United enlists WAG, YMCA in pact vs. diabetes

MINNETONKA, Minn. —An innovative approach to controlling both the human and financial toll of diabetes is taking shape in eight cities across the United States as Walgreens and the YMCA team up with insurance and healthcare giant UnitedHealth Group. The goal: to steer the group’s members toward healthier lifestyles and help them prevent or successfully manage diabetes.

All three entities have joined in a new partnership, called the Diabetes Prevention and Control Alliance. The program brings together United’s powerful healthcare network, Walgreens’ national army of pharmacists and clinicians, and the Y’s long-standing expertise in health and fitness training.

The alliance will attempt to provide a more cost-effective way to manage the diabetes epidemic and encourage patients to take charge of their health. The program, now in rollout, provides interactions by health professionals and fitness coaches with United’s health plan members, and United is paying both Walgreens pharmacists and YMCA fitness coaches to deliver the service.

“We are leveraging our national healthcare resources, the YMCA’s and Walgreens’ presence in local communities, our combined wellness expertise and the experience of two innovative, proven pilot programs to help people make lifestyle changes to prevent or control diabetes,” explained United-Health Group president and CEO Stephen Hemsley.

“We selected Walgreens as a partner in the Diabetes Prevention and Control Alliance based on their ability to bring thousands of highly motivated and trained pharmacists, a national footprint and a true commitment to help tip the scales against the epidemic of diabetes, prediabetes and obesity in the United States,” added Deneen Vojta, SVP of United’s Center for Health Reform and Modernization. The program, she said, will “help people with diabetes better control their condition through education and support from their pharmacists.”

The Diabetes Prevention and Control Alliance is anchored by two integrated programs already in place at UnitedHealth. It merges the Diabetes Prevention Program—designed to help people at risk for diabetes prevent the disease through healthy eating, increased activity and other lifestyle changes—and the Diabetes Control Program, which is aimed at helping people with diabetes better control their condition through education and support from trained pharmacists. UnitedHealth Group said it would cover these services at no charge to plan participants enrolled in employer-provided health insurance plans. That marks “the first time in the country that a health plan will pay for evidence-based diabetes prevention and control programs,” the company asserted.

As part of the alliance’s Diabetes Control Program, Walgreens will offer personalized coaching and counseling by pharmacists to help patients diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes manage their condition and improve adherence to their physicians’ treatment plans. “Walgreens pharmacists or, in selected markets, Take Care Health Systems nurse practitioners, will provide diabetes education and behavioral intervention, risk-factor reduction, health promotion and regular examinations for early signs of complications, all in the convenient setting of a local pharmacy,” Walgreens noted.

“Walgreens is proud to be selected by UnitedHealth Group alongside the YMCA of the USA in their formation of this comprehensive diabetes treatment and self-care management program,” said Colin Watts, chief innovation officer for the drug store giant. “For this alliance, we are customizing many of the program elements of our recently launched Walgreens Optimal Wellness program, a national program designed to capitalize on the power of face-to-face interaction with a trusted Walgreens pharmacist or nurse practitioner in treating diabetes.”

“Walgreens is excited to be part of this new program and looks forward to collaborating with such strong and innovative partners,” Watts added. “We believe the… alliance is the right approach for treating one of the most pervasive chronic diseases in the country.”

The Diabetes Control Program launched in eight markets across the country: Cincinnati, Columbus and Dayton, Ohio; Indianapolis; Oklahoma City; Albuquerque, N.M.; Phoenix; and Minneapolis-St. Paul. UnitedHealth indicated that it would expand its partnerships in the future to include other pharmacy chains.

To encourage disease prevention and healthier lifestyles through the Diabetes Prevention Program, UnitedHealth and the YMCA have developed “a group-based lifestyle intervention designed especially for people at high risk of developing diabetes,” according to the insurer.

“In a group setting, a trained lifestyle coach helps participants change their lifestyle by helping people eat healthier and increase their physical activity, and learn about other behavior modifications over the 16-session program,” explained a UnitedHealth representative. “After the initial 16 core sessions, participants meet monthly for added support to help them maintain their progress.”

The new offering is based on the original U.S. Diabetes Prevention Program, funded by the National Institutes of Health and U.S. Centers for Disease Control. That program “showed that with lifestyle changes and modest weight reduction, a person with pre-diabetes can prevent or delay the onset of the disease by 58%,” the company noted. Researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine were able to replicate those results in conjunction with the YMCA of Greater Indianapolis in a group setting, according to UnitedHealth, which added, “The alliance will now enable the program to expand to many more communities across the nation.”

YMCA president and CEO Neil Nicoll pledged his support for UnitedHealth’s innovative venture, calling it “a major paradigm shift for healthcare delivery in our country.… YMCAs stand ready to be part of a new healthcare model that values prevention,” Nicoll added. “We look forward to working with UnitedHealth Group’s Diabetes Prevention and Control Alliance to help the millions of Americans at the highest risk of developing diabetes—a disease that often robs individuals of their good health and quality of life.”

United said it would apply its “national presence and broad assets in technology, health data, evidence-based medical decision-making, disease management and wellness programs to enhance and expand the Diabetes Prevention Program and Diabetes Control Program.” Both offerings, the company added, will employ “extensive data and advanced analytics to reach out to people with diabetes, as well as those with prediabetes, many of whom are unaware that they are at risk for the disease.” Individuals also can be referred to the program by their doctor or pharmacist, the insurer noted.

Praise for UnitedHealth’s new approach came from Ann Albright, director of CDC’s Division of Diabetes Translation. “It is through innovative partnerships like this one that we can improve progress against an epidemic that threatens both the nation’s health and its resources,” she said. “This proven intervention provides an outstanding opportunity for community-based health care and public health communities to substantively work together to prevent Type 2 diabetes in people at risk.”