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January 5, 2011

Watching The Future – 2011

Filed under: General,Technology — Steve Krupa @ 12:20 pm
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I found this interesting presentation (above) on Fred Wilson’s blog.  It’s essentially a list of things to watch in 2011, and it’s pretty interesting, particularly because it is not all technology and it stays away from most of the larger geo-political and economic issues.

A couple of things worth noting:

  1. The discussion on “Smart Infrastructure.”
  2. Mobile Money (which will be a major force for change in healthcare sometime in the future).
  3. mHealth
  4. Digital Interventions (like substance abuse interventions!)
  5. Entrepreneurial Journalism (hmm…)
  6. Group Manipulated Pricing (perhaps a future healthcare application – like the old Dutch auctions that were done to price new securities)
  7. A lot of “nutritional” fads, in this case Matcha
  8. The Advent of the Older Workforce (retirement ages must go up for our economy to survive)

There’s more, but these are the ones that had an immediate interest to me.  Check it out.  I think you will find it thought provoking.

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July 6, 2010

Inside Value-Based Healthcare – Part 2: Who Pays for Health(care) Insurance

In my previous post, Value-Based Healthcare Part 1, I talked about the two primary business risks faced by insurers, Moral Hazard and Adverse Selection.  Recall that for health insurance markets to work effectively they must be structured to mitigate Adverse Selection (i.e., the reality that the very fact that someone is seeking insurance might make them uninsurable in the first place).  This means that the healthiest people must stay in the market as part of the risk pool, otherwise the underwriting will not work at affordable premium rates.  As such, employer-based Group Model health insurance has evolved as the prevalent distribution method.

So who pays for employer-based health insurance?

Today health insurance costs average about $4,800 per person per year.  While this expense is paid for by employers, it is essentially part of salary costs, and so it is really money that would otherwise be paid to employees were it not for the mandatory participation required in most Group Model plans.

Employers offer to buy the coverage on behalf of employees because they believe that having their employees insured improves productivity and it is viewed by prospective employees as a competitive perk.  This works out well from a risk pooling perspective, making Group Model insurance less expensive on average.  But what really drives the Group Model is its income tax subsidy.  The federal government does not assess income taxes on the value of Group Model health insurance (this subsidy does not exist for individual purchases of health insurance).

This tax subsidy is massive.  The average employee is in the 25% federal income tax bracket, making the subsidy worth about $1,200 per year (25% of the $4,800 average annual premium).  Approximately 180 million people participate in Group Model plans, meaning the total amount of this annual subsidy is about $216 billion per year.

So who pays for employer-based health insurance?

According to these calculations 180 million employees cost a total of approximately $864 billion, $648 billion is paid for by employees through payroll deductions and about $216 billion is paid for by the federal government through income tax subsidies.  These amounts exclude out-of-pocket expenses, which are by enlarge paid for by employees.

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Let’s get back to Moral Hazard.

Have you ever noticed that people are very hesitant to make claims on their automobile and property insurance?  Rarely do the costs of minor fender benders result in an insurance claim.  Why?  Because people fear that claims on their auto policies will result in either their premium increasing or their policy getting cancelled.  People tend to reserve that type of insurance for major catastrophes, paying the cost of minor accidents out of their own pockets.

Most people do not behave this way when it comes to health insurance.  A very high percentage of healthcare expenses become insurance claims.

Few people lose their insurance because of high insurance claims.  As claims increase, the burden of the higher premium is shared among the risk pool.  As a result, Moral Hazard (changing your ethics because you don’t pay for the consequences of your bad behavior) in Group Model plans is severe, and many believe it contributes significantly to the 8-12% average annual healthcare inflation rate.  Despite the reality that employees pay for more than 75% of the cost of their health insurance, they are fearless when making insurance claims.

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So, returning to the thread that ended Value-Based Healthcare Part 1.

Employer-based health insurance suffers from Moral Hazard.  Despite the fact that it seems obvious that employees pay the most of the tab, the cost is not individualized and the consequences of bad behavior are not perceived as even remotely severe.

