Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Health rankings show NJ weighs in as 11th healthiest

New Jersey has more dentists per capita than any other state in the U.S., the second lowest rate of infectious disease and the third lowest rate of infant mortality.

These positive health measures are some of the reasons New Jersey earned its rank at number 11 on the United Health Foundation’s 2015 America’s Health Rankings®. But some health struggles facing New Jersey kept it out of the top 10.

Some of New Jersey’s health challenges include:
  • A rise in the rate of obesity to 26.9 percent of adults.
  • An increase in the percentage of adults with diabetes to 9.7 percent.
  • A low rate of childhood vaccinations, a significant drop from recent years and putting it in 40th place on this year’s report. In the state, only 67.2 percent of children ages 19 to 35 months receive the recommended vaccinations.
  • Drug deaths, which increased 90 percent from 6.9 to 13.1 per 100,000 people.

Now in its 26th year, America’s Health Rankings is a useful perspective not only on how New Jersey’s health has changed in the past year, but over the past decades in good ways and bad. The report is designed to provide stakeholders (individuals, clinicians, public health officials) with a comprehensive set of health, environmental and socioeconomic data on which to take action when considering their personal health and the health of the overall New Jersey community.

Overall, the report shows that in 2015 Americans are making meaningful progress on key health metrics including smoking less and leading less sedentary lives.  New Jersey is headed in the right direction in many ways, and doing a better job of delivering health services that address key issues such as dental care, infectious disease and infant mortality. But troubling statistics like the steady rise in rates of obesity and diabetes indicate that we’re not doing a good job at practicing healthy behaviors in our everyday lives.

As we look ahead to 2016, the rankings are a guide to show us areas in which we need to improve and the successes upon which we can continue to build.  UnitedHealthcare will continue to develop innovative programs designed to address New Jersey’s health challenges and help educate people about living healthier lives.

For more information about the rankings, visit

Monday, December 7, 2015

Business growth depends on simplifying the customer experience

Many New Jersey entrepreneurs want to know what industry in New Jersey has the greatest opportunities for growth.

As it turns out, businesses have a fair shot for success in any industry, as long as they follow the right business strategy. Recently, business leaders throughout New Jersey gathered for the NJBiz “50 Fastest Growing Companies” awards in Somerset, NJ. As one of the presenting sponsors of the awards, we at UnitedHealthcare were deeply impressed by the diverse array of companies at the awards. From LED light manufacturers to digital marketing agencies to biopharmaceutical companies, it’s clear that New Jersey businesses are using cutting-edge technologies and business strategies to gain a competitive edge or serve a niche market.

While the represented industries were diverse, one thing they had in common was their ability to solve incredibly complex problems to create simple solutions for their customers. These companies collectively present the perfect game plan for growing a business and creating new jobs: Serve your markets with simple but innovative products and services based on advanced ideas and technology.

In many ways, it reminds me of UnitedHealthcare’s approach to helping our members live healthier lives. Despite the fact that we’re a much larger company than many of the award recipients, we approach each of our markets – individual, Medicare, Medicaid, large employers, small employers – with the aim of simplifying their needs. While our business tactics are build on the complex data of our 1.7 million customers in New Jersey and millions more nationwide, we focus on making the customer experience as simple as possible by using an extensive array of Internet software, mobile apps and proprietary customer service models.

We’re proud of the similarities between our own organization and 50 of the top companies that are making New Jersey a great place to work and live. We congratulate each of these businesses not just for their success, but also for their resilience, dedication to quality, innovation and commitment to their employees and the community. For more information about New Jersey’s 50 Fastest Growing companies, see the NJBiz feature on the winners.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

‘Tis the season for choosing a health insurance plan

As the year begins to wind down, most of us know that we will be increasingly busy during the next couple of months. It can be tough to find a few spare minutes as we scramble to meet year-end deadlines at work, figure out the perfect gifts for our loved ones and fill our calendars with holiday activities.

During the hustle and bustle, many people overlook a very important task: Signing up for their health care plan for 2016. Open enrollment season is typically the only time of year when people can switch health insurers or make changes to their plan. It’s critical for families to take the time to make sure they fully understand their health plan options and anticipate their health care needs for the coming year. Choosing the right plan can help you enhance your health and possibly save money in the year ahead.

