UnitedHealthcare Pacific Northwest offers health insurance plans in Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Hawaii, and Montana. Its CEO, Gary Daniels, has been with the company for 10 years, serving in a variety of local and national roles.
UnitedHealthcare represents more than 990,800 members in Washington and more than 420,000 members in Oregon, and is committed to addressing behavioral health challenges in both states. In this Q&A, Daniels discusses some initiatives resulting from that mission with State of Reform.
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State of Reform: What are UnitedHealthcare Pacific Northwest’s current priorities in the behavioral health sector in Washington and Oregon?
Gary Daniels: “According to United Health Foundation’s recent America’s Health Rankings report, Washington ranked 32nd and Oregon ranked 39th in the nation for adults experiencing frequent mental distress. To help positively impact those behavioral health challenges in Washington and Oregon, UnitedHealthcare financially supports the work of nonprofits and social service organizations embedded at the local level, particularly in under-resourced communities.
UnitedHealthcare’s philanthropic investments are addressing behavioral health in multi-faceted ways, including promoting equity and diversity in the health workforce, school-based interventions, addressing clinician well-being, and improving access to care for under-resourced communities.
For example, over the last two years in Washington alone, UnitedHealthcare has provided grants to NAMI Yakima ($87,500), the American Indian health center Goodheart ($150,000), Consejo Counseling and Referral Service in Pierce County ($200,000), and Volunteers of America Eastern Washington ($150,000). That nearly $600,000 in support will help provide and expand culturally relevant wellness programming and case management for youth, adults, families, and the homeless.
We recognize that, as a leader in the healthcare industry, UnitedHealthcare has a distinctive role to play in the transformation of a more sustainable behavioral health system for the future. We are bringing together technology, clinical expertise, and strategic collaborations to help ensure more people have access to quality, supportive behavioral healthcare services.
Part of that effort is guiding people to the right care at the right time across a broad range of behavioral health solutions from digital self-help tools, in-person and virtual visits, coaching, a family support program, and employee assistance programs, allowing individuals to access support in a variety of ways.
People have different needs and different preferences for when and how to receive behavioral healthcare. With UnitedHealthcare, members get easier access to that support, whether it be quality clinical care, virtual services, or mobile apps.
Our behavioral healthcare advocates offer understanding, compassion, and support while providing members with a personal, guided experience to help eliminate the complexity of healthcare. They try to simplify the process by helping members understand their benefits and find timely care with the right provider (social workers, counselors, and psychiatrists), as well as appropriate programs and resources.”
SOR: Were there any legislative bills/initiatives that UnitedHealthcare Pacific Northwest supported during the 2023 legislative sessions in Washington and Oregon that can help with these efforts? Are there any future legislative initiatives that the company would like to see prioritized?
GD: “To improve the healthcare experience and access to care, UnitedHealthcare supports approaches that expand and diversify the healthcare workforce capacity. Approaches include increasing positions for primary care and behavioral health clinicians, and supporting clinicians who provide care in rural and other underserved areas.”
SOR: How has Medicaid redeterminations and the end of the public health emergency impacted UnitedHealthcare Pacific Northwest?
GD: “UnitedHealthcare has the privilege to serve the state of Washington’s Medicaid population. UnitedHealthcare’s priority is to ensure every Washingtonian maintains access to high-quality, affordable health coverage through Medicaid or other health coverage options, such as individual and family or employer-sponsored plans.
We are taking an active role in Medicaid renewals by working closely with our state partners, pharmacies, retailers, providers, and community organizations to educate the public. We are also communicating to our members through multiple avenues including direct mail, text messages, social media, phone calls, emails, and news media.”
SOR: What other initiatives is UnitedHealthcare Pacific Northwest currently working on?
GD: “Beyond our efforts in behavioral health, UnitedHealthcare is focused on addressing other social drivers of health (SDOH) across Oregon and Washington. We are helping address social factors that can influence one’s health and wellness outside of services delivered in the doctor’s office. SDOH such as lack of reliable transportation, access to affordable housing, and access to nutritious foods may influence up to 80 percent of health outcomes.
Improving access to affordable housing is a key priority for UnitedHealthcare in the Pacific Northwest and nationwide. Importantly, UnitedHealthcare recently invested over $15 million in equity into the construction of Aloha Family Housing, an affordable housing development near Portland. Expected to open in early 2024, the new affordable housing structure will provide 81 affordable units in Beaverton for households [earning] between 30 percent (and) 60 percent of the median income.
To help further address these types of issues among our members, we are using data to identify people enrolled in our employer-sponsored health plan who may have a potential SDOH need. Based on predictive analytics models that use de-identified claims information and other data sources, eligible members are encouraged to access a curated database of low- or no-cost community resources, including access to nutritious food, affordable housing, and internet.
This program is designed to connect members with community resources to help individuals potentially dealing with challenging life events or circumstances, leveraging a database of over 550,000 local organizations or programs. This curated database is available for the public’s use as well.
UnitedHealthcare is also investing in new ways to help members make more informed healthcare decisions, including initiatives to improve access to quality and cost information. That’s important given more than half of Americans report being confused by their health plan. To help simplify how people navigate the health system, UnitedHealthcare’s Surest plan provides members with clear, upfront cost and coverage information in advance of making medical appointments.
The Surest plan eliminates deductibles and coinsurance, instead replacing those with value-based copays designed to encourage members to select the right care at the right time in the right setting. As a result, Surest members are more actively engaged with their health plan compared to traditional offerings, encouraging individuals to more frequently access preventive care services while lowering out-of-pocket costs by 54 percent.
With copay predictability and no deductibles or coinsurance to pay after receiving care, the Surest plan helps members and their families worry less about costs and focus on receiving quality, higher-value care.”
This Q&A has been edited for clarity and length.