Friday, December 13, 2013

New Jersey in top 10 healthiest states, New York 15th healthiest

We must be doing something right: New Jersey is ranked as the 10th healthiest state this year, and New York isn’t far behind at number 15.

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

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

New Jersey (10) and New York (15) did comparatively well in the rankings, but each had their share of strengths and challenges.  For example, New Jersey’s overall rates of infectious disease, including rates of Chlamydia, Pertussis, and Salmonella, are lower than most other states.  New York’s rate of obesity is the third lowest in the nation. 

As for challenges, in New Jersey the prevalence of diabetes increased from 8.8 percent in 2012 to 9.3 percent this year while in New York 25% of children live in households with income at or below the poverty line.  To see the Rankings in full and details on specific strengths and weaknesses in each state visit: www.americashealthrankings.org.

Since the United Health Foundation began publishing the rankings in 1990, both New York and New Jersey have made significant progress in their health.  This annual report shows how important it is for public heath officials, health insurers, health care providers and community organizations to work collaboratively to help all individuals in New York and New Jersey live healthier lives.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Hispanic Scholars Bring Excitement to Health Care Modernization

Hispanics are the largest ethnic group in the United States, yet the number of Hispanic health professionals is disproportionately low when compared to the overall population.  Through its Diverse Scholars Initiative, the United Health Foundation and UnitedHealthcare is committed to increasing the number of Hispanic health care professionals across the country.

Last week we were honored to present scholarship recipients at the annual New York Hispanic Health Professional Student Scholarship Gala hosted by the National Hispanic Health Foundation (NHHF) at the New York Academy of Medicine.  In addition to announcing the scholarship recipients from New York and the eastern United States, NHHF also presented Hispanic Health Leadership Awards to Chelsea Clinton, vice chair of the Clinton Foundation; Roberto Clemente, Jr., president & CEO of RCJ Global Impact, LLC; Gary Butts, MD, Associate Dean for Diversity Programs and Policy at the Icahn Mount Sinai School of Medicine; and the Honorable Felix Ortiz, president of the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators and New York State Assemblyman (District 51).  Peggy Carranza, NY Correspondent with MundoFox was the Mistress of Ceremonies.

I was proud that UnitedHealthcare joined this distinguished group of leaders to celebrate a very talented group of Hispanic scholars who are working hard to attain their higher education goals and will eventually start a career in health care.  Research shows that when patients are treated by health professionals who share their language, culture and ethnicity, they are more likely to accept and adopt the medical treatment they receive. Increasing the diversity of health care providers will reduce the shortage of medical professionals in underserved areas, reduce inequities in academic medicine and address variables – such as language barriers – that make it difficult for patients to navigate our existing health care system.  I am excited for what these young scholars will bring to a more modernized health care system.

For more information about the United Health Foundation Diverse Scholars Initiative visit www.unitedhealthfoundation.org/dsi.html For more information about NHHF’s scholarship program visit http://www.nhmafoundation.org/scholarshipprogram.html.

From left to right: Samuel Arce, MD, FAAFP, Chairman, National Hispanic Health Foundation, Council of Medical Societies; Jo Ivey Boufford, MD, President, New York Academy of Medicine; Carlos Alvarez, Senior Field Account Manager, UnitedHealthcare; Mark Díaz, MD, Chairman, Board Member, National Hispanic Health Foundation; Elena Ríos, MD, MSPH, President and CEO National Hispanic Health Foundation.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Small businesses have many resources as they prepare for health care changes

When I conducted the UnitedHealthcare Reform Seminar for members of the New Jersey Chinese American Chamber of Commerce back in June, I encouraged the audience of small business owners and human resource professionals to do their health care homework by going to the United for Reform Resource Center located at uhc.com/reform and review the upcoming health insurance changes. 

Chuck Cerniglia answering questions from chamber
of commerce members about health insurance. 
Fast forward three months and there are even more changes.  So last month Chuck Cerniglia, UnitedHealthcare’s vice president of small business in New Jersey, and I conducted a similar seminar for a larger group, the members of the New Jersey Chinese American, Korean American and Asian Indian Chambers of Commerce.  Chuck and I helped these small business owners to better understand the changes in how they would provide health insurance for their employees in 2014.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) includes dozens of provisions designed to improve our health care system.  Our discussion focused on three main areas of change: benefits, rating criteria and new or increased taxes.  We engaged in a robust question and answer session in which the business owners inquired about private and Small Business Health Option Plan (SHOP) exchanges, early renewal, retiree’s health benefits and the impact of the Affordable Care Act on New Jersey’s Medicaid program. 

The Affordable Care Act brings significant and sweeping changes to how all Americans get and pay for their health care.  I thank the leaders of the New Jersey Asian American Chambers of Commerce for inviting me to meet with them as a group to help them understand what health reform means to employers and employees.

