Aetna, Premera execs: Innovation key for value-based care

Health payers, much like providers, know that innovation must be a top priority to ensure profits are turned and consumers are satisfied as government reimbursement models shift from quantity- to quality-based. Both data and technology will be key to that transition.

To that end, at a panel discussion Monday at Health Datapalooza in the District of Columbia, executives from Aetna and Premera BlueCross discussed various strategies they employ to keep pace in the industry.

"Companies like ours really need to change the way we look at our business," said Bjorn Thaler, vice president and head of corporate development at Aetna. "We really need to start actually thinking about how we help the consumer navigate the healthcare system. How do we create a positive interaction with the brand Aetna on a day-to-day basis when in fact, the only time you call or need Aetna is when you're sick."

Thaler touted Healthagen, Aetna's umbrella company for health informatics. The unit's primary purpose, he said, is helping entities transition from a fee-for-service model to fee-for-value through the use of technology.

"Fee-for-service is yesterday's model," Thaler said.

Kent Marquardt, executive vice president and chief financial officer for Premera BlueCross, agreed, calling consumers "the most powerful force in the business." He said Premera often invests in venture capital and private equity funds not for the potential financial returns but, rather, for the innovation that comes out of that investment.

"I think that keeping your finger on the pulse of innovation is important," he said.

Marquardt continued, saying that getting to know and understand the consumer is one of the most important things his company or any insurer can do.

"I would love to be the Amazon of healthcare where we can anticipate what your needs are and present solutions to you," he said.

Marquardt said that while that reality is "a long way off," that knowledge eventually could be even more important than the ability to compare prices.

"I think satisfaction is going to be a key component," he said.