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Jurassic Park: Rise of the Health Insurers

By Kim Bellard, June 26, 2015

If you want to see dinosaurs fighting, stalking, and even mating, you don't need to go see Jurassic World.  Just pick up the business pages and see what is going on with the big health insurers, who seem intent on getting even bigger.

Whether anything actually comes of all the merger mania, or whether such mergers prove good for consumers, remains to be seen.

Everyone seems to be in play.  The Wall Street Journal reported that Anthem has made overtures to Cigna, while United is interested in Aetna, with Humana still attractive to Aetna and Cigna.  You can't make this stuff up. It would be ironic if Humana was one left standing in this game of musical chairs, but many feel their assets are too inviting to be left out. 

One conventional wisdom is that these kinds of mergers/acquisitions have to do with scale. Bigger means more lives to spread such costs over.  The other culprit often cited is a desire to gain more clout with providers,

The trouble is, no matter how big health plans get, if they face markets where there is, in essence, only one provider with which to negotiate, size doesn't really matter. Bigger isn't always better.

You can make dinosaurs bigger, but that doesn't make them more agile or better prepared to deal with new risks.  I'm wondering when we're going to see not bigger health insurers, but truly different models for them.

We've seen true integrated provider/health plan models like KaiserGroup Health Cooperative, or Geisinger for decades now, and they're generally successful in their core markets, but that model hasn't proved easily replicable. 

We've also seem health system building their own health plans, such as Intermountain HealthcareSentara, or UPMC.   We've even seen health plans buying/building their own health systems, such as UPMC's bitter rival Highmark Health.

If Anthem buys Cigna or United buys Aetna, it wouldn't be all that interesting, nor would it be novel.  Those are dinosaurs getting bigger but not evolving.  

If Humana and HCA got back together, that would be interesting.  That would be provider/payor integration writ large, and maybe produce something new. 

And if, say, CVS or Walgreens chose to merge with a health insurer, that would something even more unique.  I don't know how they'd change the health insurer, but it might be fun to find out.

Honestly, though, what I'd really love to see is a company from an entirely different sector, hopefully one with a strong consumer focus, buy into the health insurance business.  Maybe Humana should get back together with the Virgin Group, or perhaps Walmart would be interested in taking over a Medicaid managed care or Medicare Advantage plan.  Wouldn't you love to see Walmart take on the health care supply chain?  I bet they could squeeze better value out for its customers.

Jurassic World seems to be raking in the money despite being just another sequel about rogue dinosaurs.  Let's hope we see something with health insurers that isn't just another sequel as well.

This post is an abridged version of the posting in Kim Bellard’s blogsite. Click here to read the full posting

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