Monday, December 24, 2012

2012’s leadership lessons will guide 2013


If I had to describe 2012 in a word, it would be “leadership.”

Nationwide, statewide, and in my own career, the need for effective leadership is a theme that popped up many times throughout the year.

This year’s presidential election elicited the diverse opinions of Americans about the kind of leadership we want and expect from our elected officials.  In particular, health care reform was a major topic of debate as leaders discussed whether or not the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) is the best way to address health reform.

UnitedHealthcare’s leadership team agreed to uphold key parts of the law, including coverage of preventive services with no copayments, coverage for dependents up to age 26, a ban on lifetime limits, no rescissions of coverage except in cases of fraud, and a requirement to give consumers clear and timely options to appeal a denial of payment, before the Supreme Court’s decision.

We made the decision because we think it’s good for people’s health, promotes broader access to quality care, and helps control rising health care costs.  And when it comes down to it, real reform happens when good leaders do what’s best for the people they serve.

This year marked a milestone for UnitedHealthcare in New Jersey as we opened community storefront offices in Edison and Lakewood.  These offices serve everyone in the community, but pay special attention to the needs of ethnic populations that may have trouble accessing health care due to language or cultural barriers. Working directly with the community helps our leaders better understand the needs of all our customers and overcome any barriers that stand in the way of them getting the health care they need.

2012 will be remembered as the year Super storm Sandy, one of the most damaging storms in U.S. history, hit New Jersey and our neighboring states.  But amid the destruction, there were many moments of great leadership.  From the national assistance dispatched by President Obama to the hands-on work of Governor Christie to the tireless efforts of our public health workers and emergency responders to the financial contributions from corporations, we saw leaders put aside their differences to accomplish something important in a time of need.  I was especially proud of the grass-roots Hurricane Sandy relief my local team here in New Jersey provided across the state.  From gutting homes to preparing meals and setting up food-banks, UnitedHealthcare employees volunteered many hours in communities hardest hit by the storm.

This December, the residents of Newtown, Connecticut are on all of our minds.  As we grieve with the families of those innocent children and their educators, the need is greater than ever for our leaders to make the best and most responsible decisions about how we can protect our children and families.

And as the year draws to a close, we can celebrate a health victory for New Jersey.  The United Health Foundation’s 2012 America’s Health Rankings revealed that New Jersey jumped from ranking as America’s 17th healthiest state in 2011 to 8th in 2012.  While there are areas that can be improved, such as reducing the number of smokers in the state, the Rankings show that with good leaders, diligent public health workers, and a population that’s educated about their health, we can make real and measurable progress.

The events of 2012 brought many lessons in leadership, ones that I hope we remember
as we address the challenges and celebrate the successes in the coming year.

To all my readers, I wish you a healthy, safe and happy holiday season!


Monday, December 17, 2012

The health rankings are in…and we’re looking pretty good, New Jersey!

Like the satisfaction of seeing the numbers on the scale drop or finding that you no longer get winded when walking up hill, it’s immensely rewarding to see that all the hard work you put in has made an actual difference in your health.

And in New Jersey, it’s a good time to give ourselves a little pat on the back for making some real progress in our health in the last year.

This week, the United Health Foundation released the 23rd Annual America’s Health Rankings®, an annual assessment of the nation’s health on a state-by-state basis.  New Jersey came in 8th, not only breaking into the top 10 for the first time in 23 years but jumping nine spots from 17th in 2011.

We’ve made a lot of improvements to our overall health this year.  Specifically, some of the areas where we’re showing up the rest of the country are:
  • Smoking - New Jersey has one of the lowest smoking rates (16.8%) in the U.S., ranking third among the states.
  • Infant Mortality - In the past ten years, infant mortality rates have decreased from 6.5 to 5.3 deaths per 1,000 live births
  • Primary Care Docs - New Jersey is 7th in the nation for having a high number of primary care physicians per capita, with 137.7 primary care physicians per 100,000 population.
  • Obesity - New Jersey has one of the lowest rates of obesity, 23.7% in the country.
  • High School Graduates - 85.3 percent of incoming high school freshman graduate, which puts New Jersey at number 6 in the nation for graduation rates.
But despite the areas in which we’re making progress, there are some other areas where we’re facing particular challenges.  The percent of children living in poverty has risen over the last year from 12.8 to 17.4 percent, compared to only 9.1 percent of children living in poverty ten years ago.  New Jersey also has the 33rd largest uninsured population in the nation, at 15.5%.
 
Significant health disparities exist between population groups.  For instance, obesity is more prevalent among non-Hispanic blacks at 36 percent than Hispanics at 27.8 percent and non-Hispanic whites at 23.3 percent.
 
America’s Health Rankings is a great reality check on our health that both measures our progress and shows us where we need to put in more work.
 
For 2013, New Jersey’s most pressing challenges are to cut the rate of smoking, obesity and sedentary lifestyles.  We also have to work on overcoming cultural, language and economic barriers to help all segments of the population better manage their health care.  The data from America’s Health Rankings will serve as a guide to help all stakeholders in the health care industry develop innovative solutions to address these health issues in the coming year.
 
