Are We in a Recession? Executives at HLTH Weigh In

The HLTH confertainment or Covid-19 coming out party [just follow the joy of people snapping pics with Zoom acquaintances on the HLTH2022 Twitter hashtag] ended Wednesday having attracted thousands to the event in Las Vegas. There was a definite self-congratulatory vibe in the air — healthcare executives of all stripes boldly declaring that they were tackling the biggest problems in healthcare be it patient centricity, health equity, access, or diversity and inclusion, and doing it better than ever before.

Amid the multiple eye-popping stage designs that were a testament to the thoughtfulness of the organizers, and the uplifting spirit of 8-year-old Ukrainian Amelia Anisovych’s rendition of Let it Go, it was almost easy to forget the economic quagmire the country remains bogged down in: the number of the people struggling with high inflation; the wave of worker layoffs; the strain on hospitals if they are even open and a sense of foreboding about the future.

And so MedCity News’ editorial team fanned out at HLTH and armed with their smartphones asked every executive they could find (and who were willing to speak on the record) about the burning question of the day: Are we in a recession and how are you managing your business? Here’s how executives responded: [transcribed and edited]

Frank Harvey, CEO of Surescripts, an e-prescribing platform
Well, if you look at what Jeff Bezos said yesterday — he advised Americans, which I think is somewhat dangerous to do – not to buy. Cut your spending back – don’t buy TVs, don’t buy cars. Comments like that push us into recession. The one thing we know with healthcare is that healthcare doesn’t go into recession. We all need healthcare. We all need to make healthcare better.

Web Sun, Co-founder and President, Komodo Health, a health data analytics company
Yes, we are in a recession. This is one of those times you have to be extremely prudent, extremely thoughtful, extremely strategic with where you are investing your capital. So, doubling down on the things that are working and figuring out those that aren’t to make sure that you are being efficient with your spend.

Jason Gorevich, CEO of Teladoc, a telemedicine platform
I mean, I’m not an economist. I think economists would say that the data actually doesn’t indicate that we are currently in a recession, but we’re certainly at risk for a looming recession as we look into the next several quarters. I think everybody in this environment has to be conscious of cost controls, and really the inflationary environment relative to the consumer and their disposable income. For us, actually, we tend not to be very sensitive to recession.

Caitlin Donovan, Head of Uber Health, Uber’s non-emergency medical transportation service
I wish I had a better answer. The real answer is that I don’t know. I think that there’s a lot of things going on that demonstrate positive momentum but then there’s a lot of things going on where companies are planning for the worst — they’re pulling back spend, which I think has the beginnings of a vicious cycle at play. So I think it’s certainly a wait-and-see period where we at least need to plan for what’s going to happen if we are in a recession.

Sachin Jain, CEO of SCAN Health Plan, a Medicare Advantage health plan
I do not think we are in a recession. I do think we are in a correction. And what I mean by that is that we’ve seen a lot of investment in healthcare for the last several years, which has let a thousand flowers to bloom and over time there’s going to be a consolidation and I think there’s going to be a few winners emerge in every category, so we’ll see a thinning of the field.

Jonathan Salon, President, MDLive, a telemedicine platform
I would say technically we’re not in a recession. Given the way the economy is with rising interest rates and higher inflation, we’re managing our business much more conservatively but we are still growing the business. So we are investing in the business, but we are being cautious with the way we manage our operations day to day knowing that we are in a tough economy right now.

Julien Phamm, Founder and Managing Partner, Third Culture Capital (3CC)
Yes, unfortunately, we are. We are looking for businesses that truly want to be smart about the use of capital  and founders that are going to tighten their belts and try to do the most they can being resource constrained.

Katie DiPenna Cook, SVP of Partnerships at Headspace Health, a mental health company
I think it’s a hard question to answer. What I would say is that any company, any business should be doing what we need to do to prepare for a recession. We just went through a rigorous planning session. We are well positioned … but as a mental health company, there’s a human aspect as well and we have to be thinking of our members who could be facing layoffs, or facing economic challenges, rising prices — all of this is adding to stress, and anxiety and depression.

Oliver Kharraz, founder and CEO, ZocDoc, a scheduling platform for hybrid care
Yes, we are. I think that from all the indicators we can see – companies are laying off workers, consumers are cutting back their purchases, everyone is talking about being in a recession how they are adjusting their plans – even if economists were to disagree with that, I think functionally we are in a recession.

Jonathan Bush, CEO, Zus Health, a health data platform
We are headed there. We are tottering on the precipice, and once some of that $1.9 trillion recession creation act or whatever that was called dries up and when [interest] rates come up a couple of points and when these layoffs that have been happening across the country kick in we’ll be there. [Editor’s Note: It appears that Bush is sarcastically referring to the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief package that Biden passed in March 2021 and not the Inflation Reduction Act.]

Ann Barnes, CEO of Intelligent Medical Objects, a clinical documentation company
Yes, unfortunately, I believe we are. We are really on the offense in taking the opportunity to obviously be smart about what we do but make investments in more technology, more products that offer value to customers as it relates to ROI.

Dan Trigub, CEO of MedArrive, a home health firm
So even if we are not in [a recession] today, we are headed that way. Yes, I believe we are on track for that. The no. 1 thing is being an efficient and lean business, without overspending, not spending on a $250,000 booth here at HLTH and being very cautious with our capital.

Maayan Cohen, CEO of Hello Heart, a remote patient monitoring company
Yes, we are. We are increasing our activity around verticals that are going to be a lot more recession proof. We have had huge success this year with government and state accounts, so we are certainly doubling down on those activities.

Andrew Parker, CEO of Papa, a social support company for seniors
I actually don’t know if it’s a “yes” or “no” question. I think kind of. Our plan is to make sure that we are hyperfocused on what we’re building, which is a platform to help older adults and families and to really stay in our lane and keep our head down and be thoughtful about the money we spend and where we place our bets.

Micha Breakstone, CEO of NeuraLight, an AI-driven platform for neurology
I am not the authority to answer. I am not an economist. I really have no idea. While I don’t know if we are in a formal recession, I do know the funding environment for startups has changed tremendously, so you’re not going to be able to raise money if you are not showing amazing results. We’re well funded … but we’re working on a very tight budget, making sure we have enough runway to make it through two-three years [or] as long as it takes for the next round of funding and also doubling down and showing results as soon as possible.

Photo: HLTH

Katie Adams, Marissa Plescia and Frank Vinluan contributed to this article. 

MedCity News is a partner of HLTH.