White House shines spotlight on health care tech companies

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and it goes hand-in-hand with one of the most tedious deadlines of all — at least until April 15 (aka tax day) rolls around. December 15 marks the deadline to sign up for health coverage in order to be covered in 2016. And, seemingly recognizing that making sense of the complex health coverage landscape is about the least festive thing there is, the White House spoke up today with a dispatch about health care technology.

White House digital strategy director Joshua Miller took to the blog to discuss the record low of uninsured Americans, as well as highlighting few of the companies that are leveraging technology to help the uninsured get coverage. Some of those companies include ZocDoc, an online appointment-booking service that will be reminding its users to enroll for coverage and Oscar, a health insurance startup that made a PSA aimed at demystifying coverage.

“We know that many uninsured Americans question whether they can afford coverage, and may not realize that more than 7 in 10 HealthCare.gov customers can find insurance for $75 a month or less after tax credits,” said Miller in the White House blog post. “So for uninsured Americans who remain skeptical about the costs of getting insured, health insurance company Oscar Health has created a digital video public service announcement (PSA) that explains why health insurance is actually more affordable than people may think. Oscar will distribute this video in key markets online, too, including in California, New York, and Texas.”

On the receiving end of a hefty $32.5 million investment from Google back in September, Oscar is a health coverage startup that helps people choose coverage options with straightforward, plain-language plan comparisons. Leaning heavily on technology and simple design, Oscar helps customers keep track of care and connects them to providers in an attempt to improve upon the outdated systems that create separation between customers and coverage. 

“At Oscar, we are constantly pushing ourselves to find new and creative ways to engage consumers through the use of technology and provide members, as well as the uninsured in our communities, with the knowledge they need to get care, says Oscar CEO Mario Schlosser. “We are incredibly motivated by the support the White House has shown us today on this initiative and are proud to share this video we created on just how simple it is to sign up for an affordable plan through the ACA.”

The deadline, it creeps. But understanding the way coverage works in the age of the ACA is a big part of solving the uninsured problem, and the administration’s recognition of the vital role of technology in tackling some of our country’s biggest issues remains a pivotal thread in the tapestry of what Miller calls “today’s collective challenges.”

Why Google is taking a closer look at disrupting health care

In its first investment since the announcement that Google would become Alphabet, Google Capital has put a major vote of confidence into the future of health care in the tech sector.

A vote of confidence to the tune of $32.5 million.

Google Capital, a growth equity fund and part of Google/Alphabet’s investment arm, has previously backed ventures like Duolingo, Survey Monkey, and Glassdoor, as the Wall Street Journal points out in its report. Now, Oscar Health Insurance Corp. joins those ranks, but there’s reason to believe Google’s interests in health care go beyond the investment.

Oscar is a health insurance startup that hopes to change the way that people buy and interact with their health care coverage by using technology paired with simple and intuitive design. By clearly laying out coverage options, connecting customers directly to providers, and keeping track of care, Oscar already sets itself apart from the pack of large health insurance providers, which continue to lean on outdated technology that drives a wedge between customers and their coverage.

Health care is slow to change, and the tech is outdated,” says Forrester Research health care analyst Kate McCarthy. “New competitors help push large payers forward and are a good way to test the market to see what works.”

Oscar isn’t the only startup attempting to push the health insurance industry forward, though. Accordion Health‘s customer-facing insurance solution Pistachio helps customers explore their options by comparing Medicare Advantage plans side-by-side.

“I think Oscar is a starting point for a huge change in health care, and we are working just as hard (or harder) in bringing about consumerism within health care through our tools, such as Pistachio,” says Accordion Health CEO Sriram Visiwanath. “We have a fraction of the resources of Oscar, but the same shared goal of making health plan risk management way more operationally, financially efficient, consumer-driven and UX-centric.”

Startups have a habit of moving industries forward (usually), and the health insurance industry is no exception. As companies like Oscar enter the marketplace and provide customers with options and transparency, expectations within the open market shift.

