It took a while for a managed care company to combine a consumer-directed plan with a traditional HMO. Health Net of California, taking advantage of the strengths of California's managed care market, is launching a hybrid product called OptimizerHMO that "provides tools to help [members] make better health care decisions and incentives for demonstrating healthy behaviors," says Stephen Lynch, president of Health Net.

The hybrid includes a health reimbursement account (HRA) that employees can use to cover out-of-pocket medical expenses using a special debit card. Under the plan, employers deposit $500, $750, or $1,000 into the HRA earmarked for each participating employee. Employees can track their HRA balances and out-of-pocket expenses online. Sound familiar?

In addition, the product rewards healthy behavior by depositing $100 into a member's HRA if he completes a health risk questionnaire. Filling out the questionnaire provides access to information about health improvement and health topics of interest to the member. Another $100 is deposited if the member contacts a health coach within six months of a hospitalization.

Other tools include a treatment cost estimator, a medical group and hospital quality comparison report, and an encyclopedia of health information. At enrollment, members must choose a primary care physician to serve as a gatekeeper, as with a traditional HMO.

The product was rolled out in June and is open to employers with 51 or more employees. Health Net says the hybrid plan is priced at about 18 percent to 20 percent lower than the its traditional HMO products.

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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.