Chuck Cerniglia and I with leaders from the New Jersey
Chinese American, Korean American and Asian Indian Chambers of Commerce

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

NJBIZ Magazine’s “50 Fastest Growing New Jersey Companies” Awards show New Jersey’s strength

Just 12 short months ago when we met to honor NJBIZ  magazine’s “50 Fastest Growing New Jersey Companies,” we were taking a short pause from dealing with the damage and hardships that Superstorm Sandy had caused our individual businesses and the communities of New Jersey. There was a somber note about our celebration of entrepreneurship.

What a difference a year makes!  Although much remains to be done to help the victims of Sandy recover, it’s obvious that New Jersey has come back and shown that—in the words of the TV ad—we really are stronger than the storm. 

New Jersey’s strength is reflected in the diverse mix of companies whose successes we celebrate this year: information technology, software, internet services, professional services, contracting defense, banking, energy, and oh yes, there are 10 companies on the list that have something to do with health care.

Over the past few weeks, we have been reminded many times how large a sector of the economy health care has grown to be. And we’ve been reminded how important decisions about health care are, not only to individuals, but to businesses of all sizes.

But thank goodness for information technology and the Internet, two industries which together represent another 15 or so of New Jersey’s fastest growing companies.

 The use of information technology and the Internet has enabled UnitedHealthcare to launch major programs to educate consumers and businesses on health care issues. For example, UHC-TV breaks down industry jargon into simple, everyday language, sometimes with a touch of humor. Our online tools and mobile apps help people better understand their payment responsibilities and comparison shop for medical help based on quality and cost.

Last year it was Sandy. This year, it’s the much less threatening, but certainly more confusing, rollout of the Affordable Care Act.  And next year there is likely to be another imposing challenge pressing on the minds of New Jersey’s 50 fastest growing companies.

But whatever the challenge, New Jersey’s businesses have shown we have what it takes to handle it - and none more so than the companies recognized this year. Congratulations to all 50 companies not just for their successes, but also for their resilience, dedication to quality, innovation and commitment to their employees and the community.

Congratulations to all of the awardees who were also honored
with the "50 Fastest Growing New Jersey Companies" award 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Collaboration Works

By collaborating, medical professionals, health insurers and employers can develop more cost-effective procedures, policies and protocols that bring down the cost of providing care.  Performance-based contracts encourage such collaboration, and are a key component of accountable care organizations (ACO).

Performance-based contracts reward physicians with payment incentives based on a set of quality standards that improve patient health results and cut costs, such as focusing on preventive care and reducing hospital readmission rates.  A December 2012 study by UnitedHealthcare’s Center for Health Reform & Modernization shows that value-based contracts could save the United States $200 -$600 billion dollars over the next decade.  So of course, this is something we are committed to.

Earlier this week, I was excited to join the president and CEO and the medical director at WESTMED Medical Group on Long Island, New York when they announced that their ACO program with UnitedHealthcare and Optum improved on nine out of 10 health quality metrics, increased patient satisfaction and reduced health care costs – exceeding all expectations.

Since establishing the ACO in mid-2012, WESTMED, a large multispecialty group medical practice in West Chester County, New York, has seen significant improvements in patients taking their prescription medications properly; and for diabetics, an increased number of routine screenings and better control of their blood sugar levels.

The ACO is performing above the 90th percentile of National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) Quality Compass for providing the highest level of coordinated care for breast cancer and cervical cancer screenings. Its patient-centered medical home program already had received the highest level of recognition (Level 3) from NCQA for providing coordinated, efficient and quality primary care. NCQA is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving health care quality.

WESTMED received a nearly $1 million bonus under its ACO agreement with UnitedHealthcare by reducing practice variation, decreasing duplications in care and promoting the proper setting for care. Participating physicians who met both care quality and cost metrics focusing on providing the right level of care for patients may be eligible for bonuses. The medical group also will reinvest funds into ongoing technology enhancements to continue to improve quality of care, increase patient satisfaction and reduce health care costs.

WESTMED physicians have benefited from detailed health intelligence that Optum’s analytical tools provide – ranging from information about individual patient health to comparative data across entire populations. Regularly updated reports enable physicians to collaborate across specialties, helping them make informed medical care decisions based on a complete picture of each patient’s situation.

UnitedHealthcare continues to work with physician groups, hospitals and medical centers, and other health care delivery organizations across the country to achieve Institute for Healthcare Improvement’s “Triple Aim” objective – improving population health and patient experience, delivering the best possible quality outcomes and reducing the overall cost of care. UnitedHealthcare’s value-based payment capabilities are designed to support this transformation of care delivery.

