Mpls. startup wants to simplify health insurance

Bob Sheehy
Bob Sheehy sees big opportunity in using smartphone technology and narrow provider networks to simplify and improve healthcare.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

It may not seem like a good time to get into the health insurance business.

Companies selling individual and family plans are racking up billions of dollars in losses, and most people get their health insurance through work or a government program like Medicare.

But a new Minnesota health insurance company is wading into the turbulent market promising to simplify the way people shop for and use individual health plans.

Bright Health, a Minneapolis-based health insurance startup, has garnered $80 million from investors.

Grow the Future of Public Media

MPR's budget year comes to a close on June 30. Help us close the gap by becoming a Sustainer today. When you make a recurring monthly gift, your gift will be matched by the MPR Member Fund for a whole year!

The investors pouring money into Bright Health are betting big on new approaches that could bring down the cost of health insurance and health care.

"I can't think of a riper pocket of the U.S. economy that needs to be improved and innovated and taken to the next level," said Mohamad Makhzoumi of New Enterprise Associates, one of the world's largest venture capital firms. "We're talking about an industry that has seen less innovation than the airline business over the last 30 years."

Bright Health says the heart of its business model is pairing smartphone technology with a single provider network.

The goal of a narrow network is to simplify consumers' choices and better coordinate care.

"What we're really excited about is the use of mobile technology to do that, said Bright Health CEO Bob Sheehy, who used to run industry giant UnitedHealth Group.

Mobile technology can decipher complicated insurance details to help customers know exactly where they can get care, Sheehy said, and what it will cost them.

Smartphones can also track healthy behavior for which Bright Health rewards its customers.

Efforts like Bright Health's could tap into the huge demand for health care and that's more affordable and easy to understand, said University of Minnesota health policy expert Steve Parente.

"It's a very smart strategy and potentially a way to really get the consumer to engage in a way that we just haven't seen previously," he said.

To hear more on Bright Health, use the audio player above.