Don’t Get Distracted By the Healthcare Debate
UnitedHealth Group is in the business of providing access to effective healthcare, not just insurance.
In 1998, UnitedHealth Group had an awakening. The organization had been considering a change for a long time, but in 1998 they finally did it. UnitedHealth launched four new businesses adjacent to their insurance business.
Today, UnitedHealth Group is still the largest private insurer in the U.S., with over $100 billion in revenue per year. What’s even more impressive is that nearly one third of that revenue comes from their adjacent wellness and IT businesses, called Optum.
For an insurance company, that’s putting a lot of energy into solutions that are not insurance. But they do it because they realized what the rest of us are still trying to figure out: UnitedHealth Group isn’t in the insurance business – it’s in the business of providing access to effective healthcare. Their fundamental business problem is making healthcare work. Insurance has a role to play, but so do direct payment clinics, online pharmaceutical delivery services, hospital IT… the list goes on.
The challenge with our well-intentioned policies and low-cost insurance solutions today is the core assumption that the way insurance is built is the problem, and that the solution is providing more or better insurance. And that’s really the crux of an ambiguous challenge like healthcare: not mistaking solutions (like insurance) for needs (like access to care).
Instead of worrying how to merely provide people with insurance, the question entrepreneurs and healthcare leaders need to be asking is, “how do we give people access to the care they need in a more cost-effective way than the ER?” In fact, some folks have already been trying to answer it: •
What if you could subscribe to care directly?
Low-cost care you pay for like a gym membership. Take Qliance, just one of several primary care clinics that have popped up across the country.
What if you could pay for care in small, discrete amounts through low-cost walk-in clinics?
Walmart announced last year its intention to be the nation’s biggest primary care provider by expanding its clinics. Walgreens and CVS have made similar moves.
What if you could sign up for discounts in a variety of places by offering prescription discount programs?
Walmart, Walgreens, and CVS all offer drug discount cards. Instead of insurance negotiating with your drug company, CVS will.
What if it was easier for you to track your own health via self-diagnostics services?
Wellness FX is one of many services offering access to discounted lab work, ongoing monitoring, and access to a doctor network and recommendations. They’re more like your gym than your clinic. After all, your gym wants to keep you healthy.
What if you could leverage doctors anywhere in the world, instead of just the expensive ones next door, by using direct payment telemedicine?
Mobile and web services like Teladoc and Dermlink.MD are quickly getting sophisticated enough to offer remote diagnosis. Dermlink.MD claims it can complete a dermatology diagnosis and order medication in 24 hours for $99.
Taken together, these businesses show that if we can identify a business problem based on a clear, widely held, deeply felt need, we can easily generate a wide variety of solutions. Don’t be distracted by the negativity of the current debate over medical insurance. Solutions to our healthcare challenge are abundant – if we focus on access to care and not just insuring it.