Why your “predictive analytics” program isn’t working

I’m hearing more complaints and concerns about the lack of results from projects involving “big data”, analytics, predictive modeling and the like. These have me scratching my head, as effective use of data is critical to any enterprise these days.

I think I’ve figured out why some of these projects haven’t turned out the way sponsors want.

An excellent article on the effective use of analytics identifies 6 keys to ensuring success hit my inbox a bit ago and I’ve read it seveal times, passed it on to respected colleagues, and gotten their feedback.

Targets and accountability. The Central Analytics Business Unit (ABU) was set up as a centralized profit center with ambitious targets and with direct reporting to the chief operations officer;

Support from the top. Obvious, critical, and bearing repeating.

Incentive scheme alignment. The returns generated by ABU’s analytics projects accrue to the departments, who do not contribute to the cost of the ABU. And the ABU team is paid using variable compensation, based on projects that have been fully implemented and based on their ROI.

Rigorous assessment of results. The contribution of analytics is always measured and in some cases is reviewed by the accounting department.

Communicating with strategic goals in mind.  The ABU emphasized communication

The right people. Recruited employees had:
(1) significant quantitative strength;
(2) negotiating skills and diplomacy;
(3) the ability to communicate with the business lines; and
(4) entrepreneurial instincts. Recruiting this high-demand skill set was not easy.

Most of the initial ABU recruits were external hires, and several of them had little knowledge of the banking industry.

BUT…information without action is nothing but a waste of time and money.

This from a physician executive colleague:

One of the things they don’t discuss that I see as an issue throughout the insurance industry (commercial as well as WC) is that analytics often produce counter-intuitive results, and/or suggest conclusions that are at odds with what passes for traditional wisdom.  

An example – I had 3 years of analytics (pretty good ones, too) that demonstrated a 5 or 6:1 ROI from the medical directors’ department (and that included all costs, fully loaded salaries, etc).  No one would believe it, and they dismantled the whole operation.  So, what I’d add to the HBR piece is that the CEO championing (which is one of their 6) has to include championing of business plans based on the analytics, no matter how uncomfortable that makes some people.  

Think analysis of the true costs of network discount strategies is going to be well received anywhere?




There’s no such thing as “sales”

The word connotes getting someone to buy your stuff, solution, or expertise – but the direction is all wrong. After making many mistakes in the sales process, I’m finally beginning to learn what works and what doesn’t; here’s a few takeaways that may be helpful to you.

This doesn’t work…

Salesman offers

Don’t think of it as selling to someone, rather it is get people to buy from you. A seemingly small semantic change makes all the difference, because the focus shifts from you to them.

People buy because they want or need the service or product.  Sure, a few may buy just because they want you to go away and leave them alone, but they won’t buy again and probably won’t like what you sold them.

They buy because you have something that solves their problem, obvious or not. That problem may be they can’t achieve their objectives using current provider networks, they need to expand into other regions but don’t have the infrastructure, their addressable market is shrinking and they need to find another source of revenue.

How many times have you actually figured out exactly what the buyer’s problem is? Not their employer’s problem, but the buyer’s? Because it’s not unusual to find out what works for the buyer is different from what you think is the best solution for their employer. 

When you approach selling from the buyer’s perspective, it forces a completely different focus. Here’s what I see as keys:

  • Ask questions.  Ask more questions. Then ask even more questions.
  • Until you are ready to close the deal, Do NOT talk about what your company does for more than 15 seconds. No one cares about your history, awards, building, number of employees, or mission.
  • People buy, companies don’t. Figure out what’s important to the buyer(s), and why. Don’t get caught up in the “but this is the best solution to your problem” trap; if the buyer believed that they would be writing the check.
  • Powerpoint (and other types of) presentations are too often a crutch, take way too much time to prepare, and are rarely helpful. Avoid them until you can present a buyer-specific solution.
  • Do not present your solution UNTIL the buyer has helped you design a solution that s/he believes is the best answer.

There’s a lot more to this, but I’ll leave you with this: when the buyer is talking you should be listening really hard, and when you are talking, you should be asking questions.

Be this guy…


Monday catch-up

Lots has been happening, here are a few items that caught my attention.

