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Summary: Blue Shield of California (BSC) has committed to keeping profits at 2% of revenues or less (and returning any excess). The commitment is economically meaningful: $180M of 2010 revenues will be returned; just a few years ago, BSC made 4.9% net income and, under its promise, would have had to return 2.9% of revenues. However, given BSC’s very large reserves, it has plenty of capital to fund investments or, if necessary, absorb losses. While the PR aspects of the move are interesting, it seems unlikely that this is an attempt to defuse public support for rate… Read More

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Yesterday, McKinsey released a report suggesting that 30% of employers will definitely or probably stop sponsoring health insurance after the Federal reform “big bang” in 2014. Although disputed by the White House per press reports and the methodology details are limited in the published article, there are four good reasons to think the McKinsey survey could be correct: Contradictory studies (Urban Institute in January 2011 and RAND in April 2011) use simulation methodologies while McKinsey did a survey. With a change as transformative as Federal health care reform, simulation parameters estimated based on historical behavior… Read More

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Summary Massachusetts small group went from an average actuarial value (share of expected medical costs covered by the benefit) of 85% in Q1-07 to 73% in Q4-09. In the same timeframe, actuarial benefit levels in another state for which we could find data (Wisconsin) held steady. Given that this trend was well underway in 2007/08, only a portion of the change can be attributed to the economy. The rest may well be a result of 2006 Massachusetts healthcare reform. If true, back-of-the-envelope analysis suggests 50-70% of the decline in actuarial value was reform driven, the rest recession driven. Read More

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Summary  Self-insurance is growing among smaller groups (including those sized 50-250) From a competitive point of view, it will be hard for insurers holding attractive groups in risk products to respond given the enormous profit cannibalization of converting from risk to an ASO offering But they will need to find some solution: risk products today are expensive for many groups given continuing low levels of utilization; “peanut-butter” share nationals at the forefront of these products (Cigna and now Aetna) won’t have cannibalization worries to stop them from pushing the model The channel may provide some temporary breathing… Read More

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Public health insurers startled the market with earnings ~25% above consensus expectations. A key driver was lower-than-expected utilization (particularly in the under 65 commercial lives) which kept medical costs down. Management teams offered two theories in the analyst calls: bad weather and the beginning-of-the-year reset of consumer directed (CD) deductibles; neither is compelling: A lot of discretionary care has already been squeezed out of the system by the bad economy; it is hard to imagine that bad weather would drive out a lot more. Also the utilization decline was concentrated among the commercial lives (e.g., WLP)… Read More

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Summary A new article in the NEJM suggests ACO economics will be unattractive because of the costly upfront investment and low probability of shared savings payments. However, the results of the Medicare Physician Group Demonstration project show good earnings potential for providers (average >$5K per physician). Further: best-practice sharing, emerging narrow networks and scalability of ACO capabilities are likely to significantly enhance ACO economics for providers. It is likely that the most adept providers will be the ones forming ACOs; given delivery system capacity constraints, however, providers opting out of the ACO model will still be… Read More

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Summary A new study from Center for Studying Health System Change suggests that new Medicaid eligibles under reform will have trouble getting access because most primary care are not accepting new Medicaid patients. Our view: The study does not take into account the role of focus in Medicaid which makes a big difference: Providers earning more than 25% of revenues from Medicaid are much more willing to take on all or most new patients. In fact, among the providers most likely to care for Medicaid eligibles, the willingness to accept all new patients is not that different… Read More

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Summary  The line between health plan and provider continues to evolve: the Aetna-Carilion deal exemplifies providers backward integrating into insurance (and contrasts with other providers exiting commercial insurance business e.g. art part of last year’s Coventry deals) The Aetna-Carilion alliance appears to have compelling, multi-layered business logic and there will surely be more of these sorts of couplings in markets where there is a strong provider brand and a health plan with low share but deep capabilities and ambition. Using the provider brand to sell insurance creates challenges for health plans looking to sell products centered on… Read More

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Summary Health plan profits will be down dramatically in 2011 due to MLR rules Providing care management services to providers building out ACOs and medical homes can open new revenue streams outside the MLR constraints System profitability (health plan + provider) can be enhanced if the health plan allows providers to keep more of the savings from ACOs while requiring larger fees for its care management services * * * Could this be part of the plan behind Coventry’s touted close provider relationships and plans to acquire more health plan subsidiaries from major delivery systems? Coventry Health has… Read More

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Remember the idea that coordination will improve care? Well, if physicians do not get timely reports from other providers, their patients seem to have lower costs!!!  This from a new study out from the Center for Studying Health System Change.  More importantly, this paper throws cold water on the idea that providers generate a lot of unnecessary cost to fill up excess capacity in the delivery system.   As you know, conventional wisdom driven by the Dartmouth Atlas and other studies has it that that care utilization and cost can vary sharply across regions without being tied to better outcomes, e.g. when… Read More