Payer-Provider Partnerships Accelerating as Insurers and Healthcare Networks Look to Improve Care Quality and Reduce Costs
Shift from fee-for-service to value-based reimbursement is fueling increase in joint ventures and co-branded insurance products, creating opportunities for nimble clinical laboratories and anatomic pathology groups
As healthcare moves from fee-for-service to value-based reimbursement, health insurers and providers are joining forces at a steadily increasing rate, with nearly three-quarters of partnered products in early 2018 being joint ventures or fully co-branded insurance products. This trend presents an opportunity for clinical laboratories to help providers become more effective in their use of laboratory tests as they aim for better patient outcomes and lower treatment costs.
While health systems integrating with insurance services is not new, the roll out of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2014 and its emphasis on value-based reimbursement helped create renewed interest in vertical integration, notes Becker’s Hospital Review.
According to consulting firm Oliver Wyman, the number of payer-provider partnerships has grown rapidly over the past six years, with 73% of the 22 insurance products launched in the first quarter of 2018 being joint ventures of co-branded offerings.
- 22% of partnerships were joint ventures or co-branded in 2014:
- 33% in 2015;
- 57% in 2016; and,
- 71% last year.
Of the 22 new payer-provider partnerships announced this year, 20 product announcements explicitly emphasized value-based compensation, while compensation was implied but not mentioned in the final two product-based partnerships.
“Payers and providers continue to be interested in forming product-based partnerships,” Oliver Wyman stated when releasing the new data. “Our analysis … continues to show a steady increase of trend toward deeper partnership, with more co-branding, greater levels of value-based financial alignment, and other forms of closer collaboration and joint ventures.”
Oliver Wyman cited several “notable” new entrants:
- Blue Cross Blue Shield of Rhode Island (with Lifespan on Public Exchange);
- Security Health Plan (with Mayo Clinic and Marshfield Clinic Health System for group employers);
- WellCare (with UNC Health Alliance in Medicare Advantage).
In addition, Oliver Wyman noted that national payers Aetna and Cigna added to their growing rosters of joint ventures in 2018.
Speaking with Healthcare Dive, Tom Robinson, Partner, Health and Life Sciences at Oliver Wyman, described this year’s new ventures as varying in type, size, location, and model. He noted that 50/50 joint ventures with co-branding have gained in popularity, however, accountable care organizations (ACOs), pay-for-performance, and bundled-payment models also are being formed. Robinson believes these vertical integrations offer opportunities for innovation.
“The point of these partnerships is to create something new, rather than just building the same old offerings with a narrow network,” Robinson said. “Successful partnerships will take the opportunity to innovate around the product and experience now that the incentives, insight, investment and integration are all for it.”
Lower Costs, Improved Access, Through Payer-Provider Partnerships
In announcing Blue Cross Blue Shield of Rhode Island (BCBSRI), and Lifespan’s launch of coordinated healthcare plan BlueCHiP Direct Advance, BCBSRI President and Chief Executive Kim Keck pointed to the plan’s ability to drive down healthcare costs.
“We hear a consistent theme from our members—they want more affordable health plan options—and through our collaboration with Lifespan we are doing that,” Keck stated in a news release. “BlueCHiP Direct Advance is an innovative product that features Lifespan’s vast network of providers who are positioned to more effectively manage and coordinate a patient’s care. And, our partnership allows us to offer this new product at a cost that is 10% lower than our comparable plans.”
When Allina Health System of Minnesota and Aetna last year announced their partnership plans, Allina Chief Executive Penny Wheeler, MD, praised the ability of “payer-provider” partnerships to improve care coordination and increase access to preventive care.
Jim Schowalter, MPP, President and Chief of Executive of the Minnesota Council of Health Plans, told the Star Tribune the joint venture between the for-profit insurer and local health system would accelerate the shift within the state to value-based care.
“This is another effort in our state that moves us away from old fee-for-service systems,” Schowalter stated. “Working together, doctors and insurers can deliver better personal care and hold down medical expenses.”
While the future of the ACA and other healthcare reforms is uncertain, clinical laboratories and anatomic pathology groups should expect healthcare networks and insurers to continue to find ways of partnering. That means pathologists can expect to have an expanded role in helping providers improve patient outcomes and reduce healthcare spending.
—Andrea Downing Peck