JPM20: Why Humana is focusing investments on growing clinical services

SAN FRANCISCO—Growing and enhancing clinical capabilities is a key investment focus for insurance giant Humana, said CEO Bruce Broussard.

Broussard, speaking on a panel at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco on Monday, said the insurance industry as a whole is expanding capabilities around keeping members healthy and out of the hospital.

This is evidenced by the mergers and acquisitions, including some big-ticket deals, that have cropped up of late, he said.

For instance, CVS' acquisition of Aetna combines a large national health insurer with a massive pharmacy chain and healthcare provider, and UnitedHealth Group has invested heavily in scooping up provider services, Broussard said.

"It's all wrapped around: 'How do you slow down the disease progression?'" Broussard said.

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Humana, which investors and Wall Street analysts have pegged as an acquisition target for several years, is thinking the same way, he said. That includes investments such as the acquisition of hospice provider Kindred and investments in primary care and physician groups.

The insurer is also tackling this challenge by improving customer experience and enhancing technology platforms, Broussard said.

On supplemental benefits, "Medicare for All"

Broussard also weighed in on a number of other hot topics in the industry, including Democratic candidates' health policy platforms and the Trump administration's expansion of supplemental benefits in Medicare Advantage (MA), Humana's central business line.

He said the insurer is in the testing phase with such benefits and how customers use them, as offering them will likely either raise the member's cost or "cannibalize" another potential benefit. Humana has deployed a number of pilots in different markets, including benefits targeting the social determinants of health and a value-based insurance design product, and it will use lessons from those as it moves forward, he said.

"I think the industry is just learning and spending a bit of time to understand it," Broussard said.

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Broussard also said he believes there will be a role for a private insurance option, even as some of the top candidates in the Democratic primary call for the transition to a single government payer.

Medicare today offers both a public and a private option, and the consistent growth in MA shows how popular private plans are. He said that MA's structure holds a lot of promise, which could be beneficial if polices lowering the age of Medicare enrollment to 50 or 55 are passed.

"American society is wanting a private option, no matter if it’s the employer or some other type of offering," Broussard said.