Today, more than $25 billion of UnitedHealthcare’s annual physician and hospital reimbursements is tied to accountable care programs, centers of excellence and performance-based programs and we project that this number will reach $50 billion by 2017.

The initial results with WESTMED are clear indication, by collaborating medical professionals and insurers can achieve a common goal – getting patients to the right care at the right time in the right setting for the best outcomes.

Discussing our plans for the future!
From left to right: Simeon Schwartz, M.D., president and CEO, WESTMED,
Dennis O'Brian, vice president UnitedHealthcare,
Barney Newman, M.D., medical director, WESTMED and me. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The future of health care depends on good information and good decisions

As I organized my thoughts in preparation for 2013 “Future of Healthcare on Long Island Symposium,” I thought long and hard about one of the questions I was given as a panelist: ”What part of your job responsibilities keeps you up at night?”

Panel moderator Dr. Jeffrey Reynolds asked many tough questions of the panelists who joined me at Long Island University.  I served on the panel with Arthur Gianelli, chief executive officer of NuHealth; Gwen O’Shea, chief executive officer of the Health and Welfare Council of Long Island; and Dr. Kenneth Kaushansky, senior vice president of Health Sciences and dean of Stony Brook School of Medicine.

And I’m certain I wasn’t the only panel member who spent many sleepless nights thinking about how to improve our health care system.

While there are many issues about the future of health care that are on my mind, the most important one is how we at UnitedHealthcare can respond to an ever-changing environment to help the people on Long Island and across the country, make good decisions about their health.  But to make those good decisions, people need good information.

As I shared in another recent blog, the Journal of Health Economics recently reported that only 14 percent of Americans understand basic health insurance concepts such as deductibles, copays, co-insurance and out-of-pocket maximums.  Furthermore, many people and companies are not clear about what’s happening with health reform and how the law affects them.

One of the things we have done to make information accessible and easy to understand  is create UHC-TV. Found here, UHC-TV breaks down industry jargon into simple, everyday language, sometimes with a touch of humor.

We have also designed online tools that help people understand their costs and payment responsibilities.  Some examples are the myClaims Manager, which helps people manage their health care expenses, and the myHealthCare Cost estimator, which helps people comparison shop for health care services based on quality and cost.

When it comes to health care reform, we have created a number of resources to break down the provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) into simple bite sized chucks.  For example, UnitedHealthcare worked with health literacy experts to create our new health care educational booklet called the “10-Minute Guide to Health Reform,” which helps explain the ACA, government health exchanges and how reform affects people in different situations.

As we say at UnitedHealthcare, better information helps people make better decisions about their health. As the trend continues toward consumer-driven health care, it’s more critical than ever that people understand their options.  And I will admit that our continuous search to find new ways to simplify the health care experience and give people more information, more data and more education about their health– well, it keeps me up at night.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Signs of fall and…Open enrollment

Crisp cool days, colorful leaves, bright orange pumpkins…all clear signs of the autumn season. But fall also brings signs of another season: email reminders from your employer, non-stop ads from AARP and this year, the launch of state and federal health care Exchanges or Marketplaces.

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

Most people who purchase health insurance through their employer and those who have Medicare or Medicaid health insurance will see little or no change in the open-enrollment process this year.  The vast majority of Americans – about 157 million with employer-provided coverage, and more than 51 million Medicare beneficiaries – will continue to select a health insurance plan in the same way they have done in the past.

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

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

  • A public health insurance exchange may be a good option for people who don’t have health insurance since they may be eligible to receive a government subsidy that lowers monthly premiums.
    • Tip: Find out if you qualify for a subsidy. In general, subsidies are available to individuals who meet household income requirements and who are not eligible for certain government insurance programs (such as Medicaid) or do not have access to affordable coverage through their employer.  Use an online calculator to see if you qualify.

Unfortunately, just 14 percent of Americans understand basic health insurance concepts such as deductible, copay, co-insurance and out-of-pocket maximum, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Health Economics.  Before you dive into the selection process, make certain that you understand the basic definitions, for example “what’s a copay?”


For helpful information that’s simple and easy to understand visit UHC.tv.com  or MedicareMadeClear.com. To learn more about health insurance exchanges, visit www.healthyny.com or www.healthcare.gov. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Demystifying health reform: Adult children on parents’ health plans

As many people know, the Affordable Care Act allows adult children to stay on their parents’ health insurance plans up to age 26.

But many people still have questions about whether there are restrictions that can affect an adult child’s eligibility.

In fact, there are almost no restrictions on an adult child’s eligibility for health coverage under a parent’s plan.  Adult children up the age of 26 are eligible to stay on their parents’ health plan regardless of:
  • Whether the child is a student.
  • Whether the child is financially dependent on parents.
  • Whether the child lives at home.
  • Whether the child qualifies for benefits through his or her employer.
  • Whether the child is married.