Research backs the notion that when an insured party pays a higher percentage of the total cost of the service Moral Hazard reduces.

So the question becomes, if we are looking for an employer-based health insurance model that will counter increased healthcare consumption why not just increase the out-of-pocket payments and reduce Moral Hazard?

In some cases higher out-of-pocket costs can lead to Unintended Consequences, namely people forgoing necessary treatment.  For example, the medicines necessary to treat Type-2 diabetes are much less expensive than the costs associated with the side-effects of untreated diabetes like heart attack, stroke, amputations, blindness, etc.  A health insurer wants Type 2 diabetics to take their medications, however high out-of-pocket charges often impose barriers to compliance.

Medications like Glucophage, a treatment for Type 2 diabetes, have a high value.  The treatment costs about $400 per year, real money for an individual, but a small investment for a health insurer given that compliance with the drug should mitigate a number of side effects of Type 2 diabetes, saving money on hospitalizations and other forms of expensive healthcare.  Further, Type 2 diabetics should see podiatrists and ophthalmologists regularly.  Again, high co-pays for these services could mitigate compliance and increase adverse events within an insured diabetic population.

Value-Based Healthcare: Definition #2:

Value-Based Healthcare involves designing insurance benefits with economics that encourage (or remove the barriers to) the utilization of high-value healthcare services.

So why is Value-Based so new?  What are the barriers to implementing Value-Based?

These questions will be covered in future posts.

To leave you with something to think about, it was only until recently that the information technology necessary to begin experimenting with the implementation of Value-Based Healthcare became available.

June 2, 2010

The OmniGuide Laser

Filed under: Healthcare,Technology,Venture Capital — Steve Krupa @ 7:34 pm
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Happy Physicist Yoel Fink

Here’s a fun shot of a very happy (and brilliant) CEO Yoel Fink, who runs one of our (Psilos’) portfolio companies, OmniGuide.  This picture was featured in a massdevice.com article that just came out and it reminded me that I have yet to post on Yoel’s company.

OmniGuide falls into the medical device segment of our healthcare investment portfolio.  Over the past 40+ years VCs have invested in incredible medical devices and diagnostic inventions that have led a revolution in medicine, extending life and improving lifesyle.  Unfortunately, our current healthcare related financial crisis is one of the unintended consequences of this revolution.

In anticipation of an era of financial constraints on the healthcare system, our investment approach is to back new medical devices that not only provide a new standard in quality outcomes, but also reduce cost to the health system and align the economic incentives of payers (insuers, gov’t, consumers), providers (doctors and hospitals) and patients (consumers).  OmniGuide’s BeamPath laser technology is a product that does just that and more.

Below is a 5 minute video of a report on CNN on how a Wake Forest surgeon found OmniGuide’s BeamPath and used it to remove what was believed to be an inoperable brain tumor.

What I think you pick up from this video is that OmniGuide has developed a one of a kind medical invention that saved a life that was unlikely to have survived previously.  While this is incredible, we were attracted to investing in the company because the CO2 laser operates with virtually no collateral damage, making it the perfect scalpel for operating near sensitive tissue (think the brain, the prostate, the uterus, the ear, the eye, etc.).  Also, the newfound ability to bend this laser enables its use as a minimally invasive surgical method.  These two features together reduce the trauma from a procedure and improve the surgical efficiency, producing better outcomes (higher qualilty) and better productivity (reduced hospital costs).

In this case, it just so happens that OmniGuide’s technology is also groundbreaking in and of itself.  Yoel figured out how to bend a CO2 laser without energy loss, something that was thought to be near impossible, and then manufacture his perfect mirror to a size that produces a 10s micron laser profile, enabling its use in minimally invasive surgery.

For more on OmniGuide, click here.  Awesome.

April 15, 2010

I Want My Mobile Healthcare (Part 1 of many)

I have long avoided investment in mobile healthcare applications, but I am afraid the time has come to reconsider.   

from the Economist, "Wireless Health Care"

For a long time my pessimism has been propped up by the debacle of e-prescribing (now referred to as mobile Rx or mRx).  In the venture business sometimes you show your chops by what you avoid.  From 1999-2003 we looked at almost every opportunity in the mRx space, but ultimately never pulled the trigger on an investment.   

