On July 2, managed healthcare companies Centene and Health Net announced a merger in a cash-and-stock deal valued at US$6.8 billion, becoming the latest deal in an intensifying wave of consolidation in healthcare. The agreement has been approved by both companies’ Board of Directors and is expected to close in early 2016. The deal combines the two companies, with the joint entity having more than 10 million members and an estimated US$37 billion in revenue this year. The large-scale reform of US healthcare (instigated by the Affordable Care Act) was never expected to be a smooth and genteel affair. One of the immediate impacts was provider consolidation as health systems (which had endemic cost and profitability issues) looked for scale, efficiency, and lean cost structures. A similar trend was also expected in the payer space, but the rollout of the Health Insurance Exchanges (HIX), which operationalized last year, delayed the eventual M&A frenzy. Last month, America’s numero uno insurer, UnitedHealth Group (UHG), approached the number three, Aetna. The latter responded by buying number four, Humana, for $37 billion on July 3, capping a seminal week for mega mergers in health insurance. Humana was earlier reported to be close to a similar deal with Cigna. The second largest, Anthem, is in the midst of a messy takeover attempt as it relentlessly pursues the number five, Cigna (which rejected an initial US$47.5 billion bid). We covered the potential impact of the potential UHG-Aetna and Anthem-Cigna deals on IT services in a blog soon after the first rumors started floating.

Collateral damage – the Cognizant story

The announcement comes at an extremely inopportune time for Cognizant. The company had announced (with much fanfare) a marquee seven-year US$2.7 billion deal with Health Net last August. The engagement was unique in multiple ways. Along with Accenture’s Rio Tinto deal, it is the flag bearer of a bold new deal construct, which epitomizes the fundamental tenets of the As-a-Service economy and widely expected to herald the era of a consumption-based IT services model. Under the terms of the seven-year master services agreement (MSA), Cognizant was to provide a wide gamut of services to Health Net across consulting, technology, and administrative areas spanning claims management, membership and benefits configuration, customer contact center services, information technology, QA, appeals & grievances, and medical management support. Cognizant was to be held responsible for meeting specific SLA targets for improving the quality, effectiveness, and efficiency of multiple operating metrics. These included claims processing and routing times, customer contact center response times, and contact center customer satisfaction targets. In effect, a fairly wide ranging set of services with ambitious KPIs for accountability and governance.

The planned implementation was scheduled to begin in mid-2015. Given the Centene-Health Net deal, the implementation is being deferred, while the deal is completed pending the merger review and approval process. As a result, Cognizant does not expect any contribution (previously pegged at about US$100 million in H2 CY2015) from the deal, which the company can easily absorb without tempering its ambitious revenue guidance for the current financial year. Additionally, it also foresees that if the merger is completed, the existing MSA is not likely to be implemented, which (if it materializes) will be a major setback. Cognizant will still remain a strategic technology/operations partner to Health Net (under a prior contract) through 2020 with a total contract value (TCV) of about US$520 million. Cognizant has also negotiated the right to license certain Health Net IP for use in its solutions and “As-a-Service”platforms, which is not expected to be impacted by the proposed merger.

Looking ahead, despite the short-term loss of US$100 million incremental revenue, Cognizant’s CFO Karen McLoughlin has reaffirmed 2015 guidance as strength in other areas of the business are expected to offset the lost revenue. 2015 revenue is expected to be at least US$12.24 billion with non-GAAP EPS at least US$2.93. Overall, the contract was expected to be margin dilutive in the early years and in generally only “margin neutral over the long run.

Lessons for the services world 

As overall macroeconomic confidence is on the upswing and various industry drivers come into play, the M&A activity is only bound to intensify. This has a profound implication for service providers who are deeply entrenched in such large enterprises and need to be prepared to come out on top of any eventuality. One potential impact of such M&A is the tendency for the combined entity to rationalize its vendor portfolio – choosing to stick to a short list of key strategic vendors by trimming the sourcing pie. The selection criteria for vendors then boils down to specific value-differentiators, maturity of service portfolio, senior management relationships, competitive positioning, and account-level exposure. Technology/operations budgets also tend to shrink as enterprises leverage economy of scale and target operational efficiency.

The following image illustrates the current exposure of key service providers across UHG, Aetna, Anthem, and Cigna. As is evident, these mergers tend to benefit larger service providers that are typically well entrenched across the combining firms. However, a few, may find their portfolios at-risk given competitive underpinnings, sourcing maturity, and enterprise penetration.

