New Bain Investor Yumin Choi on Obamacare’s Future, Surviving Cancer

Xconomy Boston — 

Bain Capital Ventures has a new person leading its healthcare investments.

Yumin Choi has joined the firm as a managing director, after a decade as a partner at HLM Venture Partners, a Boston-based, healthcare-focused venture firm.

Choi has a deeper, more personal understanding of the healthcare industry than most investors. Two years ago, the 33-year-old was diagnosed with lymphoma. His cancer was very aggressive, and if chemotherapy failed to eradicate the disease, he might not have lived another year, he says in a phone interview with Xconomy.

Fortunately, the chemotherapy treatment was successful, and he says he is now cancer-free.

Choi says he was lucky, and he learned a lot from the experience. For one, it made him realize that even for informed healthcare consumers, the U.S. healthcare system can be “overwhelming” and “confusing,” with patients having to navigate complicated treatment plans and coordinate care with doctors, nurses, and other caregivers, he says.

“When you go through these life events, it helps clarify things,” Choi says. “What it clarified for me is healthcare is absolutely where I want to be.”

Choi says he was sad to leave HLM, but he’s excited for the opportunity at Bain Capital Ventures (BCV), an affiliate of 33-year-old Bain Capital. BCV has $3.7 billion of assets under management and has backed the likes of LinkedIn, SurveyMonkey, Rapid7, and Kiva Systems, as well as healthcare-related firms such as Quanterix, Humedica, Liazon, and MinuteClinic.

Choi will remain based in Boston. He will focus on investing in companies nationwide that are working on products and services in healthcare analytics, behavioral health, digital health, home and elder care, and population health management.

“There are so many things that are great about our healthcare system, but there are so many opportunities as well,” he says. “I’m excited to focus on those opportunities [that] I think will make a real impact—lowering costs, improving quality, and focusing on the consumer experience.”

Choi joins BCV at a crucial juncture for the U.S. healthcare industry, as President-elect Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress have pledged to repeal the Affordable Care Act. I asked Choi about the impact of political machinations on his job, his predictions for the healthcare industry, his approach to investing, the personal impact of his battle with cancer, and more. Here are some more highlights of our conversation:

Xconomy: It’s an uncertain time right now for the U.S. healthcare system, given the possible repeal of the Affordable Care Act. As a healthcare investor, how do you plan for that?

Yumin Choi: The fundamentals behind healthcare remain strong. I think we spoke briefly three years ago … and the things we were talking about three years ago are still relevant now. The cost [of healthcare] is increasing. Healthcare is the largest part of the GDP, and growing. Decreasing costs is a huge issue.

Improving quality is a focal point. You see that not just in the ACA, but across every sector within healthcare. Improving quality is something everyone talks about. There are not only incentives for that, but a lot of disincentives to not just focus on volume.

The third [thing] is the importance of consumerism—that consumers have a voice in healthcare and become more accountable for their own healthcare.

I think those fundamentals—the foundation of healthcare—remain strong. I don’t see that changing even in the near term, or the long term.

That being said, there’s going to be changes with the new administration. But if you look at bundled payments, you look at the Affordable Care Act, it’s a pretty complicated platform. To be able to just unplug that and repeal all of it is not really realistic. The shift from fee-for-service to value-based care has happened. There’s already data that shows we can save costs and drive better outcomes. I think the boat’s already left on that one.

There may be some changes around the margin. But fundamentally, there are certain things like the payment structure, like the way care is being delivered—I think those things will continue to evolve. That’s what gets me excited within BCV.

X: What’s one prediction for the healthcare industry in 2017?

YC: I think what you’ll see this year is what you’ve been seeing from the past five years, but it’s going to be more prominent. Digital therapy is on the forefront.

Access to care is a huge issue. If you want to see a [primary care physician] for non-emergency care, in Boston it’s a four-month wait list. If you want to see a psychiatrist after you’ve been clinically diagnosed with depression, you want to see a doctor in Massachusetts, it’ll take six months.

These trends are only getting exacerbated as more people come into the [healthcare] system.

X: What did you mean by digital therapy? Telemedicine?

YC: Telemedicine is one aspect of it. I think other aspects of digital therapy are like … a text-messaging platform to engage patients or members to do a smoking cessation program, or opioid management, or pain management. That doesn’t necessarily need to be done in person or even with a person over the phone.

Another prediction I think I would make is as you’re seeing the shift of consolidation of providers happening, typically on the primary care side, I think you’re going to see more companies like Iora Health or One Medical or other ones out there starting to become more mainstream. It’s really the shift to try to do value-based care, and for physicians to try and remain independent. I think you’ll see a bigger shift [toward] that this year. I think that shift is probably a good thing for us to have various options.

What’s great about healthcare in the United States is it’s not just one system with one type of hospital. I think the proliferation of that through value-based care, whether you call it an ACO [accountable care organization] or whatever the nomenclature, I think is interesting.

X: How has your experience fighting cancer changed your outlook on your career and on life?

YC: It’s an affirmation that what I’m doing matters. I guess most people think their job matters, but I really feel passionate about the work I do. I made two investments while going through chemotherapy and radiation. … That really helped me bounce back.

The second thing is my threshold for dealing with difficult people has gone down dramatically. I will spend time with people I enjoy spending time with and I respect. My tolerance for nonsense is a little lower.

The third thing is I want to make an impact with my investments. In healthcare, you can make an impact with a lot of different things. But one of the best things you can do is build a successful company, [and] for that to really change the workflow and business model and the way people receive care and interact with the healthcare system. I think I have the ability to make a bigger impact at Bain.