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Portico Recognized for Innovating to Improve Health, Rein in Costs

Feb. 17, 2019

The Rev. Jerry Trantham has dropped 65 pounds and brought his blood sugar to a healthy level.

Allison Ramsey has been feeling more energetic and upbeat.

And the Rev. Pam Illick has kept closer tabs on her diet and exercise, preventing diabetic reactions and helping her feel livelier.

All three Portico members credit a fairly new ELCA-Primary health benefit for helping them better manage their diabetes. And the Livongo for Diabetes program is just one of four additions to ELCA-Primary benefits that recently landed Portico a 2018 Church Benefits Association (CBA) Innovation Award.

The initiatives have delivered impressive member health improvements, higher member satisfaction scores, and notable health plan savings. The savings ultimately helped hold the line on 2019 health benefit rates, said Portico Head of Products Joshua Smith.

“The recognition underscores that Portico’s new wellness initiatives are making a difference for those who serve — members and their employers,” said Smith, who noted that the programs were phased in during the last two years. “We’re excited that our faith community as a whole is benefiting.”

The CBA includes about 50 member organizations, like Portico, that manage retirement and health benefits for a total of 250,000 churchworkers of various denominations. Twenty-one CBA members vied for one of four inaugural Innovation Awards.

Portico’s Different Approach

Often, organizations adopt the wellness and disease-management programs administered by their health insurance carrier. While a step in the right direction, these programs aren’t always market-leading, Smith said.

Portico sought a different solution. By leveraging its strong negotiating position, Portico forged partnerships with best-in-class wellness programs that provide more personalized, whole-person care. In addition to Livongo, the other new ELCA-Primary health benefits are: Omada®, which helps those at risk for type 2 diabetes and heart disease; Quest Diagnostics biometric screening; and Portico Care Coordinators by Quantum Health.

How Care Coordinators Help

Care Coordinators are skilled listeners who assist members in finding services and products that best suit their needs — saving them time and money, Smith said. For example, coordinators work with hospital doctors and pharmacists to ensure patients being discharged are given clear care instructions and medication interaction information — potentially avoiding re-admission. Help might also include coordinating follow-up care with an aide to ensure the transition home goes smoothly, for instance.

A year and a half after Portico introduced Care Coordinators in January 2017, coordinators had helped members avoid approximately 250 unnecessary days in the hospital. The program also achieved a 10% reduction in inappropriate ER visits. The Care Coordinator program has saved an estimated $2.75 million in total, contributing to 2019’s lowest average annual rate increase in five years.

But do Care Coordinators make it more difficult for members to get the care they need? Member feedback indicates the answer is “no.” In fact, in December 2018, Portico member satisfaction levels were at an all-time high: More than 3 out of 4 ELCA-Primary members said they would recommend the health benefits to a friend.1 The average health plan garners a recommendation score of around 10.

Livongo, Omada, and Quest Diagnostics: Personalized Support Pays Off

Weight loss, blood-glucose level reductions, and other telling signs indicate the other new Portico wellness programs are also achieving notable outcomes. For instance:

  • Ten months into the Omada program launch, 850 participants had lost an average of nearly 9 pounds.
  • Nearly half of the Portico members eligible to take part in the Livongo for Diabetes program have done so. In contrast, Livongo’s average participation rate is 35%. And, ELCA plan members experienced an average 0.8% decrease in their blood glucose level in the first 18 months.
  • In aggregate, Portico participants of Quest biometric screenings have healthier blood glucose levels than do average Quest screening participants. Five years ago, the reverse was true.

Pastor Illick, one of the Portico Livongo for Diabetes participants, said the program simplifies monitoring her condition.

“I use the app and compare it to the readings on my monitor, so it gives me a better picture of what’s going on,” said Illick, who serves Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania. “The app also has a place where you can take notes, so I journal what I eat and what I do for exercise on a given day. My endocrinologist can then see how my body responded to the amount of insulin I took, and she can see the patterns.”

For her, Livongo has delivered an unexpected side benefit: an opportunity to take stock of the bigger picture.

“The app also provides a good spiritual time for me — to give thanks for things I’ve done to keep myself healthy and to ask for help on days that I feel weak,” Pastor Illick said. “Then I might say to my friends and family, ‘It’s been a rough day, please don’t ask me to go to Dairy Queen for dessert.’ God gives us our body as a temple, and we need to take care of our bodies, too.

“It’s really a great service that Portico has provided,” she added. “I’ve not had this level of service or support with my doctor, or ability to record my own behaviors, since I was diagnosed in 1999. I’m great and loving my machine.”

Members Deserve Credit

In the end, all of the new Portico wellness programs are succeeding because members are also being innovative in how they approach health, Smith said.

“Change can be difficult at first, but members are embracing the programs because they make it easier to stay healthy,” he said. “We specifically chose these initiatives because of their proven results and high satisfaction levels. As a ministry of the ELCA, we’re glad anytime our work helps those who serve also focus on their own well-being.”


1 As measured by a Net Promoter Score of 66. Net Promoter Scores measure whether a user says he or she would recommend a product to a friend or colleague.

This information should not be considered or used as a substitute for professional health care advice. By providing this information, Portico Benefit Services is not providing any medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Each individual is responsible for his or her own health and medical treatment decisions. You should talk with your doctor to determine the lifestyle changes and health care treatment options appropriate for you.