UnitedHealthcare-affiliated weight loss program, Real Appeal, is leveraging interactive digital tools to create lasting healthy habits for employees.

The population health management tool is accessible to 2.4 million employees enrolled in UnitedHealthcare employer-sponsored health plans for no additional co-pay or premium difference, said Warner Roberts, national vice president of Real Appeal.

“Our direct employers have the ability to bill it as a medical expense, so it’s a claim,” he said last week at Employee Benefit News’ Benefits Forum & Expo in Boca Raton, Fla. “It’s an added benefit into the health plan.”

[Image credit: Bloomberg]
[Image credit: Bloomberg]

The company has enrolled more than 100,000 employees since the benefit became available on Jan. 1. The technology enables online support and sessions that employees can access at their own pace. It includes online trackers to track weight, exercise and food, along with a library of resources. The resources support weight loss without connoting the stigma surrounding it, Roberts said.

“We’re not targeting; we’re opening up to those with a BMI of 23,” Roberts added.

Despite the low body mass index minimum, the average participant BMI is 34; 85% of participants are pre-diabetic or obese. Under the 52-week “intense interactive lifestyle intervention program,” 82% of participants lost weight, and 46% of participants lost 5% or more in body weight, Roberts said.

If an employee loses 5% of his body weight, he is 58% less likely to become diabetic, stressed Roberts, who also noted that the average participant loses 10 pounds under the program.

For Stacie Lehmann, human resources analyst and wellness coordinator for the City of St. Petersburg, Real Appeal was an ideal benefit to add to help improve the health of her employee base, she said.

It also helped that the vendor did most of the heavy lifting. “I have a great team: It’s me, myself and I,” quipped Lehmann. “I’m the person who really focuses on wellness.”

Real Appeal manages the entire process, which consists of: inviting employees to enroll, helping them identify if they qualify, sending them a weight loss kit that includes a scale and DVDs, accessing a suite of digital tools for support and tracking and organizing weekly sessions hosted by trained coaches. Lehmann, on the other hand, simply needed to communicate that the benefit was available.

Most importantly for Lehmann, the program is working: Of the 260 City of St. Petersburg employees enrolled in the program, 116 participants have lost an average of 3.6% of their body weight. Eighty-four percent of the city employees are at risk for diabetes, but a little more than a quarter (28%) are attending four or more sessions a week.

“We have a fair amount of employees who are not young,” she said. “As we age, unfortunately, we have some conditions that are more prevalent,” like diabetes.

Conference attendee Kathy Brojek shared that her company will begin implementing Real Appeal for its 1,100 U.S. employees on Oct. 1 for similar reasons.

“The majority of our medical claims fall into a couple of different buckets,” said Brojek, manager of corporate benefits and employee relations at Cleaver-Brooks, a provider of commercial and industrial boiler room products and systems. “We have a lot of people with heart disease; we have a lot of people with high cholesterol. We know that we have a lot of people with back issues; we think that’s because they’re overweight.”

UnitedHealthcare uses a pay-for-performance model, where employers pay for members who attend sessions and are on track for weight loss. Although the cost varies by employer, Real Appeal declined to comment on the cost of the program for employers as well as if the price is reflected in the number of employees enrolled in the program.

“We’ve been with UnitedHealthcare for a number of years and we love our relationship with them,” Brojek said. “When they brought this new benefit to us, we were like, ‘Yes, sign us up.’ We know it’s going to cost us money to roll it out but we feel that the money we’re going to save down the road on claims will offset the cost of the benefit.”

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