Health IT

Investment strategy at Cambia Health Solutions shows how to become a 21st century insurance company


A provider shopping tool.
A sensor system for elderly people.
A price comparison site.
A high-tech and high-touch approach to prenatal care.

This list reads like an accelerator’s portfolio, but these companies are not part of RockHealth or HealthBox. Instead, Cambia Health Solutions is building and investing in startup companies like these. Cambia is the nonprofit parent of insurance company Regence BlueCrossBlueShield, in Oregon and other regional plans under the Regence banner in Utah, Washington State and Idaho. Cambia is doing the necessary work to avoid fulfilling Aetna president Mark Bertolini’s prediction about the end of insurance companies. Cambia is considering the entire spectrum of healthcare services that people need, beyond just claims management.

Rob Coppedge

Rob Coppedge

To support this evolution to a 21st century payer, Cambia is supporting innovative ideas inside and outside the organization. Many of its wholly owned companies grew out of internal projects. hubbub health is a company initially built for its health plan clients but which now extends to a broader customer base. Healthsparq, which  uses price transparency to guide employer plans, was originally developed for its own plan customers but now serves 65 health plans. Other examples include Wellero, LifeMap, SpendWell and OmedaRx.

But Cambia investments span a much broader range of categories and include many technology-enabled services. There’s Wildflower Health, which is about high-risk pregnancy and pregnancy management, particularly for Medicaid patients; Qliance — a primary care provider; ClearCare — a health IT company for home healthcare agencies, Live!y — a remote monitoring sensor producer to support aging in place; CoPatient — a healthcare bill review service;  Retrofit — a weight loss program using wireless devices and apps; and PokitDok.

To get the full picture of the company’s strategy, I spoke with Rob Coppedge, a senior vice president of strategic investments and corporate development at the company.

“I think if you asked us what we would want to see in the market, we are looking at those tools that consumers want to use and that engage employees much more than typical programs drive them,” Coppedge said.

Among some of the underlying themes in its strategy, almost all of the companies it owns or invests in have a mobile strategy to use data more effectively to engage users. A good example of that is Retrofit, which Coppedge likens to the center pin in bowling for Cambia’s investments. “If we can just help people lose weight, so many other challenges could be addressed.”

Other themes include companies that will help shift the healthcare economy from wholesale to retail. It’s also interested in the kind of tools that will help providers shift from fee-based to outcomes-based care and tools that can support patients in that transformation. Provider-patient transaction methods are another area of interest. Supporting caregivers through tools like remote monitoring is also a priority. It doesn’t currently have investments in telemedicine and telehealth, but it hopes to change that soon.

He describes its investment targets as stage agnostic — it will invest in seed-stage to late-stage companies. “We cover early-stage businesses closely. The difference between us and other investors is we have the flexibility to support a seed-stage business and continue to back it until it becomes a late-stage business.

“The goal we have is to grow startups and acquisitions into longstanding great growth companies that will change the industry.”

Although it likes to invest locally, its investments have included the East Coast and Midwest. It has invested on its own, but it has also co-invested with others.  The group tends to take a hands-on approach and likes to work closely with companies to support their development. “We tend to put money where our mouth is and line up resources for companies we invest in.

“There is so much value in us as an industry in supporting innovation [through] early-stage investing and entrepreneurship. It comes down to the quality of the [management] team they have in place. People are the raw ingredients of success in companies at this stage and it is really hard to find those people, whether they are in the Bay Area or Omaha, Nebraska.”

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