By this time each year, many Pennsylvanians have likely already made – and broken – a wellness-related resolution, such as ramping up exercise or eating more fruits and vegetables. In fact, one study found that around 80% of resolutions end in failure, often within the first few months of the year.
To help avoid this, try tapping into resources, including ones available through your employer or health plan. For most people, their health plan benefits began in January, regardless of whether they switched to a new plan during open enrollment or stayed with the plan they had in 2022. This is an opportune time for people to take stock of their health, while using their insurance plan to help get healthier.
Here are five strategies to consider, whether your coverage is through an employer, a state-based exchange or a government-sponsored programs such as Medicare or Medicaid:
Take advantage of preventive visits. While plans vary, many have eliminated out-of-pocket costs, such as copays or deductibles, for certain preventive screenings. This may include coverage for colonoscopies, mammograms and type 2 diabetes screenings. Likewise, some vaccinations for children and adults may be covered with no cost-sharing, including shots for the flu, measles and shingles. Given the important connection between mental health and physical health, some plans may include coverage for some behavioral health visits to help treat depression, anxiety or stress. Vision plans usually include coverage for an annual eye exam, which may help detect and manage certain chronic conditions, and dental insurance often includes two cleanings per year to help prevent or treat oral health issues.
Go virtual. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed how and where people want to get health care, with 71% of Americans saying they are interested in continuing to use virtual care to access medical services. In response, most employers and health plans have expanded their virtual care offerings to help people remotely address everything from urgent care issues to primary care and behavioral health needs. Other emerging virtual care options may provide support for physical therapy, dermatology, women’s health and the treatment of migraines. Telehealth can make access to care more convenient and affordable, and a recent study found its quality is equal or superior to in-person care in many instances.
Reach for rewards: A vast majority of workers have access to well-being programs through their employer and a similar number have it via a Medicare Advantage plan. However, only 23% of employees use these wellness initiatives. To help change that, some programs are offering rewards for certain activities, such as filling out a health survey, getting a biometric screening, meeting movement goals or tracking sleep. Plus, instead of virtual coins or rewards that can only be used to help pay for medical care, some programs are allowing members to earn prepaid debit cards that may be worth hundreds of dollars annually — that can be spent however they wish.
Save on a digital fitness app. Over half of Americans say they exercise at home, a habit that likely became more widespread due to COVID-19. Whether your fitness goal is focused on improving strength, enhancing endurance or finding new levels of flexibility, a digital fitness app may be helpful. In fact, 30% of Americans surveyed said they’ve used a digital fitness app as part of a fitness regimen. To help gain access, some health plans now include subsidized subscriptions to digital fitness apps featuring thousands of live and on-demand workouts. In some cases, a subscription to a digital fitness app may be available to members at no additional cost.
Get connected to community resources. More so than what happens in the doctor’s office, research shows that social determinants of health, such as access to nutritious food and affordable housing, may influence up to 80% of a person’s health. That’s why some health plans are using predictive analytics to help proactively identify members who may be dealing with social issues and then connecting them with low- or no-cost community resources. Through these programs, people may be able to receive assistance with utility and internet bills, childcare costs, and even home repairs. Some employers are also providing additional resources, such as money for “lifestyle accounts” to help employees pay for gas, on-site pantries stocked with nutritious foods and “call-a-friend” wellness initiatives to help address social isolation.
Whether your goal this year is to improve your physical, mental or financial health (or all three), considering these tips can help you take advantage of resources that may be included with your health plan.
Dr. Donna O’Shea
Dr. Donna O’Shea is Chief Medical Officer of Population Health, UnitedHealthcare.