The program is starting in seven cities -- Cincinnati, Columbus and Dayton, Ohio, Indianapolis, Ind., Minneapolis, Minn., Phoenix and Tucson Ariz. -- but could be extended if it pays for itself, as UnitedHealth expects it will.
There are a number of health IT angles here. First, participation is based on United's database. Second, it's profitable thanks to Walgreen's automation. Third it builds on the YMCA's existing wellness programs, like FitLinxx, and increases its Web presence through learning materials.
The program is based on one developed by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which Indiana University was already planning on implementing in Indianapolis with the YMCA there. The CDC estimates that a 5% weight reduction for those at risk for Type II diabetes can drop the risk of acquiring the disease by 58%.
Chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease represent 75% of the nation's health care costs, according to the CDC, and account for 70% of U.S. deaths.
Everybody gets to be a winner here:
Since insurers are forced to cover everyone under health reform, companies like UnitedHealth now have a financial incentive to launch wellness programs of this type. Its costs are kept at a minimum by the participation of Walgreen's, which is highly automated, and the YMCA connection is a bonus.
Everyone could end up making money, especially the Y, which is fighting to attract new customers as younger people go to cheaper health clubs and middle-income people find their budgets stretched. Other insurers will be watching the program closely to see how it impacts United's bottom line, and its reputation. (Full disclosure. I'm a member of my local YMCA.)
This looks like the start of a trend.