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

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.