, Ga.; and Fresno, Texas.

Renew (formerly NOVU): Renew inspires and rewards UnitedHealthcare plan participants for taking care of their health and wellness by giving them points toward healthy products, raffles and local deals.

WellView: WellView automatically aggregates disparate data including electronic medical records from physicians, personal health records, health care expenses, health plan balances and more, all in one place. WellView also offers helpful tools such as online appointment scheduling, provider search and a symptom checker to help improve the experience for consumers and get them to the right resource sooner.

UnitedHealthcare’s technology and innovative collaborations showcased at CES make it easier and more fun for people to become active participants in managing their health.  And it’s a pretty good way for consumers to get to know more about us.

Happy New Year!