NHPC 2016: Care Integration as a Potential Alternative to Health Care Consolidation

By Cornelia Hall, Master of Public Policy Candidate, Harvard Kennedy School, Class of 2017

This is the second entry in a three-part series on the AcademyHealth National Health Policy Conference, held in Washington, DC, on February 1-2, 2016. Read the first entry here

Consolidation in the health care sector, particularly among providers and private insurers, has been rising since the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010.  Major movement is currently underway among the “Big Five” private insurance companies: Humana, Cigna, UnitedHealthcare, Aetna, and Anthem.  Two proposed “horizontal” mergers, currently under review by the Department of Justice Antitrust Division, would reduce these “Big Five” to the “Big Three.”  In this context, NHPC panelists discussed private sector consolidation’s potential impact on the cost, quality, and coverage of health care.  Several panelists expressed concern about the effects of consolidation on patients and the costs of services.  They also indicated, however, that the health care system’s ongoing transition to more coordinated care could help to offset potentially negative consequences of consolidation.

As the Justice Department analyzes the proposed mergers, industry analysts on the NHPC panel suggested that insurer consolidation could negatively affect patient experiences in the health care system.  Sarah Lueck of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities noted that the Affordable Care Act was designed to improve market competition, but the proposed insurance mergers could increase enrollees’ premiums and harm transparency for consumers.  She pointed out that this competition among providers also drives quality of care, which could suffer under consolidation. Continue reading