What Not to Miss at the 2014 Northside Festival

06/04/2014 4:00 AM |

Innovation: Interview, Mario Schlosser


Talking with Mario Schlosser
of Insurance Industry Disruptor Oscar

By Shannon Hassett

It was only a matter of time before New York stole a piece of Silicon Valley’s spotlight. The best and brightest have started flocking to our city, and Innovation at Northside Festival is a gathering of the people behind the next big thing. Whether it’s an advancement in the science of donuts or the latest in farm-to-table tech, New York is where it’s all happening, and Brooklyn is its great incubator. On June 12-13, many of the most important voices in our burgeoning tech scene will be on hand for a series of speeches and panel discussions. One of these people is Mario Schlosser, who, as part of his company Oscar, is taking the dusty files of healthcare and putting them at your fingertips.

While a day doesn’t pass without an app-update notification, our insurance has remained unchanged for, what, a century? Now, at the onset of Obamacare, Oscar’s trio of tech-friendly entrepreneurs have set out to make some big improvements. Along with cofounders Josh Kushner and Kevin Nazemi, Mario is out to prove that data and design are the keys to navigating a better insurance system—a lesson that rings true for any business hoping to keep up in the digital age. We spoke with Mario about Oscar and the ways in which our healthcare system could benefit from fresh perspectives.


Because of the traditional background of people who go into insurance, how does that influence the way Oscar works? How is Oscar different from Blue Cross and
similar agencies?

We like to see it with three principles: work with what we think is simple, guide you through the healthcare system, and make you feel like the doctor of the family. That’s the triumvirate of things we want to accomplish. What that means is simplification. It’s hard to get this point of view with existing insurance companies.

We thought that if we see somebody doing something smart for your health that we want to back, we should just do that. As a result, we give our clients free televisits, something you can’t get with any other insurance company. Twenty-four/seven, you push a button and your doctor will call you back or your physician can e-diagnose you. Basically, it gets you treated and healthy in a matter of a few minutes. That’s one of those things where we’re in a unique position: we actually make you feel like the doctor in the family.

It sounds like you’re using technology to simplify the process of having insurance, so what kind of technology do you guys use internally? What’s some of the tech you’re offering customers of Oscar that is different from other insurance providers?
We like to say “using technology, data and design to create an insurance company.” It’s those three pieces. From the beginning, when we design a new feature and we think through what the insurance company should be doing, the designers and tech and data people invent this together. The technology side is simply connecting systems better. We say we build portals for our people internally, from the nurses that you saw to the customer service people you saw. They could pull up any tidbit of information about you as a member.

Are the doctors receptive to the technologies you are using? Do you find that it’s making any of them reject or gravitate toward Oscar?
When you walk into one of our 35,000 doctors’ offices, you still encounter some old technology, because there are many doctors that run their practices in traditional ways. The most astounding thing is that no matter which doctor you talk to—we sometimes reach out to them or they call us back and ask about Oscar—a lot of them have heard about us. They are intrigued. They seem like they mostly don’t have a good relationship with insurance companies that they deal with because of their clunky interface, the complex procedures the companies have toward members and that the doctors face as well. So when they hear about us using technology in different ways, they come and say, “Ok, I’m very interested in hearing how you’re going to do the same things for us doctors.” That’s a great starting point for us. This year has been a focus on doing smarter things for the providers.

Do you find you’re attracting a tech savvy customer base, or is that who you’re targeting?
It’s not who we’re targeting, per say. We want to become a mass market product. We want to be good for everyone. We really want to decrease cost in the system and increase quality. It’s not really interesting if we only get freelance programmers who think like us. We didn’t set out only to get them. We have a normal insurance company, in terms of handling everything from cancer cases to transplant cases.

How do you think health insurance is going to continue changing, and will technology lead that change?
We’re on the verge of a big change in the system. The system was very untouchable for a very long time, from the perspective of freelance or creative types. It was a system dominated by large companies. It was hard to break into it, but the market opened to more competition than there ever was before on the insurance side, the provider side and the doctor side. That will lead to a huge amount of change. People like us who come into the system and will either say as consumers, “This is ridiculous, why does it work this way? Change it,” or will say as new companies, “We agree, it’s ridiculous. Let’s change it.” You will see a shift in telemedicine. There’s tons of things doctors can do. You can video chat with them or phone call or send a picture of some mole you have to a doctor.

Which is saving the customer money.
Which is saving the customer money. It’s way more convenient for the member. It’s probably better for population health. There are tons of people who know they have chronic conditions who are not very well controlled. It’s difficult to move yourself to the doctor if you have a job you need to show up for everyday and things like that. It’s almost ridiculous it hasn’t broken through in bigger ways before. The research on telemedicine is very clear; it’s broadly accepted as a good thing for the system. It will lower costs, and it will increase quality. That stuff will happen more and more. There will be more innovative care delivery. There are all these urgent care facilities that are popping up in New York. Data importability is also an important part of this. Your doctor doesn’t have access to all your history. All these things will find some more common standards and would help make better calls on your health.

See Schlosser speak on “Empowering the Most Important Caregiver: The Patient” at 10am on Thursday, June 12, at Kinfolk Studios, and as part of “Crushing the High Barrier to Entry: Disrupting Big Industry” on Friday the 13 at Brooklyn Brewery.

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