YARMOUTH, Maine –Health insurance giant UnitedHealthcare recently expanded access to the Real Appeal weight-loss program for members of its employer-sponsored health plans.
Members in the program receive training, tips, devices and a personal health coach to help them lose weight and manage chronic conditions like obesity and diabetes.
“United Healthcare is committed to finding new approaches to helping people reduce their risk for weight-related health conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes,” said Steve Olin, Real Appeal CEO. “When employees are at a healthy weight, they are more productive and have less absenteeism.”
Through a smartphone, tablet or computer, the Real Appeal program offers participants access to an online television show; real-time face-to-face video conferencing and interactive messaging; appointment scheduling, alerts and reminders; and the ability to track goals.
If widely adopted by large and mid-sized employers nationwide, Real Appeal estimates savings of more than $25 million in health care costs annually, according to Olin.
The announcement adds UnitedHealthcare to the growing list of tech-enabled workplace wellness programs being offered at big insurers across the country like Aetna, Cigna, Humana and others.
“It’s a huge trend,” said Joe Mondy, Cigna director of public relations. “These programs are really a reaction to the affordability of health care.”
Cigna’s wellness programs offer financial incentives tied to health improvements to its customers. Customers who reach their goals receive a financial discount on health premiums or a contribution to their Health Savings Accounts.
Cigna’s program, like others, uses health coaches to motivate and engage its members. The health coaches reach out to members online or on the phone once they are enrolled in the program. Mondy said the combination of technology and personal encouragement raises the odds for success, rather than technology alone.
“That combination is a powerful tool,” Mondy said.
But perhaps the most important piece of the puzzle is member engagement, said Mondy.
“The challenge is not necessarily in the program itself, but it’s engaging the individual and sustaining that engagement for at least the 15-18 weeks it takes to form a lifestyle change,” Mondy said.
While improved health is at the crux of wellness programs, costs savings are also a big motivator.
“We’ve seen medical inflation fall down below 5% as a direct result of our programs,” said Mondy. “This is the way of the future in terms of solving escalating health care costs.”