A ‘Game of Thrones’ analogy to potential health insurer mergers

The Wall Street Journal has likened the merger action pending among America’s largest insurers to the series ‘Game of Thrones’, said thrones occupied by Aetna, Cigna, Humana, UnitedHealthcare and Anthem. These more aptly remind this Editor of the final stages of airline deregulation, except that none are in a non-medieval bankruptcy court. Their actions reflects the payers’ urgent concerns that now is the time to reinforce a national presence, that revenues in a Obamacare environment (well, we’ll see the effect of that US Supreme Court subsidy decision due imminently) can do nothing but go down and that Medicare Advantage, commercial accounts, health system relationships (ACOs) and health IT systems are the place to be. What is missing: the fate of those independent, state and regional Blue Cross-Blue Shield (collectively, the ‘Blues’) which are not part of Anthem, many of which are ‘non-profit’ (note the quotes); the positive effect of competition on pricing and a fair consideration of the negative effects of monopoly. Ah, but there are no flung axes, regicide or poisonings to be found here. The real theme of ‘Game of Thrones’ is the effect of the powerful on the powerless (we the insured), which the WSJ writer doesn’t address…..Insurers Playing a Game of Thrones (if you hit a paywall, search on the title)

Aetna may ‘buy into’ more analytics, digital health

Rumors now mainstreamed into press surround Aetna’s apparent interest in fellow insurers Humana and Cigna. Forbes last Friday started the ball rolling with an article last Friday focusing on the main event driving insurance payer consolidation: the transition of Medicare from fee-for-service to value-based bundled payments and accountable care organization (ACO) models. Humana has substantial Medicare business and a foot in home care (SeniorBridge), but has innovated in digital health: partnerships (Healthsense, TTA 20 Dec 13), purchases (what remained of Healthrageous, TTA 16 Oct 13), employee wellness (Vitality) and app development. Cigna is a major insurer with corporate business, but has struggled a bit in the digital health arena with the flashy-but-flopped patient engagement platform GoYou. It’s piloted telehealth to reduce readmissions with Care Innovations [TTA 7 Oct 14]  and Coach by Cigna, a mobile health platform in conjunction with Samsung for the Galaxy S5 and S6 phones.

Aetna has had some success with working with ACOs, with 62 contracts covering about 1 million lives, but this Editor counts over 400 practice-based ACOs in the Medicare Shared Savings incentive program alone. Their experiment in consumer app aggregation, CarePass, came to a quiet end last August and Healthagen, their ’emerging businesses’ unit, has had some swerves in rationale including iTriage and even ActiveHealth Management, their long-time population health analytics arm. While digital health is part of it (see Mobihealthnews), (more…)