Entries in health plans (43)


When the Disruptor is the Disruptee

By Dennis Bolin, Health Plan Alliance, June 28, 2016

I don’t know about you but I am becoming tired of hearing about “disruption” in the health insurance industry. I hear and read the term everywhere and I wonder if it is overused. I just returned from this year’s AHIP Institute and I heard the term repeatedly in presentations and discussions. Whether the word used is “revolution,” “transformation,” “innovation,” or “reimagining,” the pressure to integrate to “make it happen” is mounting. Clayton Christensen defines “it” as “combining, through a coordinated effort, the business models that must comprise the disruptive value network.”

The concept of disruption as a business strategy has been popularized by Christensen’s work. We had a member of his firm present at an Alliance meeting years ago – when the concept was still new – and we have been following the evolution ever since. In his book on the health care industry The Innovator’s Prescription Christensen says health care disruption is likely to come from 3 sources: 

  • Employers 
  • Corporate orchestrators
  • Integrated fixed-fee providers


At the Alliance’s recent Health System/Health Plan Value Visit we discussed with a Boeing executive that company’s initiatives to wrestle with health care costs, standardize quality and improve the customer experience. While we have heard about the strategy from Alliance member Providence Health Plan, I gained insights hearing it from the employer’s perspective. They have rolled out their strategy to a second market and anticipate a third market in 2017. In each case they identified a delivery system and provider network as their partner, driving costs, innovation and market share. More of our system owners are hearing directly from employers.

Corporate orchestrators

New entrepreneurial, venture capital-backed companies – corporate orchestrators – are also reshaping markets. Four are receiving a lot of attention:

  • Oscar. Now in 4 states (New York, New Jersey, Texas and California) and 140,000 members Oscar is changing the market by introducing a technology-driven consumer-friendly product. I met with the CEO of Oscar 4 years ago when all they had was a group of programmers in a nearly empty loft in SOHO. Only 2 of the senior team came from the health insurance industry and they were sure they could do it better. An example:  a PCP receives a real-time text message of a member in an emergency room with a pin number used to call the member. The physician is paid $24 to call the patient within hours.
  • Clover. A Medicare Advantage plan, they anticipate targeting only a small number of states. They are differentiating themselves through the use and availability of data. Using a cloud structure they do not have to worry about systems talking to each other. Instead data is deposited and accessed according to agreements on guidelines of usage.
  • Harken Health. Their model is focused on primary care centers and offer insurance to small groups and individuals on and off the exchange. They currently are in Chicago and Atlanta. United is an investor.
  • Bright Health Inc. They are unique in that as an insurance company they partner with a single provider system in the market to drive market share and partner to offer affordability and a differentiated customer experience. They anticipate entering the Colorado market in 2017.

Integrated Fixed-fee Providers

Christensen says that the challenge for integrated fixed-fee providers, such as Alliance members is that we are both the disruptee and the disruptor. In other words we are turning our own business and care models on their heads. In a truly integrated system the incentives are to keep people well. But flipping the switch on our business is not easy in ways the start-up disruptors can build from scratch. But we have one advantage:  we have all the components while none of the start ups do.

And integrated systems have the components necessary to create an enhanced enterprise-wide customer experience. Chris Fanning with Geisinger Health Plan shared their enterprise approach to customer experience at our Health System/Health Plan Value Visit. He will be going in-depth on their enterprise-wide Member Journey Roadmap at our Customer and Employer Market Strategies Value Visit July 19 – 21, click here for event information.  Geisinger has identified guiding principles around which they are organizing their customer-centered initiatives:

  • Navigate – helping members make their way through the health system and make decisions right for them.
  • Anticipate – help members know what to expect and help them with their needs in advance.
  • Simplify – make the health system, health plan, and physician groups easier to do business with.
  • Earn Trust – help members select the right plan based on their needs and work closely to resolve issues and assist beyond the traditional payer role.
  • Individualize – Customize and personalize information and communication to meet specific interests and needs

As Christensen counsels, being the disruptee as well as the disruptor is a demanding but not an impossible expectation. He points out that integrated fixed-fee providers are uniquely positioned to shift care to the most cost effective site possible, to coordinate care, to manage a population’s health, to give tools to consumers to make decisions and manage their health and to provide a distinctive customer experience. And every time Alliance members gather to discuss our initiatives we get more disruptive.

