MetroPlusHealth kicked off open enrollment month with a “Gold” celebration at its headquarters at 50 Water Street in Lower Manhattan on Nov. 10, honoring and celebrating city employees’ contributions to New York City. The city’s healthcare provider also showcased its MetroPlusHealth Gold Plan, which opened its enrollment period on Nov. 2 for New York City employees, their spouses or qualified domestic partners, eligible dependents, and non-Medicare eligible retirees.
The coverage now also includes free dietitian visits. MetroPlusHealth, which has been around since 1985 providing quality health care to New Yorkers, is the first commercial insurance provider in the nation to offer this service. The expansion allows city workers and eligible family members in the plan to receive 26 yearly visits with a dietitian. The program is available to almost 20,000 Gold members with medical issues like diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and high cholesterol.
For Dr. Tayla Schwartz, President & CEO of MetroPlusHealth, prevention and a holistic approach to health care is vital.
“Obviously, all of the medical needs and behavioral needs have been addressed since the inception of the program,” Dr. Schwartz said. “But we understand that we really need to look at people holistically and so not just to meet them when they need care because they’re sick, but help them to prevent the sickness.”
With the program’s expansion focusing on wellness, MetroPlusHealth, which is part of NYC Health + Hospitals, the nation’s largest public health system, wants to celebrate New York City employees who ensured the city stayed afloat during the pandemic. But Dr. Schwartz said the difficulty was not over since people were still struggling.
“City employees are still pulling kind of a disproportionate weight with all of their contribution towards the city,” Dr. Schwartz pointed out. “So we wanted to show that we understand; that we appreciate that.”
MetroPlusHealth understands that wellness is a journey and acknowledges that being overweight is a condition, not a “nuisance or aesthetics,” as Dr. Schwartz put it. It can impact a patient’s health in the form of serious medical issues like diabetes, stroke, and heart disease, among others.
“We wanted to offer this ongoing support for city employees so that they don’t just have access to take care of their conditions but have access to take care of their health,” Dr. Schwartz said. “With this expansion, we officially are saying overweight, and obviously obesity are chronic conditions. And we’re going to support people’s journey throughout that condition.”
The holistic approach aligns with New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ wellness promotion based on his personal story. MetroPlusHealth worked closely with City Hall, health care providers, and hospitals to develop this program, which includes compensation for gym memberships and transportation reimbursement to medical appointments.
Dr. Schwartz emphasized that MetroPlusHealth offers free comprehensive health coverage with zero co-payments and deductibles. Members can choose from an extensive network of over 110 urgent care centers, 30,000 doctors, and hospitals, including NYU, Mount Sinai, and Montefiore.
“I don’t think you can go for more than two or three blocks without seeing a provider who is with Metro Plus,” Dr. Schwartz said. “We really mean business. Every year we add more and more perks for city employees, and we want to contribute to their well-being as much as possible.”
City employees also have free 24/7 access to physical and behavioral health care telemedicine. Additionally, MetroPlusHealth connects members experiencing domestic violence, food and housing insecurities, or immigration issues with the appropriate resources.
“If you are homeless or you are staring at the ugly face of eviction, we will connect you to resources,” Dr. Schwartz said, pointing out that some employees are homeless. “So that’s really how we see the holistic approach.”
Dr. Schwartz also hopes to address healthcare inequities with the implementation of the wellness program. All too often, black and brown people live in so-called food deserts, with little to no access to healthy food options. Medicare members can receive vouchers called “Health Bucks,” which allow them to buy produce at farmer’s markets.
“We know that overweight and obesity rates and diabetes and hypertension rates are much higher in minorities,” Dr. Schwartz said. “We’re not fixing equity by doing this, but it’s a step in the right direction to equalize the playing field, so everybody has access.”
Last July, MetroPlusHealth started a pilot program called “Medically Tailored Meals.” People with certain health conditions like cancer, HIV, or heart failure, receive three meals a day for six months. The objective of the program is to prove that appropriate nutrition helps patients manage their condition.
“We’re trying to take really different angles,” Dr. Schwartz said. “Part of it is to enable people to manage their conditions; the other part is to equalize. It’s just extremely disturbing, that if you are not wealthy, you don’t have the same opportunities, even in terms of food and health. We always say here, and we truly believe it: access to care is a human right, not a privilege.”
The enrollment period ends on Nov. 30, and city employees who join during this time will be covered by the MetroPlusHealth Gold Plan starting Jan. 1, 2023.
Ex-Brit turned Manhattan resident since 2008.