The end of the health insurance carrier
More than six years ago, Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini proclaimed that “the end of insurance companies, the way we’ve run the business in the past, is here.”
At the very least, it’s the beginning of the end for these dinosaurs. The health insurance carriers face slow but steady disintermediation by innovative next generation employers and benefits professionals who are using alternative funding to take control of employer health plans and reduce costs.
Merriam-Webster defines “disintermediation” as “the elimination of an intermediary in a transaction between two parties.” In general, the purpose of disintermediation is the removal of an unnecessary middleman that adds more cost than value to a process.
In our dysfunctional benefits/healthcare model, the employer delegates to the carrier middleman responsibility for controlling costs by managing the healthcare supply chain, which is all the medical and health-related products and services purchased by employees. The most costly are prescription drugs, hospitalization, outpatient surgery, and physician visits.
The employer wants lower healthcare costs and with a fully insured plan depends on the carrier to control the cost of healthcare by managing this complex supply chain. The carriers, however, consistently have failed to perform this most basic task. Healthcare costs have risen every year since 1960, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. And healthcare costs haven’t just risen but have soared, growing 261% between 1999 and 2016.
The carriers’ spectacular failure is the logical result of grossly misaligned incentives: Carriers financially benefit from rising healthcare costs. From 1999 to 2016, rising healthcare costs drove up health insurance premiums — also known as carrier revenue — by 213%, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
As of July, BUCAH stock values had grown an average of more than 255% in the previous five years. We can’t expect carriers to work to reduce healthcare costs and healthcare spending; businesses never work long-term for their customers’ interests against their own financial interests.
The employer that wants to take control of its health plan to reduce costs must disintermediate the carrier and implement some form of self-funding. No, self-funding isn’t new and it isn’t the solution by itself. I’ve written previously that the value in self-funding is control, not cost savings. Self-funding is a means to an end.
With control of the health plan thanks to self-funding, the employer can work with a NextGen benefits professional who knows how to manage the supply chain to both improve the quality and lower the cost of healthcare for the employer and employees.
This does not mean that every employer should disintermediate the carrier and jettison their fully insured plan. Not every employee population is a good fit for a self-funded health plan; some are too sick and need to stay fully insured. But for employers that are a good candidate for self-funding, responsible brokers and advisers have a fiduciary responsibility to their clients to disintermediate the carrier, if possible.
Sounds crazy … extreme? So did today’s $2,000, even $5,000 deductibles, just five years ago.
Benefits professionals and employers today have the power to reduce year-over-year healthcare cost while enhancing benefits and improving medical outcomes. But you can’t do it with a carrier running the show. If the employer can move to self-funding, it’s sheer malpractice not to disintermediate the carrier.