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UnitedHealth partners for diabetes fight

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TESS VIGELAND: Over the next few years, health insurers will have to start covering everyone. No more rejecting people because of preexisting conditions. Or denying care at the moment they get sick. Logically that means insurance companies should want their customers to be as healthy as possible. And what’s that they say about an ounce of prevention?

Well, today UnitedHealth Group announced a new focus on helping folks stay out of the doctor’s office. Marketplace’s Nancy Marshall Genzer explains.

NANCY MARSHALL GENZER: UnitedHealth Group knows if it can keep us from getting sick, it’ll have healthier profits. So it’s partnering with the YMCA and Walgreens to get people to exercise and lose weight. The idea is to prevent and control diabetes, and its runaway costs. Right now, 44 cents of every dollar UnitedHealth spends on treatment goes toward diabetes care.

TOM BEAUREGARD: This program will pay for itself.

Tom Beauregard is a senior vice president of UnitedHealth Group. He says the company will spend millions of dollars developing the prevention program. It’ll pay the Y for personal trainers to work with people it insures who are overweight. It’ll pay pharmacists to help diabetics manage their disease. Beauregard says studies show that a 5 percent drop in weight can cut the odds of getting diabetes by almost 60 percent.

BEAUREGARD: We’ve got to find a way to tip the scale on this disease, and I think we’ve done that.

All this sounds pretty good to Les Funtleyder. He’s a health care strategist at Miller Tabak.

LES FUNTLEYDER: As an investor, we look for companies who either improve outcomes or lower costs. And this program will do both.

UnitedHealth doesn’t just have to please investors. Employers are fed up with skyrocketing premiums.

Helen Darling is president of the National Business Group on Health. Darling says companies want insurers to focus on lowering costs.

HELEN DARLING: There’s more pressure on them to be more innovative and maybe take more risks than they might have done in the sleepy old days of the 1990s.

Insurers know those days are gone.

In Washington, I’m Nancy Marshall Genzer for Marketplace.

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