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As Obamacare reshapes the market, a startup finds success selling tech-savvy insurance

As Obamacare reshapes the market, a startup finds success selling tech-savvy insurance


Investors are impressed, although customer reviews are more divided

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The Affordable Care Act has set in motion a massive influx of new consumers into the insurance market, some who had no coverage before and others who want to change their plan. Oscar, a New York startup founded in 2013, has positioned itself as a technology company disrupting the traditional offerings. It has managed to sign up over 40,000 clients, and today it's announcing a massive new funding round of $145 million that values the company at around $1.5 billion.

"We approach it with the goal of building a better user interface and giving people more access to the flow of information," says CEO Mario Schlosser. "With other insurance companies, it is very hard to understand if you happen to be with a good doctor or exactly what benefits you have and how they work."

Oscar has slick website design and offers forward-thinking amenities. You can input your symptoms to its app and get suggested doctors, then start a teleconference with one click. Your recent visits, prescriptions, and lab work is all available in a handy timeline. The company will even give you a free fitness tracker so you can earn rewards for staying in shape and sharing that data with Oscar.

Customer reviews of Oscar, however, have been decidedly mixed. There are some five-star reviews on Yelp praising the company as the antidote to the confusion and bureaucracy often found with insurance companies. But it's averaging three stars, with a number of angry one-star reviews going on at length about how impressed they were with Oscar's design, pitch, and packaging, only to feel let down or betrayed by the actual coverage. The biggest complaint seems to be that there is a very limited number of doctors in Oscar's network, and there have been reports that the company makes it difficult to understand when you are covered and when you're not.

For now it seems Oscar is still constrained, at least some of the time, by the complexities and poor incentives that have bedeviled the US insurance market for decades. With this massive new funding round, it's planning to forge ahead. "We're just at the very beginning of building this out," says Schlosser. "The US health care system is so convoluted, but we’ve made strides simplifying it."