Amazon gets into health insurance and 2019 health-tech predictions

Dec. 28, 2018

CNBC reports, the health-technology industry is wrapping up a marquee year.

Start-ups in the space got record levels of funding from venture capitalists, and the second half of the year featured some notable acquisitions, including ResMed’s $225 million purchase of Propeller Health this month.

Large technology companies such as Apple and Amazon explored opportunities to get their products into the medical sector, and they made some important hires along those lines. In response, traditional health-care companies, including pharmaceutical makers and health plans, forged their own partnerships with tech developers to help them modernize their offerings and improve the consumer experience.

That’s all in the rearview mirror now. What’s likely to happen in the year ahead?

In 2018, the Apple Watch introduced an electrocardiogram to monitor a user’s heart rhythm and look for potential irregularities, including a type of arrhythmia known as atrial fibrillation. The company got clearance from regulators for the new ECG feature.

These recent additions to the Apple Watch “will start a serious health feature arms race for all the makers of wearables,” said David Albert, a cardiologist and the co-founder of AliveCor, a wearables company that specializes in heart health. In other words, companies such as Samsung and Alphabet will likely have to step up with breakthroughs of their own.

Most people don’t associate health plans with innovation. But the executives behind a growing crop of “Medicare Advantage” plans are hoping to change that.

As baby boomers age into Medicare, many are opting to receive benefits through private plans approved by the government, known as Medicare Advantage. These plans have been among the fastest to adopt new technologies, in part because of the way they get paid. They typically make money by taking on the risk of caring for a population, and the most successful among them will invest in keeping their members as healthy as possible.

Sachin H. Jain, CEO of Anthem-owned health system CareMore Health, said 2019 will be a big year for partnerships between technology companies and MA plans. For instance, CareMore was among the first plans to start working with Lyft this past year, meaning it agreed to cover Lyft rides for seniors who needed help getting to the doctor’s office. Next year, he said, he plans to meet with more technology companies that can keep his population healthier while lowering costs.

Amazon’s overarching strategy for healthcare, assuming it has one, is a process that requires putting a lot of puzzle pieces together. In 2018, those closely following Amazon’s moves got a few big hints that might indicate a larger and more ambitious plan. To recap, Amazon bought an internet pharmacy called PillPack; it formed an employer health coalition with J.P. Morgan and Berkshire Hathaway, and it offered a big discount on Prime to low-income Medicaid recipients.

According to at least one industry expert, this suggests that Amazon will make a very bold play like getting into health insurance in 2019.

CNBC has the full story

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