For the complete New Jersey report and information on the health of the rest of our nation, go to www.americashealthrankings.org.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A Healthy Heart

The temptations of the holiday season are upon us and no matter how hard I try, I can’t say no to many of them.  But this year, I’ve promised to be conscious of the behaviors that benefit my heart and those that don’t. The way I see it, taking care of my heart means enjoying more activities with my family for many holiday seasons to come.

Heart disease is the number one killer in the nation and strokes, which are often the result of poor heart health, come in at number three. Risk factors for poor heart health include high blood pressure, obesity, high cholesterol and physical inactivity.

The silver lining here is that most of these factors are things we can control. The question is how. That’s why UnitedHealthcare is putting the question to you: “What are you doing to keep your heart healthy?”

Send us a picture of one of your heart healthy habits, and you could win a trip to New York Cityto attend the Woman’s Day Red Dress Awards, which honor those who strive to promote heart health.

We want to learn what inspires people to exercise, eat better, stop smoking, lower their blood pressure, decrease their cholesterol levels, control their blood sugar and otherwise keep their hearts in top condition. So we’re asking people to submit photos of their heart-healthy habits and inspirations, whether it’s a photo of where you exercise, the person who motivates you, or a healthy hobby, we want to see what keeps your ticker strong!

In return for sharing your tips with us, all submissions will be entered into our “Look, I’m heart healthy!” Sweepstakes. The contest lasts until January 12, 2013 and one weekly winner will be chosen on Friday each week to receive an Omron HR Heart Rate Monitor. One Grand Prize winner will receive a 2-night, three-day trip for two from February 11-13, 2013 to New York City to attend the Woman’s Day Red Dress Awards.

Click here to enter the contest.

So whether it’s playing a family football game in the backyard, strapping on a pedometer and counting your steps, or putting more vegetable dishes on the dinner table, we want to hear (and see!) what you’re doing to keep your heart healthy.

Monday, November 26, 2012

My Favorite Four Day Weekend of the Year

The Thanksgiving holiday weekend is, and always has been, my favorite four-day weekend for all of the obvious reasons; good food, great football, a large, loving family and leftovers.  All make me truly grateful for the life I have.

This Thanksgiving I was especially grateful for my UnitedHealthcare family.  This month has been a really tough one for them.  The storm that hit the northeast region was especially damaging to the state of New Jersey, hitting many of our employees and customers especially hard.  So, in addition to installing new cases and enrolling and renewing our existing customers, my UnitedHealthcare family spent the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving volunteering in some of the hardest hit areas of the state; helping families clean out what was left of their homes, working in food banks or assisting in public health facilities.  And a fair number will be headed down to the New Jersey shore after Thanksgiving to further assist in the rebuilding efforts. 

While watching the news this morning I saw that people from across the country came to the northeast over the Thanksgiving weekend to help devastated communities in New York and New Jersey.  The images were heartwarming to say the least.

As we move into the more hectic holiday season, I plan to take a healthy dose of the goodness and compassion I’ve seen over the past month with me.  I invite you to do the same.

UnitedHealthcare employees help clean-up a home in Southern NJ

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Come on in, sit down, and let’s have a conversation about health care


If you thought the iPhone’s FaceTime or Skype’s video chatting capabilities were fantastic innovations, you’re going to love the latest innovation from UnitedHealthcare. 

It’s similar to those digital applications, but without the electronic device in between.

It's face-to-face conversations with the community. 

Often when we talk about innovation, we mean new ways to use technology.  But while UnitedHealthcare embraces all that technology can do to help us better serve our customers, we want to make sure we’re easily accessible to everyone in the community.

That means everyone. The tech-savvy and those who want talk to a live person. And it includes those who may experience language or cultural barriers that could stand in the way of their health education.

Our latest effort to increase the personal touch in customer service is by opening community storefronts where people are welcome to walk in and talk to experts about their health concerns and goals.  Last month, we opened two of these offices in New Jersey, one in the heart of Lakewood’s Orthodox Jewish community and the other in  Edison, where a large Asian community works and lives.

While our storefront offices serve everyone in the community, we recognize that many communities may experience obstacles when it comes to managing their health, including language barriers, cultural differences and unique health concerns.  That’s why each of these offices is equipped with specialized resources to accommodate the needs of the populations in those areas.

In Edison, the new office is designed for outreach to the thriving Asian community there.  In Lakewood, the office is prepared to address the needs of the large Hispanic and Orthodox Jewish communities that live in the area. The offices provide customer support, information on UnitedHealthcare insurance products and health and wellness information, all with special attention to the cultural needs of local communities.

UnitedHealthcare also operates community storefront offices in Hempstead, Long Island; Flushing, Queens; and south Philadelphia. 

Our new offices provide us with direct access to the community, thereby simplifying the process of getting better health care information in the hands of the consumer so that they can make better health care decisions.

UnitedHealthcare's community office in Edison, New Jersey, equipped with special resources to serve the Asian community

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

What a Difference a Week Makes…


I’ve been back in my office for a week now and while I, my colleagues and our families are still dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy at home, our spirits got a big boost when UnitedHealthcare announced that it would make a $1,000,000 donation to the hurricane relief efforts in New York and New Jersey.  The donation will largely support state government-led relief efforts in both states. It will also provide funds for direct, personal outreach and support to community-based organizations in New Jersey.  UnitedHealthcare employees across all of our business lines in the state of New Jersey will have input into where a portion of the contribution will go, giving the employees the opportunity to provide direct assistance in our local communities hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy. 