The following tips can help you select a plan that makes financial sense while providing the benefits you and your family need:

Be aware there are three distinct open enrollment periods
If you are choosing a plan for yourself and helping family members with their health insurance decisions, the timing could vary.
·         Employer-Sponsored Coverage – Most large employers schedule a two- to three-week period when their employees can select health benefits for the following year. This period is often in the fall, but the exact dates depend on the employer.

·         Medicare Open Enrollment Period – For most Medicare beneficiaries, the Open Enrollment Period began on Oct. 15 and continues through Dec. 7.  This is the only time period when Medicare beneficiaries can make changes to their Medicare coverage for next year.   

·         Pennsylvania Insurance Marketplace – The Pennsylvania Insurance Marketplace may be a good option for people under 65 who don’t have health insurance.  Open enrollment starts Nov. 1, 2015, and ends Jan. 31, 2016. To learn more, visit

Set aside enough time
Set aside enough time to review your options, and attend any information sessions at work or in your community. You may find ways to save money on your health care costs – whether it’s by selecting a plan with a lower monthly cost and/or deductible level, or a plan that will cover more of the expected costs for a major health event you anticipate, such as having a baby or surgery, or evaluating prescription drug coverage. If you plan to purchase health insurance coverage on the PA Insurance Marketplace be sure to check out UnitedHealthcare’s “Marketplace Made Clear” video series at

Select care providers who participate in the insurer’s network
Even if you don’t plan to make any changes to your health insurance, it’s still a good idea to ensure any doctor you plan to visit during the coming year participates in your plan’s care provider network.

Many health plans offer a broad choice of local in-network health care professionals, from primary care physicians and pediatricians to specialists, and these in-network care providers agree in advance to what they’ll charge for specific procedures. You should also call before your procedure to verify the care providers are in-network. If you plan to visit a doctor or hospital outside the network, learn up front how your costs will differ from those of an in-network care provider – sometimes the difference can be substantial.

Don’t forget about other benefits
Specialty benefits such as dental, vision, accident or even critical illness plans are often cost-effective options and cover annual teeth cleanings and eye exams or provide financial benefits for unexpected situations. Many vision plans also offer reduced pricing on frames and lenses.
No matter how busy you are in the next couple of months, make sure you set aside enough time to carefully review your health plan options. For more information on open enrollment, check out my recent article in the Courier Post.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

New Jersey seventh graders get a jump on a healthy school year

If we want our kids to grow into healthy adults, it’s a good idea to start helping them form healthy habits when they’re young.

In fact, studies show that seventh grade is a key time in children’s development when they start to begin making decisions about their fitness and nutrition routines that often last well into adulthood.

That’s why the Westfield YMCA began its 7th Grade Initiative. The program aims to help adolescents develop positive attitudes and behaviors about nutrition, exercise, body image and self esteem. In 2009, UnitedHealthcare partnered with the YMCA to support the 7th Grade Initiative by introducing the UnitedHealthcare Health Bee. The UnitedHealthcare Health Bee is a fun, Jeopardy-style competition that tests students on what they’ve learned about physical fitness, nutrition, science and health throughout the year.

On Wednesday, October 27 the Westfield YMCA and UnitedHealthcare kicked off the 7th Grade Initiative with a healthy celebration. Students enjoyed a fun evening of fitness activities and games, a climbing wall, advice from health experts and healthy snacks.

The YMCA's 7th Grade Initiative will teach kids about getting good nutrition, including helping them understand how much sugar is in many everyday foods and beverages
Kids had the chance to test their strength and climbing skill's on the Westfield YMCA's rock climbing wall
John Verga, vice president, UnitedHealthcare of New Jersey, joined in the fun fitness activities at the Westfield YMCA’s 7th Grade Initiative Kickoff.

In spring 2016, UnitedHealthcare will host Health Bees not only at the Westfield YMCA, but at several YMCAs throughout New Jersey. For information on last year’s UnitedHealthcare Health Bee competitions, check out my blog post from earlier this year.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Good leadership starts with listening

If the boss is the one doing all the talking at the weekly group meeting, there’s a good chance that the employees aren’t feeling engaged in their jobs.

It’s the kind of mistake that every business leader might make without realizing until someone else points it out to them. That’s why it’s so important for business leaders to step back from time to time and analyze how they could improve their leadership style to help their businesses grow. 

On September 17, I attended the 2015 Best Practices Conference, hosted by COMMERCE Magazine and the Commercial and Industry Association of New Jersey. The conference gathered more than 150 CEOs and other business leaders from New Jersey to discuss best practices in business leadership. I was honored to be among the 35 CEOs recognized for our insights in leadership.

