Venture Beat had a recent article on options for startups and venture capital and exchanges. While Exchanges present an opportunity, new stratups just entering the market should focus on the growing ecosystem around the Exchanges rather competing directly on or for the Exchanges.
- Backend support – While appealing from a public service standpoint, this isn’t a strong option for new investment. Your customer base for HIX back ends is public sector entities. This means long RFP cycles, budgets that are consistently under pressure, and customers whose priorities may change every two years. Brand new startups are unlikely to be able to compete in public sector procurements where references and high fixed cost investments like local staff or high liability insurance requirements.There are also several strong first mover advantages for the existing players. The first is risk aversion of the customer base. Public sector customers are more likely to choose a bad existing stable solution over new innovative solution since the rewards for innovation are relatively small but the penalties for failure are immense. A second concern is budgetary. The original appropriation for Federal grants to state based exchanges ended this year. While it is likely that some money will be available for the 38 states who are currently relying on the Federal Exchange there may be not be resources for a completely new system.
- Helping Private Exchanges with new branding – While it may be tempting to compete directly on an Exchange, public or private, it’s important to recognize that insurance product cycles are relatively long, even in private exchanges. All insurance products sold to individuals need regulatory approval by October of the year before they are sold. This means that a new product for 2015 have less than a year to be created, marketed, and approved by regulators. Products sold through large employers do not have the same regulatory deadline but have similar process deadlines where decisions on employer plans are often made over the summer. This is especially true with large changes that may require a coordinated communication plan o employees.At the same time health plans may seek better engagement tools mid year. Tools that can either raise an Exchange plans mind share like enhanced customer service or marketing tools may need to be deployed mid-year after the product development cycle because these pieces are often not required to be filled with regulators or require contractual adjustment with an employer’s workforce. Startups targeting larger contracts in this area also need to be aware of the Medical Loss Ratio(MLR) and whether a portion of the costs of the engagement tool may be considered a claims expense.
- Customer education & services – There is definitely a need for better informational products. The difficulty is developing a viable monetization and business strategy for direct to consumer services. Both public and private HIXs will also be working on educated consumers for free. Some Exchanges may seek help in developing these products many will see this activity as a core competency and key differentiator.At the same time HIXs are creating a new class of advisors, navigators. Navigators, health insurance brokers, and accountants, because of the complications of the tax credit, may have the resources to pay for differentiated informational products to offer their clients. These advisers also have a different needs than the average consumer and provide a niche for startups.
- Financial services for HIX world – This is another area where focusing on the small and medium enterprises may provide a better solution. Many larger health systems have been preparing for higher patient cost sharing under the guise of “revenue management”. Whether the solo practitioner realizes the impact and has a solution is an open question. An interesting problem/opportunity is the shear number of changes a small office will have to deal with in the next year from meaningful use, the potential changes in billing due to HIXs, and ICD-10. A new startup dealing with only one of these issues may not be able to gain much traction but there is an opportunity to partner with other organizations to provide the full solution suite.Providing direct to consumer tools may be harder and there may be a much more limited market than anticipated in the article. Medicaid and child health plan eligibility, which in most states is free, is based on monthly income so a family that loses the primary breadwinners paycheck may instead qualify for a free health plan rather than require a short term loan. The regulations also require subsidized individuals to have access to non-traditional payment methods offering some possibility for non-traditional payment sources. The regulations also provide for a 90 day grace period so many insurers rather than a third party may become credit supplier for more affluent customers with cash flow problems.
- Self-Triage Services – This area is another need but the trick is monetization.
While Exchanges offer compelling opportunities many of big obvious “whale” opportunities may have already passed. Instead new startups may want to focus on supporting the vast ecosystems that will be generated by the Exchanges.