Electronic Chat with Char Hu
Laura Mazzuca Toops | July 16, 2020
Electronic Chat with Char Hu
CEO, The Helper Bees
The Helper Bees is the first and only company to use data analytics to help long-term care practitioners deliver intelligent interventions. The company utilizes innovative technology to help long-term care providers reduce costs and improve outcomes by providing real-time data from the home.
You have an impressive background in gerontology, including member of the board of directors of the Texas Alzheimer's Association and on various eldercare boards and associations. How did insurance and insurtech come into your life?
It’s a long, convoluted, made-for-TV story. I started my career as a research scientist (my doctorate is in molecular biophysics). While I was completing my thesis using supercomputers to study protein folding, my grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. So, I left the academic research world and transitioned into founding Alzheimer’s and dementia facilities and a Medicare home health agency in my late 20s. Through the experience of founding companies in long-term care services, I realized that the current home care model was incapable of meeting the demands of the millions of Americans who would need it. This included a poor customer experience in the way that care is delivered and the interaction with the payer source. That’s why we founded The Helper Bees.
The first payer market we wanted to focus on was long-term care insurance but realized that there were many others with similar challenges; including workers’ compensation and disability insurance. From high costs, poor models of care delivery for claimants, and inability to access on-demand data. Now, I’m a huge convert to the awesome possibilities of innovation in the insurance industry. I’ve even written about how I think the next generation models for aging-in-place will come out of the LTC claims insurance side.
How long ago was Helper Bees started, and what was the impetus for its launch?
We launched The Helper Bees in 2016, by going through a renowned tech accelerator program, Techstars. It was an opportunity for our unique founding team to apply all of our expertise toward an intractable problem that we were all passionate about solving. The founders and I are this strange amalgamation of engineering, data science and long-term care experts.
COVID-19 has hit hard in nursing homes and among the elderly. How are Helper Bees helping to mitigate the crisis?
I’ve written a little bit about how the current pandemic is providing the push for carriers, consumers, and innovators to think through how we can decentralize care. This includes medical and long-term care. The push away from the centralized hub of care, like institutions, back toward the home is an important goal; it’s ultimately what all claimants want. The infrastructure to do this effectively isn’t in place yet. We’re trying to help in a number of ways.
First, our model for home care puts the control back in the claimant’s hand to decide on who provides care. Also, it intrinsically provides a lower infection risk when compared to other modes of long-term care. From a statistical perspective, reducing the number of caregivers who provide care reduces the probability of transmission.
Second, we quickly accelerated the launch of our virtual nursing assessments product. Through a virtual assessment with a nurse, carriers can continue to offer their assessments for both underwriting and claims, while eliminating the risk of infection. It is also more convenient for the claimant. We pair this with our digital nursing assessment app, and now we are able to deliver unprecedented digital insights to our carrier partners. We are seeing interest among many other insurance products for this technology, including life.
Finally, building off the big push for on-demand services that our world is moving toward, we expanded the capabilities of our virtual nursing assessments and now provide virtual care management services with our care concierges. This is highlighted in our large partnership launch with CNA Insurance.
Helper Bees recently aligned with CNA on its “The View from Home” program to help its long-term care policyholders age in place. How did the deal come about, and how specifically will it work?
This was a really exciting program to build out. You would be hard pressed to find a more thoughtful, conscientious and innovative team than the LTC Claims team at CNA, led by John Palmer. We were collaborating on a few other projects (digital invoicing and caregiver matching), and John brought us in to have a brainstorming session. The goal was to find where they should deliver a transformative claimant experience while preserving benefits for their claimants. No idea was too small or big. The View from Home program is what came out of it.
It’s easy to think that because we had a hand in crafting the rough outline of the program, that we were a shoo-in to win the deal. We weren’t. The team still put us through a very rigorous due diligence process, so much so that I didn’t think we would get the deal. Once we did, the real work began. The collaboration with the CNA team on messaging, content, and approach has been invaluable. We have been working with their team for months to get this right.
I’ll write about this soon, but the ambitiousness and thoughtfulness of this program when it comes to the breadth of services and data analysis is going to change the world.
Are there other insurers you’re planning to partner with?
We work with 13 major insurance carriers in both long-term care and workers’ compensation products, yet we are still growing rapidly. We’ve recently increased the size of our company by fivefold in just about 5 weeks so our expectation is to continue to expand our services and technologies into many other major carriers.
America’s senior population is rapidly growing. What do you see as the future for eldercare in the U.S., and where does Helper Bees fit?
The current focus of the aging-in-place industry is on building a more connected, seamless, and technology-driven experience. While this is a critical goal, we need to ensure that the human component is heavily integrated into the design of products in order to create a better model of care.
We are already taking steps to be the central hub of everything it takes to remain at home. To this end, our goal is to be the human API for the home -- where all new devices route through The Helper Bees are selected to deliver service to the care recipient, because ultimately you will need a fantastic person in the home to realize the full potential of all this new aging-in-place technology.
Long-term care insurance is sometimes a difficult sell for insurers. What message should they be conveying to underline the importance of this coverage?
That carriers have a very unique opportunity to be the guide of an entire generation of us who are embarking on our own aging-in-place journey. Through the sheer numbers and dataset that carriers have at their fingertips, they know how to do this well. This places a societal necessity on carriers to innovate.
What aspect of your job are you most passionate about?
Connecting multiple and disparate disciplines into a product experience that is so seamless and effective, that the end user has no idea what is happening behind the scene. They are just grateful for the outcome.
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