JPM21: Centene's Neidorff says insurer planning for a 'different mix' of care utilization due to COVID-19

Centene Corporation CEO Michael Neidorff said the company is expecting care utilization to normalize but is planning for a different mix of services as COVID-19 cases surge.

He said Centene is still seeing its members defer elective procedures, while demand for COVID-19 treatment and care is rising. The company expects to see that continue into the first part of 2021, Neidorff said.

In addition, he said emergency department utilization is "way down," which isn't likely to be made up in future utilization.

"I expect the first half of the year to be normal utilization, total, but the mix will be different," Neidorff said.

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Neidorff spoke at the annual J.P. Morgan healthcare conference Monday morning, addressing investor concerns including the pandemic, the impact of the election and its recent acquisitions of Magellan Health and Apixio.

He said the incoming Biden administration's policy platform, which centers on strengthening the Affordable Care Act (ACA), is likely a boon for the insurer. Centene is a critical player on the ACA's exchanges and also has broad reach in Medicare and Medicaid, which grew notably following its acquisition of WellCare Health Plans a year ago.

Neidorff highlighted likely Biden administration priorities such as increased funding for navigators and enhanced subsidies.

"I want to emphasize that over the years we have demonstrated that we work well on both sides of the aisle," he said. "On balance, I think it's going to be very positive."

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Neidorff also said the insurer is highly enthusiastic about growing its reach in the behavioral health space, as is reflected in the Magellan deal.

Centene unveiled the $2.2 billion deal earlier this month, and, once it is finalized, Magellan will continue to operate independently under Centene's Health Care Enterprises arm. The deal is expected to close in the second half of the year.

Neidorff said Magellan will continue to serve its existing customers as well as Centene members. The company is hoping the acquisition will allow it to more effectively integrate behavioral health into other care, he said.

"Behavioral health is something we've looked at for a long time," he said.