Bigger may not be better: Does scale matter for payors?

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Whether scale brings competitive advantage to payors is a topic of hot debate. This post challenges standard assumptions about scale and sheds light on how to achieve desired value.

Whether scale brings competitive advantage to payors is a topic of hot debate. Many believe that consolidation is likely as the industry goes through the disruptive changes set in motion by reform. Some contend that anticipated margin compression and medical-loss-ratio floors will make scale efficiencies critical for achieving sustainable economics in the future. Others, however, note that managing the total cost of care is becoming central to a payor’s success, and question what advantages scale provides in such a world. If most health care is locally delivered, they argue, how much of the value created by cost-of-care management can scale drive?

Our research and experience suggest that for payors, the minimum threshold for efficient and effective scale is low. The primary rationale for scale emerges from the large fixed investments payors must make to develop the new capabilities needed to compete effectively in a rapidly changing regulatory and market environment (and to comply with evolving regulations). This rationale holds particularly true for payors that choose to build these capabilities themselves rather than through partnerships with external vendors, noncompeting plans, or other stakeholders in the value chain.

Yet, once the minimum level of scale is achieved, performance variability on administrative costs continues to be quite high. This suggests that for many payors the bigger opportunity to achieve administrative efficiencies is through operating model and organizational redesign, productivity enhancements, and application of design-to-value principles to core processes.

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Shubham Singhal Senior Partner