MANAGED CARE March 1998. ©1998 Stezzi Communications

Buy low, goes the old advice about stocks. And as low as Oxford Health Plans' stock has gone in recent months, the Connecticut-based HMO might look like a pretty good takeover target.But to Aetna? The same company that has had difficulty digesting its acquisition of U.S. Healthcare?

Neither company would comment on Wall Street buzz that Aetna U.S. Healthcare is sizing up Oxford for possible acquisition. Analysts are divided about whether a merger would work. Such a move might make strategic sense because the two serve overlapping markets, particularly the New York metropolitan region. On the other hand, they say, Oxford's payment and legal problems are so deep, Aetna U.S. Healthcare might wind up inheriting a mess that wouldn't be attractive to anyone — even at the bargain price Oxford could fetch.

While Wall Street pondered the possibilities, Oxford quietly continued to deal with its financial problems. Oxford asked the New York State insurance department for permission to raise premiums for individual HMO and point-of-service enrollees by at least 50 percent. For members who do not receive coverage through employers, that could translate into as much as a $100-a-month cost hike. The department has until May to respond to Oxford's request.

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There’s a lot more going on in health care than mergers (Aetna-Humana, Anthem-Cigna) creating huge players. Hundreds of insurers operate in 50 different states. Self-insured employers, ACA public exchanges, Medicare Advantage, and Medicaid managed care plans crowd an increasingly complex market.

Major health care players are determined to make health information exchanges (HIEs) work. The push toward value-based payment alone almost guarantees that HIEs will be tweaked, poked, prodded, and overhauled until they deliver on their promise. The goal: straight talk from and among tech systems.

They bring a different mindset. They’re willing to work in teams and focus on the sort of evidence-based medicine that can guide health care’s transformation into a system based on value. One question: How well will this new generation of data-driven MDs deal with patients?

The surge of new MS treatments have been for the relapsing-remitting form of the disease. There’s hope for sufferers of a different form of MS. By homing in on CD20-positive B cells, ocrelizumab is able to knock them out and other aberrant B cells circulating in the bloodstream.

A flood of tests have insurers ramping up prior authorization and utilization review. Information overload is a problem. As doctors struggle to keep up, health plans need to get ahead of the development of the technology in order to successfully manage genetic testing appropriately.

Having the data is one thing. Knowing how to use it is another. Applying its computational power to the data, a company called RowdMap puts providers into high-, medium-, and low-value buckets compared with peers in their markets, using specific benchmarks to show why outliers differ from the norm.
Competition among manufacturers, industry consolidation, and capitalization on me-too drugs are cranking up generic and branded drug prices. This increase has compelled PBMs, health plan sponsors, and retail pharmacies to find novel ways to turn a profit, often at the expense of the consumer.
The development of recombinant DNA and other technologies has added a new dimension to care. These medications have revolutionized the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and many of the other 80 or so autoimmune diseases. But they can be budget busters and have a tricky side effect profile.

Shelley Slade
Vogel, Slade & Goldstein

Hub programs have emerged as a profitable new line of business in the sales and distribution side of the pharmaceutical industry that has got more than its fair share of wheeling and dealing. But they spell trouble if they spark collusion, threaten patients, or waste federal dollars.

More companies are self-insuring—and it’s not just large employers that are striking out on their own. The percentage of employers who fully self-insure increased by 44% in 1999 to 63% in 2015. Self-insurance may give employers more control over benefit packages, and stop-loss protects them against uncapped liability.