An early trend has emerged in which health insurers are now using apps to try to connect with pregnant consumers to ensure healthy, lower-cost deliveries.
With insurers paying an average of $18,329 each for natural births and more for C-sections and other complicated scenarios (like multiples and preemies), payers have a stake in maternal health. An analysis by Truven Health Analytics in 2013 found that maternal and newborn care comprise the highest category of hospital payouts for most private plans and state Medicaid programs.
Mobile health solutions
Pregnancy apps have now emerged as a tool to identify and communicate with expectant mothers in an effort to effect positive health outcomes and keep those costs contained. Whether it's working remains to be seen.
Among those piloting pregnancy apps are Massachusetts Blue Cross, using the Ovia apps from Ovuline; and Aetna and the Wyoming state Medicaid program, using Due Date Plus. These insurers could prove to be early trendsetters; insiders suggest other state Medicaid plans will be watching Wyoming closely as a potential model.
The BCBS story
BCBSMA is closely entwined in its effort with Ovuline. As Bloomberg Business reports, Zaffre Investments, BCBSMA's strategic investing arm, led a $3.25 million investment in Ovuline in May. Members who opt in and report data can receive personalized health and benefits information, as well as warnings if the app recognizes symptoms of health issues such as preeclampsia.
Leah O'Donnell, Managing Director at Zaffre Investments, says the company does not yet have data to indicate whether the app is making a difference.
"Our pilot with Ovuline is in the early stages and we do not have results on outcomes or costs," she told Healthcare Dive. "But we are excited by the number of members who are opting in to self-identify as BCBSMA members and engage in an alternate communication and information channel with their insurer."
However, O'Donnell adds that the company is committed to the strategy of providing digital tools to help members achieve overall health. "Many of these apps and tools help members better engage with their health, and in some cases we believe this will lead to early identification of future health risks and the possibility for early intervention to mitigate some of those health risks," she says.
While maternity care is being targeted first, BCBSMA will likely expand this type of effort to reach consumers with relevant apps for other conditions as well. O'Donnell notes that the Ovia fertility and pregnancy apps presented an opportunity to engage with members in a compelling way. "We are continually evaluating other apps and assessing the opportunity for those apps to have a positive impact on our members' health," she says.
The Aetna story
Aetna reports a similar story with Due Date Plus, saying its pilot program is designed to help members engage and benefit from other existing Aetna maternity support and programs.
"At this time we are still gathering information, and it is too early to draw conclusions on the pilot," Aetna spokesman Walt Cherniak told Healthcare Dive.
The app is positioned for a potential spread as a result of a recent deal with Xerox, which provides healthcare IT services in 38 states, to market it to Medicaid agencies.
Apart from whether pregnancy apps can be directly tied to savings, however, insurers may benefit from the added value provided to the customer.
Aetna offers numerous apps, tools, and services to members to its help them understand and manage their health, and offering a pregnancy app fits into that strategy, Cherniak says.
"As a result, members are empowered and encouraged to stay on track with their care and improve their quality of life," Cherniak said.