Humana’s CEO says voice recognition will be a focus area for Studio H

Humana’s new technology hub will offer a flavor of old and new, CEO Bruce Broussard told investors on Wednesday.

Unveiled last week, the new Boston-based facility dubbed “Studio H” will focus on three areas of digital health: technology designed to manage provider workflow, expanding telehealth into the home health and primary care settings, and bringing voice recognition tools to members in their homes.

It’s a distinct shift from the insurer's past efforts to digitize member service components toward an investment in technology that can effectively shepherd patients through the healthcare system. Broussard didn't specify how much his company plans to invest in Studio H.

“Our view is, long-term, to integrate our members' experience with various parts of healthcare,” Broussard told investors at the Wells Fargo Securities 2018 Healthcare Conference in Boston. “Technology is going to be a part of that.”

While telehealth has become a staple for insurers, it’s unclear exactly how Humana wants to use voice-recognition software, which has been lightly tested by some hospitals as a clinical tool. As CNBC reported earlier this year, Amazon is building a health and wellness team into its Alexa division aimed at rolling out new solutions to consumers.

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It also plays a key role in Humana’s newfound investment in home health services. The insurer is coming off two significant acquisitions in Kindred Healthcare and Curo Health Services—two major players in the post-acute care industry. Humana bought a stake in each company alongside two private equity firms.

“One of the reasons we acquired [Kindred] is we feel home health with technology is going to have a large impact on the ability to manage chronic conditions,” Broussard said.

On the regulatory side, Humana is supporting a recent change from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to allow Medicare Advantage plans to use step therapy for Part B drugs. That aligns with feedback from another major Medicare Advantage insurer, UnitedHealthcare, which told FierceHealthcare the policy would lead to significant savings.

RELATED: UnitedHealthcare and AMA clash over Medicare's step therapy changes

But Humana is less enthusiastic about the Trump administration’s pending rule that could realign safe harbor protections for pharmacy benefit management rebates. Humana has an in-house PBM, and Broussard said a change that transitions rebates to the pharmacy point of sale would mean lower costs for specific members but higher overall premiums.

But, he added, it wouldn’t change much for Humana’s profitability since Medicare Advantage rebates are passed through in full.

“We’d adjust our operating model to give a discount at the counter and the cost of premiums would go up,” he said.