What a difference a week makes!

UPDATE: Here is a video with some highlights of the efforts of UnitedHealthcare employees to provide relief to New Jersey residents in the aftermath of Sandy:



Monday, November 5, 2012

Sandy left us battered, but our sense of community is going strong

As many of you have seen from pictures on the news or internet, or perhaps experienced for yourselves, Hurricane Sandy devastated the east coast last week, particularly those of us in the tri-state, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

In New Jersey, where I live and work, the damage has been significant.  The Jersey shore as we knew it no longer exists.  I am immensely grateful to our first responders, including police departments, fire departments, emergency medical technicians, the National Guard, state and federal relief workers and Red Cross volunteers who have jumped into action to save lives, bring supplies and recover property.

I also admire the doctors, nurses and other medical personnel who have remained dedicated to their patients, many of them traveling through dangerous conditions to get to their workplaces, staying at hospitals around the clock and literally carrying patients to a waiting ambulance when it was clear they had to evacuate.  Their commitment to helping the sick and injured is beyond words.

For those of us at UnitedHealthcare, all of our New Jersey and New York offices were closed the week of the storm.  My office is open today with shortened hours.  Many of our employees, however, still struggle with serious damage to property, a lack of heat (and yes, it is cold and getting colder) and electricity, limited access to gasoline and communication.

Those who can are working from home to make sure that our operations continue to run smoothly for the customers we serve.  Nationwide, UnitedHealthcare employees are making sure that those who have been affected by the storm get the medical care they need.  Some of the things we are doing to help include:
  • Access to Care: Plan participants who have been displaced from their homes or whose network medical facility or physician is not accessible, and require assistance or special accommodations, can call customer care at the number located on the back of their medical ID card for assistance. If necessary, customer care professionals will help affected individuals obtain in-network benefits if a network provider is not available. If a UnitedHealthcare plan participant does not have their medical ID card, they can call 866-633-2446, 8 a.m.-8 p.m. (in the local time zone), Monday through Friday. This policy will remain active until at least Nov. 11, 2012. 
  • Early Prescription Refills: People who have been displaced or do not have access to their medications will be able to have prescriptions refilled early. Members obtaining a refill are asked to alert the pharmacist that they were affected by the hurricane in order to ensure the early prescription refill request is processed appropriately.  For mail-order delivery service to affected areas or any other questions related to their prescriptions, people are encouraged to call the pharmacy number on the back of their medical or prescription ID card, or speak directly to their pharmacist about their situation in order to get an early refill, if necessary.  This policy will remain active until at least Nov. 11, 2012. 
  • Free Help Line:  Optum, a leading health and behavioral health services company, is offering a free emotional-support help line.  The toll-free number, 866-342-6892, will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for as long as necessary. The service is free of charge and open to anyone. Specially trained Optum mental health specialists help people manage their stress and anxiety so they can continue to address their everyday needs. Callers may also receive referrals to community resources to help them with specific concerns, including financial and legal matters.  Along with the toll-free help line, emotional support resources and information are available online at www.liveandworkwell.com.
The devastation from the storm has disrupted all of our lives on personal, community, and national levels.  All of us at UnitedHealthcare feel deeply for those who have lost their homes, have suffered injuries, or even lost loved ones.
As we begin the process of recovery, UnitedHealth Group is working closely with the Red Cross and numerous federal agencies to monitor the situation on the east coast.  Based on their feedback UnitedHealth Group decided the best way to support the relief efforts and the people impacted is with cash donations.  So for employees within the UnitedHealth Group family who may have missed Bruce Springsteen, Jon Stewart, Whoopi Goldberg, Tina Fey and others on NBC’s hurricane relief telethon last Friday evening, UnitedHealth Group will match all employee contributions to the American Red Cross, dollar for dollar, through Nov. 30, 2012.
Be safe.

 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Health Insurance 202: Advanced Health Insurance Terms

In terms of health insurance, do you know what EOB stands for?
“Elephant obesity?”

 How about PDL?
“Public display of love?”

And do you know what an HSA is?
“Home shopping association?”

When UHC-TV cameramen asked sidewalk volunteers to define some health care acronyms, people got pretty creative with their answers.

You may recall that when I blogged a few weeks ago about some of the basic health insurance terms we asked people about on UHC-TV, our volunteers were able to give pretty good answers for terms like “premiums” and “copays.”  But when we started asking people to explain some frequently used but less known terms, most people couldn’t quite come up with the right answer, although they did show off their sense of humor.