While a married adult child under age 26 is still eligible for benefits under a parent’s health plan, the spouse and/or children are not eligible for coverage under the same plan according to the Affordable Care Act.  Some states, however, may require that the child’s spouse and children are covered.

The only exception to these rules applies to “grandfathered plans,” which are plans that were in effect before March 23, 2010 and have not changed much since then.  The plan materials must disclose if a plan falls under “grandfathered status.”  If so, then the plan is not required to provide coverage for children up to age 26 only if the child is eligible for his or her own coverage through an employer.  After 2014, the “grandfather” exemption will no longer apply and those plans will have to cover adult children even if his or her employer offers coverage.

Here’s an informative (and entertaining) video that breaks it all down:

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Steps to Improve Children's Health

A new report by UnitedHealth Group's Center for Health Reform & Modernization proposes practical steps to address the unmet health needs of children. The findings in 100 Percent of Our Future: Improving the Health of America's Children identify initiatives that can be taken to combat health costs for children that now are increasing far faster than for adults.

The Center recommends the following:
  1. Expanding proven group prenatal support for pregnant women to cut preterm births and reduce health disparities;
  2. Scaling-up new lifestyle and behavioral interventions to successfully fight childhood obesity;
  3. Broadening care coordination in Medicaid to improve the health outcomes of underserved children;
  4. Supporting specialized networks to advance research and treatment of complex conditions that affect children.
Chronic health conditions are rising among children in America today. Childhood asthma affects almost one in ten children today.  Unprecedented increases in children's type 2 diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease are being driven by the fact that one in three children in the United States are obese or overweight.

Last night I was proud to be a part of a program created by the YMCA that aims to address the Center’s second recommendation…to successfully fight childhood obesity.  The program is a combination of the YMCA’s 7th Grade Initiative and the UnitedHealthcare Health Bee.  Together these programs help children learn about nutrition, physical fitness and overall health in a fun and engaging way.

Students already making healthy choices at the
7th Grade Initiative Kickoff event held at the Westfield Area Y.
 The 7th Grade Initiative gives students free access to the YMCA exercise facilities as well as free programs that educate students about health, fitness and nutrition and encourages the involvement of parents, teacher advisors, school health professionals, and local government officials.

The UnitedHealthcare Health Bee, a quiz-show style competition that tests students’ knowledge about health and fitness topics, is the signature event of the 7th grade initiative.

A standing room only crowd of students, parents and siblings showed up last night at the Westfield, NJ area YMCA to sign up for the 2013-2014 program.  On average, more than 300 students enroll in the program. 

Last night’s turn-out is proof that while not all things run-in-the-family, healthy habits can and do in Westfield, NJ.

Me with John Verga from UnitedHealthcare and Mark Elsasser, CEO of Westfield Area Y.
Big thank you to both for supporting the 7th Grade Initiative. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Deciding on health coverage: New approaches under health reform

Yesterday was the big day!  The launch of the most visible aspect of the affordable care act…the Exchange.  And while there have been lots of stories about system overload, it’s clear that the Exchanges offer different things to different people depending on their current situation.  For example, people who currently get health insurance from their small business employer but may still need coverage for a spouse, young people who are transitioning from their parent’s health plan to an individual plan of their own or people, like the neighbor my colleague spoke to, who said she went “shopping” for health care on the NYStateofHealth marketplace site because she was recently divorced.  All of these people must make decisions about their health care.

In my next few blog posts, I’m going to discuss some approaches people may want to consider when making decisions about their health care.  Here are a few examples of transition situations and how people may want to handle their health care:
  • I’m going to be too old for my parents’ health insurance soon.  How can I get a health plan that I can afford?  First, make sure you're too old. Under health reform, you can stay on your parent's plan until age 26, even if you have graduated from college.   If you are getting close to age 26, and you don't have a job that offers health insurance, you can buy a plan through the Individual Marketplace in your state.

  • I have a health condition that’s kept me from getting health insurance.  Can I get it now?  If you don't have health insurance because you couldn't get coverage or were charged extra because of a health condition, there's good news. Health reform means you can get the same plan as someone else without a health condition. Your application can't be denied because of your condition, and you can't be charged more because of it. And if you develop a serious condition while you have a plan, your coverage can't be cancelled because of the condition.
    This applies whether you get your health insurance through your employer (within or outside of the Small Business Health Options Program marketplace), through the Individual Marketplace, or directly from a health insurance company.

