The Shift to Whole Person Health

March 2022 Voice

As healthcare costs have continued to rise, a major focus of Mass Retirees has been to look for and promote new ideas and solutions aimed at maintaining our members’ health while taking steps to keep insurance costs down.

Whether it be working with the state’s Group Insurance Commission (GIC) to launch the first of its kind retiree dental insurance plan in 2002, supporting the Medicare Buy-In approach taken by MIIA and Blue Cross Blue Shield at the local level, or partnering with Scensio Systems to promote the Ibis Tele-Health system, our Association actively seeks new ways to serve the needs of our members.

A growing body of evidence shows a direct correlation between how we treat our bodies and how our bodies treat us. Eating sugary, highly processed foods can lead to health problems like heart disease, diabetes, and other complications, for example.

However, we now know much of our health is affected by our living circumstances and behaviors. Numerous studies suggest that non-clinical factors like geography, personal finances, access to food and transportation, and social isolation can determine up to 80 percent of our health outcomes. Consider the impacts, for instance, of living in a “food desert” with limited access to affordable, nutritious food or not having reliable transportation to get to doctors appointments.

UniCare Stepping Outside the Traditional Box


Traditionally, the healthcare industry has been focused on treating symptoms and illness, and health has been viewed as a byproduct of the medical care we receive. But there has been a shift in recent years by some health plans to take a broader view of health and support not only the physical factors that affect good health, but the behavioral, emotional, and social factors that affect one’s overall well-being – called Whole Person Health.

Health plans like UniCare are stepping outside the traditional box and evolving with new approaches. Today, they do so much more than process medical claims and offer access to providers. They are taking a holistic view of their members’ health, supporting them in so many more ways than before by developing solutions to address any barriers impeding healthier living.

UniCare is well known to retirees and active employees insured through the GIC. The Andover, MA-based company administers health benefits for well over 100,000 retirees and active employees at both the state and local levels through the OME and Indemnity Plan Options, as well as managed care such as a non-Medicare PPO.

“We need to help individuals live their best lives, and this means supporting their physical, mental, and social needs holistically—not just facilitating medical appointments,” said David Morales, general manager of UniCare. “At UniCare, we are transforming the way members experience care from birth to post-retirement through a unique combination of total access to providers, personalized care support, and powerful digital health tools.”

UniCare is the only indemnity plan offered through the Group Insurance Commission (GIC), meaning members have the “freedom of choice” to see their physician or other healthcare providers of their choosing without a referral. Members’ out-of-pocket costs vary depending on the plan they choose.

A new program that UniCare began offering last year, called “Whole Health, Whole You,” provides personalized care for members in certain plans in need of highly personal, complex health services. Case managers coordinate care across a team that includes nurses, dietitians, respiratory therapists, pharmacists, exercise physiologists, and health coaches. Members in the Optional Medicare Extension (OME) plan have access to a 24/7 nurse line, and all members have access to integrated and collaborative behavioral healthcare services. UniCare also employs a social worker to connect members to needed social services and community resources. Two years after the pandemic fueled changes in healthcare delivery in a way that we’ve never seen before, many consumers are more comfortable accessing care online. Health plans are embracing these changes by making it easier for members to be more proactive in managing their health and wellness online through digital tools, including telehealth and virtual care apps.

“For our members who want a convenient option to access care when they want it, digital tools like our Sydney Health mobile app offer personalized physical and mental health resources and access to telehealth services in the palm of your hand,” said Morales.

As the definition of what “health” means continues to evolve, health plans are stepping up to support a preventative, whole-person approach to health that allows our communities to live longer, healthier lives – not only physically, but socially and emotionally as well.

“How we view overall health and deliver healthcare is evolving and should be. The approach taken by insurance companies, such as UniCare, is also changing. While these changes can help stabilize and even lower costs overtime, what is most exciting are improvements in quality of life that can be achieved,” said Mass Retirees CEO Shawn Duhamel. “The innovations being embraced by UniCare are cutting edge. Hopefully, these steps prove to be a success in more ways than one!”

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