Friday, April 23, 2010

Guest Commentary: UnitedHealth Group Partners with YMCA to Reduce Type 2 Diabetes

Patrick Monaghan
Director of Communications
Jefferson School of Population Health

With apologies to Stephen Colbert, a Tip of the Hat to UnitedHealth Group and the YMCA, who on Wednesday announced a partnership, along with retail pharmacies, to reduce the burden of Type 2 diabetes in the United States.

Under the proposal, UnitedHealth, one of the nation’s largest health insurers, will cover 16-week programs at the YMCA that discuss changes in eating, exercise and other lifestyle habits. As part of the program, which is being introduced in seven U.S. cities, the insurer will also pay incentives to Walgreens’ pharmacists to teach people how to better manage the disease.

UnitedHealth hopes the result will be lower costs and lower premiums for everyone.

Which makes sense to me.

UnitedHealth said studies funded by the government show that pre-diabetes patients can prevent or delay the disease by 58% simply by meeting in group coaching sessions, changing eating and exercise habits, and losing about 5% of their body weight.

It’s estimated that 25 million people in this country have Type 2 diabetes, the most common form of a disease that generally develops in adults as a result of obesity and poor diet. According to the American Diabetes Association, the total estimated diabetes cost in the United States in 2007 was $174 billion.

That’s billion, with a “b” – and that’s a conservative estimate. It’s no secret that our country’s health care is by far the most expensive in the world. The aim of the recently enacted federal health care law is not just to extend medical coverage to everybody but also to bring costs under control. Now that the law is on the books, it’s time to start reining in some of these costs.

The UnitedHealth/YMCA collaboration appears to be a move in the right direction. Some policy experts believe the program is an example of the steps that health insurance companies must take to demonstrate their relevance under the new health care law and as employers pay more attention to holding down medical costs.

What’s your take? Some believe this is a model for the future of health insurance. Do you feel the program has a chance of working on a national level? Let us know your thoughts.