  • I’m going to be 65 soon.  What are my Medicare options?  As you retire, you'll probably transition to Medicare coverage to pay basic health care costs, just as you would have done before health reform. You'll be enrolled in Medicare Part A automatically. But you must enroll in Part B during the open enrollment period, which starts three months before you turn 65 and lasts for seven months. Consider adding coverage to help with the costs Medicare doesn't pay. For example, a Medicare Supplement (Medigap) plan, a Medicare Advantage plan, or your employer's retiree health insurance plan. If your plan doesn't cover drugs, you may also want Part D prescription coverage.
    If you're working past age 65, the rules are different. If your company has 20 employees or more, you can generally stay on your employer's plan. But be sure to enroll in Part B within eight months after you retire, or you may have to pay a penalty. If you work for a company with fewer than 20 employees, your employer's plan will provide only supplemental coverage after you're eligible for Medicare, so it's important to enroll in Part B as you near age 65. 

If you’d like more information about health insurance options for people who are in a transition phase, click here.

Monday, September 30, 2013

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

Beginning on October 1 and through 2014, some of the most significant components of health care reform will take effect across the country. So it makes sense that many people are trying to figure out exactly what the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) will mean to them. The new law is changing how people get health care, how they get insurance, what it costs and who pays for it…hence, all the buzz.

Over the next few months, consumers and businesses alike will be facing a lot of new decisions and asking lots of questions about their health care like what's changing, and what's staying the same? Should I sign up for a different plan, or keep what I've got? If I need health insurance, how and where do I get it?

My goal over the next few weeks is to help you find answers to your questions and get the health care coverage that best suits your needs.

At UnitedHealthcare, we believe that when information helps to simplify the decision making process, its better.  And better information leads to better choices. So check out some of the information we’ve made available.  From a ten minute guide on health care reform to videos that explain why it matters, I think you’ll find the information in the links below helpful as you begin your decision making process.


The Facts Behind the Buzz


Keeping it Simple



Wednesday, September 25, 2013

UnitedHealthcare volunteers rebuild Union Beach playground damaged in Superstorm Sandy

Swings, a triple racer slide, monorail zip line and a rock climbing wall – what more could a kid ask for at the local playground?

It’s exactly what the children of Union Beach asked for in the new playground at Scholer Park, built by UnitedHealthcare volunteers and KaBOOM!, a nonprofit that builds playgrounds to encourage kids to play outdoors.

As you may recall in my July 12 blog, UnitedHealthcare’s “Do Good. Live Well.” employee volunteer initiative teamed up with KaBOOM! to build a new playground in Union Beach, NJ to replace the one destroyed by Superstorm Sandy.  During our Design Day, we asked local students to submit drawings of their dream playgrounds and incorporated their wishes into the final design.

Very early on the morning of September 17th, more than 200 volunteers including UnitedHealthcare employees, local high school students, community organizations and KaBOOM!,  gathered to get to work, building a brand new playground from the ground up.  By 2:30 p.m. we unveiled the major structures for the brand-new playground which would be finished, inspected and ready for Union Beach kids to run, jump, swing and play on by the end of the month.

Volunteers helping each other assemble the playground equipment
 Like many New Jersey communities, Union Beach is working hard to recover from the damage of Superstorm Sandy and still has a long road ahead.  But the new playground is a step in the right direction, giving kids an active outdoor play area in their community.  I’m certain the residents of Union Beach will enjoy it!

We thank our UnitedHealthcare volunteers for helping to
rebuild a playground for the Union Beach community 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Injured veterans ride to New York and through New Jersey

“I was an avid mountain biker before joining the Army and didn’t know if I would ever ride again after losing both of my arms below the elbow.  Ride 2 Recovery changed that by building a one-of-a-kind bike with electronic shifting and modified braking, which enabled me to return to mountain biking and ride 100 miles through the Colorado Rockies.”
            - Retired Cavalry Scout Matt DeWitt of Weare, NH

Matt DeWitt symbolizes the physical and mental injuries sustained by the men and women who serve our country in combat, and how cycling with Ride 2 Recovery can help them heal.

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

Many of you may remember that I wrote about riding with the Ride 2 Recovery group last year for a portion of the 330-mile Minuteman Challenge that began in Boston and ended in Fort Lee, New Jersey.  This year, I am again riding alongside these veterans during the New Jersey portion of their ride.

The riders started out on their 425-mile journey in Boston on September 8 and traveled south through Providence, R.I.; Hartford and Danbury, Conn.; Newburgh, N.Y.; New Jersey and ended the ride on September 14th in Philadelphia.  On Friday, September 13th we left Ft. Lee, New Jersey and cycled to New York City for a celebratory breakfast at the world famous Macy’s on 34th Street.  It was a heartwarming experience as so many New Yorkers en route to work and UnitedHealthcare employees from our NYC office came out to cheer on the veterans.

