UnitedHealth reaps rewards of incentivizing members in diabetes program


UnitedHealth has found success through its Diabetes Health Plan, which has helped the nation's largest insurer improve the health of members with diabetes while simultaneously lowering healthcare costs.

For the diabetes program, UnitedHealth has applied its value-based purchasing approach, plus added incentive payments, modernized the benefit design and included next-generation care management. "We put all this together for a more holistic approach," Sam Ho, UnitedHealth's executive vice president and chief medical officer, told AIS Health.

And that approach is working--healthcare costs for members participating in UnitedHealth's diabetes program increased at a 4 percent slower pace than for a control group of non-participants.

What's more, when the insurer covers a member without a chronic disease like diabetes, it costs about $4,400 annually, compared to the $11,700 cost for covering members with diabetes but without complications. And if a member has diabetes and a complication, it costs UnitedHealth $20,700 each year.

That realization is part of what has led UnitedHealth to participate in the National Diabetes Prevention Program to help people with pre-diabetes avoid developing type 2 diabetes. UnitedHealth also has partnered with Comcast to develop its own reality TV show to help prevent individuals from developing diabetes, FierceHealthPayer has previously reported.

A key aspect driving success of UnitedHealth's Diabetes Health Plan, the insurer says, is offering participating members financial incentives to lose weight and get healthy. For example, UnitedHealth provides free supplies, prescription drugs and doctor visits that are related to diabetes care, all of which save each member up to $500 a year.

Employers who offer UnitedHealth's diabetes plan have seen improvements as well. Palm Beach County School District in Florida, which provides UnitedHealth insurance coverage to its employers, said the financial incentives drive better participation and adherence rates.

The UnitedHealth diabetes program's financial incentives, and the reduced copays in particular, are the "best incentive for our group," Dianne Howard, director of risk and benefits management for the school district, told AIS Health. "We experienced a 9 percent reduction in our total net costs, saving about $2.9 million in our first year."

She added that the company has seen better health outcomes for employees participating in UnitedHealth's diabetes program. "We've even seen some pre-diabetics have lab results returning to normal due to those members learning about healthy eating and exercise and actually following the recommendations of their medical professionals," Howard said.

To learn more:
- read the AIS Health article

Related Articles:
Insurers, CDC work to stamp out diabetes, costs
UnitedHealth, Comcast pilot reality TV to prevent diabetes
UnitedHealth, WellPoint target kids' obesity under reform law
Does anyone care diabetes might cost $3 trillion?
UnitedHealth offers $60K for chronic care technologies