Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Prescription for Senior Health: Recreation: A Managed Health Care Company Offers Parks and Recreation Opportunities as Part of Its Benefits Package

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Prescription for Senior Health: Recreation: A Managed Health Care Company Offers Parks and Recreation Opportunities as Part of Its Benefits Package

Article excerpt

Most seniors looking for health insurance search for the richest benefits package: good prescription plan, low-cost hospitalization, reasonable co-pays or the option to stay with their current provider. For the seniors enrolled in Senior Dimensions, a Medicare + Choice plan of the Health Plan of Nevada, the richness of the benefit might be attributed to keeping an eye on preventative health. The Fit for Life Club benefit provides members with free fitness opportunities at more than 30 parks and recreation facilities throughout southern Nevada.

Fitness benefits come in different forms for health plans. The most common fitness benefit, in many cases a "value-added" benefit (in managed health care terms), is a discount at local fitness centers. For many seniors on a fixed income, even a low-cost monthly fee is prohibitive, so health plans have thought creatively to include fitness in the actual plan profile. The Fit for Life Club fitness benefit is part of what plan administrators sent to Medicare that details what Senior Dimensions promised to deliver to members--that is, that fitness is part of the benefits package, not a bonus.

Many health plans will contract with a vendor to connect seniors with exercise, but this design proved to have limitations when Senior Dimensions road-tested that option in 2001. The health plan contracted with a respected out-of-state vendor for a per-member, per-month fee. Although the program was well-developed and provided high-quality, trained instructors at six locations in the Las Vegas Valley, the fitness benefit was under-utilized by members, with less than 2 percent of members were exercising regularly at the end of 2001. Senior Dimensions knew it had the right idea--promoting activity to enhance quality of life and health for members--but not necessarily the best source.

Networking Through Recreational Tennis League

In 1997, two lifelong athletes met at a United States Tennis Association adult league. Between matches, Joanne Lorrey, senior recreation program administrator for Clark County Parks and Community Services, and Jennifer Martinsen, director of health education and wellness at Health Plan of Nevada, agreed that their two focus areas, health promotion and recreation, had potential for partnership to serve the community.

Years later, that idea of linking health education and wellness to parks and recreation in southern Nevada came to fruition through Senior Dimensions' search for a suitable fitness benefit. Lorrey and Martinsen opened discussions again in 2001 and, within weeks, had hammered out the details to launch a fitness benefit for Senior Dimensions members at Clark County Parks and Recreation. Dave Allazetta, sales manager for Senior Dimensions, concurrently contacted other recreation entities in southern Nevada, and terminated his contract with the vendor that had provided the fitness benefit for Senior Dimensions for only seven months. He knew his health plan could do better with a homegrown, regional program, and he had found the best source for senior activities already flourishing in the community.

"It was apparent that a commercial gym wasn't the most senior-friendly environment," says Allazetta. Within months, Allazetta, Martinsen and their respective departments contacted four other municipal recreation organizations--those in Henderson, Las Vegas, North Las Vegas and Boulder City--to arrange for senior usage of their facilities for a monthly fee. (YMCA of Southern Nevada was added the following year.) The Senior Dimensions Fit for Life Club became the first health plan in the country to partner this fully in a comprehensive delivery of fitness and health education through community centers, senior centers, recreational parks and pools.

Betting on Serving Seniors

"As public employees, we have an obligation to find ways to provide services without further burdening shrinking general fund dollars," affirms Pat Marchese, director of Clark County Parks and Community Services, which encompasses Las Vegas, Henderson and Boulder City. …

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