Private payors look to tackle diabetes care, costs through major employers

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With 23.6 million Americans currently diagnosed with diabetes, UnitedHealthcare has introduced the Diabetes Health Plan to provide assistance through employers to their diabetic and pre-diabetic staff.

Piloted last year by GE, Hewlett-Packard and Affinia Group, the plan covers diagnosed diabetics and pre-diabetics (those with a fasting blood glucose level between 100 to 125 mg/dl) to help contain insurance costs and support patients with the disease.

One of 10 U.S. healthcare dollars is spent on diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA). Those diagnosed with diabetes can possess healthcare costs of up to $22,000 per year, said UnitedHealthcare.

Enrollment is based on biometric screenings and historical claims analysis, according to the payor, and allows benefits such as lower deductibles, low-cost prescriptions and other diabetic supplies to participating employees.

"One of the best ways to control escalating healthcare costs is to encourage people to adopt healthier behaviors and take preventive steps," said Deneen Vojta, MD, senior vice president of UnitedHealth.

The Diabetes Health Plan offers ways for those with the disease to control their own conditions via a data tracking Web site.

In addition, the plan offers a $250 to $500 out-of-pocket savings to diabetic and pre-diabetic employees who follow preventative guidelines such as having blood sugar checks, preventive screenings and routine exams, according to the payor.

"The educational component of the diabetes plan will be extremely valuable to our people in helping them understand how to take better care of themselves. Removing co-payments for diabetic medications and testing supplies and offering a program of continual follow-up will encourage our people to remain in close compliance with treatment plans prescribed by their doctors," said Timothy J. Zorn, vice president of human resources for Affinia.

U.S. healthcare costs associated with diabetes reached $147 billion in 2007 and diagnosis grew by 13.5 percent last year due to increased obesity rates and a growing of the elderly and minority populations with the disease, UnitedHealthcare reported.

Currently, the pilot plan is available to UnitedHealthcare clients with 3,000 or more employees and a small segment with 2,000 to 2,999 employees.