Ride 2 Recovery long-distance journeys are not races.  Instead, the focus is on riding together, supporting one another along the ride and fostering camaraderie among the riders.  After 425 miles together, the friendships formed last long after the journey is over. 

No man or woman was left behind in the 425-mile ride
from Boston to Philadelphia

I’m proud to say that this is the fourth year in a row that UnitedHealthcare has served as the Ride 2 Recovery’s title sponsor, providing financial, in-kind and volunteer support to help America’s injured veterans.  And this isn’t the only way we help veterans.  In 2012, UnitedHealthcare joined the 100,000 Jobs Mission, a coalition of major U.S. corporations that share the goal of hiring 100,000 transitioning service members and military veterans by 2020.  UnitedHealthcare also partners with a variety of organizations to help military and veteran job candidates such as the Military Spouse Employment Partnership, RecruitMilitary and the Wounded Warrior Project.

I am honored to have cycled with and met these extraordinary veterans, America’s Finest, and want to thank all of those who serve our country.  I look forward to riding again next year! 

The 6th annual Ride 2 Recovery Minuteman Challenge
making its way through New Jersey

Monday, August 26, 2013

Online payment makes medical bills a little easier to manage

People like to pay online – it’s fast, it’s easy, and you can easily keep track of when each bill came in and when it was paid.

In fact, 64% of consumer bill payments were completed online in 2012, up from 49 percent in 2008, according to financial industry research and consulting firm Alte Group.

And now UnitedHealthcare members can add their medical bills to the list of bills they can easily manage online.

UnitedHealthcare’s new online bill payment service, known as myClaims Manager, is a secure way for patients to easily manage and pay their health care bills electronically.  People can pay by entering their credit card, debit card, health savings account or bank account information, making the bill paying process significantly more convenient.

In fact, UnitedHealthcare is the first national insurance carrier to offer online bill payment capabilities that are fully integrated with their online claim information.  Since a recent report from SK&A Information Services reports that one third of physician practices don’t accept credit cards, online bill payment through an insurer gives people more options of how to pay.

Designed in collaboration with InstaMed, the leading health care payments network company, the online system is available to UnitedHealthcare employers of all sizes and their employees and families.  Furthermore, our entire network of health providers are eligible to sign up to receive online payments, which helps doctors get paid faster.

Of course, people can always pay the traditional way.  But giving people the option to pay online is one way that we can make the health care payments system faster, more convenient, and easier to manage.

For a look at this latest innovation that adds convenience and simplicity to your life go to http://welcometomyuhc.com/myclaims-pre-post/.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Diverse Scholars program is changing the demographis of health care workforce

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

Given the changing demographics in the United States and the volumes of people entering the health care system because of the Affordable Care Act, there is a great need to foster a more diverse health care workforce. 

To help meet this need, United Health Foundation’s Diverse Scholars Initiative awarded $1.2 million in scholarships in the 2012-2013 school year to 200 students from diverse backgrounds.  As a local UnitedHealthcare executive in New Jersey, I’m proud to recognize a student from New Jersey who is represented in this elite group of scholars. 
 
Quidest Sheriff, a Blackwood, New Jersey resident and a fourth-year osteopathic medical student at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey School of Osteopathic Medicine was awarded a scholarship to pursue a career in health care. Quidest holds a bachelor of science in biological sciences and developmental psychology from Rutgers University (Go RU!!) and hopes to open her own clinic, specializing in international medicine and women’s health.  Sheriff is founder of the nonprofit organization Orthodox GEMS (St. Gabriel’s Mentoring, Empowering and Solidarity) which empowers young women in the professional, educational, spiritual and social realms.

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

Research by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services shows that when patients are treated by health professionals who share their language, culture and ethnicity, they are more likely to accept and adopt the medical treatment they receive. UnitedHealthcare hopes that its efforts to increase the diversity of health care providers will reduce the shortage of medical professionals in underserved areas, reduce inequities in academic medicine and address variables – such as language barriers – that make it difficult for patients to navigate the health care system.  Something I think we all hope for.

Congratulations, Quidest!

United Health Foundation's diverse scholar recipients networking
at the Diverse Scholars Forum held in Washington, DC. 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Camden Coalition: a good model for coordinated, quality care

When patients are shuffled around between different doctors, specialists, hospitals, emergency rooms and clinics, picking up prescriptions along the way, it should be no surprise that patients’ overall health often declines.  Nor should it be a surprise that in this model of care, costs rise quickly.

One solution is to give patients a care coordinator to talk to patients about their health concerns and help them manage their care.  The coordinator can help them find the best doctors, ensure their health records are complete, manage their medications, schedule tests and appointments, and even help them find transportation when necessary.

