Older adults want answers after UnitedHealthcare drops SilverSneakers; company expands its fitness program

Older adults want answers after UnitedHealthcare drops SilverSneakers, company said it is now expanding its own innovative fitness program

NORTH CAROLINA (WECT) - When Dennis Maneri learned in December that SilverSneakers built into his health insurance was no longer included, he felt cheated.

“It felt like a bait and switch,” said Maneri, who uses physical exercise to avoid having to take medications for diabetes.

As of Jan. 1, UnitedHealthcare no longer offers SilverSneakers for the more than 2 million customers using Medicare Advantage plans and Medicare Supplemental (Medigap) insurance in certain states, including North Carolina. But instead, the company said it is offering its own fitness program that is more flexible and innovative.

“I had dropped coverage with Blue Cross Blue Shield from the year before and moved over particularly to AARP and UnitedHealthcare because I wanted SilverSneakers,” said Maneri. “I’m a type 2 diabetic, so exercise is really important for me to maintain good health and A1C levels, so I was disappointed to say the least.”

On Wednesday, Maneri handed over his credit card to staff at Brunswick Community College’s Fitness & Aquatics Center. Now, he has chosen to pay $15 per month for his gym membership.

“It’s going to hit me in the pocket at a time of my life where I’m not making more money,” said Maneri. “In fact, I canceled a couple other subscriptions today online to other services I get because I have to make some adjustments now.”

After this story was first published, a UnitedHealthcare spokesperson shared details about the new fitness program available to its customers.

For people enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans with UnitedHealthcare, the company said it has chosen to expand its fitness program beginning in 2019 under the name Renew Active.

“Offering our own fitness programs gives us the flexibility to customize them based on what’s important to our members, which is why we offer innovative features such as online exercises to keep the mind active, incentive programs for meeting walking goals, and wellness coaches to help people improve their health and quality of life," said a UnitedHealthcare spokesperson.

Through Renew Active, customers have the option of an in-person fitness orientation to help them reach fitness goals plus the benefits of a standard membership at participating fitness locations, including a wide variety of equipment, amenities and group exercise classes, according to an October press release.

“Renew Active is available at no additional cost to people enrolled in eligible UnitedHealthcare Medicare Advantage plans,” the press release reads. “It provides access to an extensive choice of more than 6,000 fitness locations, including national, regional and local options, at no additional cost. In North Carolina, this includes participating Anytime Fitness, Curves, Fitness Connection, Gold’s Gym, LA Fitness, Life Time and Snap Fitness locations. Locations also include local participating YMCAs.”

UnitedHealthcare said it introduced its own fitness program back in 2017, and the customer response from people enrolled in its Medicare Advantage plans has been overwhelmingly positive, prompting the company to significantly expand the program, according to the press release.

Jeanne Singley, assistant director of the The Brunswick Community College’s Fitness & Aquatics Center, has taken on the role of liaison between their members and insurance company to help people transition smoothly.

“If you go to your gym, and they tell you that it’s dropped, Silver Sneakers, and they haven’t been able to give you any direction, my first suggestion would be to call the number on the back of your card, ask if in fact they have been dropped, and what your benefit is now,” said Singley.

Before UnitedHeathCare’s decision, about 3,000 members at the fitness center were part of the SilverSneakers program. At least 300 people no longer have SilverSneakers, said Singley.

“This becomes a major financial burden for people," said Singley. “The only answer I’ve been given is that not enough people were using the benefit. Well, I know in my world, that’s just not true. If they even walked into a facility and saw how much these seniors are using it, they work out more than the average person who comes after work. They’re here five days a week consistently taking classes.”

Copyright 2019 WECT. All rights reserved.