So whether you’re sitting down to choose your health plan for the upcoming year, are trying to better understand your current plan, or just want to brush up your knowledge of the health care options available to you, here are some terms you should know:
  • Explanation of Benefits (EOB): The EOB is a statement that can be sent to you electronically or in the mail.  It breaks down the exact benefits provided, the reimbursement amounts allowed, deductibles, coinsurance or other adjustments taken as well as the net amount paid.
  • Prescription Drug List (PDL):  Your EOB should include a list of prescription drugs covered under your plan and how much you pay for them.  Because generic drugs work just as well as prescription drugs but usually cost less, the PDL may assign different payment amounts to generic and brand-name medications.
  • Health Reimbursement Account (HRA): An HRA is an account that may be set up by your employer to which your employer contributes to help you cover medical expenses you would normally cover yourself.  Employers decide whether to let the remaining balance carry over to the next year.
  • Health Savings Account (HSA): HSAs are typically paired with a high-deductible health plan and allow you or your employer to contribute pre-tax dollars from your paycheck into an account to pay for qualified medical expenses.  The funds are owned by you, so you can decide to roll them over from year to year and keep the account even if you change employers or benefits. If your employer does not offer an HSA, you can set one up on your own.
  • Flexible Savings Account (FSA): Employers may set up flexible savings accounts to allow employees to contribute pre-tax dollars from their paychecks each year to pay for medical expenses not covered by their plan, such as deductibles, copays, and coinsurance.  Unused funds do not carry over from year to year, so it’s important to plan carefully.
Data from a UnitedHealthcare study revealed that when reviewing their health options, 50 percent of people spend only an hour or less reviewing their choices.  But in many cases, consumers who spend quality time reviewing their health plan options can find ways to save money – whether it's through selecting a plan that better fits their expected health costs in the coming year, making sure their doctors are in their insurer's care provider network or evaluating prescription drug coverage.

So check out UHCTV.com to learn more about health care terms, watch videos with tips on healthy lifestyles, see answers to common questions on Medicare, hear advice from medical experts, and even have a few laughs.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Leadership Matters

How do we know that we’re headed in the right direction?

It’s a question on the minds of a lot of us in the health care industry who are working to iron out the details of implementing health care reform.  And although none of us has a crystal ball into the future, I believe that our best guide to navigate what comes our way will always be to follow our values.

Last week, I had the opportunity to join CEOs from hospitals and health insurance companies in New Jersey to talk about “How Leadership Matters to your Organization in a Time of Reform."  The panel discussion was a part of the 36th annual Institute of the New Jersey chapter of the Healthcare Financial Management Association.  This year’s institute was held in cooperation with the Metropolitan Philadelphia Chapter.  Joining me on the panel were the CEOs from MagnaCare, Engelwood Hospital Medical Center, Children’s Specialized Hospital, Amerihealth and University Medical Center of Princeton.     

I heard a lot from my fellow panel members about what they are doing to address the changes of the healthcare system and what they are doing to encourage positive leadership.  And yes, the financials drive a lot of what we have to do.  But real leadership in healthcare is about more than just building the largest physician network, establishing the most technologically advanced data processing system or simplifying the health insurance experience for the consumer, all of which UnitedHealthcare has done.  It’s about more than just what we’re doing – it’s about how we’re doing it.

And that takes me back to our core values.  I strongly believe the best leaders will be measured not only by their innovation but by their ability to inspire their colleagues and employees at every level to incorporate the company’s core values in the decisions they make each and every day.

At UnitedHealthcare, that means that we’ll always keep the following values top of mind in whatever we do:
  • Integrity.  We will make honest commitments and work to honor them, without compromising ethics.  When we make mistakes, we will have the courage to acknowledge them and do whatever is needed to address them.
  • Compassion.  We will strive to listen with empathy, and try to walk in the shoes of the people we serve and the people we work with throughout the healthcare community.  We celebrate our role in serving people in an area as vitally human as their health.
  • Relationships.  We will build trust by cultivating relationships with truthfulness, integrity and active collaboration.  We encourage the variety of thoughts and perspectives that reflect the diversity of our markets, customers and workforce.
  • Innovation.  We will pursue continuous, positive and practical innovation, using our deep experience in health care to be advocates of change and to use the insights we gain to invent a better future that will make the health care environment work and serve everyone more fairly, productively and consistently.
  • Performance.  We are committed to delivering excellence in everything we do and challenge ourselves to strive for even better outcomes each day.
These are tough times for the health insurance industry.  We must work together to figure out a way to make profound changes to a system that has been in place for decades.  We must do a lot of things and we must do them all well.  At UnitedHealthcare our work is shaped by our core values and they will inform everything we do as a company and as employees as we address the health care challenges of today and the future.

For more information about UnitedHealthcare’s mission and values, click here.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Giving 7th Graders a Head Start

When you hear “head start” I’m pretty certain most people think of toddlers getting a jump on kindergarten by learning, through play, in a pre-school environment.  But at the Westfield YMCA in New Jersey, they had a different kind of head start in mind when they launched their 7th Grade Initiative program five years ago.

As kids grow into teens and begin making more of their own choices including how to spend their time, many parents only cross their fingers and hope that their teens will make healthy decisions.

That’s why UnitedHealthcare stepped in to support the Westfield Y in the development of a 7th Grade Initiative program that helps pre-teens learn to make healthy choices as they begin to make their own decisions about nutrition and exercise.

The 7th Grade Initiative gives students a free Pre-Teen Plus membership to the YMCA, allowing them access to the YMCA’s exercise equipment, pool and gym.  The program also includes fitness testing, Friday night teen nights, nutrition education, exercise classes, and family activities.

