This is just one of the many questions that surely need to be addressed when you form the sort of partnership that the two large insurers announced in April. They hope to combine resources to capture the business of employers that offer health benefits to their retirees.

Humana brings to the deal dozens of Medicare Advantage plans that it offers throughout the nation. Cigna brings its huge customer base and presence in every state along with a client list that includes some of the country’s largest employers.

The partnership is even more unusual than one involving UnitedHealthcare and Towers Watson, described in MANAGED CARE last month. There, the deal was forged between an insurer and a consulting company in an effort to turn retiree benefits from a defined benefit into a defined contribution.

Les Funtleyder, an analyst at the consulting company Miller Tabak, tells the Associated Press that the Cigna-Humana partnership makes sense because the product lines of the two insurers don’t really overlap.

Sam Srivastava, Cigna’s president of government segments, says that “Through this alliance, we can expand Cigna’s portfolio, while Humana is able to expand its distribution to a larger base of employer customers for its Medicare Advantage plans.”

The partnership may be a harbinger, as health plans grapple with life after health reform, says Funtleyder. Maybe, but in both the Cigna-Humana deal and the UnitedHealthcare-Towers Watson partnership, the parties were talking before health reform became law.

“Had health reform not been passed, this would still make sense for both firms,” Humana spokesman Tom Noland tells the AP.

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There’s a lot more going on in health care than mergers (Aetna-Humana, Anthem-Cigna) creating huge players. Hundreds of insurers operate in 50 different states. Self-insured employers, ACA public exchanges, Medicare Advantage, and Medicaid managed care plans crowd an increasingly complex market.

Major health care players are determined to make health information exchanges (HIEs) work. The push toward value-based payment alone almost guarantees that HIEs will be tweaked, poked, prodded, and overhauled until they deliver on their promise. The goal: straight talk from and among tech systems.

They bring a different mindset. They’re willing to work in teams and focus on the sort of evidence-based medicine that can guide health care’s transformation into a system based on value. One question: How well will this new generation of data-driven MDs deal with patients?

The surge of new MS treatments have been for the relapsing-remitting form of the disease. There’s hope for sufferers of a different form of MS. By homing in on CD20-positive B cells, ocrelizumab is able to knock them out and other aberrant B cells circulating in the bloodstream.

A flood of tests have insurers ramping up prior authorization and utilization review. Information overload is a problem. As doctors struggle to keep up, health plans need to get ahead of the development of the technology in order to successfully manage genetic testing appropriately.

Having the data is one thing. Knowing how to use it is another. Applying its computational power to the data, a company called RowdMap puts providers into high-, medium-, and low-value buckets compared with peers in their markets, using specific benchmarks to show why outliers differ from the norm.
Competition among manufacturers, industry consolidation, and capitalization on me-too drugs are cranking up generic and branded drug prices. This increase has compelled PBMs, health plan sponsors, and retail pharmacies to find novel ways to turn a profit, often at the expense of the consumer.
The development of recombinant DNA and other technologies has added a new dimension to care. These medications have revolutionized the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and many of the other 80 or so autoimmune diseases. But they can be budget busters and have a tricky side effect profile.

Shelley Slade
Vogel, Slade & Goldstein

Hub programs have emerged as a profitable new line of business in the sales and distribution side of the pharmaceutical industry that has got more than its fair share of wheeling and dealing. But they spell trouble if they spark collusion, threaten patients, or waste federal dollars.

More companies are self-insuring—and it’s not just large employers that are striking out on their own. The percentage of employers who fully self-insure increased by 44% in 1999 to 63% in 2015. Self-insurance may give employers more control over benefit packages, and stop-loss protects them against uncapped liability.