Interview: David Heywood, CEO, UnitedHealthcare Community Plan
What has been your company’s latest pivot or innovation?
We provide health care coverage to more than 100,000 people in Hawai‘i, and partner with over 6,500 health care providers including hospitals and long-term care facilities across all the Islands. Even larger in scope is our company’s national footprint, serving 45 million Americans and working with more than 80% of all U.S. care providers and hospitals. As a result, we recognize our responsibility to act during the COVID-19 pandemic and provide much-needed access to care, resources and support.
There has been a long list of innovations borne from the immediate needs of this pandemic. In Hawai‘i, our team of over 325 employees transitioned quickly to continue to support and interact with our health plan members and providers via virtual visits and conferencing capabilities.
UnitedHealthcare also introduced a free online COVID-19 symptom checker and test site locator, both available to everyone at uhc.com. This artificial intelligence tool allows people to input any symptoms they are experiencing to determine if they need to speak with a doctor or seek COVID-19 testing, and where to find it.
Through Optum, we are also offering an Emotional Support Help Line (866-342-6892) to anyone experiencing stress as a result of COVID-19. Additionally, Sanvello Health, a UnitedHealth Group company and leading provider of digital and tele-mental health solutions, is offering free premium access to the Sanvello mobile application – providing clinically validated techniques, coping tools and peer support free to anyone impacted by COVID-19.
Also, UnitedHealth Group and Microsoft have teamed to launch ProtectWell, a return-to-workplace protocol and app that provides employers a tool to bring employees back to work in a safer environment.
What has been your company’s latest opportunity or opportunities?
In this uncertain time, UnitedHealthcare has been expanding access to care, support and resources to help people, care providers and our community combat COVID-19. We waived member cost-sharing for COVID-19 treatment on our Medicare Advantage, Individual and Group Market fully insured health plans through May 31. We’ve also waived cost sharing on all in-network telehealth visits through June 18 and allowed greater flexibility on prescription refills through June 15. We have and will continue to provide personal protection equipment, such as face masks and gloves, to health care providers, community organizations and our members. Examples include face masks to our non-emergent medical transport drivers and over 2,000 N95 masks to a home health agency in desperate need of masks.
We also recognize the importance of addressing the social needs, especially during this public health emergency. Food insecurity is one of the most common unmet social needs, and we are directly engaging our members to identify their needs and connect them to emergency food assistance and meal delivery programs, which can deliver food within 24 hours when needed. Our field-based clinical team has identified and arranged for food and meal deliveries to our members most in need and impacted due to the stay at home orders. We also worked quickly to check in with all of our health plan members on dialysis to ensure they could get to their dialysis center as well has having a back-up plan. We remain engaged twice-weekly with our homeless service providers and government agencies partnering to support members experiencing or at risk for homelessness.
How has your company’s experience been with any level of government during this crisis?
UnitedHealthcare has been very active working with the state Department of Human Services Med-Quest Division along with the other Medicaid health plans during this emergency. Our experience has been positive with a high degree of collaboration with Med-Quest, the other health plans and interfacing with the Department of Health. UnitedHealthcare’s significant national resources and experience in many other states has been very helpful in providing guidance and suggestions to the State of Hawai‘i.
At a national level, UnitedHealth Group leadership has been involved in discussions at the highest levels of federal government, providing health care industry perspective from the start of this crisis. Most recently, we were privileged to be asked by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to distribute a portion of the $100 billion in Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act emergency funding to health care providers nationwide.
In what ways do you think your business will be different at the end of this year?
One of the most important emerging health care trends and technologies taking hold this year in our state and across the U.S. is the use of telehealth. Telehealth allows people to connect one-on-one 24/7 with a health care provider using their smartphone, tablet or personal computer. While telehealth was introduced as a cost-effective and convenient method to address minor and nonemergency medical conditions, it has become a necessary and popular option for seeing one’s doctor during the exposure concerns surrounding COVID-19.
In Hawai‘i, we have seen a significant increase in the adoption of telehealth beginning the second week of March. It’s quite likely that in the “new normal” of a post-pandemic world, virtual patient-provider visits will remain a preferred consumer option for non-emergent medical appointments.
Health plans and the healthcare delivery system in Hawai‘i will be changed due to COVID-19 – certainly in the area of telehealth and other technologies such as remote diagnosing and monitoring. There is a significant economic challenge occurring now for many health care providers, and in the very near future the negative impact on the state’s budget and ability to fully fund the Medicaid and other healthcare programs.
In what ways have you been able to support the broader community beyond your employees and customers?
UnitedHealthcare employees are engaged in many community activities, several of which have gone virtual such as the March of Dimes “Walk” and Hilo Heart (virtual) Walk. Our “myConnections” program continues to work on identifying and referring individuals with social challenges, such as housing, to resources and support in the community. Our employees across the islands are also acting in small, individual ways by making masks, helping community agencies, and other work to support those in need – which has increased with unemployment that has gone from less than 3% to over 30%.
Our teams have participated in several efforts to support our communities statewide during this period. Some examples include working with community-based organizations on packaging and distributing food and PPE. As testing is a key part of reducing the spread of infection, we have nurses who are working the front lines at COVID-19 testing sites. We also recognize the job our essential health care workers have in keeping our Hawai‘i residents safe and secure. We have provided meals to these essential workers to thank them for their hard work.
Nationally, UnitedHealth Group has invested more than $75 million to help communities in need, protect the health care workforce, and help people and clinicians cope with the stress and anxiety of this pandemic and related economic challenges.