Tech entrepreneurs shake up insurance biz

Young technology entrepreneurs are trying to compete with big-name insurance companies, hoping consumers will want their health plans to look "more like Facebook than Blue Cross Blue Shield," NPR reported. The Silicon Valley veterans behind Oscar, a New York City startup health insurer, think insurers should use technology to help their customers and play a bigger part in members' lives.

"Why, you know, build a toy on your phone when you can actually directly impact an industry that needs to be changed?," Oscar co-founder Josh Kushner told NPR.

Aiming to shake up the industry, the startup insurer's website offers a Facebook-like newsfeed of members' medical lives, with detailed information on doctor and hospital visits, including what the member paid and what Oscar paid. The website also offers a search engine to help members explain their symptoms in common terms and then will connect them to an appopriate doctor. 

Some of the country's major insurance companies are adopting similar technology- and consumer-oriented approaches. For example, UnitedHealth  is focusing more on "fitting into the life of the consumer, not making them fit into us," UnitedHealth Chief Consumer Officer Tom Paul told FierceHealthPayer in a previous interview.

Similarly, a differentiated consumer experience tops Humana's health IT priority list. "We're making some fairly large technology investments in that space. One is our digital hub solution, which is mobile-based, web-based, social-based capabilities we would deliver to patients and members," Brian LeClaire, Humana's senior vice president and chief services & information officer, recently told FierceHealthPayer.

So it remains to be seen whether startup insurers can compete with the big-name players and successfully sell plans on the marketplaces.

"Well, they're techies so health insurance is a very complicated industry," Regina Herzlinger, who specializes in healthcare innovation at Harvard Business School, told NPR. "We've seen where techies have failed, crashed and burned disastrously in the past few months in the exchanges"

To learn more:
- here's the NPR piece