This post originally apperared on the Health Plan Alliance Blog on June 28th, 2016. You can see the original at www.healthplanalliance.org/News/160/When-the-Disruptor-is-the-Disruptee and see all the Health Plan Alliance Blog posts at www.healthplanalliance.org/hpa/Blog1.asp


Hot Healthcare M&A Market Starting to Cool

By Clive Riddle, May 6, 2016

Irving Levin Associates reports that healthcare merger & acquisition activity, which has been relatively overheated, is starting to cool a little. Lisa E. Phillips, editor of Irving Levin’s Health Care M&A News tells us “the slowdown in deal volume in the first quarter of 2016 might simply be fatigue setting in after a record-setting year in 2015. Also, some buyers are still figuring out where the best opportunities are, as the shift to value-based reimbursements gains momentum.”

Health Care M&A News states that “health care merger and acquisition activity began to slow down in the first quarter of 2016. Compared with the fourth quarter of 2015, deal volume decreased 7%, to 351 transactions. Deal volume was also down 7% compared with the same quarter the year before. Combined spending in the first quarter reached $79.5 billion, an increase of 87% compared with the $42.5 billion spent in the previous quarter.”

Here’s a snapshot the publication provided of the quarter’s activity:

How big was 2015?  Bigger than 2014, which was also a huge year.  Irving Levin’s Lisa Phillips says “health care mergers and acquisitions posted record-breaking totals in 2015. The services side contributed 62% of 2015’s combined total of 1,503 deals, which is even higher than 2014, when services deals accounted for 58% of the deal total.” A separate Irving Levin publication, the Health Care Services Acquisition Report, cites that “deal volume for the health care services sectors rose 22%, to 936 transactions versus 765 in 2014. The dollar value of those deals grew 183%, to $175 billion, compared with $62 billion in 2014. Merger and acquisition activity in the following services sectors—Behavioral Health Care, Hospitals, Laboratories, MRI & Dialysis, Managed Care, Physician Medical Groups, Rehabilitation and Other Services—posted gains over their 2014 totals. The exception was the Home Health & Hospice sector, which declined 33% in year-over-year deal volume.”

In the hospital sector, for 2015, they report that “activity remained strong in 2015, up 3% to 102 transactions, compared with 99 transactions in 2014. An average of 2.6 hospitals were involved in each transaction, compared with an average of 1.8 in 2014 and 3.3 in 2013.” Philips noted that “several deals resulted from the mega-mergers of 2013,” and that “we’re seeing more sales resulting from bankruptcies, especially in states that have not expanded Medicaid coverage.”


Et Tu, Oscar?

By Kim Bellard, February 25, 2016

Things seem to be going well for Oscar Health, the health insurance start-up that has been wowing investors and the media since it was founded in 2012.  Forbes reports that Oscar just raised $400 million in an investment round led by Fidelity, which effectively values Oscar at about $2.7b.  So why do I fear that perhaps they are taking the wrong path?

I've previously expressed my concern that Oscar and some of its fellow health insurance start-ups might be more about repackaging than reinventing.  I'm more concerned than ever after Bloomberg reported that Oscar is adopting a new network strategy: moving to "tight, exclusive networks with hospitals."  

There's no secret why Oscar is taking this approach.  It's about cost, with the expectations that narrower networks yield cost savings Closer relationships with providers and the ability to offer lower premiums without hurting quality.  If that's what Oscar is after with its new network strategy, what's not to like?

