Bright Health Group vows to boost cash reserves

Bright Health Group holds enough cash to survive the year and is exploring ways to tap more funds, executives said during the company’s first-quarter earnings call Wednesday.

The insurtech’s capital reserves have been a point of contention since Bright Health Group went public last year. At the time, its $13 billion valuation was the highest among the newly public insurance startups. It’s since fallen to $1.4 billion.

During the first quarter, Bright Health Group’s revenue rose 110% to $1.8 billion but its net loss ballooned 618% to $180.6 million compared to the year-ago period. Higher executive compensation, investment income losses, and escalating patient costs associated with its NeueHealth healthcare services arm and its Direct Contracting units offset the revenue gains, the company disclosed.

Bright Health Group reported non-regulated cash reserves of $365 million, which “still implies an imminent need to raise capital,” Cowen and Company analyst Gary Taylor wrote in a research note published Wednesday.

“Based on our growth and our performance we do believe we have enough capital to support the business for the next year,” Chief Financial Officer Cathy Smith said during the call. The company is “reviewing options for future capital needs,” according to a presentation provided to investors.

Bright Health Group holds $2.9 billion in total cash and investments. But state regulators would have to grant it approval to draw from reserves that exist to guarantee insurance companies have cash available to pay claims

The insurer is considering increasing the amount of risk covered by reinsurance to reduce its current operating expenses, a tactic known as quota sharing.

While this maneuver, which health insurance startups commonly use, has short-term benefits, it can prove expensive, said Ari Gottlieb, a principal at A2 Strategy Group. In exchange for freeing up cash, these companies expose themselves to higher costs over time because reinsurance companies can charge double-digit interest rates for carrying more risk, he said.

Moreover, state officials may be hesitant to permit Bright Health Group to boost its finances this way following technology glitches that led the insurer to delay claims payments for months last year, Gottlieb said.

The Colorado Division of Insurance fined Bright Health Group $1 million last month over its failure to pay claims and to communicate with members in a timely manner. The company has since implemented a new claims management system, Smith said.

Even if the insurtech were to receive regulatory approval to withdraw from its reserves, that wouldn’t generate enough savings to shore up its finances, Gottlieb said. “It limits the amount of capital they have to put into subsidiaries, but it doesn’t help resolve the parent company’s cash issues,” he said.

Cigna invested $550 million in the insurtech last year, providing a lifeline that enabled Bright Health Group to move forward as an independent company. Cigna has right of first refusal for any acquisition overtures the company may receive.

Cigna has said that it does not plan on making any large-scale acquisitions this year. At Bright Health Group’s current valuation, an acquisition would qualify as a small deal for Cigna, Gottlieb said. Cigna is likely to purchase Bright Health Group for its Medicare Advantage and healthcare services businesses at some point, Gottlieb said.

“We know how this story ends. We’re just not sure when it ends,” Gottlieb said. “Bright has not demonstrated that they actually have a viable path forward other than selling themselves or selling assets.”

Bright Health Group aims to break even on an adjusted EBITDA basis by 2024, CEO Mike Mikan said during the call.

To that end, the company is exiting six states, which will save $100 million, Smith said. The startup has also achieved the scale it needs to more effectively negotiate with providers and vendors and has implemented a new medical management system to better gauge patients’ health needs and control costs, she said.

The company’s insurance arm laid off about 5% of its employees last year and continues to reevaluate its workforce, Smith said.

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