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UnitedHealthcare outlines incentive strategies around patient engagement to save on overall health spend

WASHINGTON — A new report from UnitedHealthcare released Monday discusses engagement strategies and incentives used by its employees that contributed to improved workforce health and $107 million in healthcare cost-savings in the first 36 months, illustrating how employers can play a valuable role in spurring employees to take action to improve their health.

“The article explains how health plans and other payers are uniquely positioned to ‘activate’ patients using data and information to identify missed screening opportunities, persistent gaps in care, fragmented or duplicative care, and patient safety issues, such as incompatible medications or missed monitoring of high-risk patients," stated Lewis Sandy, EVP clinical advancement, UnitedHealth Group.

“UnitedHealthcare Experience Illustrates How Payers Can Enable Patient Engagement,” published in the August issue of Health Affairs, describes how health plans have a unique ability to analyze and present information to help individuals make better health decisions. The report details UnitedHealthcare’s programs for analyzing information to identify gaps in care, using information to enable better treatment decisions, comparing care provider quality and cost to help inform care choices, and promoting better health and disease prevention using financial incentives and rewards.

The report sheds light on the opportunity to improve quality and efficiency in the U.S. healthcare system, and illustrates tools, strategies and incentives that more effectively enable people to take action to improve their health. Moreover, the report suggests practical lessons for Medicare, Medicaid and other payers.

“Payers can play an important role in engaging consumers and realizing the promise of a truly activated, engaged and supported patient,” said Simon Stevens, UnitedHealth Group EVP and president, Global Health. “Our Health Affairs report offers practical lessons for policymakers and suggests how Medicare and Medicaid could benefit from improved patient engagement. If likeminded strategies were used more broadly, they could be an effective tool in helping to improve quality and achieve a more efficient health system.”

UnitedHealth Group employees enrolled in “Rewards for Health” are eligible to earn points to qualify for insurance premium reductions of up to $1,200 per family per year for having health screenings to detect conditions like cancer or diabetes, or meeting certain targets such as body mass index reductions. In the first 24 months, 82% of employees earned points, and improvements were made in all quality measures over three years with particularly large increases identified in wellness visits and office-based screenings, colorectal cancer screenings and retinal eye exams for people with diabetes.

Most importantly, 7,200 employees at high risk for diabetes — including undiagnosed diabetes — were given the opportunity to better manage or prevent onset of the disease. In addition, 44% of overweight employees who engaged in health coaching improved the following year, with an average of 4.5% weight loss. Savings of $107 million in healthcare costs were realized in the first 36 months of the Rewards for Health program.

“Our own experience with our 133,000 employees shows that rewarding healthy behavior works," Sandy said. "Implementing patient-engagement strategies more broadly could have a profound impact on consumer health, help achieve wide-scale cost reductions and advance a higher-performing health system.” 

In a recent survey it was

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