Well, plenty.  For one, with this strategy Oscar isn't innovating; it is buying into the strategy that most other health plans are trying to adopt.  That doesn't make it a bad strategy, but playing follow-the-leaders certainly doesn't fit the cool yet disruptive image that Oscar has so carefully cultivated. 

More importantly, it is the wrong strategy.  For Oscar.  For any health plan.  It is a strategy rooted in the 1990's, if not earlier.  The argument for networks, especially narrow networks, is that health plans can drive better bargains by promising more volume to specific providers.  I don't have a problem with health plans driving hard bargains with providers, especially if those bargains are performance-based.  What I do have a problem with is forcing consumers to use those, and only those. 

I think it is great when a health plan tries to find the highest quality providers, and to get a good deal with them.  What I wish they would do, though, is say, "here's the data that demonstrates their quality, and here's how much we're willing to pay them to take care of you.  If you can find providers that are better, that's great; go to them, and we'll still pay the same as we'd pay the providers we recommend.  No hard feelings." 

In other words, let the health plan act as the concierge, not the gatekeeper.

If a consumer goes to providers who charge more than the health plan would pay their designated providers, well, there's a price for choice; consumers might have to pay extra.  On the flip side, maybe the consumer should pocket some of the savings if they manage to find less expensive providers.

This approach might sound like reference pricing, because reference pricing is a start to where I think we need to go.  I'd rather we put more effort into that than in narrowing consumer's choices.  
Noah Lang, CEO of Stride Health, told Fast Company, "Oscar is primarily a consumer experience company."  I don't think restricting choice of providers is a very good consumer experience for any health plan, and especially not for one like Oscar who prides itself on its member experience.

Oscar thinks this new approach is their future.  If so, their future may be as just another health plan.  And that'd be too bad.

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


Revisiting the Health Cooperatives Morass

By Clive Riddle, January 22, 2016

A new Wall Street Journal article, Obama Administration Works to Fix Health Insurance Co-Ops, covered Andy Slavitt’s - acting CMS administrator – testimony to the Senate Finance Committee regarding how to recoup federal loans from failing co-ops, how so many co-ops failed, and what future fixes are planned for the cooperatives, including reducing funding restrictions. A graphic accompanying the article re-hashes the $1.5 billion lent to co-ops that have failed, which range from $265 million in New York to $60.6 million in Oregon. Yesterday’s edition of Inside Health Policy  reported that Slavitt has indicated risk adjustment changes proposed for 2017 may come sooner. The natural fallout from the failed and failing cooperatives continue to surface in the news. For example, this week it was announced the failed Kentucky Health Cooperative was placed in liquidation.

What CMS can do to mitigate the tenuous position the remaining cooperatives are in is news. But the bulk of current media discussion of cooperatives continues to beat the dead horse of the number of failed cooperatives, their cumulative losses and unpaid federal loans, all which was significantly covered in the fall. There was plenty of blame to go around: co-ops underpricing themselves in the market, CMS policy restricting their abilities to capitalize, CMS risk adjustment policy and congressional reduction in funding for said policy. The dead horse will continue to be beaten in the news – after all it is an election year.

But perhaps a more fundamental issue that wasn’t talked about enough was simply that start-up health plans are going to initially lose significant amounts of money in new markets even under the best of circumstances, and the start-up losses weren’t adequately budgeted, capitalized or communicated in setting stakeholder expectations.

If you’re keep tabs of the continuing status and travails of the cooperatives, two sites are worth bookmarking: U.S. Health Policy Gateway's Co-op Performance by State and the National Conference of State Legislature’s Health Insurance Purchasing Cooperatives and Alliances: State and Federal Roles.


Someone Must Be On Drugs

By Kim Bellard, November 11, 2015

As is probably true for many of you, I'm busy looking at health plan open enrollment options for 2016. The past few years I've been guilty of just sticking with the same plan, so it has been too long since I've had to shop. Plus, I'm helping my mother pick her Medicare options for next year. All in all, I'm awash with health plan options.

