Independent Health's Empower rewards lifestyle changes with lower costs

BUFFALO, N.Y., (April 15, 2010) - Consistent with its efforts to transform health care by engaging individuals in improving their own health, Independent Health today introduced EmpowerSM - the first product of its kind in New York state that rewards individuals who choose a healthier lifestyle with lower out-of-pocket costs.

Empower will be available for enrollment to groups with more than 50 employees on September 1, but could be offered on a pilot basis to select groups sooner. The plan is comprised of two plan options: enhanced and standard. Both options provide the same benefits, but the enhanced option has lower copayments and deductibles than the standard option.

Empower is built on the concept that health care can cost less when a proactive approach is taken. "With Empower, members are in control," said Thomas J. Foels, M.D., Independent Health's chief medical officer. "The choices they make can directly affect their health and their health care costs. Empower focuses on three main health risk factors because of how greatly they impact one's overall health and well-being: tobacco use, body mass index, and blood pressure. Cigarette smoking is the single most preventable cause of disease and death in the United States, and contributes to various cancers and respiratory issues.

"A body mass index of 30 or higher increases the risk of hypertension, diabetes, and gastrointestinal and orthopedic disorders. And, high blood pressure is known as a silent killer because it leads to stroke, heart disease and vein disease. So it is clear we have to focus our efforts on modifying the behaviors that cause these avoidable conditions," he said.

All new subscribers to Empower will be enrolled in the enhanced option for the first 90 days of coverage. Subscribers will remain in the enhanced option by completing a health assessment during that time. If the health assessment identifies certain modifiable health risk factors (e.g., smoking, obesity, hypertension), the subscriber will be required to follow up with his or her physician on a health improvement plan. Subscribers who choose not to follow the requirements of the new plan will then move to the standard option. All requirements are based on participation, not on outcomes.

"The physician-patient relationship is another key to improved health outcomes," said Dr. Foels. "That's why Empower encourages improved connectivity with the member's primary care physician."

In addition to their health improvement plan developed with their physicians, Empower members will have access to Independent Health resources to help them on their journey toward a healthier lifestyle, such as health coaching, and online education and informational tools.

"Employers are looking for opportunities to further engage their employees in modifying the lifestyles that cause health care costs to increase," said John Rodgers, Independent Health's chief marketing officer. "Empower provides that opportunity for a healthier workforce because the enhanced option's lower out-of-pocket costs incentivize employees to become active participants in their own health. This new product has the potential to lower the trend of rising costs."

Michael W. Cropp, M.D., president and chief executive officer of Independent Health, said Empower represents an important element of sustainable health care reform by encouraging individuals to take greater responsibility for their health.

"Achieving truly affordable, quality care must include improving health and lowering rates of preventable illness, while managing chronic disease more effectively," said Dr. Cropp. "Lifestyle choices cause the majority of chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, lung disease and cancer. About 75 percent of medical costs in this country are due to those chronic conditions. Sustainable health care reform cannot be done by one entity alone - not the health care industry, nor the government. Independent Health has been engaging providers, and has established community partnerships in our efforts to transform health care. Employers and consumers also have an important role in this.

"When this type of product is aligned with our physician programs that encourage prevention and wellness, we are building a health care model that is focused on the delivery of quality care, which will lead to more manageable costs. Empower gives employers and consumers the opportunity to take on that role," said Dr. Cropp.

Similar to Independent Health's first lifestyle plan, FlexFit - which was introduced in 2003 and allowed members to choose the option they wanted - the premium for Empower is the same for either option - enhanced and standard - and will be comparably priced to other group plans offered by Independent Health.