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Payers doing the right thing to prevent heart disease

Jim O'NeilEvery now and then health insurance-related news comes across my desk that I'm so excited and hopeful about. Tuesday was one of those days.

What happened? The Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) announced the launch of the Million Hearts campaign, a multi-stakeholder initiative that aims to prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes over the next five years by preventing risk factors for cardiovascular disease, facilitating timely diagnosis, and enhancing the quality of clinical interventions. Heart disease is the number one killer of Americans--causing one of every three deaths in the country--and costs $444 billion annually in medical costs and lost productivity, constituting 17 percent of overall national health spending. Obviously, something has to be done.

The best and most pleasing aspect of this news? America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) and its members, including Aetna, Cigna, UnitedHealth, and WellPoint, have pledged action to support the Million Hearts agenda.

The insurers are helping prevent heart disease through various programs like UnitedHealth's community-based collaborations to reduce obesity and other heart disease risk factors for heart disease, WellPoint's beneficiary fitness programs, Aetna's initiatives to eliminate ethnic and racial disparities in cardiovascular health, and Cigna's programs to better manage chronic disease.
UnitedHealth, in particular, has been prominently featured throughout news covering the Million Hearts campaign, likely because of its large contributions to the effort, including providing a three-year, $2.8 million grant to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids to fund its "For Youth By Youth" program. The grant will enhance peer-to-peer anti-smoking tactics to help reduce the youth smoking rate from 20 percent to 15 percent by 2015. The insurer also has committed to:

  • include the Million Hearts Initiative in the 2011 edition of America's Health Rankings and feature a special commentary on program in the December release;
  • augment its community health planning coalitions to devote special attention to cardiovascular disease prevention and community-based resource development;
  • recruit its consumer websites to support Million Hearts by highlighting the importance of the preventive steps for heart diseases;
  • feature the Million Hearts Initiative in its "Styling Healthier Futures" health promotion and disease prevention collaboration with the African-American hair care industry;
  • expand its national market access to the Diabetes Prevention and Control Alliance, which helps drive earlier diagnosis of diabetes, improves health outcomes, and lowers diabetes-related health costs;
  • advance its administrative claims data analysis and performance improvement feedback activities.       

Given the general negative sentiments the health insurance industry engenders in the public, I think this is great news to highlight. It's nice to see insurers investing in people and attempting to improve the collective good, rather than focusing on money and the bottom line. I applaud and thank UnitedHealth and the other insurers for stepping up and doing the right thing. - Dina (@HealthPayer)

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