Account-level exposure of key service providers

Net-net, we don’t expect Cognizant to be unduly impacted by the proposed merger given the current state of affairs and its leading position in the healthcare and life sciences landscape (poised to reach US$4 billion in annual revenue in the next 18 months). The opportunity at hand is not under threat but there will be significant shifts and redistribution between vendors. The healthcare market is poised to witness increased turbulence (we believe this is just a teaser of things to come) and service providers need to realign and reposition themselves to utilize this opportunity. Let the games begin!

As much has already been written about Cognizant and its Trizetto acquisition – including Everest Group’s take: The New “Big Blue” of Healthcare IT? – it is time for us to do a post-facto check on Cognizant’s healthcare IT services business, and ruminate on the state of the healthcare IT market.

What’s up with Cognizant’s healthcare business?

  • Healthcare@Cognizant officially crossed the 30 percent revenue share mark (just behind BFSI at 39.9 percent) in the first quarter of this calendar year
  • Cognizant is the only WITCH (Wipro, Infosys, TCS, Cognizant, and HCL) company with healthcare among its top three industry verticals by revenue
  • In fact, after its Trizetto acquisition, Cognizant’s annual healthcare revenue (in the range of US$3.2 billion) will be more or less equivalent to the sum of the healthcare revenues of WITH combined
  • Per Healthcare Informatics’ Top 100 Healthcare IT providers: Cognizant’s 2013 healthcare revenues, if added to Trizetto’s (a sum of US$2.94 billion) make it the second largest healthcare IT vendor on the list. It is behind only McKesson, and ahead of technology and services behemoths such as Cerner, Dell, Optum, Epic, and Allscripts
  • For the quarter ending March 2015, Cognizant’s healthcare topline grew 42.7 percent year on year, obviously driven by Trizetto’s numbers. Given the growth outlook company has shared with the market, Healthcare@Cognizant is headed toward becoming a US$4 billion unit in the next 18 months – which is huge.

Is healthcare IT a great market to be in?

Let’s put Cognizant’s numbers into perspective with our growth estimates for the overall healthcare IT industry. With the healthcare industry set to grow at a CAGR of 12 percent through 2020, and given what we have seen since we published the following in 2013, the market size projections for healthcare appear well on track to humble the pessimists among analysts.

Global healthcare ITO market

Healthcare – why so serious?

While services spending growth has been steady, especially for the payer and provider markets, the innovation side of healthcare IT has been sulking for a while. Yes, “sulky” is the word that comes to mind when you sit listening to a panel discussion on digital innovation at #AHIPInstitute2015 and not one panelist cites an example of innovation from the healthcare space. They either talk Uber or Airbnb. This is unfortunate.

Despite the huge numbers up for the taking, a big spike in the booming healthcare IT market will not come by unless there is a dawn of new and nimble technology start-ups that change the game of healthcare enterprises looking to move away from bespoke solutions to as-a-service models that reduce their time-to-value exponentially. For good or bad, the healthcare industry in the U.S. has always had an umbilical cord connection closer to Washington D.C. than to Silicon Valley. That is probably what curbs innovation in this industry from breaking out of its shackles to produce its own Ubers and Airbnbs. In my opinion, except for a few fitness/therapeutic/diagnostic wearable-focused investments, little causes titillation in the healthcare technology start-up space. Despite all the brouhaha on the B2C shift, consumer-focused investments are coming more from the enterprise IT side than from third-party innovation. Frankly, do we want to be in a world where Ford not only makes the cars but also drives the cabs? Hence, the question is – in a world dominated by technology vendors (Epic, GE, McKesson, and Philips) are we ready to declutch third-party innovation and let it bloom?

Is this a blog on Cognizant?

There was a reason we titled our blog about Cognizant’s acquisition of Trizetto, “The New Big Blue of Healthcare IT?” The simile was not to herald the dawn of a new behemoth, but to provoke the sort of nimbleness and courage in healthcare IT industry that IBM (the original Big Blue) has shown over the last many decades to stay relevant in the overall technology industry. In an industry with a muffled voice of innovation (few exciting start-ups), a few big bullies (large technology vendors, EMRs, etc.), and well-meaning presiding deities (government and legislatures), the push for change will have to come from outside.

