Breaking News–Teladoc: while accredited by NCQA, placed on ‘under corrective action’ status (updated)

Breaking News. Teladoc–one of the two giants in telemedicine–has been placed on ‘under corrective action’ status in its latest (15 May) two-year accreditation with the National Committee for Quality Assurance, better known by its initials, NCQA. Their next review is slated for six months (18 Nov).

According to the earliest breaking report on Seeking Alpha, a business and stock market website, the move to ‘corrective action’ status has been brewing for some time. Teladoc was the first telemedicine company to win this coveted status in 2013. Now, of course, all major telemedicine players have this accreditation.

This is the latest mark against the company, which has gone through some recent ‘interesting times’ financially with accounting problems based on booking stock awards (2018), the CFO’s resignation, and lack of replacement. The report by a ‘bear’ on the stock indicates that its large contract with Aetna, among others, is up for renewal.

Exactly what this ‘corrective action’ is related to has not been made public by either NCQA or Teladoc. Comments under the article sourced from a Wells Fargo analyst that the action is arising from a workflow that Teladoc uses for credentialing providers.

A good portion of this article discusses revisions on the Teladoc website and marketing materials which ensues when something like this happens and it is the basis for a superiority or credentialing claim.

NCQA is a non-profit that advocates quality standards and measures for healthcare organizations, health plans, and organizations that provide services to the former. Their standards are widespread in the industry as a means of review and accreditation for providers and hospitals, as well as incorporated into quality metrics used by HHS and CMS. For those who may not be able to access the full article–requires free membership (but you’ll get emails) registration with the Seeking Alpha site–attached is a PDF of the article.

Update: While to the ‘bear’ Teladoc is a glass half empty and cracked, to another Seeking Alpha writer, the glass is more than half full even though the company continues to run substantial losses. Here’s an analysis that is mostly positive, though acknowledging the issues above.

Drawn-out decision on the CVS-Aetna merger held up again in Federal court

“The Perils of Pauline” saga that is the CVS-Aetna merger continues. Judge Richard Leon of the US District Court for the District of Columbia twirled his mustache and announced that his court will hold a hearing in May on the merger. Practically nobody dislikes this particular $69 billion merger that’s already closed–not the companies, shareholders, Congress, the states, and not the Department of Justice, once Aetna sold off its Medicare Part D drug business to WellCare. But Judge Leon is an exception.

The Tunney Act requires the government to file proposed merger settlements as an approval of the consent decree with a Federal district court to assure they are in the public interest. Most are filed, reviewed by a judge, and approved with no hearings. Since October, Judge Leon has been examining the merger up, down, and sideways in, of course, the public interest and great attention by the press. Now a week (or more) of May hearings will commence with those who don’t like this merger, including the American Medical Association, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, pharmacy and consumer groups.

Certainly this is long and drawn out, even for the DC district court. Even the high drama of the Aetna-Humana and Cigna-Anthem mergers took a little less time. Judge Leon continues to get coverage and the merger continues to be held up. Reuters, Fox News, Seeking Alpha

Short takes: Livongo buys myStrength, Apple Watch cozies with insurers, Lively hears telehealth and $16 million

Livongo gets behaviorally stronger with myStrength. Extending from their base in diabetes and chronic disease management into behavioral health, Livongo made a logical extension with early-stage behavioral health company myStrength. A large percentage of those with chronic conditions are also struggling with a behavioral health issue–Livongo cites 20 percent but in this Editor’s opinion, the estimate is low. Both Livongo and myStrength have been very successful in the payment game, with both companies achieving payment and reimbursement by employers, insurers, health systems, and state/Federal payers. The other factor is that employers and payers want single, integrated platforms for wellness and disease management. Livongo last year bought Retrofit for its weight management program. Competitor Omada Health recently acquired the behavioral health technology of defunct Lantern. MedCityNews, Fortune, Livongo release