It sounds expensive, but in fact, care coordinators have the potential to significantly reduce health care costs.  As health insurers and providers team up to launch accountable care organizations across the country, care coordinators are a key element in our plan to improve the quality of patient care and outcomes and reduce costs.

Recently, UnitedHealthcare partnered with the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers to bring face-to-face care coordination to Medicaid recipients who required health care services far more frequently than the average patient.  Each patient in the program had a health care coordinator that would meet with them to discuss their conditions, schedule follow-up appointments with primary care physicians and specialists, and make sure the patients got to their appointments.

The results were significant.  Patients saw their primary care physicians more often, and had less visits to expensive specialists.  They had fewer prescriptions, and fewer high-cost hospitalizations.

Face-to-face care coordination combined with accountable care contracts, as I discussed in my blog last week, are key aspects of UnitedHealthcare’s accountable care plan based on the foundation we have built over the last 30 years.  For more information on the Camden Coalition and how we are working with providers to provide higher quality, lower cost care to New Jersey residents, see NJ Spotlight’s recent article on our coordinated care approach. 

Friday, July 19, 2013

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

The doctor with the healthiest patients may actually get paid the least amount of money.

That’s because the current “fee–for-service” payment model means that physicians and health care centers get paid each time someone visits a physician or undergoes a test or procedure regardless of the outcome.

Seems backward, doesn’t it?  Many physicians think so. 

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

That’s why UnitedHealthcare is moving away from contracts that reward the volume of care and replacing them with contracts that reward the value of care.

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

UnitedHealthcare’s accountable care strategy includes three categories of programs that offer varying levels of integration with care providers depending on their ability to assume financial risk and affect health outcomes. The level of shared accountability and financial risk between UnitedHealthcare and care providers increases with each of the three programs and the results so far are promising:

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 12, 2013

Union Beach kids design dream playground

When I think of healthy kids, I think of kids playing at their local playground, full of energy, swinging on swings, climbing up rope ladders, and sliding down circular, tunneled sliding boards.

Playgrounds give kids the chance to keep their bodies healthy while using their imaginations to do what they do best: play.

Fence in Union Beach, about a block away from
Scholer Park, where we will be building the playground
Unfortunately, many of the local playgrounds here in New Jersey were damaged in Superstorm Sandy and are no longer safe for children.  Municipalities, struggling to restore the homes and infrastructure, have little time or financial resources to rebuild their playgrounds.

That’s why UnitedHealthcare teamed up with KaBOOM! and the Borough of Union Beach to rebuild one of our local playgrounds at Scholer Park.

But we aren’t just rebuilding the old playground – we are asking the kids to tell us how we can turn it into their dream playground.

Memorial School students brainstorming
ideas together for new playground
On July 9, we hosted Design Day for Union Beach children at Memorial School to give the kids a chance to show us what their dream playground would look like.  Kids pulled out their crayons, colored pencils, and markers to illustrate their idea of a great place to play.  Elements from the drawings will be incorporated into the final design for the new community playground.

The playground will be built on September 17 by UnitedHealthcare employee volunteers with help from KaBOOM! playground experts.  In fact, the Union Beach playground marks the 11th playground built through our partnership with KaBOOM! as part of our employee volunteer initiative “Do Good. Live Well.”  The initiative aims to encourage service among our employees while promoting healthy lifestyles in the community.

As the residents of Union Beach continue their recovery and demonstrate how they are “stronger than the storm”, we hope that the playground will be a bright spot for families to enjoy healthy outdoor play.

Students show off their dream designs for new
playground coming to Union Beach in September

Monday, July 1, 2013

New Jersey ranks 27th in the country for seniors’ health

Back in December, I was proud to write that New Jersey had worked its way up to the 8th healthiest state in the U.S. according to United Health Foundation’s annual America’s Health Rankings.

But while the overall health of our state has improved, the news is not so good for our senior population based on United Health Foundation’s most recently published report which focused on the health of Americans age 65 and older.  In this report, New Jersey came in at number 27.

The report ranked the states based on 34 different elements, some of which New Jersey was among the best in the nation, and others where we were at the bottom.

New Jersey’s strengths:
·         Recommended hospital care: New Jersey ranks 3rd in the nation with 98.3% percent of seniors receiving the appropriate hospital care recommended by their doctors for conditions such as heart attack, heart failure and pneumonia.
·         Able-bodied seniors: 66.8% of New Jersey seniors are considered able-bodied, the 6th best rate in the country.
·         Availability of geriatricians: New Jersey ranks 8th in the nation for having enough geriatricians to meet the needs of the elderly, although New Jersey still has a shortfall 41.8% of needed geriatricians.