WCRI’s been diving deep into hospital reimbursement. This is an issue I’ve been tracking closely – and I’d suggest you should too. I see hospital/facility costs and utilization as a major cost driver; hear from Carol Telles in a webinar Thursday January 18 at 1 eastern.

As we’ve noted here previously, work comp payers would do well to pay close attention to facility reimbursement and utilization; expect work comp, auto, and other P&C lines to become even more attractive to hospitals seeking revenues and margins.

Healthcare spending inflation actually slowed significantly last yearAn analysis by Kaiser Health News indicates trend in 2016 was 4.3 percent, higher than the overall 2.8 percent inflation rate, but a 1.5 point drop from 2015’s rate.  Notably, drug cost inflation was just above 1 percent (although that’s a lot higher than the double-digit drop we’ve seen in workers’ comp).

Key point – this slowdown in the rate of growth occurred after ACA implementation.  Not surprising that costs went up; we insured millions more people, most of which had pent-up demand for services they couldn’t get or couldn’t afford.

While costs continue to grow, life expectancy declines. We have the most expensive healthcare in the world – by far – yet our life expectancy has dropped two years in a row. As a result, we rank 26th out of 37 developed countries for life expectancy.

Here’s why – we’re paying hundreds of billions for low-value care…

An excellent piece on how to make analytics actually work from Harvard Business Review.  Key points:

  • attach an ROI to the analytics unit itself
  • hire experts from OUTSIDE your industry…

Enjoy your week.

Predictions for work comp in 2018, part 2

Following up on yesterday’s predictions, here’s the second five – in no particular order… cf

6.  Claims counts will bump up
In hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico, Florida and Texas. Alas a lot of injuries and illnesses will go unreported as unscrupulous companies hire day laborers and don’t insure them, or, in Texas, where work comp isn’t required.

7. But frequency will continue to decline, and total claims will too.
because a) frequency almost always declines, and b) we are at or very close to full employment, so a growth in employment won’t counterbalance structural decreases in frequency.

8. Work comp medical costs will increase slightly
On a per-claim basis, expect costs were slightly higher in 2017 than the previous year. Per-claim figures are the best measure, although total medical spend is helpful as well. Kathy Antonello will tell us at NCCI’s Annual Issues Symposium in May…

9. Innovative new approaches to financing work comp risk will emerge
Variations of peer-to-peer such as Lemonade, some enabled by blockchain technology, will gain a toehold in a few states. Don’t expect there to be a major move just yet as the regulatory, capital requirements, and distribution channels are going to adapt slowly. That said, there’s just too much opportunity to reduce costs inherent in the inefficient administrative processes in today’s workers’ comp system.

10. Payroll fraud incidents and other even more creative efforts to screw workers will increase
I’ll be looking at this in detail, but one quick take is the number of “contingent workers” in many industries has grown dramatically.  The biggest increases? farming, fishing forestry; logistics; personal care; protective service, education and training. The implications for comp are deep and broad; lower premiums, claiming incentives, fraud.

I know, there are implications aplenty for claims, occupational injury rates and the like.


Predictions for work comp in 2018

Good to be back at work – and ready to opine on what 2018 holds for work comp.  Here, in no particular order are my educated guesses, considered opinions, and wild-assed speculations.

  1. M&A  – specifically big deals – will increase.
    I expect we’ll see more very large transactions this year, mostly driven by strategic purchases of other companies. Work comp is a very mature industry, scale and size matter a lot, and that means getting bigger is key.  Expect to see several billion-dollar plus deals in the service sector.
  2. The market will stay soft.
    Claims frequency continues to decline, medical costs are pretty much under control, margins are healthy, and there’s still a lot of allocatable capital in the industry. Unless there’s some major  – as in huge – crisis I don’t expect a hardening of the work comp insurance market.
  3. Cost containment’s focus will shift to facilities and hospitals.
    Hospitals are increasingly vulnerable due to consolidation among payers, reductions in governmental program funding (thank you Trump Tax Bill), changes to Medicare reimbursement, and the systemic shift of care to lower-cost settings.  Facilities have already – and will continue to – look for revenues from payers less able to reduce reimbursement. That’s us, kids. Expect to see payers more closely analyzing facility costs, looking for solutions, and implementing programs focused on the issue.
  4. TPA growth will accelerate.
    Driven primarily by work comp insurers’ outsourcing. With a soft market, there’s little incentive for employers to self-insure, but the long-term decline in claims frequency is driving down insurer claim counts. Some insurers are making the strategic decision to shift claims to reduce fixed costs and capital investment requirements. Expect the big four TPAs to add significant new business from insurance companies and similar entities.
    ok…maybe not this much…
  5. Tele-everything will take off
    Tele-triage, -medicine, -rehab, etc is going to grow quickly. Expect lots of activity from companies big and small; Concentra, MedRisk (HSA client), CHC Telehealth, Coventry, Work Comp Trust of CT and others are pushing this care delivery model hard – as they should. Expect thousands of “visits” will logged by the end of 2018.