  • Will it be the venture funds and geeks sitting in Silicon Valley who will do the trick?
  • Will it be the EMRs who open up their platforms for an integrated and interoperable healthcare world?
  • Will it be IBM’s Watson that will change the game?
  • Will a recently gone private Dell up the ante toward innovation?
  • Will Cognizant take up the mantle of being an angel integrator for healthcare innovators?
  • Will it be Infosys’ Vishal Sikka, whose US$500 million investment fund will drive traction?
  • Will Google or Microsoft provide the platforms that will gamify technology innovation?

Why did I harp on Cognizant while writing this blog? It was a rank outsider in the healthcare technology industry (well, almost, given its offshoring, pure play service legacy). Even if it becomes a US$4 billion healthcare enterprise, it will still be a fraction of the market. Via its investments, growth, and outlook, what it has given the industry is a peek into the kind of bravado that can make this market rock. We require more of this bravado. But, if it is going to be just once in a blue (pun unintended) moon, it will be rank boring. So, as the Joker would have said, let’s put a smile on that face!

This is the first in a series of blogs Everest Group is publishing on exciting opportunities and implications to watch out for in the healthcare IT services market.

Rumor mills are buzzing over the potential acquisition approaches made by suitors United Health and Anthem for Aetna and Cigna, respectively. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the growing focus on consolidation to drive health insurance premium/cost rationalization have led to these tactical maneuvers. While the equity analysts and investment banks have already started to split hairs on the potential implications for capital markets and stocks, our focus here is on the implications these mergers may have on the IT/BPO services market.

These four companies – Aetna, Anthem, Cigna, and UnitedHealth – are star accounts for some of the largest IT service providers that focus on the payer industry. Some service providers have so much revenue exposure to these accounts that their healthcare revenues can take a hit of over 200 basis points, simply as a consequence of IT budget realignments or vendor consolidation.

Impact on IT services

These potential mergers may lead to the following key transformational IT implications:

  • Systems and applications integration: Merging organizations reduce redundancy by retiring transactional systems and applications, and opting for integrated systems that can work across the merging entities. The biggest impact will likely be on claims, members, and product rationalization initiatives
  • Database and datawarehouse consolidation: This is one of the biggest imminent implications, as some of these organizations (especially Anthem) have gone through a decade long initiative to create an enterprise view of organizational data. Going through another round of database integration will be an imperative hard to push to a future date
  • Infrastructure rationalization: These are huge capital assets, and mergers often present an opportunity to divest some of these assets in favor of cloud-based (most likely private) services
  • Vendor rationalization: There are likely to be significant vendor redundancies, given that most of these organizations have mature vendor portfolios.

Implications for service providers

  • The most likely beneficiaries of these mergers will be service providers that have systems experience across both the acquiring and target entities, as this will help with any integration initiative
  • The second most likely beneficiaries will be service providers that are strongly entrenched in one of the entities and have indispensable systemic knowledge. However, given the potential hazard of these systems being retired as part of redundancy rationalization initiatives, these entrenchments can also be huge risks for these service providers
  • Competitive presence will also be a key differentiator. Service providers with smaller visibility into these accounts may find their portfolios being overtaken by competitors with wider system coverage and presence in these accounts. Organizations today do not fear putting all their eggs in one basket. In fact, they rely a lot on service partners that will not only share their risk but also be strong partners in their transitional initiatives.

The following image illustrates the current exposure of key service providers in these four entities. As you see, these mergers may be beneficial for most of these large service providers. However, a few, such as Infosys in UHG-Aetna, CGI in Anthem-Cigna, and IBM in both UHG-Aetna and Anthem-Cigna, may have at-risk portfolios given competitive underpinnings and systemic maturity of the acquirers.

We’ll be reporting our views on this story as it unfolds, so keep watching this space.

UHG Aetna Anthem Cigna Account-level Exposure of Key Service Providers

2015 BPO Market, I2 - commoditization

BPO segments that require deeper IP/domain knowledge and/or technology-embedded solutions are less prone to commoditization

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As I’ve blogged before, the healthcare space is at the cusp of a transformative change. Consumers are assuming greater ownership, control, and responsibility of health outcomes. Consequently, the decision making is shifting to the individual. Consumption patterns have undergone a significant change owing to disruptive mobile computing, rapid adoption of social media, next-generation sales/engagement channels, and ‘‘anytime-anywhere’’ information access. As individual consumers (patients and physicians) become more empowered, healthcare is transitioning to a principally patient-centric operating paradigm, with focus on cost, efficacy, and equity.