Apple Watch wastes no time in partnering with insurers. Or vice versa! Confirming that Apple Watch’s growth strategy hinges heavily on health via its new features are fresh agreements with Aetna/CVS Health and a rumored reach into three Medicare Advantage plans. The Aetna partnership is with an app called Attain, which blends Apple Watch activity tracking data with users’ health history to create personalized programs. The program is limited to about 250,000 slots plus additional slots for employer plans, and will debut this spring. Late last year, United HealthCare announced Apple Watches would be added to existing wellness program called Motion and their Rally platform. Both Aetna and United have tiered payment programs for the watches, with United adding a HSA reward. For Medicare Advantage plans, Apple is rumored that they will subsidize the watch for use as a health tracker and coach. FierceMobileHealthcare 30 Jan (Aetna), 14 Nov 18 (UHC), and 29 Jan (Medicare Advantage).

Lively adds telehealth to hearing assistance. Lively’s mobile-connected, direct to consumer hearing aids are adding more telehealth features such as remote tuning, virtual video consults with an audiologist, and an online hearing assessment/uploading audiogram for assessment. The NYC-based company also announced closing on a $16 million seed/Series A fundraising round led by Declaration Capital with participation from Tiger Management. There are an estimated 35 million Americans with hearing loss in a $10bn annual market. Hearing aids are rapidly adding digital and DTC features–others in the field are Eargo and ReSound. Lively releaseAlleyWatch, Mobihealthnews. (Lively is not to be confused with Lively!, acquired by GreatCall two years ago)

News roundup: CVS-Aetna still on hold, blockchainers Change acquires PokitDoc, Teladoc’s COO resigns under insider cloud, Clapp joins Cricket

Federal Judge Richard Leon of the Washington, DC District Court is taking a consideration break on the integration of CVS and Aetna, after holding it up on 3 December. The Department of Justice (DOJ) originally recommended that the merger was legal under anti-trust law after Aetna divested its prescription drug plan to WellCare and both companies’ settlements with several states. Judge Leon, reviewing under the Tunney Act requirement that the merger meet the public interest, is waiting for the DOJ to respond to further steps that CVS has taken to keep the companies separate. According to Seeking Alpha, CVS will take “constructive measures on pricing and sensitive information” and that an outside monitor would be brought in to monitor the companies commitments. Hartford Courant

Health IT software company Change Healthcare acquired assets of San Mateo-based PokitDoc, a healthcare API and blockchain developer. PokitDoc has developed blockchain transaction networks for EHR and identity verification, automatic adjudication and smart contracts. Its APIs are used by Doctor on Demand, Zipnosis, PillPack, and available on Salesforce Health Cloud. Change’s own blockchain platform was developed in 2017. McKesson owns 70 percent of Change. PokitDoc had funding up to $55 million prior to purchase, the value of which was not disclosed. Mobihealthnews, Health Data Management

Teladoc cut loose its COO/CFO after insider trading and sexual misconduct allegations. Mark Hirschhorn resigned on 17 December from the telemedicine company after being instrumental in the company’s recent revenue and visit growth (albeit with a downward spiral on the share value). Mr. Hirschhorn was alleged to have not only have had a sexual relationship with a (much younger) subordinate while married, but also engaged in mutual insider trading…of Teladoc stock. The steamy details of the affair(s) and an equally seamy tale of a whistleblower’s fate are in the Southern Investigative Reporting Foundation’s ‘The Investigator’. For those more concerned about Teladoc’s financial future, a bullish analysis of their stock value and trends is over at Seeking Alpha. Adding to the fire: a class action lawsuit was also filed against Teladoc on behalf of the company’s shareholders, accusing the company of misleading or false statements. Also Mobihealthnews.