Last Wednesday, we kicked off the 2012 – 2013 7th Grade Initiative at the Y with a high-energy party, complete with fitness testing, health experts, a climbing wall and healthy snacks.  We were thrilled to see more than 100 seventh grade kids and their families come out and sign up for the program.

Research indicates that seventh grade is a critical junction in a child’s development of attitudes and behaviors regarding body image, nutrition and self esteem.  The goal of the 7th Grade Initiative is to help kids pass through this critical time of development with a healthy self-image and a thorough understanding of the importance of exercise and healthy nutrition that will last students throughout their teen years and into adulthood.

The signature culminating event of the 7th Grade Initiative is the UnitedHealthcare Health Bee that takes place in the spring.  The Health Bee is a quiz show-style competition that tests students’ health and fitness knowledge.  Students from eight middle schools in New Jersey compete.

Last year, 330 students took part in the program, and we are hoping for even more this year.  The program is an important step toward curbing childhood obesity in New Jersey and helping our youth learn healthy habits.

For more information about childhood obesity and what can be done to prevent it, check out UnitedHealthcare’s Generations of Wellness website.

I joined more than 100 7th grade students as we kicked off the 7th Grade Initiative at the Westfield YMCA in New Jersey

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Health Insurance Terms 101

If someone with a microphone stopped you and asked you to define “HRA” do you think you could?  If you answered “not likely”, you’re not alone.

When UnitedHealthcare interviewers took our cameras to the streets to talk to people about health care terms it was clear that lots of people aren’t really sure what many of the terms mean and how they impact their wallets. 

So before you sit down to select your health insurance plan, take a minute to to review let me take you thorugh my Health Insurance Terms 101 crash course.  The following terms are sure to pop up frequently as you review your health insurance plan options or seek medical care.  Understanding these terms can help you better understand your financial responsibilities and benefits under each plan offered by your employer or if you’re a small business owner, your broker:
  • Premium: the amount you pay each month to have health insurance coverage.  This amount is usually taken out of your paycheck.
  • Deductible: your portion of the costs before insurance kicks in.  Preventive care, such as annual screenings and physicals, do not apply to the deductible.
  • Copay: a fixed amount that you pay each time you see a doctor or fill a prescription.  The amount of your copay may vary depending on whether you are seeing a primary care physician, a specialist, or seeking emergency care.
  • Coinsurance: a predetermined percentage of the total cost you pay for medical services, such as office visits, lab work and emergency room care.  Coinsurance will apply up until you hit your out-of-pocket maximum.
  • Out-of-pocket Maximum: the maximum amount you have to pay for health services every year.  Once you have paid this amount, your insurance company usually pays 100% of your health care costs, subject to any policy limitations.
Here is an example of how you may encounter these terms in the course of the year: Suppose you enroll in a traditional health plan for which a monthly premium is taken out of your paycheck.  The plan has a $500 deductible, a 20% coinsurance rate, and an out-of-pocket maximum of $2,000.

Imagine that you go to your doctor for an annual physical and she finds a suspicious mole on your back, and refers you to a dermatologist.  The physical is free because it is preventive care, but you have a $25 copay at the dermatologist’s office, which counts toward your deductible.  The dermatologist removes the mole, a procedure that costs $1,475.

You pay the remaining $475 of your deductible first.  After that, your insurance kicks in to apply to the remaining $1,000 balance.  Because your coinsurance rate is 20%, the insurer will pay $800 and you will be responsible for $200 of that portion.

Your total cost would be the $25 copay to see the dermatologist, plus the remaining $475 deductible, plus the $200 coinsurance rate, for a total of $700.

Then suppose that later in the year, you end up in the hospital for 4 days with an illness.  Your total bill from the hospital is $20,000.  Your coinsurance rate means that you are responsible for $4,000, but your maximum out-of-pocket for the year is $2,000.  You’ve already paid $700 earlier in the year, so you would only have to pay the remaining $1,300. 

Once you hit the $2,000 maximum out-of-pocket, all of your eligible medical expenses for the rest of the year will be covered 100% by your insurance.

For more explanations about various aspects of health insurance, check out UHCTV.com for videos like the one below.


Monday, October 1, 2012

It's open enrollment season: Tips for choosing a health plan

Open enrollment season is about to begin and there are a lot of reasons why everyone should pay close attention.  Open enrollment is the period of time each year when many Americans, particularly those under the age of 65, who rely on health insurance offered through their workplace, get the option to re-evaluate their health benefits and make different selections if necessary.  It usually takes place in the fall and lasts a few weeks.

This open enrollment season, I’d like to pass on the following tips to help you figure out exactly which plan is the best fit for you and your family. 

1.      Decide what you need.  Think carefully about your family’s health.  Are you all generally in good health?  Or do you have medical conditions such as diabetes or a chronic disease that require special care or medication?  If you do have a medical condition, check the details of the plans being offered by your employer to make sure they provide coverage for those areas.

2.      Do your research.  Talk to your human resources manager, attend a company seminar or go online to get more information on each of the health plans you get to choose from.  If you buy health insurance on your own, take a look at the glossary of terms on any health insurer’s website to make sure you understand the lingo.

3.      Know how much your plan costs.  Your costs are more than just your monthly premium.  In addition to what you will pay monthly through a payroll deduction, make sure you know your maximum out-of-pocket, co-pay and prescription drug costs. 