Analogous to what Uber has done to transportation, in progressive (and controversial) ways, there is a fundamental transformation in healthcare, placing patients at the center of all the action. These changes are reflected in the way reimbursements are distributed (moving from volume-based to outcome-based) and the onset of personalized medicine therapies based on real-world evidence. These gamut of changes are also aided by various cultural and socio-economic forces. The disruptive shift – from a healthcare provider-centric to a more customer-centric model – is driving significant healthcare investments in digital enablers of consumerization – social media, mobility, analytics, and cloud.

Healthcare consumerization levers

The New Kid on the Block

These winds of change have given rise to an immense opportunity to cater to this new patient-centric paradigm leveraging next-generation technology channels and enablers. Which brings us to Oscar, a New York-based health insurance start-up. Health insurance in the United States has conventionally been complex and non-transparent. With the advent of PPACA and health insurance exchanges (HIX), there has been a greater sense of accountability. Oscar aims to bring big data/analytics, design thinking, and transparency to the often-puzzling world of health insurance, making it smart, intuitive, and simple for consumers.

The idea for Oscar was born when one of its co-founders received his health insurance bill and realized that none of it made sense to him. The complexity and high entry barriers to health insurance can be gauged from the fact that Oscar was the first new health insurance provider to launch in the state of New York in more than a decade. The start-up sells coverage to individuals through insurance marketplaces in New York and New Jersey. The insurance plans offer free basic care including doctor visits, phone calls with doctors, preventative care, and generic drugs.

The company is backed by seasoned venture investors Peter Thiel and Vinod Khosla as it attempts to bring Silicon Valley mojo to health insurance. It was co-founded by venture capitalist Josh Kushner (an early stage investor in Warby Parker and Instagram), Kevin Nazemi (a Microsoft veteran), and Mario Schlosser (MIT Media Lab and hedge fund experience). The company’s strong digital health ethos is reflected in the senior leadership team – CTO Fredrik Nylander is a former Tumblr executive, Dave Henderson (ex-Cigna and EmblemHealth) is Oscar’s president of insurance, board member Charlie Baker is former CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, and senior medical executive hires from EmblemHealth, a leading health plan in New York state.

Oscar

What’s different?

Oscar’s value proposition is on being a more personalized health insurance provider, with a strong sense of convenience and personal attention, aided by marketing, design, and consumer service practices that are aligned to the needs of the millennial generation. It has a sizable emphasis on telemedicine (offering it free of charge), and lets customers speak to doctors 24×7 with a goal of 10 minute wait time or less. To help answer medical questions, the company has doctors on call to chat online or over the telephone with customers. Oscar also lets customers check prices for procedures ahead of time and offers three free in-person doctor visits and free generic drugs.

The company faced minor bumps in the beginning with poor reviews and complaints (an average Yelp rating of 2 stars), but has instituted a feedback input mechanism based on customer interactions. The company aims to productize every customer interaction by implementing feedback as soon as it receives it. It has a slew of partners and tie-ups in line with its strategic focus.

In December 2014, Oscar announced a partnership with Misfit (a wearable tech company), by offering members free fitness trackers, along with Amazon gift cards, as part of an attempt to incentivize healthy behavior and bring down employee healthcare costs. Oscar also offers services at many hospitals and retail locations such as New York CVS CareMark. It is a health insurance company that resembles a technology start-up rather than a faceless insurance behemoth, sort of a health insurance start-up for “born digital” natives.

The future

Since commencing operations in July 2013, Oscar has had a reasonable start. It had about 15,000 members and estimated revenues of U$72 million in 2014. It doubled that member base to 30,000 in January 2015, with one month of enrollment left to go. Oscar is seeking approval to enter California’s individuals exchange by 2016. The primary litmus test for Oscar is going to be the same as for any health plan – managing risk, keeping premiums reasonable, maintaining margins, handling payer-provider convergence, and improving health outcomes. Oscar is a prime example among modern companies looking to shape consumer-driven healthcare in the United States leveraging next-generation technology. As it looks at a reported valuation of significantly more than US$1 billion (implying a handsome 14x sales multiple!), the bet might just pay off.


Photo credit: Oscar

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