« Can Slick Trump Sick? | Main | Public Exchange Subsidies – A Snapshot with Distant Clouds »

Will Health Plan Start Ups and Provider Sponsored Plans Fill the Competition Gap?

By Clive Riddle, September 18, 2015

The AMA recently released a special analyses of commercial health insurance markets that found the "combined impact of proposed mergers among four of the nation's largest health insurance companies would exceed federal antitrust guidelines designed to preserve competition in as many as 97 metropolitan areas within 17 states," and that "all told, the two mergers would diminish competition in up to 154 metropolitan areas within 23 states."

Art Caplan, a professor at NYU and a correspondent for NBC News, responded to a recent New York Times editorial, Regulators Need to Scrutinize Health Insurance Mergers, with a humorous post in The Health Care Blog, entitled Merge Away!!!. Here’s the heart of Caplan’s argument: ” Blocking these deals is a terrible idea. The mergers should be allowed to continue. In fact they should proceed until there is only one private insurer left. Only, at that point should the government step in, declare the last company standing to be required to merge with Medicare thereby letting the free market produce what many reformers have only been able to dream of—a single payer system.”

Will the mega mergers result in a vacuum of competition, and perhaps a default single payer system, or perhaps as some noted healthcare pundits have wondered out loud: where health insurance becomes the new cable television provider? Or will emerging players fill the void left in the coming competition gap? This did occur in the airline industry – where the post-merger environment after established airline joined forces didn’t prevent the emergence or growth of carriers like Southwest, Jet Blue, Virgin America  and many others.

Two potential candidates to fill the health plan competition gap are provider sponsored plans and well funded health plan start ups. Provider sponsored plans have always been around, but with today’s environment is much more conducive for their long-term prospects: the growth in Medicaid strengthens the prospects of regional provider backed Medicaid plans; the proliferation of ACOs that can serve as health plan incubators; the emergence of value based payment systems and clinical integration that nudge health systems closer towards the purchaser end of the spectrum.

And then there’s the potential of VC backed health plan start ups. Everyone continues to write about Oscar Health. Here’s a typical headline from last month: Oscar's losses are huge but investors don't care - How one insurance startup with only 40,000 members is worth $1.5 billion.

Oscar Health has been held up as the disruptive innovator embracing tech and customer service for health insurance, in the manner the Uber entered the personal transportation scene. Now this week, you can add this headline to Oscar’s mantle: Google Backs Startup Oscar Health Insurance - Internet company’s growth-equity fund makes $32.5 million investment.

And Oscar isn’t the only VC darling health plan startup. Fortune magazine this week, in their article How this startup is trying to upend health insurance, profiled Clover Health, who just announced a $100 million round of equity and debt funding to expand its presence. Clover is focusing just on Medicare Advantage, and like Oscar, has started small. Founded in 2014, they currently operate in only six New Jersey counties. Also like Oscar – their vision involves embracing technology in a more disruptive means than the traditional health plan approach.

It should be a reasonable wager that Clover and Oscar won’t be the only VC backed startups making news a year from now.

Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>