What Aetna's $37B acquisition of Humana could mean for digital health

By Brian Dolan
Share

iTriage iOS appAfter weeks of rumors, this morning health insurance company Aetna announced that it is acquiring rival Humana for $36 billion in cash and stock. The news follows smaller health insurance company Centene's $6.3 billion plan to acquire health insurance company Health Net, which would make that company the biggest private administrator of Medicaid programs in the US. Aetna's absorption of Humana nets it 14 million customers across its commercial, Medicare and Medicaid programs.

As has been expected for some time, this deal could set off a flurry of M&A activity among the health insurance companies in the US. Among many other important considerations, such consolidation brings with it fewer potential customers for those working to gain traction for their digital health offerings, which have long counted payers as an important customer.

When rumors first began to swirl about the various potential M&A combinations among the big health insurance companies, MobiHealthNews outlined some of their major digital health initiatives with an eye on how merged entities' digital offerings may look. Below is a roundup of the relevant passages from that recent, speculative MobiHealthNews post by Jonah Comstock:

Aetna's biggest digital health footprint is its iTriage app, which the company acquired in 2011. iTriage has evolved from just a symptom navigator, physician and hospital finder app to include price transparency tools, health education and literacy tools, prescription management tools, and -- soon -- maybe even video visits with physicians. And other Aetna apps do even more: Aetna Mobile has many of iTriage's features, plus it allows Aetna members to access information about their insurance, and Aetna's Resources for Living app helps users to manage stress and anxiety, moderate work-life balance, and track their moods. 

All in all, Aetna is trying to offer a comprehensive suite for helping members -- and others -- manage their health. But they're less focused on preventative measures like promoting good diet and exercise. This is likely by design -- Aetna's CarePass platform, which the company shut down last year, had this functionality, drawing in data from other devices and apps to promote activity for users.

Last August, Humana finally added a mobile component to its employee wellness offering, HumanaVitality. In addition to tracking health and fitness metrics, members can use the app, available on iOS and Android devices, to take health assessments, challenge coworkers to health-related competitions, and read information on staying healthy. Since then they’ve continued to add new features including the ability to buy Amazon Gift Cards in the app with “Vitality Bucks,” a currency users rack up by being healthy.

Meanwhile Humana's Cue, a new app designed just for the Apple Watch, regularly reminds users to do little health-conscious things like standing up, drinking water, or straightening their postures. Humana also has a member app similar to Aetna's, a consumer app called MyHumana, an app for care managers called CareMatch, and RightSource, a prescription management app.

The big question when it comes to Aetna's acquisition of Humana and digital health, is whether Aetna will be interested in trying again with a preventative health, lifestyle play like HumanaVitality. While Aetna admitted its somewhat open platform concept, CarePass, was a failed experiment, how it evolves the HumanaVitality offering with its CarePass learnings will be an important space to watch.

Most likely, Aetna will focus its preventative health efforts on employee populations, rather than trying to make them available to everyone like it did with CarePass. Aetna has shown just recently that it's still looking at employee health, it announced a remote patient monitoring and patient engagement pilot with Newtopia. Newtopia will offer its health engagement platform to some of Aetna’s largest employer customers. The platform uses genetic testing and lifestyle assessments to create personalized nutrition, exercise and behavior management plans for users. Newtopia then supports users with online coaching via mobile devices, social networks, and wearable device integration.

Beyond that, Aetna continues to run pilots that focus on ACOs and remote patient monitoring. At HIMSS in 2014, Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini talked about some initiatives the company has underway to monitor patients with chronic disease and intervene before it becomes costly and life-threatening. The payer was partnering with Medtronic to use the data feed from pacemakers to figure out when a cardiac patient has put on extra water weight and is in increased danger of congestive heart failure. They were also working on a pilot with continuous glucose monitors to try to predict and prevent hypoglycemic events.

Humana CEO Bruce Broussard spoke at the most recent HIMSS event, and his sentiments weren't far off from Bertolini's a year earlier: the healthcare system, including payors, needs to become more patient-focused, especially when it comes to the most expensive healthcare customers with multiple chronic diseases. Expect that to be the focus of any payer consolidation, with digital health and wellness tools acting as an important enabler.