Five healthcare analytic trends

Naugle-AndrewIt goes without question that the U.S. health insurance industry is in a state of flux. Americans are buying individual products through health insurance marketplaces, new insurance carriers have entered the market, and Medicaid has been expanded in 29 states and the District of Columbia. These market changes, in addition to other reform provisions already introduced and others just starting to take hold have subjected the market to an unprecedented level of change.

It is said that insurers like risk but hate uncertainty. What is for certain today is that the old strategies of accepting good risks and repelling poor risks are no longer a recipe for success. To thrive in this new environment, health insurers must make smart decisions using data to keep ahead of the competition.

Within that context, here are five areas where Milliman clients are using data and analytics in innovative ways to bring some order to the chaos:

1. Provider network optimization. Despite bending the cost curve, one of the great lessons of the health maintenance organization (HMO) era was that consumers value choice. For years, preferred provider organizations (PPOs) competed on network size; employers cared more about network disruption affecting their employees than the cost/volume trade-off. In the face of cost pressures, employers and consumers are now starting to accept that smaller networks may be worth the disruption. To meet this need, plans are deploying sophisticated modeling that combines traditional network access and adequacy measures with reimbursement and quality analytics to develop new “smart” networks.

2. Value-based incentive programs. It’s widely accepted that fee-for-service (FFS) reimbursement rewards volume over value. As a replacement for FFS, many payers are promoting value-based incentive strategies that shift reimbursement from fee schedules to bonus pools that pay additional incentives when quality and/or cost targets are met. Analytics are key to selecting measures, setting thresholds, and assessing provider performance. They also aid providers trying to operate under these new risk arrangements, identifying gaps in care, and benchmarking peer performance.

3. New trend dynamics. While predicting the actual numbers requires the proverbial “crystal ball,” the health insurance industry has a reasonably mature understanding of the drivers of healthcare cost trend. But things are getting more complicated as physician practice patterns change, populations age but live longer, millions of new consumers flood into the individual and Medicaid markets, and burgeoning innovation (e.g., telemedicine/telehealth, wearables, smartphones, home visits, retail clinics, etc.) disrupts how and where care is provided. Analytics are key to understanding the “trends in trend” in this new world.

4. Transparency. The healthcare market has earned a reputation for opaqueness. Consumers are more likely to rely on word-of-mouth when selecting a physician, the price of services depends on who’s paying and has little relationship with the actual cost of services, and information on outcomes and quality is kept locked away from prying eyes. Not so in a post-reform world. Consumers can now shop on the basis of price and quality. They can go online and find out how much an appendectomy costs at hospital A or B and which one has a higher success rate. Health plan quality ratings are there for all to see when selecting an exchange plan. Big data and analytics make all of this possible.

5. Care management efficiency. Gone are the days when health insurers had unlimited funding for care management programs. Today, plans must make judicious use of limited administrative dollars to meet medical loss ratio minimums while still managing complex and catastrophic cases. Analytics help plans optimize their care management programs, prospectively identifying those members most likely to benefit from care management, and then enrolling them in the right program.

With many of their traditional performance management tools neutralized by reform, health insurers have had to get smart about how they leverage data and information. They use analytics to design benefit plans, develop marketing strategies and consumer segmentations, select network providers, develop reimbursement strategies, improve clinical quality, and optimize their remaining cost and quality management tools. In today’s market, how a plan leverages analytics, turning data into actionable information, will make the difference between survival and demise.

This article first appeared at Milliman MedInsight.