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Posted on Thu, Sep 24, 2009 : 7:20 a.m.

Health care reform poses opportunity for Ann Arbor's HealthMedia

By Nathan Bomey


HealthMedia President Ted Dacko outside his office at 130 South First St. in downtown Ann Arbor.

Melanie Maxwell |

The shifting sands of the national health care reform debate present a launching pad of opportunity for HealthMedia.

That’s at least partly why Ted Dacko, president of the Ann Arbor-based health management software firm, is concerned about the lack of focus on the importance of disease prevention during the debate.

“If Obama was truly serious about health care reform, the first thing he would do is have every federal employee take their health risk assessment,” Dacko said. “What the government really needs to understand is you have to get to the source of the costs under control, and the source of the costs is not the administrative expense. It’s the health of the person you’re insuring.”

A realization that preventing chronic diseases - which account for more than 75 percent of health care costs - is critical to solving the nation’s health care crisis is driving HealthMedia’s growth.

The Ann Arbor company, which is approaching the one-year date of its high-profile acquisition by Johnson & Johnson, has added 22 employees this year. That brings the company’s personnel count to more than 200, a figure that includes full-time contractors. The company expects revenue growth in the “high” double digits and additional hiring, Dacko said.

“We’re growing very, very nicely, even in a bad economy,” Dacko said, without providing specifics. “The business continues to go extremely well.”

HealthMedia is quietly eyeing the potential opportunities for its technology in the uncertain health care picture of the future.

The firm’s software helps employees manage their health by predicting potential problems and suggesting preventative lifestyle changes. The goal is to reduce health care premiums by preventing chronic diseases related to poor lifestyle choices like smoking, overeating and lack of exercise.

The cost of obesity alone costs the health care system up to $147 billion annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

HealthMedia’s software has found a welcome audience among major insurance providers, companies and governments such as the states of Nevada and Arkansas.

That leads to an inevitable question: Could HealthMedia become a customer of the federal government if Congress approves the so-called “public option,” a government-created insurance plan designed to compete with private-sector offerings?

“We would clearly want to make sure we would were embedded in that federal option,” Dacko said. “We feel very good about the focus on health care reform and the supporting legislation around it. Our goal is to make sure Congress focuses on the actual health, not just the administrative costs associated with health, as its priority.”

Nonetheless, HealthMedia doesn’t need the government to thrive. The firm expects revenue growth in the “high double digits,” Dacko said.

Still, an increased national focus on reducing health care costs will inevitably benefit the firm.

“I don’t know where the legislation is going to end up. I don’t know that anybody does,” said Elizabeth Parkinson, director of marketing and public relations for economic development group Ann Arbor SPARK. “But I think it stands to reason that any deep dive into health care could benefit a company like HealthMedia that’s taking great steps to provide hands-on tools for health maintenance.”

One Congressional health care initiative would provide tax credits for companies that offer wellness programs to their employees. The bill, called the Healthy Workforce Act, was introduced in April by U.S. Sens. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and John Cornyn, R-Texas, and U.S. Reps. Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, and Mary Bono Mack, R-California.

“Health reform will not be complete without prevention and wellness being a center piece for fixing this broken system, the lifesaving and cost-saving benefits have been proven in study after study,” Harkin said in a statement.

Contact’s Nathan Bomey at or (734) 623-2587 or follow him on Twitter. Sign up for the weekly Business Review email that's sent every Thursday here.



Sun, Sep 26, 2010 : 11:42 p.m.

Dacko said: What the government really needs to understand is...the source of the costs is not the administrative expense..." If you mean just claims processing, that's partly correct. But administrative costs, plus excessive profits, plus "middleman" for-profit companies like HealthMedia add huge costs to US healthcare. The others comments were right: no one tells the truth on health assessments. Dacko should spend his time assessing profit margins on companies that add little service value to the industry.


Thu, Sep 24, 2009 : 6:35 p.m.

I hope HealthMedia continues its business success. As the article points out administration of health plans, is a small fraction of our health care expenditures. Treating chronic illness due to life style choices like smoking, alcohol and drug abuse and obesity is very expensive. Washington will actually drive down the cost curve if it was serious about promoting wellness instead of trying to start and run a health insurance company.


Thu, Sep 24, 2009 : 9:50 a.m.

Healthcare assessments, give me a break. How many people fill them out truthfully for a company? Telling them what they want to hear is better for you, in not being a target. Cheaper yearly exams would be better money spent to prevent illness.