I've got different levels of HMO, POS, and PPO options, from multiple carriers. My mother has many choices of Medicare Supplements, with Part D options, as well as Medicare Advantage options (both HMO and PPO), each from multiple health insurers.

It's not that there aren't plenty of options. It's just that, well, the options are so damn confusing.

Austin Frakt recently wrote in The New York Times about this problem. He cited a few studies specifically on point about health insurance, such as:

  • One study found that 71% of consumers couldn't identify basic cost-sharing features;
  • Less than a third of consumers in another study could correctly answer questions about their current coverage;
  • Researchers found that consumers tended to choose plans labeled "gold" -- even when the researchers switched the "gold" and "bronze" designations, keeping all other plan details the same.

Many consumers tend to stick with their existing choice even when better options are available, simply because switching or even shopping is perceived as too complicated.

I'm most frustrated with prescription drug coverage. Not that long ago, the only variables were the copays for generic versus brand drugs. Now there are often five or six different tiers of coverage -- such as preferred generic, other generic, preferred brand, other brand, and "specialty" -- with different copays or coinsurance at each tier, each of which can also vary by retail versus mail order, and for "preferred pharmacies." 

Moreover, the health plan's formulary, which determines what tier a drug is in, can change at any time. Plus, as has been illustrated recently, the prices of any specific drug can change without notice, sometimes dramatically. If either of those happens to one of your drugs, say goodbye to your budget.

It's all enough to make your head spin.

The health plans would no doubt argue that their various approaches to prescription drug coverage are necessary in their efforts to control ever-rising costs for prescription drug costs. Well, they aren't working.

Prescription drug prices continue to soar, even for generic drugs. They have become a political issue, with the Senate now launching a bipartisan investigation into prescription drug pricing and the Presidential hopefuls from both parties being forced to take positions on how they would control them. For once, politicians are in sync with their constituents; the latest Kaiser Health Tracking Poll found that affordability of prescription drugs tops their priority list for Congress and the President.

I've long thought that the pharmaceutical industry was ahead of the rest of the health care industry. They were doing electronic submission of claims over forty years ago. They pushed for direct-to-consumer advertising in the late 1980's, and quickly jumped on that bandwagon. While providers only grudgingly adopted EHRs, they quickly moved to e-prescribing.  Other health providers had to move away from discounted charges twenty years ago, whereas drug companies still mostly use that approach and are only starting to tip-toe into more "value-based" approaches, as with the recent Harvard Pilgrim-Amgen deal.

And the backroom rebate deals between drug manufacturers and payors put a lie to any claim that at least drug pricing is transparent.

It's not only prescription drug coverage that is increasingly complicated, what with narrow networks, gatekeepers, different copays for different types of medical services, bundled pricing, or numerous other gimmicks used in health plan designs.  The collateral damage in the ongoing payor-provider arms race is consumer understanding. 

Making things more complicated for consumers is not the answer.

In typical fashion, the health care industry has tried to address the confusion by creating a new industry that doesn't actually solve the problem but does manage to introduce new costs. Many enrollment sites --the Medicare plan finder, public exchanges, private exchanges, broker sites like ehealth, or health insurer sites -- offer tools that purport to estimate your costs under your various health plan options. Yet consumers still don't understand their options.

We keep treating health care as a multi-party arrangement between providers/health plans/employers/government/consumers, which is why everything ends up so complicated. Drug company rebates or medical device manufacturers' payments to providers are prime examples of the kind of insider trading that goes on. It's usually the consumers that come last. And that's the problem.

I think back to 1990's cell phone plans. Consumers never knew what their next bill would bring, between peak/non-peak minutes and the infamous roaming charges. No one liked it, no one understood it, and for several years no one did anything about it. Then AT&T came out with a flat rate plan that essentially said, "we'll worry about all those for you," and soon all carriers had to adopt a version of it.

I keep hoping for that kind of breakthrough with health insurance.

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