October 15, 2018
FOCUS: Employee Benefits/Insurance

Health insurers test new employer wellness programs

Jason Madrak Regional Vice President, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care

Q&A talks with Jason Madrak, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care's regional vice president in Connecticut, about the insurer's newest employer wellness program.

Q. Harvard Pilgrim Health Care recently partnered with New Haven app startup Fitscript to offer access to a diabetes control program based on exercise, technology and real-time glucose levels. The program, called GlucoseZone, is now being offered to your Connecticut employer clients. How does it work and how did this partnership come about?

A. GlucoseZone's patented digital health exercise program is based on an individual's needs and aims to help people with diabetes lower their blood glucose levels, reduce reliance on medications and manage their body weight. GlucoseZone provides exercise guidance and support from a team of diabetes and fitness professionals dedicated to helping members get active.

Exercise routines are customized based on diabetes type, real-time blood sugar levels and other biometrics. This program addresses the often-missing exercise component of diabetes management and offers a resource for individuals to promote improved self-care. This pilot program complements Harvard Pilgrim's existing diabetes-management program — including access to nurse care managers at Harvard Pilgrim who have been trained on the GlucoseZone app.

Participation in GlucoseZone starts with the eligible Harvard Pilgrim member downloading the app. Next, the member creates a profile that includes information about their diabetes type, medication usage, comorbidity conditions, physical limitations and other information required to create a customized experience.

Upon completion of the initial onboarding, members have access to live and on-demand programming, digital coaches, certified diabetes educators, and a wide range of educational content all based on their unique profile.

Q. The program is currently being piloted in Connecticut. How long will the pilot last and how will it inform the program's use going forward?

A. This pilot program being offered to employer groups in Connecticut is still underway, running through Dec. 31, 2019. Upon completion of the pilot, both qualitative and quantitative data analysis will be conducted to determine the attitudinal, clinical and financial impacts. Results from the pilot will inform go/no-go decisions on whether to broaden this diabetes-management program across Harvard Pilgrim's commercial business/service areas.

Q. Wellness programs have been an increasing focus for insurers in recent years and a more common employee benefit. What other new programs are out there?

A. While many employers still offer the basics such as flu shot clinics and biometric screenings, increasingly they are hosting convenience services such as mobile vision vans and preventive dental clinics to provide care at the worksite.

These services are typically delivered at no or low cost for the employer and are especially popular with the Millennial and Gen Z populations, which are soon to make up nearly 50 percent of the workforce.

Other popular focus areas include mindfulness, sleep and clean eating with a focus on enhancing creativity, resilience and performance. Nearly every industry is experiencing a significant change with more and more employers looking to well-being as a business advantage in attracting top talent with an environment that fosters flexibility and innovation.

Q. What are the challenges around getting more small employers to use wellness programs? Are smaller employers more willing to try wellness programs today compared to five or even 10 years ago?

A. The single biggest challenge for small employers is having the staff resources to implement a program — even just scheduling space to host an event can be an obstacle. As digital capabilities have increased, it has become easier to promote step challenges and other programs with a digital/social media component.

A November Planksgiving challenge is a popular example. Participants increase their plank time gradually over the course of the month. Often, they will also incorporate a gratitude component and a social media post to document their progress and encourage others to participate.

These activities require relatively low effort to organize and have helped to dramatically increase the accessibility of well-being programs for small employers.

Q. Many health insurance companies are trying to reinvent themselves as "healthcare companies," not focused solely on handling claims but also keeping customers more healthy. Is this partnership part of that movement?

A. Yes. Our partnership with Fitscript is one of many that reinforce our role as a guide to better health.

In 2015, Harvard Pilgrim created a Center for Innovation with a focus on changing and improving member experiences along the entire journey of health care. Our innovation initiatives aim to identify, evaluate and implement new and emerging technologies, programs and services that benefit our members, resulting in better health outcomes and lower costs.

The challenge is that everyone's path to well-being is different, so we need to offer different programs and services.

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