Blackstone looks to digital health to lower healthcare costs

Blackstone looks to digital health to lower healthcare costs

Gabriel Perna

05/15/24

News

Andreas Mang knows that executives like him aren’t always going to get a warm welcome from human resources leaders whose company has been acquired by Blackstone.

“A lot of companies will say, ‘Oh God, we were just bought by Blackstone,’” said Mang, CEO of Blackstone Equity Healthcare, which manages benefits for some of Blackstone’s portfolio companies. “I’m sure there are a lot of HR leaders who are saying, ‘Oh geez, what are these guys going to do?’”

Here's one answer: In addition to the typical to-do list after an acquisition, Blackstone is looking at the healthcare costs at its portfolio companies and trying to whittle them down. Mang said his team sometimes engages with the acquired companies' benefits team before a deal closes.  

Equity Healthcare provides benefits management to about a third of Blackstone's 230-plus portfolio companies. And recently, part of its process is advising companies on how to use digital health solutions to tackle the health conditions most costly to employers, such as diabetes, cancer and musculoskeletal disease.

Blackstone and two other private-equity firms acquired medical supply company Medline in 2021. Afterward, Equity Healthcare advised Medline to work with metabolic health solutions company Twin Health. The company uses artificial intelligence to create a digital twin of a person and connected sensors to help manage that person's diabetes.

More than 40% of the participating employees in the initial group have improved their conditions to where medications are no longer necessary, said Lori Buckley, Medline vice president of human resources and benefits. Nearly 90% reduced their hemoglobin A1C levels, which measures someone's average blood sugar levels.

Buckley said Blackstone's expertise has helped Medline sift through a crowded field of digital health companies.

“There are certain solutions for very specific conditions, and they will actually dig into the claims data to see how prevalent the condition is within their portfolio companies,” Buckley said. “If a certain program is promoting lots of medications, they’ve got a pharmacist that's looking to really tease out the why.”

The seven-member team of Equity Healthcare, which started in 2009, includes experience from a variety of companies, and much of its decision-making is driven by data. Mang was an executive at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts. Michelle Harika, who serves as chief clinical offer, holds a doctor of pharmacy degree and was an executive at CVS and Walgreens.

"We use data to determine what interventions are going move the needle, what types of people are going to engage with it and where their risk levels are at," Harika said.

The digital health companies recommended by the team say getting on that list doesn't come easily. Twin Health CEO Jahangir Mohammed said Blackstone Equity Healthcare was very skeptical when they met two years ago. It was won over by Twin’s ability to produce lab results on its patients vs. self-reported data, which is what other digital health companies rely on, Harika said.

“They’re a very discerning [team] because they know good data from bad data,” Mohammed said.

Portfolio companies who opt in to Equity Healthcare pay a fee to have their benefit plan managed on a platform Blackstone co-developed with its insurance carriers UnitedHealthcare and Aetna. The platform facilitates clinical care management and a concierge navigation services for participants. The division also acts as a group purchaser on healthcare tech tools and pharmaceuticals.

At a time when spending on healthcare has skyrocketed for most employers, Blackstone said companies in the program have seen an increase in medical and pharmacy spending that is far lower than the industry average. In total, Equity Healthcare claimed to reduce more than $1 billion in costs for the 70 companies.

“I think this is indicative of what the employer side in this whole equation of healthcare has the power to do,” Mang said. “If you bring people together, you can really do some pretty amazing things and get at a meaningful piece at least of improving healthcare.”

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