The cover of Humana’s new Bold Goal progress report.

Humana says residents in six of seven communities where it has implemented a health improvement initiative have gotten healthier in the last year. The city where people didn’t get better: Louisville.

The number of unhealthy days reported by Louisvillians increased slightly in the last year, while all other communities saw declines, with one as high as 9 percent.

Humana officials told Insider that the Louisville-based efforts to improve population health are still in their early stages and that they are confident that results will improve this year. In addition, Louisvillians reported the lowest number of unhealthy days among all the participating cities, which makes achieving improvements more difficult.

Upon launching the program nearly two years ago, Humana, which employs about 12,500 in Louisville, said it wants to make the communities it serves 20 percent healthier by 2020, measured by the number of days on which people reported being mentally or physically unhealthy.

Company leaders said the effort, in which Humana collaborates with government and community organizations to target region-specific challenges, will allow people to live longer and healthier lives — and help Humana’s bottom line by lowering health care costs.

Pattie Dale Tye

The report, released this week, showed that surveys indicated that Humana customers across the nation reported 2 percent fewer unhealthy days than a year earlier, while people in the seven Bold Goal communities recorded a 3 percent decline.

“The work we’ve been doing … is making an impact,” Humana Segment Vice President Pattie Dale Tye told Insider.

But the seven communities saw drastic differences: While New Orleans and Baton Rouge recorded declines of less than 2 percent, Knoxville’s exceeded 4 percent, and San Antonio’s was 9 percent. Louisville was the sole community where people reported more unhealthy days, at about 2 percent, though Humana said the difference was not statistically significant because of the small sample size.

Source: Humana

Humana said in the report that improving people’s health habits, even with the cooperation of lots of stakeholders, remains a tough task.

“What we do know,” the company said, “is that improving health does not follow a straight line,
which is part of why this work is so challenging.”

Tye said Louisville’s efforts began relatively recently, which means the bulk of their impact is yet to come. In addition, she said Louisvillians reported the lowest number of unhealthy days among all the communities, which makes improvements more difficult.

“We do feel confident that we see that number improve … next year,” she said.

Tye said part of the Louisville effort to improve people’s health focuses on air quality, because asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are among the top five factors that bring people to emergency rooms.

About a year ago, Humana joined Air Louisville, which aims to “equip thousands of citizens with sensors for their asthma inhalers that tracks when, where and how often the inhaler is used. This information can help patients manage their symptoms. It can also help city leaders make smart decisions about how to keep our air clean enough to avoid asthma attacks.”

A big part of Humana’s Bold Goal relies on cooperation among existing health care providers and community/government agencies.

In San Antonio, for example, Humana and other stakeholders created a directory of available resources that can help people combat diabetes. The effort involves nutritionists, the locations of food banks and grocery stores to obtain healthier foods, and the locations of public parks to exercise. Some doctors have started writing prescriptions for exercise classes or 30-minute walks in public parks.

Dr. Roy Beveridge

Humana Chief Medical Officer Dr. Roy Beveridge told Insider that changing people’s behavior and the social determinants of health requires a community effort.

Previously, a physician might have simply provided insulin to a diabetes patient, without knowing whether the patient would take the hormone correctly and without following up on advice such as losing weight.

Working together, stakeholders can make clear to patients that losing 10 to 15 pounds will reduce their risk for developing diabetes, which means they won’t need medication and won’t risk complications such as blindness, kidney disease and amputations.

Those behavioral changes help people live longer and healthier lives, Beveridge said.

That’s good for Humana’s customers, he said, but it’s also good for the company’s bottom line — though the company declined to disclose how much it costs to implement its Bold Goal initiative.

While the customers’ and the company’s interests on this effort align, the for-profit insurer does not view the the initiative as a social program.

Many of Humana’s patients are on Medicare, the government insurance program paid by the federal government, and many of the patients stay with Humana for many years, Beveridge said. If their health improves, Humana has to pay for fewer health care procedures, doctor visits and medications. And that means the company can lower the cost of its insurance, and more people can afford to buy it.

“Having this alignment between doing the right thing and being socially responsible and increasing value … I think is what most of us strive for,” he said.

Boris Ladwig

Boris Ladwig

Boris Ladwig is a reporter with more than 20 years of experience and has won awards from multiple journalism organizations in Indiana and Kentucky for feature series, news, First Amendment/community affairs, nondeadline news, criminal justice, business and investigative reporting. As part of The (Columbus, Indiana) Republic’s staff, he also won the Kent Cooper award, the top honor given by the Associated Press Managing Editors for the best overall news writing in the state. A graduate of Indiana State University, he is a soccer aficionado (Borussia Dortmund and 1. FC Köln), singer and travel enthusiast who has visited countries on five continents. He speaks fluent German, rudimentary French and bits of Spanish, Italian, Khmer and Mandarin.