And it’s cheering to announce that a respected long-time telehealth executive has found a new perch. Geoff Clapp has joined Cricket Health, a provider of integrated technology around kidney health, as Chief Product Officer. Geoff is an authentic Grizzled Pioneer, having joined early telehealth RPM company HealthHero back in 1998, then their acquirer Bosch Healthcare. He was also founder of Better, which partnered with the Mayo Clinic on providing virtual care coordinators at popular prices for both consumers and health systems. Since then he has consulted for companies as diverse as Telcare (diabetes), Oration (sold to just-acquired PokitDoc), and in venture capital. Congratulations–and happy new year in the new job! Release

CVS-Aetna merger closes, but hardly ‘rubber stamped’ in Federal court

The deal is done, but expect unhappy holidays. As expected, the $69 million CVS-Aetna merger closed the week after Thanksgiving, on Wednesday 26 November, and are proceeding with their integration. Later that week, a Federal judge in the Washington, DC District Court complained at a hearing that both companies had treated him as a “rubber stamp” for the agreement. He was “less convinced” than the Department of Justice that the merger was legal under US anti-trust law. Yesterday (Tuesday 3 Dec), Judge Richard Leon ordered both companies and the DOJ to file briefs by 14 December “to show why their integration should not be halted while he considers whether or not to approve the consent decree reached in October,” according to Reuters.

This is despite various pounds of flesh:

  • The Department of Justice imposing the condition that Aetna sell its Medicare Part D drug plan business to far smaller WellCare Health Plans
  • New York State’s Department of Financial Services extracting concessions around their concerns: acquisition costs will not be passed onto consumers through increased premium rates or to affiliated insurers; maintaining current products for three years; privacy controls; cybersecurity compliance. Oh yes, a small $40 million commitment to support health insurance education and enrollment. (Healthcare Finance 26 Nov)
  •  But New York is a piker in its demands compared to California. The Department of Managed Health Care Director approved the merger based upon:
    • Minimal increases in premiums–and no increase due to acquisition costs
    • Investing $240 million in the state healthcare delivery system, including $166 million for state healthcare infrastructure and employment; $22.8 million to increase the number of healthcare providers in underrepresented areas like Fresno and Walnut Creek by funding scholarships and loan repayment programs; and $22.5 million to support joint ventures and accountable care organizations (ACOs) in value-based care (Healthcare Finance 15 Nov)

A CVS spokesman said in an email after the hearing: “CVS Health and Aetna are one company, and our focus is on transforming the consumer health experience.” (CNBC)  That transformation according to CVS president Larry Merlo involves expanding healthcare services beyond their present clinics to managing high-risk, chronic conditions, and transitions in care. Aetna’s expertise will be invaluable here as well as in an rumored expansion to urgent care (Seeking Alpha). All to out-maneuver Amazon, of course, which is promoting (on TV) PillPack and has applied for additional pharmacy licenses to ship drugs to customers in Washington, New Mexico and Indiana from their Phoenix facility (Healthcare Finance).

It appears that Judge Leon has his own serious reading of the 1974 Tunney Act, which requires a Federal court to ensure the agreement is in the public interest, despite the states and the DOJ.

Comings and goings: CVS-Aetna finalizing, Anthem sued over merger, top changes at IBM Watson Health

imageWhat better way to introduce this new feature than with a picture of a Raymond Loewy-designed 1947 Studebaker Starlight Coupe, where wags of the time joked that you couldn’t tell whether it was coming or going?

Is it the turkey or the stuffing? In any case, it will be the place you’ll be going for the Pepto. The CVS-Aetna merger, CVS says, will close by Thanksgiving. This is despite various objections floated by California’s insurance commissioner, New York’s financial services superintendent, and the advocacy group Consumers Union. CEO Larry Merlo is confident that all three can be dealt with rapidly, with thumbs up from 23 of the 28 states needed and is close to getting the remaining five including resolving California and NY. The Q3 earnings call was buoyant, with CVS exceeding their projected overall revenue with $47.3 billion. up 2.4% or $1.1 billion from the same quarter in 2017. The divestiture of Aetna’s Medicare Part D prescription drug plans to WellCare, helpful in speeding the approvals, will not take effect until 2020. Healthcare Dive speculates, as we did, that a merged CVS-Aetna will be expanding MinuteClinics to create urgent care facilities where it makes sense–it is not a big lift. And they will get into this far sooner than Amazon. which will split its ‘second headquarters’ among the warehouses and apartment buildings of Long Island City and the office towers of Crystal City VA.