Health coverage is already moving in two directions,” says McCarthy. “More plans are being offered with high deductibles. This shifts much of the upfront investment in health expenses to the patient… In turn, this is pushing patients/consumers to expect more options in health plans and greater transparency on cost and quality outcomes. Startups that can be good patient navigators and agents of price transparency have a big spaaaaaace to fill in the industry.”

Google Capital’s $32.5 million investment boosts Oscar’s valuation up to $1.75 billion, according to a source from the WSJ report.  Though certainly a new direction for Google in the health care space, the recent investment is far from the company’s only foray into the health industry. For instance, Google Life Sciences, which is focused on technologies that push health care technology forward (like glucose-monitoring contact lenses), very recently hired Dr. Thomas R. Insel, who was previously the director of the National Institute of Mental Health.

Google (Alphabet) is clearly making a play to expand their presence in the health care marketplace,” says McCarthy. “Oscar represents an opportunity to invest in a model consumers are responding positively to and is a smart choice for Google.”

For now, Oscar is only available in New York and New Jersey, but plans to extend service to California and Texas beginning in 2016.

Insurance provider Oscar will reward you if you hit your step goal

Oscar, a health insurance provider based in New York, plans to offer every single one of its subscribers a free fitness tracker, the Misfit Shine. If Oscar subscribers hit their step goals, Oscar will give them $1 in Amazon credit, up to $240 per year.

Vimeo debuts Focus Forward, a film series about the big ideas in tech

Vimeo has joined forces with General Electric(s GE) and video publisher Cinelan to launch “Focus Forward” — a micro documentary series that aims to showcase big, world-changing technology innovations in a compelling way. All the videos will be three minutes long and posted online.

Oscar Monetizes the Two-Screen Experience, But Is It Too Soon?

ABC and the Academy are going all out with a two-screen video experience for this year’s Oscars to accompany the telecast. But they’re also charging for it — a concept which runs counterintuitive to the reason for creating the two-screen experience in the first place.

Vid-Biz: Cord-Cutting, IAB, Kyte

Report: Video Cord-Cutting a Myth; Sanford Bernstein analyst Craig Moffett says television subscriber additions grew by 441,000 in the fourth quarter of 2008. (Telephony) Bernstein’s research follows LRG’s data showing online video is not impacting TV subscriptions.

IAB Working to Develop Best Practices for Ads in TV Shows Online; issues to be discussed are the number and placement of ads in TV long-form programming. (TVWeek)

Kyte Launches iPhone Apps Framework; allows Kyte partners to create an app that includes video, live chat and monetization. (TechCrunch)

Oscar Video on Oscar.com Only; ABC keeps clips off YouTube. (MediaMemo) (And this isn’t the first time, either.)

History Channel Launches First Web Series; Great and Telling Tales with Timothy Dickinson offers up interesting nuggets from the past (like the extraordinary death of Rasputin). (The History Channel)

SAG Rejects AMPTP Offer; 73 percent of SAG’s board voted against the proposed contract. (The New York Times)

Vizio Takes No. 2 Spot in Fourth Quarter Flat-Screen Sales; company’s value-oriented sets catching on with cost-conscious consumers. (The LA Times)

Where to Watch the Oscar Nominations

Awards season enters the home stretch tomorrow as the nominations for the 81st Academy Awards will be announced at 5:30 a.m. (ET). Unlike last year, the nominations won’t be live-streamed, but video of them will be available on Oscar.com at roughly 6 a.m., along with trailers for each of the films. But Oscar isn’t entirely leaving video out in the cold.

Oscar.com will feature The Road to the Oscars, a hosted daily show that will cover all the events leading up to the events. Backstage at the actual Academy Awards ceremony there will also be a “Thank You Cam,” which will let long-winded stars continue their appreciation after they’ve been booted offstage; the “Backstage Cam,” offering exactly what you think a backstage cam would; and the “Press Room Cam,” capturing all the excitement of hearing the question “How does it feel to win?” being asked over and over and over.

The Academy Awards show happens on Sunday, Feb. 22 at 8 p.m. (ET).