New Jersey’s weaknesses:
·         ICU usage: 24.7 percent of New Jersey seniors spend 7 days or more in an intensive care unit during the last 6 months of life, the worst rate in the country.
·         Hospital deaths: 36.7 percent of New Jersey residents age 65 or older die in the hospital, the 4th worst rate in the U.S.
·         Hospital readmissions: 16.8 percent of hospitalized patients age 65 or older were readmitted to the hospital within 30 days of discharge, placing New Jersey 46th among the states.

As a whole, Americans are living longer but sicker lives.  About 80 percent of seniors live with at least one chronic health condition, and 50 percent live with two or more chronic health conditions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Medicare beneficiaries can take advantage of UnitedHealthcare’s programs that are designed to make it easier for seniors to get the care they need.  For example, we support integrated disease management and care coordination  programs, which provide select Medicare Advantage Plan members with chronic health conditions such as diabetes or heart disease with the needed resources and support.

UnitedHealthcare also offers the HouseCalls program and PharmAssist service.  HouseCalls offers qualified Medicare Advantage plan members an at-home visit with a health care practitioner to assess health needs and discuss personal health concerns.  The PharmAssist services provides one-on-one counseling sessions with specialty-trained plan pharmacists to help seniors understand how to take their medication correctly as prescribed.

The America’s Health Rankings Senior Report is the most comprehensive rankings to date of senior health on state and national levels, and it highlights some of the most critical health issues facing our seniors.   For more information, you can view and download the report at http://www.americashealthrankings.org.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

New Jersey Chinese American Chamber of Commerce Sponsors Health Reform Seminar

How will I know if my health plan doesn’t fit into one of the metallic plans?

When will I have to make a decision about the health plan I offer my employees?

What about my part-time employees?

These were just a few of the questions I got from the Chinese-American small business owners last week when I presented a general overview of Health Care Reform.  The presentation was sponsored by the New Jersey Chinese-American Chamber of Commerce (NJCACC) at DCH Auto Group in South Amboy.  My colleague, Chris Law, vice president of UnitedHealthcare’s Asian initiative and NJCACC board member, coordinated the event.


On January 1, 2014 many of the provisions of Health Care Reform take effect and small business owners across the country, and across every ethnic group, are attending workshops and seminars in an effort to get a clear picture of what they need to do to prepare their company for health reform changes.

During my conversation with the business owners we covered essential health benefits, out-of-pocket maximums, small group deductible ceiling and the metallic coverage levels.  And we didn’t stop there.  We also discussed community rating, pricing impacts, the employer mandate and the Exchanges.  Finally and most importantly, we talked about what small business owners should be doing between now and 2014 to prepare for the changes that will take place.

It was an interactive, two hour dialogue that could have easily lasted two more hours.  We will do a follow-up session in the fall to cover more ground.  In the interim, I encouraged all of the business owners, as well as the employees in the audience, to do their homework. For starters, I suggested they access information on health reform topics by going to the United for Reform Resource Center located at uhc.com/reform.  This site includes overviews on the various provisions, FAQs and collateral pieces as well as videos small business owners can use and download if they want to use their own portal or share with employees.  The site also has a News section to help keep visitors informed on key and current reform activities.

A big thank you to NJCACC and Chris Law for organizing the event and to DCH Auto Group for hosting.  Although 2014 may seem like a long way away, if you are a small business owner preparing your company for health reform changes, 2014 is alarmingly near.


I was honored to take a photo with my colleage, Chris Law and the New Jersey Chinese-American Chamber of Commerce business leaders  at the end of the presentation.




Monday, June 17, 2013

Navigating health insurance after graduation: Timely tips for the Class of 2013

They’ve finished their finals, collected their diplomas, and moved out of the dorms.
Now college graduates are facing a lot of important life decisions for the first time.

One of those important decisions is what to do about health insurance.  Some lucky graduates have jobs lined up with health benefits pending.  Others may be able to stay on their parents’ insurance.
But many grads also go uninsured.  In fact, the U.S. Census measures that nearly three in ten people age 19 to 35 are uninsured, the highest proportion among all groups.

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

Here are a few tips to get started:
  • Don’t risk going uninsured. If you are eligible, consider staying on your parents’ health insurance plan until you turn 26.  Buying your own individual coverage, however, may actually be more affordable, so be sure to compare the cost.
  • If you decide to buy your own coverage, make sure to include all health costs when determining how much you can afford, including monthly premiums and any out-of-pocket costs for health care services and prescriptions.
  • Ask questions. Solicit parents’ and family members’ advice, check out reputable insurance company websites or visit with a local independent insurance broker to learn the basics about health insurance.
  • Consider a high deductible health plan. For many young, healthy people, high deductible plans make sense because they provide quality coverage at lower premium rates.
 
New grads and young adults purchasing health insurance for the first time can also check out this video for more information: