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What do your grandmother and Blue Cross Blue Shield have in common? Ounce of prevention...

New health and wellness program aimed at preventing illness

Your grandmother and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Mississippi have something in common. Both believe that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

The insurance company kicked off a campaign this month called Healthy You! that is part of an aggressive effort toward proactive healthcare designed to keep state residents well.

This wellness benefit provides life-saving screenings with no co-pay, no deductible and no co-insurance, according to John Sewell, communications director. Healthy You! began in 1995 when it was offered to self-funded groups but now for the first time is being offered more globally.

“We want Mississippians to take an active role in their health care,” he said. “It’s so much better to prevent illness than to cure it. We’re encouraging the practice of preventive medicine rather than reactive.”

Health and wellness coordinator Nicole Barrett says preventive medicine is especially necessary in a state that tops the list of life threatening illnesses including obesity, heart disease and diabetes. Under the Healthy You! program, participants will have tests based on age and gender that will alert them and their primary care providers to possible problems.

“We came together with Mississippi physicians to ask what screenings are available,” Barrett said. “Will they prevent illness? Will they detect disease early? Will they improve quality of life? If so, we added them to the list.”

She says Blue Cross Blue Shield used the research to develop guidelines for Healthy You! The program puts power in the hands of patients, making them active participants in their health. “If I know my glucose level is raised, I can do something about it rather than wait until I have full blown diabetes,” she said. “The guidelines begin at birth, starting from day one.”

A massive educational campaign is being conducted to inform group participants and state physicians about the program. The simple-to-read Healthy You! guidelines outline exactly the tests/services a person needs at any stage of life and the number of times recommended each year. These can be as simple as immunizations and preventive counseling and continue on to urinalysis, pap smears, mammograms, lipid profiles, and flexible sigmoidoscopy.

Dr. Thomas Fenter, corporate medical advisor who works with all areas of Blue Cross Blue Shield says the importance of Healthy You! is that emphasis is placed on prevention before a condition becomes a train wreck.

“Treat hypertension before you have a heart attack,” he said. “We’re trying to get providers to change their mindset to prevention and the ones I’ve talked to like it.”

He said the educational effort includes trying to get people to use the benefit since they do not have to pay for it now. “We’ve never made it so easy. There’s no out-of-pocket expense,” he said. “We’re looking to try something different and hopefully it will help bring healthcare costs down.”
Mainly though, Fenter, a Jackson urologist, feels it’s the right thing to do. There were a lot of committees made up of physicians — mainly primary care —who helped formulate the program and he says they are looking forward to working with the insurance company to prevent illnesses.

“A lot of people have worked real hard to get it started,” he said. “It will be slow at first but we have to start somewhere,” he said. “We’re also working with employers to get the word out. We’re telling people to re-establish their relationships with primary care providers. Just think, this will actually pay for a colon scope at age 50 and that’s never been done before.”

Barrett and Sewell say building relationships with care providers is important to the success of Healthy You! and makes the two parties partners in the effort for healthier Mississippians. “People do listen to their care providers and by offering this benefit with the financial barrier removed, we’re hoping the total paradigm will change,” Barrett said. “We’re hoping the educational campaign will help too.”

Billboards placed around the state are part of that enlightenment campaign, Sewell added. The messages are to the point — “Be Healthy, Exercise” and “Be Healthy, Eat Healthy.”

“It’s small, tough wording, but it’s the facts,” he said. “Generally, people are responding well to them and to the printed material we sent out. We’re encouraging them to be proactive and empowering the consumer.”

He said the insurance company will also be watching to see if healthcare costs come down for members. “One aspect of it is cost driven,” he said of the Healthy You! program. “We hear a lot about costs and preventive medicine is increasingly seen as a way to bring them down.”

As groups renew with Blue Cross Blue Shield, they adopt this program. Additionally, the insurance company is reducing premiums by 5% for individuals and capping increases at 5% for underwritten groups.

“We’re ahead of the curve in trying to bring costs down,” Sewell said, “and we’re trying to be a good resource for the public.”

Barrett encourages everyone to make small changes toward a healthy lifestyle, noting that even small things can make a world of difference.

“Our society does not lend itself to being healthy. We’re too busy to cook and have family meals; too busy to exercise and take care of ourselves,” she said. “Physicians are saying that this young generation will be the first generation to not outlive their parents.”

Anyone wanting more information about Healthy You! or other health related information should visit Blue Cross’ Web site at www.bcbsms.com. Sewell says the site can even design personal walking programs.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.

About Lynn Lofton

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