COMMERCE Magazine asked each of the award recipients to offer some of our best advice on leadership in our industries. Here’s what I said:  One of the biggest challenges of leadership is developing an understanding how your personality affects the sentiment and productivity of the group. Many leaders have strong personalities and emotions, which can be both positive and negative.

When a leader brings positive energy and encouragement to the group, many employees are inspired to work at their peak capacity and achieve beyond their expectations. But when employees view a leader as a source of negativity, they may feel stifled and disengaged from the organization’s goals. In some cases, the leader may not even be aware that employees think of them negatively. Many leaders don’t realize how an off-the-cuff remark or comment made under stress can affect the entire atmosphere of the workplace.

All leaders should regularly take the time to assess the feelings in their groups. Leaders should ask employees to speak candidly about their concerns, voice their ideas and discuss what they think is going well. Frequently, employees will offer angles that the leader may not have considered before. By taking the time to view challenges from multiple angles and incorporate employee input, leaders can most effectively address the business challenges at hand and lead a strong team.

My fellow CEOs at the conference were full of other tips and best practices to help businesses grow. You can check out the full “Best Practices” guide at

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Injured veterans ride through New Jersey

With every mile that goes by as they ride from Hasbrouck Heights through Watchung and Princeton and on to Pennsylvania, 200 injured veterans will be a little closer to recovery.

From September 27 – October 3, these brave riders will be participating in the UnitedHealthcare Army/Navy Challenge, a 460-mile journey through New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland. The UnitedHealthcare Army/Navy Challenge is one of six cycling challenges UnitedHealthcare is sponsoring this year nationwide with nonprofit organization Ride 2 Recovery.

Ride 2 Recovery is a groundbreaking program that uses the physical and mental challenge of long-distance cycling to help improve veterans’ physical health and psychological wellness. The program helps veterans find bicycles that fit their physical needs – including traditional bikes, recumbent bikes, hand cycles, tandems or custom modified cycles – to build up strength and endurance, culminating in the long challenge rides. Veterans who participate in the program report that the rides give them a renewed sense of purpose, hope and camaraderie.
Students from Valley View School greeted veterans enthusiastically as they rolled into Watchung
The Army/Navy Challenge will begin on September 27 with a round-trip ride from Hasbrouck Heights, NJ through New York City, with a stop at the 9/11 Memorial in Manhattan. The following day, riders will depart Hasbrouck Heights for Princeton, NJ, stopping along the way at Valley View School in Watchung. On September 29, the veterans will leave Princeton to continue their journey into Pennsylvania and Delaware before ending the trip in Annapolis, Maryland. On October 3, the veterans will enjoy the Navy vs. Air Force football game at the United States Naval Academy.
On September 29, Ride 2 Recovery celebrated Women's Day to honor the women who have served in the military
At each stop along the way, UnitedHealthcare helped to organize volunteers to welcome the veterans, serve food and water or unload equipment. Now in our sixth year of serving as the presenting sponsor for the race, it is a pleasure each year to see our employees join together to help our veterans in their efforts to rebuild physical and mental strength. It’s likewise a wonderful opportunity to see many other community members and organizations come out to join us in a united sense of appreciation for the sacrifices these veterans have made during the course of their service.
UnitedHealthcare volunteers, USO employees and I greeted riders with lunch as they cycled into Watchung, NJ on September 28
We hope many of you will join us along the road in New Jersey to cheer on our veterans!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Innovating the customer service experience

Ensuring that health plan members have a smooth and helpful customer service experience is a top priority at UnitedHealthcare, and we’re working hard to innovate our customer service systems. My colleague, Dan Tropeano, executive director of UnitedHealthcare of Pennsylvania and Delaware, wrote a great article recently about Advocate4Me, UnitedHealthcare’s new customer service initiative:

“Many people dread the idea of calling customer service, afraid they’ll hang up the phone more frustrated than when they called.

Delivering a quality customer service experience is a challenge in the health insurance industry. The complicated health care system coupled with the fact that most people are calling when they are facing frightening health issues creates a tough situation.

At UnitedHealthcare, we’re working hard to improve the customer service experience with our new initiative, Advocate4Me.

