Humana’s competition for change

Health benefits heavyweight Humana Inc. (HUM – 11.5M members) recently launched ChangeNow4Health, an ambitious, optimistic coalition inviting anyone to submit ideas to fix America’s ailing health care system.

The top three entries receive a $10k prize, and the top 20 get publication exposure galore, including a spot in Humana’s forthcoming e-book, “Tomorrow’s Health Care.” The big winning concepts have a chance to secure further funding and incubation support from Humana.

Full Disclosure: Shortly after this interview was conducted, ChangeNow4Health became a sponsor of The Health care Blog. However, if you think that in any way influenced the content of this article, you don’t know the Health 2.0 folks very well…


On the second day of World Health care Congress 2008 in Washington D.C., I interviewed Elizabeth Bierbower, Humana’s Vice President of Product Innovation.

Bierbower, who has spent her career working with consumers, told me that ChangeNow4Health is looking for doable ideas that can quickly be put into play in the game as it is now, not how we wish it were.

They’re also harnessing the power of the semantic Web by partnering with Innocentive.com, an online community that posts projects from groups like the Rockefeller Foundation.

The contest has 4 categories:

  • Helping Consumers Make Smarter Health Care Decisions
  • Simplifying the Business of Health Care
  • Preventing Sickness and Maintaining Health
  • General Innovations in Health Care

The contest runs through July, and winners will be announced in August. Judges include industry experts, who are looking for “both an idea’s potential to bring about true change in a tangible way” and “feasibility for implementation now.”

Here’s a transcript of my conversation with Bierbower.

JMG: Why start an innovation competition? Do you really think
ChangeNow4Health communities (and winners) can ‘fix’ the broken system?

EB: We started this because we “understood changes need a wide
variety of participants to collaborate and discuss.” Humana staff
recognizes the value, intrinsic and extrinsic, of broad participation
in the program. Good ideas generate discussion, which generates more
good ideas. Good ideas also generate viable business models
(hopefully), and $10k is not a lot of capital to drop for a decent,
implementable business concept (or to recruit top folks from winning
teams who would otherwise fly under the radar).

In addition, those submitting a concept must give Humana and
ChangeNow4Health a “free, perpetual, and non-exclusive license to
practice any idea submitted for this challenge.”  So Humana doesn’t
just gain the winning ideas, it can bite off bits and pieces of
submissions if they have utility value.

Humana is using the
classic innovation melting pot model – throw a bunch of creative
innovators together in a pot, add hot water in the form of
critics/interrogators, and boil until you have an implementable plan or
product design.

Every innovation competition designers’ worst
nightmare isn’t too much participation, but rather a lack of viable
ideas posted on the site. (Humana doesn’t seem to be having any problem
there. The site has more than 100 submissions).

planners obviously thought this through…the best way to encourage
participation is to incentivize it. You’re always liable to get more
entries when prize money and a significant chance at corporate
incubation are the stakes. Although at first blush 10k might not
seem like a big award, other startup/innovation exchanges like
TechStars in Boulder award each founder $5k for the summer, for a max of $15k, to develop and incubate a business model with the aim of securing
big venture capital buyers in just under 3 months.

So Humana’s
program is ‘competitive’ in this sense as well, but entrants have a
better chance of winning because the focal point of entries must be
specifically health care related.

JMG: What are you actually hoping to get from ChangeNow4Health entries?

EB: We want to get the snowball rolling downhill and be a catalyst for
change. We’d love to see some ideas come to fruition, that’s why we’re
offering incubation in the Humana Innovation Center. We want to see
some things pushed out to market. It could go anywhere really.
When you ask for “ideas” – this is the idea hive, the hub. We want to
have this interaction that allows us to pick from the best and the

We’d even love to see partnerships develop – we’d love
to see some of the Blues, Aetna – let’s not work against each other. If
it’s for the betterment of the consumer why not?

JMG: How are you going to get the word out about ChangeNow4Health in the blogosphere?

EB:  We’ve partnered with Dr. Jacque Sokolov, he’ll bring in some policy wonks, and hopefully they’ll start blogging as well.

addition our three online communities are moderated by three prominent
health care bloggers. They include Fard Johnmar, founder of Envision Solutions,
Clive Riddle president of MCOL, and Dmitriy Kruglyak of Trusted.MD. Online
communities include: Helping Consumers Make Smarter Health Care
Decisions, Simplifying the Business of Health Care, and Preventing
Sickness and Maintaining Health.

JMG: In other markets how are you spreading the good word?

EB: We’re using advertising in the medical community, business journals and
employer communities, but also we’re hoping to reach general consumers.
Our CEO often speaks about change so we have this covered.

Innovation xChange is looking for practical ideas and suggestions for
improving the health care system. All participants in the system, from
providers and health plans to consumers and government, are encouraged
to join in the discussion.

JMG: Where’s the industry going, and how will consumers be involved?

EB: At ChangeNow4Health we want to be an incubator for the industry. Our
goal is to bring together like-minded people to share best practices
and develop solutions. We want to find good ideas and bring them to
fruition. Consumers are smart. We believe they can make wise decisions
and take control of their health and health care financing. We don’t
have all the answers.

But at least Humana knows who does – the
health care consumer. Let’s see what comes out of ChangeNow4Health –
it’s going to be an interesting summer for consumer-directed,
patient-centric care companies, that’s for sure. Depending upon the
success of this inaugural campaign, ChangeNow4Health may host an annual
ideation competition.

JMG: Do you think change will happen all at once, or will we gradually integrate consumerism into health care?

EB: There are a lot of moving parts. We think incremental change, over
time, has the best chance of success. But the current discussions need
to go beyond talk and move towards action. Innovation xChange
demonstrates a commitment to doing just that.

THCB Readers – To
submit an idea, register at ChangeNow4Health.com. Or just ‘lurk’ and
view the community submissions before voting on ideas.

6 replies »

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  2. How about starting with the innovative ideas collected from healthcare organizations across the country already compiled on AHRQ’s Health Care Innovations Exchange: http://www.innovations.ahrq.gov ?
    The Health Care Innovations Exchange is an AHRQ program designed to support health care professionals in sharing and adopting innovations that improve the delivery of care to patients.

  3. John, “The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it.”
    I take Humana’s “ChangeNow4Health” as a PR campaign (hardly courage) to be seen wanting change while staying the same and preserving a business model that blocks true healthcare reform. I would like to know what dollars are being spent on this as compared to the dollars spent lobbying Congress to keep things just the way Humana likes them. If you do a search you’ll find plenty of charges and fines for Humana overcharging Medicare and other not so, “progressive” schemes to separate premium payers from their money.

  4. Peter,
    Like talk, cynicism is cheap.
    You ignore the fact that institutions are rarely monoliths. There are almost always progressive and – let’s say – “less progressive” blocks within them. I personally think this shows some institutional courage …

  5. have any of the ideas generated from ChangeNow4Health actually been sourced in innocentive as projects. that is a true innovation network. thanks for sharing.

  6. Do you think I’d be eligible for the 10k prize when I suggest we go to single-pay and get rid of insurance companies?