4.      Find out how you can save.  Many employers offer health savings accounts or flexible savings accounts, which allow employees to contribute pre-tax dollars for out-of-pocket medical expenses, such as prescriptions, deductibles or co-pays.  Your insurer can also help you find out ways to save, such as using in-network doctors or switching to the generic form of a prescription drug.

5.      Make wellness a priority. You can often earn financial rewards by achieving wellness goals, such as maintaining a healthy weight, participating in a smoking cessation program and completing preventive health screenings.  Many employers offer wellness programs to employees, so get the details and take advantage if your employer offers one.  Remember that better overall health for you and your family means lower health costs.

Even if you decide to stick with the health benefits plan you currently have, open enrollment is an excellent time to review your existing health benefits to make sure that you are managing your health in a way that is cost-effective and using the preventive care and wellness benefits offered. 

One more thing: There’s a new twist for employees of small businesses this year, as the health insurance industry has begun to offer private health insurance exchanges. The exchange is simple for employer and employee. The employer pays a certain set amount per month for the employee’s healthcare benefits and the employee picks from a number of plans, up to 30 in some cases.  Several insurers have these private exchanges in planning or operation; we call ours “Multi-Choice.”  

 

 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Game ON!

Every football player has heard it since his first day of Pee Wee football: “There is no ‘I’ in team.”  While every guy on the team has to do his individual part, not even a star quarterback can win the game on his own.

We can apply this concept to our community health.  Every one of us has to take responsibility for our individual health, but it takes a team effort to improve the health of the whole community.  That’s why UnitedHealthcare is bringing its Game ON! experience to 80 high school football games around the country to get kids and families excited about being active and staying healthy.

Game ON! is an interactive experience that encourages a healthy lifestyle through real-life opportunities.  Kids and adults can test their speed and agility on an obstacle course, try their luck at a football toss or visit the “cheer card” station to create posters that show their school spirit and offers a health tip. 

Here in New Jersey, the Game ON! experience will be at several schools in Bergen County during Friday night football games.  We’ve already shred the experience with fans at two great games, and we’re looking forward to more.  On September 7, we were at Old Tappan High School for the game against Indian Hills, and on September 14, we made a check presentation to Lakeland High School before they faced off against Paramus.  We’ve got three more games to go, so mark you calendar:

·         October 5; Lakeland High School vs. Kearny High School
·         October 19; Lakeland High School vs. Old Tappan High School
·         November 2; Old Tappan High School vs. Teaneck

Each of the participating schools will receive a grant from UnitedHealthcare to support their athletic or wellness programs.  The grants are our way of helping schools teach kids and families how sports can be a fun way to work together to maintain a healthy, active lifestyle.

We’d love to see lots of New Jersey high school football fans come out to the Game ON! experience, but if you’re stuck at home, you can follow the fun on Twitter or Instagram using hashtag #gameonuhc where you can see photos and obstacle course scores posted by the fans.  To see a video of My 9 News coverage of Game ON!, click here.

Students race for the best time on the obstacle course at UnitedHealthcare Game ON!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Calling all HEROES: New Jersey youth invited to “Step into Service” to fight childhood obesity

Childhood obesity is a serious problem across the nation, affecting more than 12 million kids, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The problem hits close to home here in New Jersey. A 2010 study from Rutgers University shows that among our major cities of Camden, Newark, New Brunswick, Trenton and Vineland, about 40-50% of students are overweight or obese.

That’s why UnitedHealthcare is calling on New Jersey youth to “Step into Service” and offering UnitedHealth HEROES grants to encourage young people, working with educators and youth leaders, to create and implement walking, running or hiking programs aimed at helping to fight childhood obesity.

Grants of up to $1,000 will be awarded to youth-led childhood obesity programs in New Jersey that include both an activity in which kids count their steps and a service component that increases awareness, provides direct service, advocates an idea or raises funds for a cause.  UnitedHealth HEROES activities will begin on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service (Jan. 21, 2013) and end on Global Youth Service Day (April 26-28, 2013).

To help in their programs, this year’s winners will have two mobile apps available to them.  The first is the American Heart Association’s Walking Paths app, which helps users locate nearby walking trails and calculate their length.  The second is UnitedHealthcare’s OptumizeME app which creates a social forum for providing encouragement, peer fitness challenges, and health and fitness tips.

This is the fifth year of the HEROES program, and UnitedHealthcare has awarded nearly $500,000 in grants nationwide during the first four years.  Last year, we had some wonderful programs win HEROES grants in New Jersey, including:
  • Burlington Township High School for “Project SOCCER” (Soccer - Obesity prevention – Community service – Conference – Exercise – Recreation), an initiative by the girls’ soccer team to educate the community about exercise and health resources.
  • Who Is My Neighbor? Inc. in Highland Park for “A Better World Culinary Camp,” a semester-long camp that teaches youth ages 5-25 about making healthy eating accessible, affordable and sustainable for all.
  • New Brunswick Tomorrow for its “Hub Film Club” Teen Video Journalism & Public Service Announcement (PSA) program, in which students created a video documentary about healthy food and physical fitness activities in the community to later use in PSAs.
  • FOCUS Hispanic Center for Community Development, Inc. in Newark for service-learning projects for students in its after-school program.  Students were able to choose community volunteer opportunities that involved nutrition, physical activity, health screenings and distribution of community resource guides.
  • Emily Fisher Public Charter High School in Trenton for its “SISTERS Circle” (Success, Innovation, Support, Training, Empowerment and Resources) program, a teaching and service-learning initiative for urban teens from economically disadvantaged communities that focused on life-long wellness and fitness, learning skills, academic achievement and workplace readiness.