Advocate4Me simplifies the customer experience in several ways. First, a single advocate is assigned to see each member through each health issue. Every time a health plan member needs to talk to someone at UnitedHealthcare about an issue, such as a knee surgery or cancer treatment, they can talk to the same person until the issue is solved, which helps customers trust that they are working with someone who understands their problem and will take charge of solving it.

Secondly, the advocate works on the customer’s behalf to utilize UnitedHealthcare’s vast resources to solve the customer’s problem. Resources include top experts in medical, behavioral, clinical and pharmaceutical sciences, plus cutting-edge technology.

Finally and most importantly, advocates understand that customers may be overwhelmed with worry about their health issues and frustrated by what can be a complicated health care system. So when customers call, advocates try to make them feel understood, cared for and at ease.

To read more about Advocate4Me, check out Forbes Magazine's recent article featuring interviews with Dr. Magliori, executive vice president and chief medical officer of UnitedHealth Group, and Chris Carlson, vice president of customer experience at UnitedHealthcare, about the new Advocate4Me initiative."

Friday, July 10, 2015

Manage stress at the office

Forty percent of workers report that their job is very or extremely stressful, according to a survey by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). And 75 percent of workers say they suffer more job-related stress than workers did in the previous generation.

Employers should recognize that stress in the workplace can have negative effects on employees’ health. Severe stress can cause people to develop digestive issues, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, a weakened immune system, weight gain and mental health issues. In fact, the United Health Foundation’s 2014 America’s Health Rankings show that people in New Jersey report experiencing 3.3 poor mental health days every month - days in which an employee is physically at work, but not fully productive due to stress and physical or mental health issues.

Ultimately, stress may affect work performance, personal and professional relationships and even the employer’s bottom line. But there are some tips that employers can follow to help reduce employees’ stress:
·         Create opportunities for exercise. Exercise is one of the best stress-busters, and can help people improve their mood and control their weight. Employers may consider offering group exercise classes at the office, or simply encourage employees to leave their desks to take a walk.
·         Teach employees relaxation techniques. Bring an expert to the workplace to help employees learn relaxation techniques like deep breathing and meditation. Mindful meditation can help employees let go of stress and regain their focus.  While the techniques are simple, achieving the desired result takes practice.
·         Make time for stress-relief activities. Taking the time to plan a few fun employee events – be it an office trivia game or a monthly employee lunch – can relieve tension in the office.
·         Lighten the mood. Psychologically, laughter may act as a coping mechanism to reduce stress, improve self-esteem and lower levels of loneliness and depression. Positive humor at the office can help people get along better with their co-workers, and be more productive at work. For example, hang funny comics on the bulletin board near the water cooler, or share a funny video. It’s important, however, that the humor is positive, inclusive and never aimed at insulting anyone.

To kick off a lower-stress atmosphere at the office, check out UHC-TV’s “Mood Lifters” channel. Here are a couple of videos to get started:

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

New Jersey seventh graders know their health facts

Q: What type of healthy fatty acid is found in fish?

A: Omega-3 fatty acid

Questions like these at the 2015 UnitedHealthcare Health Bee competitions proved that New Jersey’s seventh-grade students are getting smart about their health.

The UnitedHealthcare Health Bee is a high-energy, Jeopardy-style competition that tests middle school students on their knowledge about nutrition, physical activity and general health and science. UnitedHealthcare partners with the YMCA to host the program, and includes the competition as a component of the YMCA’s 7th Grade Initiative.

Research indicates that seventh grade is a key junction in a young teen’s attitudes and behaviors regarding body image, health, nutrition and self-esteem.  The seventh grade initiative aims to help students at this critical time develop healthy habits that will follow them into adulthood.  At many YMCA branches, the program includes nutrition, fitness and social programs and a free pre-teen membership to the Y with access to the exercise equipment, pool and gym.
The team from Herbert Hoover Middle School buzzes in at the 2015 UnitedHealthcare Health Bee, held in partnership with the MEWSA YMCA on April 30, 2015 
The Health Bee builds on the program by adding an education component and fun competition that gives students an opportunity show off their health smarts to their friends and family. UnitedHealthcare awards grants to the teams that win first place, second place and the School Spirit Award to support healthy programs at their schools.