In that period of time huge amounts of capital went into at least 15 mRx start-ups, with the 5 best-known companies raising over $170 million in venture capital (recall names like: Parkstone, ePhysician, iScribe, and Pocketscript), with only ePocrates (VC-backed) and Allscripts (public company) emerging as survivors, but hardly successes with a pervasive mRx product.   

The idea of mRx is simple.  Doctors prescribe medications using a mobile device.  The mobile device runs a series of applications that confirms the appropriateness of the drug and the dosage and checks for any drug-drug interaction problems for the patient.  If all clears, it sends the script to the pharmacy for fulfillment.  The patient shows up, picks up the initial script, and down the road the doctor can be prompted for renewals delivered by mail order.  The benefits are:  (1) less prescribing errors – which saves money on waste and the potential bad outcomes related to improper medicine and (2) time efficiency for the doctor, the patient and the pharmacy.   

In 1998 mRx ran on PDAs (Palm Pilots – remember those) and today it runs on smart phones.  The application is simple at the mobile device, but super-complicated as an interface.  The number of multi-system interactions necessary to accomplish a transaction are fantastic in number.  We stayed away from the opportunity for precisely 2 reasons:  (1) PDAs were just not that pervasive in the medical community, and frankly the wi-fi capability felt clunky and slow and (2) we just could not quantify the cost of building the systems necessary to interface with the pharmacy, PBM (pharmacy benefit management), Health Plan and provider IT systems, almost all of which were not web-services enabled.

But the times are changing…

Mary Meeker (equity research analyst at Morgan Stanley), predicts that mobile Internet usage is growing so fast it is bound to surpass desktop Internet usage by 2013-14 (chart below).    

 

(For access to all of Ms. Meeker’s presentation, which is very interesting, click here)

Fred Wilson, a leading edge IT VC and Twitter investor, blogged earlier this week about the ascension of social networking platforms like Facebook and Twitter over general email as the leading communication platforms on the Internet (again, see Morgan Stanley chart below).    

Pithiness and convenience drive much of Twitter’s appeal and its seems we are beginning to see a training ground for mHC emerge, where short, precise interactions will serve as the basis for successful applications, particularly in the area of remote patient monitoring, which I see as one of the more interesting areas of mHC from a return on investment standpoint.   

With the mobile market now beginning to make sense, the question turns to whether the HCIT infrastructure is ready for mHC.  Generally the answer is probably no, but recent trends, including the government’s proposed HC reforms, seem to be on track for stimulating changes in this area.

As we all know there are numerous conflicting issues and confusion around the HC business, including the now imminent expansion of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as the next super-big Washington bureaucracy.  With a little help from consultants and attorneys I am in the process of reading and analyzing our new healthcare law (a/k/a  HC Reform which includes, for our purposes here, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act -PPACA or HR 3590 – plus the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act – HCERA or HR 4872 plus the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act – HITECH ), and I promise to begin publishing my cheat sheets soon.  But so far it seems that HC Reform has the potential to revolutionize HC IT as we know it, an attribute that may countervail the financial crisis spawned by its passage.

Many a future post will deal with the details of this idea (revolution, that is), but generally I believe that HHS reimbursement policies, which under HC Reform are expected to revolve around proper care coordination among primary care, specialist and hospital-based providers, will demand smart applications running accross seemless connectivity among HCIT systems.  This means that existing legacy system configurations will not survive the transition to HC reform because they will need to be replaced with Services-oriented architectures (SOA) that enable low-cost web-services and data transfer.  Once this transition gains steam (and it is already happening at the payer level of the value chain), mHC will be set to explode. 

Please note that when I reference mHC I am really not focused on the consumer market for mHC applications (these are cute and I will talk about them soon).  I am interested in applications that link patients, payers and providers in a way that optimizes HC economics and outcomes.   

In upcoming posts on this subject I will begin to explore specific mHC applications, among them remote monitoring of the chronically ill and care coordination among providers, and whether the timing is right for venture investors.

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