CVS-Aetna: the canary says that DOJ likely to review merger–plus further analysis and developments

click to enlargeThe canary is still tweeting. News reports indicate that the US Department of Justice (DOJ) will be in the lead reviewing the CVS acquisition of Aetna. This should be no surprise to our Readers. This Editor’s first analysis noted regulatory necessity and earlier this week, more explicitly predicted either the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or the DOJ would be reviewing.

The New York Post’s Beltway sources (for ex-US readers, it’s the mass market News Corp. paper/site) are talking up DOJ:

President Trump’s Department of Justice appears to be the agency that will review CVS Health’s $69 billion merger with Aetna, sources tell The Post. While the decision is not yet final, the move would not be good news for the merging parties, sources said. “I think they would prefer it to be at the Federal Trade Commission,” one Washington, DC, source said.

The article explains that it’s a tossup as to bailiwicks–FTC reviews retail and drugstore mergers, DOJ insurance mergers. A sound but (by CVS) unwelcome reason for DOJ to review the merger is their familiarity with Aetna after DOJ opposing its failed merger with Humana in Federal court less than a year in the past. Their expertise would be wasted and politically, a cup that FTC would wish to pass inasmuch they are also short on commissioners.

As the Third Century Greek philosopher Sextus Empiricus stated, ‘The mills of the gods grind slowly, but they grind small’ (or ‘exceeding fine’ in more modern citations), which means that justice, at least in the Federal definition, will be served eventually.

  • The Trump Administration has let DOJ question the AT&T/Time Warner merger on antitrust reasons up, down, and sideways, to the point where it is nearly derailed. Much the same can be expected here.
  • The businesses create a new type of healthcare system. Expect HHS to have a say.
  • Congress is already demanding hearings, which given the short time to Christmas break will likely be January. 
  • What may help Aetna’s cause is that the merger with Humana was a friendly one; the decision, at least in the press, was accepted with grace. 

But as wags have said for at least two centuries, you can always tell the pioneers by the arrows in their back. When you’re redesigning the Conestoga Wagons, it has to be expected–which is why the experts gathering here in NYC over the past week have had not much to say about it to date.

Certainly it has been a downer for investment pickers, though both companies had significant profitability challenges facing them in the future. We refer here to several articles in Seeking Alpha where it’s predicted that the acquisition will boost CVS’ growth, but saddle it with huge debt: $45B in new debt, $21B in new equity, plus using $4B in available cash. Are they overpaying? Will it reduce internal cost and boost profitability? Will it do what they say they’ll do, which is to bend the cost curve down by start-to-finish engagement with customers? What pieces are missing? And time is a critical factor–how long this will take to realize is not projected. If you like stock and value charts and graphs, here’s the place. Seeking Alpha (by author): Ciura, Arnold, Ward

Other retailers will have their say. We’ve noted earlier that the vast supermarkets like Publix, Wegmans, Shop Rite or Ahold (Stop & Shop, Giant) are likely looking at opportunities with logical alliances or buy-ins to insurers like Oscar, Clover, Bright Health, or the smaller Blues. Target is already allied with CVS for their in-store drugstores. And then there is retail/online giant Walmart. The Wal-Martians need plenty of healthcare and Humana, based on local Louisville-area reports, is in play after not merging with Aetna.

Looming over all this is Amazon. A little-noticed report in Becker’s from July indicated that their 1492 unit has set about extracting data from legacy EHRs and to build a telehealth platform on Amazon hardware such as Echo. Already noted has been their buying of pharmacy licenses in various states. None of which can make any of the usual healthcare suspects happy.

Categories: Latest News.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *