Alphabet’s healthcare unit Verily is moving ahead with plans in the insurance sector with new hires and partnerships.
Three people familiar with the company’s plans say Verily, the group formerly known as Google Life Sciences, has been in talks with insurers about jointly bidding for contracts that would involve taking on risk for hundreds of thousands of patients.
The population health market is large and growing, but crowded. To enter this space, a vendor like Verily would put forward a proposal to a payor – like the government, an employer or a private insurance company – detailing how it can bring down costs. Simply put, if a company like Verily can deliver on that, the payor would share some portion of the amount saved. If costs don’t come down, it might make no money from that contract.
A classic intervention might involve analyzing health data to figure out which patients would benefit most from having a nurse visit them at home so they don’t end up in the emergency room, or figuring out whether patients are filling their medication scripts after getting discharged from the hospital.
This opportunity represents about $20 billion to $25 billion in annual spending today with huge potential upside of up to $1 trillion as more insurers move to these kind of risk-based agreements, said Ari Gottlieb, a director at the research group PwC.
Taking on risk is increasingly appealing to technology companies because it involves aggregating and analyzing a mass of health information but doesn’t necessarily require buying or building a health insurance company.
In October 2016, Verily announced vague plans to partner with a division of 3M to develop new technology to “promote real and sustainable improvements in healthcare quality and cost.” At that time, it said it hoped to work with hospitals, health systems, regulators and insurance companies.
Through that partnership, Verily might have access to a wealth of patient data, which its customers could use to figure out how to provide better quality care.
It has other data sources at its disposal. For instance, Verily is also collecting a huge amount of patient health information through its Project Baseline clinical research study, which it describes as a “map and compass, pointing the way to disease prevention.”
A different Alphabet company, Sidewalk Labs, also incubated a start-up called Cityblock that is specifically focused on improving care for low-income communities, such as those enrolled on Medicaid.
Alphabet’s plans come just weeks after its rival Amazon announced plans to address the problem of escalating healthcare costs. Amazon said in January it would team with Berkshire Hathaway and J.P. Morgan Chase to improve services and reduce overall healthcare spending for their employees.