The programs from last year were a great success and we look forward to seeing what New Jersey youth come up with this year to combat the obesity epidemic.

HEROES grants are available in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.  To apply for a grant, visit www.YSA.org/HEROES.  The deadline to apply is midnight EST on October 15, 2012.  Grant winners will be notified in November 2012.
2011 HEROES Grant winners New Jersey Tomorrow

Friday, September 7, 2012

Ride 2 Recovery

On Monday, September 10, more than 200 cyclists, all injured veterans and their supporters, will push off on the Minuteman Challenge, a six-day, 330-mile ride from Boston to Fort Lee, New Jersey.

And I’m proud to say that I’ll be riding along with them, at least part of the way.

The Minuteman Challenge is organized by Ride 2 Recovery, a nonprofit organization that focuses on cycling to aid in the physical and psychological rehabilitation of injured veterans.  From indoor spinning training at military installations to multiday, long-distance rides, Ride 2 Recovery helps injured veterans heal through the challenge of cycling long distances using cycles adapted to their individual needs, including traditional road bikes, hand cycles, recumbent bikes and tandem bikes.

According to Ride 2 Recovery founder John Wordin, cycling helps injured veterans find a physical and mental outlet, whether alone or in groups.  As they rebuild their strength and conditioning, they are also healing the effects of post traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries and depression.  Cycling provides a powerful therapeutic exercise that they can continue for the rest of their lives.

This is the third year that UnitedHealthcare is serving as Ride 2 Recovery’s presenting sponsor, providing financial, in-kind and volunteer support to assist in the rehabilitation of America’s veterans.  Other sponsors, including the USO, the American Legion Family and others, have joined us to provide rest stops and meals that make the Challenge possible at no cost to the injured veterans. 

I’ll be riding with our veterans for the first two legs of the journey.  We’ll start off in Quincy, Massachusetts and ride to Providence, Rhode Island on September 10, then go on to Hartford, Connecticut on the second day.  The rest of the cyclists will continue on with overnight stops in New London, Connecticut and Oyster Bay, New York.  And I’ll be here with the rest of the UnitedHealthcare team to greet them when they arrive in Fort Lee, New Jersey on Friday, September 14.

After spending a night in Fort Lee, the cyclists will be transported to West Point to watch the West Point versus Northern Illinois State football game.

The Challenge will conclude with an Honor Ride on Sunday, September 16 that will begin and end in Fort Lee.  Riders will choose from three routes to ride, varying in length at 13, 36 and 62 miles, with the longest route stopping at the Haverstraw Bay County Park 9/11 memorial.

The Minuteman Challenge is not a race, but a test of physical and mental endurance that builds a sense of camaraderie among the veterans and their supporters.  I rode with them last year, and the experience was incredible.  The stories of strength and heroism among the veterans are humbling, and I feel privileged to be able to ride alongside some of our nation’s heroes again.

For anyone who lives along the bike route, I encourage you to gather along the route and cheer on our veterans.  The outpouring of support from the community not only motivates them but is also a very visible demonstration of America's appreciation of our veterans’ service.
For information on the exact dates, times and routes, visit the Minuteman Challenge website at http://ride2recovery.com/honor_ride/index.html.

Injured veterans and their supporters ride alongside one another for hundreds of miles in the Ride 2 Recovery Challenge

Friday, August 31, 2012

September is National Infant Mortality Awareness Month

For most of the country, September is synonymous with back to school.  But what most people don’t know is that September is also National Infant Mortality Awareness Month, so it’s a great time to talk about what can be done to help expectant mothers increase their chances of delivering healthy babies.  To get the conversation started, I’ve enlisted the help of Dr. Anju Sikka, regional medical director for UnitedHealthcare in New Jersey.

According to Dr. Sikka, when it comes to pregnancy, what mothers don’t know really could hurt them and their babies.  That’s why we’ve launched the Healthy Pregnancy program to help connect expectant mothers, insured by UnitedHealthcare, with the care and education they need. 

One of our areas of focus for expectant mothers is to help them understand the process of a baby’s development and avoid risk factors for giving birth prematurely.  Some risk factors are entirely avoidable.  For instance, we discovered from a survey that many new moms don’t have a clear understanding of when a baby is “full term.”

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.  But the UnitedHealthcare study, which surveyed 650 insured, first-time mothers from varied geographic, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, found that more than 90% of respondents thought that it was safe to deliver a baby before 39 weeks.  Furthermore, nearly one in four women surveyed believed that a baby was full term at 34-36 weeks.

