Going to a doctor every two weeks and the pharmacy weekly are signs you’re likely not on the path to optimal health.
Yet that’s the case for a “hidden population” of frequent health care users according to MOBE, a health management guidance startup with co-headquarters in Plymouth and Reno, Nevada.
Despite repeated doctor visits and numerous prescriptions this group generally doesn’t get much better, said Eric Hamborg, MOBE co-founder and chief commercial officer. Yet its recurring use of services drives up health care costs for everyone, he said.
In MOBE’s experience this group represents 5% of a commercially insured population but accounts for 15 to 20% of its health care spending, Hamborg said.
“They just keep running through the health care system and nobody’s taking a chance to say, ‘Can we take a step back here before we take two more steps forward?’” he said. “That’s what we do.”
MOBE (pronounced “mo-bee”) helps individuals learn to be “independent self-managers” of choices affecting their health, Hamborg said. Individual behaviors account for 80% of what makes people healthy or sick with unhealthy choices driving increasing health care costs.
MOBE offers health management guidance in the form of educational content and one-to-one support from health professional “guides” by phone, an app or both. The guides address choices affecting diet, sleep, movement, medication and happiness.
The hidden population of frequent health care users exists in part because “the physicians or the providers don’t have the time or tools to help people with what they need,” Hamborg said.
Roughly 25% of the insured population MOBE serves takes six or more drugs from six or more providers, Hamborg said. “You can imagine the disconnectedness that’s probably happening between all of those different providers. We have a pharmacy team that helps sort those things out.”
MOBE works with large employers and insurance companies including several Blue Cross Blue Shield plans nationally.
“On average we can see as much as 8% contraction in terms of claim savings,” Hamborg said. “There’s a significant opportunity for MOBE to help bend the cost curve in health care and guide more people to better health and more happiness.”
That’s critical because MOBE’s revenue comes from those savings, which it shares with customers.
“We didn’t want to add more cost to the system,” Hamborg said. “We’re compensated based on the savings that we derive by helping people get better.”
MOBE “fills the gap” between visits when doctors aren’t able to speak to patients about behavioral changes that can improve their health, said Dr. Johanna Vidal-Phelan, formerly managing medical director at a Blue Cross Blue Shield company in Pennsylvania that was a MOBE customer.
“What I like about MOBE is that they do that over a long time, developing that trusting relationship,” Phelan said. “I value that enormously because we need partners that help primary care physicians continue the message of wellbeing and lifestyle modifications.”
MOBE launched in 2014 “with a few guys in a garage,” all veterans of the pharmaceutical industry, Hamborg said. They included MOBE founder and chair Mark Evenstad, former CEO of Upsher-Smith Laboratories in Maple Grove. Evenstad’s family owned that pharmaceutical company for decades until its 2017 sale to Sawai Pharmaceuticals of Japan.
“We thought about wanting to do something different than just more pills for more people,” Hamborg said.
MOBE is not an insurance company or health care provider and does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment, its website states.
Private investors in Minnesota have financed MOBE, which has nearly 200 employees, Hamborg said. Most of MOBE’s core leadership team is in Plymouth while its recently opened co-headquarters in Reno that takes advantage of a “very friendly business environment” and relative proximity to Silicon Valley. MOBE has capitalized on that to hire data scientists and others looking to leave the valley’s congestion.
Q&A with MOBE’s Eric Hamborg
Q: How would you describe conditions for developing a health care company in Minnesota?
A: For the most part it’s been very conducive. There’s a strong medical or health care presence in Minneapolis. It’s been fairly easy to recruit people for the mission that we’re on. The environment has been helpful for us.
Q: What would help foster more startups and keep the industry growing?
A: We’ve worked with Medical Alley and they’ve been very supportive at aggregating people with like minds willing to be innovative and/or disruptive while at the same time trying to make health care work better. There seems to be this natural drive from people and/or organizations to figure out how to make health care work better. There’s a lot of medical technology at very startup-like levels. We’re fortunate to be surrounded by those types of people and those types of organizations that want to be aggressive in changing health care.