Google Invests in Health Insurance Company

Published October 15, 2018

Verily Life Sciences, a division of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, which works on new technology to prevent and detect diseases, invested $165 million in the firm earlier in 2018.

Oscar Health says it plans to use part of the new investment to hire engineers, data scientists, product designers, and clinicians. Google said in an August 14 statement it plans to invest in data to make health care less expensive and more efficient.

Oscar Health calls itself “a new kind of health insurance company,” one with a focus on innovative strategies and systems, such as utilizing telemedicine and transparent pricing models.

Eyeing Medicare Advantage

Officials at Oscar Health say Google’s investment will enable the firm to expand into Medicare Advantage (MA), a supplemental, private-sector insurance option for Medicare recipients that covers all Medicare services as well as provides additional coverage for vision, hearing, and dental care. Most MA plans also offer optional prescription drug coverage.

“We will continue to build a member experience that lowers costs and improves care, and to bring Oscar to more people—deepening our expansion into the individual and small business markets while entering a new business segment, Medicare Advantage, in 2020,” Oscar Health CEO and co-found- er Mario Schlosser said in a statement announcing the partnership.

The Trump administration has reduced regulations on Medicare Advantage, including “reinterpreting the standards for health-related supplemental benefits that increase health and improve quality of life, including coverage of non-skilled, in-home supports and other assistive devices,” the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services states.

Tech vs. Government

Edward Hudgins, research director for The Heartland Institute, which publishes Health Care News, says the added competition in Medicare Advantage will be a boon for consumers.

“Google’s investment of $375 million in Oscar Health is yet another example of how the private tech firms that gave us the communications and information revolutions are serious about sparking revolutions—both in health care itself, finding cures for diseases and ailments that have plagued us throughout history, and in the insurance and health care delivery system,” Hudgins said. “Google is also working on applications of artificial intelligence to diagnostics and to management of medical data, to help researchers discover new treatments and therapies and assist physicians treating patients.”

Hudgins says technology companies will reshape health care by increasing efficiency and the adoption of patient- friendly platforms, but he also warns that government remains a big obstacle to innovation.

“These tech firms will become much more important than government in ensuring us long and healthy lives,” Hudgins said. “But they still need to appreciate that government, through its regulations of health care, especially Medicare, has created the high costs and gross inefficiencies that they are now working to overcome.”

Chris Talgo ([email protected]) and Emma Kaden ([email protected]) write from Arlington Heights, Illinois.