A new report indicates what many have perceived for some years; the world of health care insurance is increasingly dominated by larger payers. Conning & Co.’s report indicates that larger insurers/managed care firms are buying up smaller ones in an effort to grow market share.
This is consistent with HSA’s own experience; as the larger plans seek to keep their stock prices moving up, revenue growth becomes increasingly important. Their growth choices are pretty limited –
1. grow organically by taking market share from a competitor by cutting price (a really bad long term plan) or
2. buy up other plans.
The acquisitions of FirstHealth, Oxford, Connecticare, et al are all indicative of this trend. Good news if you own a smaller managed care firm; bad news if you are a provider or employer operating in an oligopoly environment.
The health care market is rapidly maturing, and will come to be dominated by a selection of large players – Aetna, UHG, Anthem, and a few others.
Kaiser Permanente, one of the oldest and largest HMOs, reported net income for last year increased by 59% to $1.6 billion on revenues of $28 billion. The HMO’s membership (registration required – free) was up slightly to 8.23 million as well.
According to California HealthLine,
“Kaiser officials said the gain in net income was boosted by rate increases, improved operating efficiencies and lower pharmaceutical costs. Unexpected adjustments to pension and post-retirement costs, workers’ compensation and liability expenses also contributed to Kaiser’s financial performance, company officials said.
Tom Meier, vice president and treasurer for Kaiser, said member rates increased by 10% to 11% in 2004, less than the 13% reported in recent years. ”
The message here is we may be approaching, if not already at, the top of the cycle. Stock prices for publicly traded health plans are way up over last year (see Coventry and United HealthGroup), PEs are up as well, and managed care stocks are once again “strong buys.”
A couple of other “take-aways”.
1. Kaiser’s (KP’s) rates were up 10-11% last year, well above overall medical trend rates. This is likely a key to the improved profits, especially when one considers their increased spending on capital expenditures (up 30% as KP tries once again to implement an electronic medical records system).
2. KP operates the tightest form of managed care; the large group model (all docs are members of the Permanente medical group). If their rates are up 10-11%, what does that mean for less-tightly managed models?
A new study indicates HMO enrollment in New England has declined over the past year. HealthLeaders-Interstudy (here’s hoping the new company gets a new name shortly)’s just-released New England Health Plan Analysis indicates that all states save New Hampshire experienced a drop in HMO participation.
There is continuing migration to PPOs,” said Paula DeWitt, HealthLeaders- InterStudy analyst. “Massachusetts has strong regional plans and will likely continue to be an HMO stronghold, but even it isn’t immune to the migration into more open-access products. In addition, while all New England states reported net profits through the third quarter of 2004, profits were down in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island compared to the same period in 2003.”
Insurance Journal noted “The firm also reported on other factors at play in the managed care fiel. Tufts Health Plan has formed an alliance with national player CIGNA HealthCare to offer an open-access PPO-type product to large- and medium-size businesses. Medicare HMOs in New England are adding options and some are enhancing benefits for 2005. For example, Fallon Community Health Plan is offering a new option called Fallon Senior Plan Saver with no premium.”
Weiss Ratings (yes, I’m a big fan) released an analysis of recent changes to employees’ health plans, and there is a notable lack of innovation.
According to Weiss, “Higher prescription drug co-pays were cited by 34.3 percent of consumers polled, while 23.8 percent indicated higher co-pays for physician visits.” In addition, in perhaps the most drastic move to control health insuranc costs, 11.3% lost their health insurance altogether.
This last statistic may be inflated due to the nature of the study, so I wouldn’t generalize the result to a larger population. However, it is important to note the large percentage of respondents who saw an increase in costs shifted to them from the health plan. Call it “consumerism”, “accountability”, “burden sharing” or what you will, it is clear that employers are fast running out of ideas.
Weiss Ratings reported very strong earnings from HMOs in the first half of 2004. Weiss, perhaps the most insightful of the rating agencies, noted that over half of the HMOs studied were financially strong, and the industry generated $5.8 billion in profits during the first six months of 2004.
The strong results were felt even among the less-well-off HMOs, as the number of plans considered “weak” financially dropped from 40% in 1998 to 17%.
Weiss did not provide any insights into the reason for the financial improvement, but strong premium growth generated by higher rates, better risk selection and exiting of unprofitable markets, and industry consolidation were likely contributing factors.
Interestingly, the financial improvement occured at a time when health care costs were continuing to increase at rates well above those for overall inflation. Some may note the contradiction here – the companies tasked with managing health care costs were generating big profits while failing to accomplish their appointed task.
Coventry’s management has added an old colleague, Skip Creasy, to the executive team. Creasy worked with many of the present Coventry team in a prior life at Travelers’ Health Company; Shawn Guertin, Harv DeMovick, Tom McDonough, CEO Dale Wolf, and others were all affiliated with either Travelers, successor MetraHealth, or UnitedHealthCare after UHG acquired MetraHealth.
According to the press release, Skip “Creasy will be responsible for the development of Coventry health plans in new markets, including those markets to be added in the pending acquisition of First Health.”
Perhaps Eliot Gerson is next?
The long-awaited acquisition of First Health by Coventry for cash and stock totaling $1.8 billion or so has closed. The “old” FH management (Wristen, Dickerson, Dills et al) has departed as of 1/28/05, leaving Mary Baranowski as the remaining SVP and Art Lynch as VP Workers Compensation.
Now, the only question is what will McDonough et al (Coventry exec tasked w managing the acquisition) do with the various pieces of First Health.
We’ll be paying close attention, as FH is the dominant player in the WC managed care business, has a major presence in the group health world, and has several ancillary businesses.
Bob Laszewski of Health Policy and Strategy Associates (no affiliation with HSA) notes that CMS’ latest health care cost report includes the following:
“in 2002, the percentage of health insurance premiums spent on profit and admin expense was 12.8%; in 2003, the expense and profit ratio had rised to 13.6%. Undoubtedly, this gain is not in expenses but in health insurance company profits.”
This occured at a time when overall health care costs were still increasing by almost 9% a year.
At the risk of stating the obvious, profits and admin expenses have increased at a rate greater than that of total medical expenses. Not only does this not say much for the “efficiency” of the private market, it also may add fuel to the argument againts private insurance.
We’ll have more details on the CMS report’s notable findings in a future post.
Managed Healthcare Executive magazine published their annual survey of HMO enrollment in December.
The numbers show that most states actually experienced a decline in HMO enrollment, and nationally there was a decline of some 3 million members. Part of this may well be definitional issues, as HMOs have morphed into “open-access” HMOs, “closed network” PPOs, and the like. Regardless, this is an interesting development; early (albeit anecdotal) indications are that enrollment in more tightly managed plans may actually be increasing, as employers battle significant trend rates.
January 28th is the date set for the First Health shareholder vote on the proposed acquisition by Coventry. With regulatory approvals out of the way, the vote should be a formality.
The last remaining obstacle was the outstanding shareholder lawsuit demanding more information about the deal, which executives get what benefits, and may even lead to a public airing of FH’s financial adviser.
The reasoning behind the lawsuit appears to be FH shareholders’s (and Coventry owners as well) objecting to FH executives’ payouts under the deal, coupled with a perception that FH may not have marketed itself effectively.
Regardless, the deal is done. The next, and much more interesting phase, will be to see what Tom McDonough, the Coventry exec tasked with managing the acquistion, does next.