Chronic health conditions affect up to a quarter of all children
Practical solutions to reduce preterm births and childhood obesity could benefit millions of American children
A new report released today by UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH), titled “100 Percent of Our Future: Improving the Health of America’s Children,” points to several practical steps to address the unmet health needs of children.
These practical steps include:
“The mystery here is why the U.S. hasn’t yet implemented proven and practical steps to improve children’s lives while saving families and the nation billions of dollars,” said Simon Stevens, chairman of the UnitedHealth Center for Health Reform & Modernization, executive vice president of UnitedHealth Group, and one of the paper’s authors. “Children may be a quarter of the American population – but they’re inarguably 100 percent of our future, so the time to act is now.”
The new findings come at a time when chronic health conditions are on the rise among children. Childhood asthma grew by more than 10 percent in the last decade and affects almost one in ten children today. One in three children in the United States are obese or overweight, driving unprecedented increases in children’s type 2 diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease. Partly as a result, health care costs for children are now increasing far faster than for adults.
Meaningful interventions to reduce childhood obesity could save billions of dollars
The report highlights opportunities for reducing childhood obesity in the United States, including broader adoption of lifestyle change/behavioral intervention models. These include UnitedHealth Group’s JOIN for ME program, which engages the whole family to help children struggling with weight issues. According to the report’s analysis, if a program similar to JOIN for ME was to be scaled nationally, a reduction in the rate of childhood obesity and overweight children by 5 percentage points over 5 years could reduce the number of obese and overweight children by about 10 million and the number of obese adults by 2 million by 2023. This might yield $25 billion in lower health care spending over the next 10 years, and savings would increase beyond that. The report also points to the potential of “exergaming” – a new trend in which the gaming technology monitors physical activity levels – as a new opportunity to engage with kids.
“Weight issues can lead to serious health consequences that are even more problematic as kids transition to adulthood,” said Deneen Vojta, M.D., a pediatrician and clinician executive in the UnitedHealth Center for Health Reform & Modernization. “While there are some early – if equivocal – signs that obesity may be slowing down in some age groups, a substantial challenge remains. We need to give children and their parents access to tools that work. This can have a dramatic effect on their health and well-being.”
UnitedHealth Group’s new analysis suggests that if childhood obesity rates had remained at 1990 levels, there might be about 9 million fewer obese or overweight children today and about 3 million fewer obese adults, translating into an approximately $54 billion lower health care cost outlook over the next decade.
New “group” model for prenatal care shows better engagement, outcomes
The report also shows that broad application of group prenatal care models can boost healthy pregnancies and reduce the incidence of preterm births. UnitedHealth Group’s analysis shows that if half of the pregnant women in state Medicaid programs received care through a group prenatal care setting over a 5-year period, approximately $12 billion in health care costs savings could be realized over the next decade. An additional $4 billion savings might be achieved by offering group prenatal care programs to a targeted group of women with employer-based coverage as well.
Opportunities to leverage care coordination for children's services
The report also identifies some “easy wins” to help improve children’s health through better care coordination, which can result in better health outcomes and cost savings. This is particularly the case in the Medicaid program, where less than half of children’s spending, including spending for children with disabilities, is paid through capitated Medicaid managed care organizations that support care coordination.
Additional proposals include support for child health research networks, to more rapidly advance knowledge, research and treatments for complex conditions (e.g., cystic fibrosis, Crohn’s disease and oncology) affecting children.
The report is informed by UnitedHealth Group’s experience and data as America’s largest private payer for children’s health care, as America’s largest Medicaid health plan serving low-income families and their children, and as a longstanding innovator in new models for children’s care and prevention.
About the UnitedHealth Center for Health Reform & Modernization
The Center is a long-term commitment by UnitedHealth Group to advance sophisticated and practical approaches to health care modernization and reform. Its multi-disciplinary team of clinicians, economists, executives and policy analysts supports UnitedHealth Group’s strategy development and innovation agenda. The Center’s public work program involves assessing and developing policies and solutions for the health care challenges facing the nation, including: innovative approaches to expanding health care coverage; practical cost-containment strategies to slow the growth of U.S. health care costs; and options for modernizing Medicare and Medicaid. Its published work is available at www.unitedhealthgroup.com/reform
About UnitedHealth Group
UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH) is a diversified health and well-being company dedicated to helping people live healthier lives and making health care work better. With headquarters in Minnetonka, Minn., UnitedHealth Group offers a broad spectrum of products and services through two business platforms: UnitedHealthcare, which provides health care coverage and benefits services; and Optum, which provides information and technology-enabled health services. Through its businesses, UnitedHealth Group serves more than 85 million people worldwide. For more information, visit UnitedHealth Group at www.unitedhealthgroup.com.