At the UnitedHealthcare Health Bee in Elizabeth, N.J., Dr. Orlando Edreira Academy No. 26 took home first place and a $1,000 grant to support healthy programs at school.
UnitedHealthcare began the Health Bee in 2009 at the Westfield Area YMCA in New Jersey. Since then, the program has become so popular that we have expanded it to several other YMCA branches. This spring, we had the pleasure of hosting four competitions in New Jersey with the help of the Westfield Area YMCA, the Fanwood-Scotch Plains YMCA, the MEWSA (Metuchen, Edison, Woodbridge & South Amboy) YMCA, and the Gateway Family YMCA.
Teams and their friends and families are encouraged to show a lot of school spirit and  support for one another, encouraging a fun, positive attitude about health. Here, the team from Terrill Middle School shows off their team pride at the Fanwood-Scotch Plains YMCA.
Here are some photos that capture the fun of this year’s competitions. It was a pleasure to see so many New Jersey students get excited about their health, and I look forward to next year’s competition!

UnitedHealthcare and the Westfield area YMCA celebrated the sixth year of the annual UnitedHealthcare Health Bee. Seventh-grade students from Hillside Avenue took home second place and a $500 grant.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Be prepared to care for health on vacation

Nothing ruins a fun summer vacation like getting sick or injured.

But every destination carries health risks, whether it’s getting food poisoning in Mexico, having a heart attack climbing the Rocky Mountains or getting stung by a jellyfish at the Jersey shore. Not only is it tough dealing with an injury or illness, but many people become overwhelmed by dealing with unfamiliar doctors, hospitals and clinics.

Here are some tips to help minimize health concerns before taking a trip:
  1. Make sure you bring your health insurance identification card and other important travel documents.
  2. Call your health insurer before you leave to make sure you understand your health coverage options at your destination. Some insurers, including UnitedHealthcare, offer extended coverage for international medical expenses.
  3. Visit the Center for Disease Control and other government websites for information on prevalent diseases and other health alerts affecting foreign destinations.
  4. Make sure everyone in the family has the recommended vaccinations.
  5. In areas where there is a high risk of contaminated water, use only bottled water to drink and to brush your teeth. Peel fruits and vegetables.
  6. Bring enough of prescription medications to cover at least 2-3 days longer than the trip will last in case there is a delay or a pill is accidentally damaged.
  7. If traveling by airplane, carry prescription medications in their original containers in a carry-on bag and label them clearly.
  8. Bring your physician’s contact information in case there is a medical emergency.
  9. If traveling to a country where people speak a different language, learn the words for “doctor,” “emergency” and “hospital” in the native language.
  10. For international travelers, contact the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers of the Nearest U.S. embassy to find medical facilities and English-speaking doctors in the area where you plan to travel. 
No one wants to deal with health issues on vacation. But by preparing before you leave, you can minimize the hazards of dealing with an unfamiliar medical system and get back to enjoying the beach, hiking the wilderness or exploring a city as quickly as possible.

I wish everyone a happy, safe and healthy 4th of July!

Monday, June 29, 2015

New Jersey Ranks 26th for Senior Health

Earlier this year, the annual United Health Foundation’s America’s Health Rankings: Senior Report, took a close look at the specific metrics by which seniors’ health is improving and worsening in each state.  New Jersey dropped two spots this year, ranking 26th.

When asked by the Newark Star-Ledger what traits or behaviors are pulling down the overall health of seniors in New Jersey, Anju Sikka, regional medical director for UnitedHealthcare of New Jersey said, “Too many of them are underweight. The state ranks 43rd-worst nationwide for having citizens who are underweight. Being underweight usually signals being malnourished, and that impacts the ability to bounce back from all sorts of other illnesses.

While the high prevalence of being underweight is certainly a challenge for New Jersey seniors, there were some health strengths highlighted in the report. For example:
  • Low prevalence of chronic drinking: Only 2.9 percent of adults aged 65 and older in New Jersey report chronic drinking, defined as consuming more than 30 drinks in the last 30 days for women and 60 drinks in the last 30 days for men.
  • Low geriatrician shortfall: With an aging baby boomer population, the number of geriatricians needed is growing dramatically. The shortfall of geriatricians in New Jersey is 52.4 percent of the minimum number needed, the ninth lowest shortfall among the states.
  • Low prevalence of falls: Falls and injuries can impair quality of life by limiting mobility for older adults, which can contribute to social isolation and premature death. In New Jersey, 22.3 percent of adults aged 65 and older report falling in the last 12 months, the fifth lowest rate in the nation.
To see more about New Jersey seniors’ health and view other states’ results, view the full report here