Monday, March 25, 2013

Eight Tips to Making Wellness Programs Work

Wellness programs are a common workplace sight – 77 percent of employers offer them – but are they effective?    

The answer is an overall yes, but it is important that employers take steps that have proven to make for effective programs that improve the health of the employees, reduce medical costs and improve productivity.

The Wellness Council of America estimates that, for each $1 invested in a wellness program, employers can save as much as $3 in health care and productivity costs.

Wellness programs can be structured in myriad ways, but here are some "best-practice" tips that employers can follow to ensure their programs have the greatest impact:

1. Develop a detailed plan that includes short- and long-term objectives and outlines important factors, such as budget restraints.
2. Set up a wellness committee and identify “wellness champions” who will help drive the program’s scope and implementation.
3. Review data from past insurance claims, employee surveys and health assessments and screenings to make sure you select wellness programs that address the most common health challenges affecting employees.
4. Offer on-site wellness programs such as biometric screenings, health fairs or walking groups.
5. Encourage workers to participate in wellness programs by offering incentives such as gift cards, lower health insurance premiums, cash bonuses, discounts and contributions to health savings accounts. Participation rates in wellness programs more than double when employers offer incentives.
6. Use email alerts, promotional flyers and organizing in-person meetings as ways to communicate effectively about your wellness programs.
7. Provide employees with online tools that simplify important tasks, such as keeping track of health care costs and helping them become more informed health care consumers.
8. Track results, and at least once a year evaluate your wellness programs’ effectiveness and whether individual employees have been successful in reducing their health risks.

At UnitedHealthcare, we have implemented these practices internally and on behalf of our clients. In fact, we already have over 1 million individuals enrolled in our Personal Rewards program and the program is barely three years old.

Following these tips will help employers and employees maximize the benefit they get out of employer-sponsored wellness programs – and improve the health of the company and its workforce.
UnitedHealthcare employees staying healthy together.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Can you go the distance?

By the time most people show up at the starting line of a race, you know that they have likely trained for weeks, maybe even months.

It makes no difference if they are the fastest runner or bringing up the rear.  Just by signing up for the race, many people find the inspiration they need to get in shape.   That means they’ve exercised regularly every week, tried to follow a nutritious diet, and maybe saw a doctor to make sure they are in good condition.  Many people also encourage their friends and family members to train with them.

Races are a great way to show how a community can come together to do something good for their health.  That’s why UnitedHealthcare made the decision to be the presenting sponsor of the 2013 Unite Half Marathon and 8K on April 21 at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey.  Organized by CGI Racing, the Unite Half Marathon is the second-largest half-marathon in New Jersey with more than 6,000 runners and walkers expected to attend.

While we all might like to be the sprinter leading the pack at the finish line, the Unite Half Marathon is about much more than just being fast.  This race is not only about celebrating athletic ability, but also celebrating the spirit of physical fitness and community unity.  Whether running or walking, finishing 8K or 13.1 miles, participants are invited to unite as teams and can even organize their team to support a local charity.

To help those training for the race, UnitedHealthcare is encouraging participants to use a great resource for tips on health and training:  UHC.TV has six channels of original content designed to help people address their most pressing health needs, including athletic training.  For instance, runners wondering what to eat after a run can consult our “Ask the Expert” segment from Kathleen Zelman, a registered dietician and UnitedHealthcare’s nutrition expert.  For running tips such as proper breathing techniques or relieving sore muscles after a workout, runners may find the videos from fitness expert Meredith Rudh helpful.

To find out more details and to register, click here. Register soon – the race sells out quickly!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Diabetes: A Preventable Epidemic

Every year, it seems that the number of diabetics in New Jersey is just a little higher than the year before.  While the change from year to year may seem small, the number of diabetics in New Jersey has actually more than doubled in the last 15 years, going from 4.2 to 8.8 percent of the adult population, according to America’s Health Rankings.

And that’s just the number of diagnosed diabetics.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 35% of American adults have prediabetes, a condition in which high blood sugar levels are higher than normal and may lead to the development of type 2 diabetes.  What’s worse is that the majority of people with prediabetes don’t know it.

The good news is that today there is no need to look at diabetes and shrug our shoulders at an irreversible devastating disease.  No, today, people at risk of developing type 2 diabetes can prevent or delay the onset by making key behavior changes. And that was the topic of the discussion at the YMCA Diabetes Prevention Program Community Health Forum held this week in Wayne, New Jersey.  The Forum, which was hosted by New Jersey YMCAs and UnitedHealthcare, bought together a cross-section of leaders to discuss community-based solutions for tackling pre-diabetes.

Moderated by News12 New Jersey anchor Janine Strafaci, the Forum panel included Dr. Anju Sikka, medical director, UnitedHealthcare of New Jersey; Alane McCahey, senior director of communications, YMCA Eastern Union County; and John Verga, vice president, sales and account management, UnitedHealthcare.  Dr. Gloria M. Rodriguez, assistant commissioner of the Division of Family Health for the New Jersey Department of Health kicked off the discussion with insight into what the New Jersey Department of Health is doing to dissipate the diabetes triggers; obesity, lack of access to healthy food and inactivity.

Janine Strafaci from News12 and Dr. Gloria M. Rodriguez stand with UnitedHealthcare
and YMCA representatives after a successful community forum about diabetes prevention. 

The YMCA Diabetes Prevention Program, a national program based on a diabetes-prevention study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The one-year program consists of one-hour core sessions once a week for 16 weeks, followed by monthly maintenance meetings.  During sessions, participants learn about healthy eating, stress management, exercise, and strategies for staying motivated. 

Each participant in the program aims to lose 7% of his or her body weight and increase physical activity to 150 minutes each week.  Research by the NIH has shown that participants can reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by as much as 58%.  For adults aged 60 years or older, the risk reduction is as high as 71%.

To be eligible for the program, participants must have been diagnosed with prediabetes by a healthcare provider or exhibit diabetes risk factors, such as a body mass index greater than 25 or a family history of diabetes.  For UnitedHealthcare plan participants who meet these requirements, the cost of the program is fully reimbursed as a medical claim. 

For more information about the Diabetes Prevention Program and to find your nearest New Jersey program coordinator, click here.

To learn more about the risks and complications of diabetes, visit