When UnitedHealthcare reviewed claims data from 2006, we discovered that 48% of newborns admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit were from scheduled admissions for delivery, many before 39 weeks of gestation.  While many mothers will try to schedule the birth of their baby around other events or around their doctor’s schedule, planning a birth before the baby is full-term comes at a risk to the infant’s health.  When doctors at these hospitals were notified of UnitedHealthcare’s findings and altered their practices to avoid scheduled deliveries before 39 weeks, the hospitals saw a 46-percent decrease in admissions to the NICU in the first three months - a decline that has held stable.

Dr. Sikka strongly emphasized the fact that, the decision to induce labor early or perform a C-section before a pregnancy is full-term should take clinical recommendations into account and reflect the baby’s and mother’s health and medical needs.  Expectant parents should take the opportunity to learn just how important the last few remaining weeks are for a baby’s health and development.

More information about women’s health and healthy pregnancies can be viewed at http://www.uhc.com/source4women.htm.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Health insurance apps put important health care information at your fingertips

Before you left for your son’s soccer tournament, did you check where all the medical centers are near the soccer fields, just in case he gets hurt?

And if he does get hurt, will you remember to tell the doctor the name of the drug that he had an allergic reaction to that one time?  Tetra-something?

And of course, you didn’t leave the insurance card sitting on the kitchen table, did you?

Health emergencies can arise anytime, anywhere, and everyone should be prepared.  But if you had to check all of your health information every time you left the house, you’d never get out the door.

Fortunately, many health insurers are making things easier by providing health apps that help consumers manage their health plans on the go.  I know it may not sound like as much fun as a round of Angry Birds or Fruit Ninja, but when you suddenly find yourself dealing with a health situation, you’ll be glad you have it.

At UnitedHealthcare, we have an app that’s called Health4Me.  The app is free and available at http:/www.myuhc.com.  It offers information on a variety of health topics and helps plan participants to manage their health care needs and expenses, including:
  • Contacting a registered nurse 24/7 for information regarding any kind of medical topic;
  • Downloading your health plan ID card to your phone and emailing it or faxing it directly to the physician’s office or hospital;
  • Viewing information on the status of your deductible and out-of-pocket spending, and checking account balances for health reimbursement, flexible spending and health savings account;
  • Requesting a callback from the health insurance carrier on specific questions about claims and benefits;
  • Saving information about your favorite care providers and recording personal notes during a doctor’s visit;
  • Locating nearby physicians, hospitals, emergency rooms and urgent care centers using the phone’s GPS function.
Later this year we will add UnitedHealthcare’s Cost Estimator to the app.  The Cost Estimator is a new integrated online service that brings a retail shopping experience to health care and helps people find quality care while being able to estimate the cost of more than 100 common treatments and procedures with maximum accuracy. Estimates are also personalized to reflect an individual’s own health plan benefits, including their real-time account balances when applicable.

Mobile apps are making health care simpler and more accessible.  So the next time you pull your smart phone out for a quick game, take a moment and get your health plan in order.  It’s like killing two pigs with one angry bird.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Back to the basics: primary care system gets a boost in New Jersey

A primary care practice is a key point of contact for patients’ health care needs. Primary care is critical to promoting health, improving care, and reducing overall health care costs, but in the more widely used  pay-for-service system, it is hard to put a value on the primary care relationship.  Fewer physicians are entering into and remaining in primary care.

As a result, consumers have less access to primary care and are using higher-cost settings such as the emergency room, urgent care and specialty care for situations more effectively addressed by primary physicians and facilities. According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), spending on hospital visits, medications and other health care rose an estimated 3.9 percent in 2011 and consumed about 17.9 percent of U. S. gross domestic product.

But now the way doctors deliver primary care is changing rapidly in the United States, and UnitedHealthcare, other health insurers  and select physician practice groups are leading the way by participating in a CMS pilot program that is testing new models of primary care.  The Comprehensive Primary Care Initiative (CPCI) is being introduced this year in eight states including New Jersey.

Under CPCI primary care physicians will receive financial support based on the number of patients that a practice is caring for, regardless of how many visits or services the patients are receiving.  They will also have the opportunity to receive an additional payment based on the cost, utilization and quality health care services they provide.   These additional fees help physicians hire care coordinators to monitor care plans and help better manage patients with chronic diseases.  Approximately 75 primary care practices will be selected by CMS to participate in the program.  

UnitedHealthcare believes programs like CPCI are important to helping improve the overall quality of health care and reducing medical costs for all Americans. Our healthcare system has long operated on a fee-for-service basis, meaning that every time a physician or other health care professional does something, someone or some combination of people and organizations pays for it. Pay-for-service naturally leads to a focus on helping sick people get better, as opposed to preventing the illness in the first place.  Fee-for-service also encourages the medical industry to organize itself around specific services—operations, procedures and prescriptions—instead of dealing holistically with people.

Many of the changes in health care have tried to address the tendency of fee-for-service to lead to a fragmented, healing only -focus approach to health care. For example, UnitedHealthcare was a pioneer in covering preventive medicine such as colonoscopies, mammograms and annual physicals without co-pay, coinsurance or deductible, a principle now enshrined in the Affordable Care Act. The CMS primary care initiative is the latest step in the slow and steady transformation to a more patient-centered health care system.

For additional information on the CMS program and to see if your state is one of the  participating states go to http://innovation.cms.gov/initiatives/comprehensive-Primary-Care-Initiative.