Tomorrow, I’ll finish up with the other five…

The greatest health “system” in the world

Is responsible for a two-year decline in life expectancy.

Make no mistake, the profit motive embedded in the US healthcare system is directly responsible for an unprecedented drop in life expectancy; opioid manufacturers’ and distributors’ focus on profits coupled with lax governmental oversight led to the opioid disaster.

So, 42,000 of your kids, neighbors, friends, relatives, co-workers died from opioids last year.

But fear not, the addiction treatment industry is riding to the rescue.  Funded by your insurance premiums and tax dollars, a plethora of “treatment” centers are popping up.  While some are excellent, many are nothing more than “treatment mills”, operations set up to suck as many dollars as possible from patients, taxpayers and insurers. Once the dollars run out, the patients are kicked to the curb.

Here’s one example…

The schemes are many, with treatment mills paying body brokers to recruit addicts, false addresses to ensure insurance coverage, fake credentials for “clinicians” and huge bills for non-existent services.

The next time some uninformed individual starts babbling about the exceptionalism of the American healthcare “system”, stick this under his/her nose – we’re exceptional at creating addicts, killing people, lowering life expectancy, crushing souls, while making huge profits for investors legitimate and not.

What’s the solution? 

We pay more for healthcare than anyone else in the world, dollars that are diverted from education, job creation, infrastructure. Many of these dollars are well spent, but the opioid treadmill is just one example of waste and fraud.

A good start would be to much more aggressively prosecute the opioid shills and their buddies in the “treatment” business.  Long and hard jail time for the executives and investors would help prevent the next disaster, but the $209 million in lobbying dollars spent last year by the pharma and device industry makes that unlikely at best.

You get the government you deserve, and you deserve to get it good and hard. HL Mencken.



We haven’t seen anything yet.

Healthcare is changing really quickly and quite dramatically. Stuff we never would have thought of is happening every day.

  • A huge PBM is buying one of the largest health insurers in the world.
  • Provider consolidation is rapidly accelerating.
  • Many insurers are vertically integrating; they own thousands of providers, care-delivery locations, and are racing to build even more infrastructure.
  • Private insurers are pushing hard and fast into the Medicaid and Medicare markets.
  • Pharma is making gazillions in profits and driving medical costs higher: many employers are beginning to rebel.
  • The world is finally taking opioids seriously, while many fraudulent and sleazy people and companies are looking to profit from the crisis.
  • Medicare and Medicaid are facing major changes; the Trump Tax Bill is just the beginning of efforts to cut benefits and reimbursement.

The healthcare infrastructure of 2021 will look a lot different than it does today.

A couple things to think about.

  1.  While scale is critically important, the bigger the organization, the harder it is to anticipate and adapt to change. Huge health insurers and healthcare delivery systems must force their people to take risks and innovate – but most of these institutions are led by executives with little tolerance for failure. 
  2. The fee-for-service system is deeply entrenched in our entire industry. Provider practice patterns, sales rep incentive programs, provider marketing strategies, employer healthplan purchasing priorities, hospital financial systems, billing and reimbursement infrastructure, insurer business models all are fundamentally based on fee-for-service. Improving outcomes and reducing costs cannot happen without disrupting the very roots of our healthcare “system”.
  3. Our healthcare system is vastly inefficient – and that is precisely why tens of millions of Americans live off that system. Disrupting that system will cost hundreds of thousands of jobs.

What does this mean for you?

The winners will be those that understand where things are going.

There are two basic strategic options: those with a long-term view must become part of the disruption or short-termers will have to carve out a niche that’s sustainable over the near term.

This is the third option, which most will inadvertently pursue.  Business-as-usual folks will wake up one morning and find out they’re toast.