Whatever happened to the Delaware Chancery Court battle between Anthem and Cigna? Surprisingly, no news from Wilmington, but that didn’t stop Anthem shareholder Henry Bittmann from suing both companies this week in Marion (Indiana) Superior Court. The basis of the suit is Anthem’s willfully going ahead with the attempted merger despite having member plans under the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association meant the merger was doomed to fail, and they intended all along for “Anthem to swallow, and then sideline, Cigna to eliminate a competitor, in violation of the antitrust laws.” On top of this, both companies hated each other. A match made in hell. Cigna has moved on with its money and bought Express Scripts.

IBM Watson Health division head Deborah DiSanzo departs, to no one’s surprise. Healthcare IT News received a confirmation from IBM that Ms. DiSanzo will be joining IBM Cognitive Solutions’ strategy team, though no capacity or title was stated. She was hired from Philips to lead the division through some high profile years, starting her tenure along with the splashy new Cambridge HQ in 2015, but setbacks mounted later as their massive data crunching and compilation was outflanked by machine learning, other AI methodologies, and blockchain. According to an article in STAT+ (subscription needed), they didn’t get the glitches in their patient record language processing software fixed in ‘Project Josephine’, and that was it for her. High profile partner departures in the past year such as MD Anderson Cancer Centers, troubles and lack of growth at acquired companies, topped by the damning IEEE Spectrum and Der Spiegel articles, made it not if, but when. No announcement yet of a successor.

Cigna’s $69 million acquisition of Express Scripts clears US Department of Justice hurdle

As reported on 8 Sept, the DOJ announced on Monday that they have formally cleared the Cigna acquisition of pharmacy benefits manager Express Scripts. This puts together a major payer with a PBM manager, the latter area considered to be challenged for profitability as the PBM drug rebate model may be substantially less profitable in the future. Federal policy pressure is ramping up from Health & Human Services (HHS), with Secretary Alex Azar only last week promising disruptive change and more transparency in drug pricing.

CVS (PBM-Caremark) with Aetna is in the works and Anthem is creating its own PBM called IngenioRx. UnitedHealthcare has its own OptumRx for some years. 

Another point of pressure on the entire PBM category is the Amazon-Berkshire Hathaway-JP Morgan combine, sometime in the future when the hype and speculation on What Amazon Will Do turns into actual plans beyond their acquisition of tiny, specialized player PillPack for an exorbitant $1bn [TTA 4 July]. 

The DOJ investigation took six months, reviewed more than 2 million documents, and more than 100 industry people were interviewed.

Cigna and Express Scripts now must negotiate over 50 state departments of banking and insurance–over 50 because some states have two. Both companies already have shareholder approval, and the lack of overlap in their businesses limits the possibility of divestitures. Their advocacy website is here. But state DOBIs can be unpredictable, as Cigna found out with Anthem. (Their contentious breakup is still being contested in court–and Cigna could use the contractual breakup money to ease the Express Scripts debt estimated at $15 bn. Forbes.  Bloomberg, Healthcare Dive

CVS-Aetna, Cigna-Express Scripts reportedly on road to merger approval; Athenahealth in hostile takeover–or not (updated)

CVS’ pickup of Aetna, and Cigna‘s acquisition of Express Scripts are reported to be clearing the Department of Justice anti-trust review within the next few weeks, just in time for pumpkin season. The DOJ may have concerns on some assets related to Medicare drug coverage and may require a sell-off to resolve them. One potential buyer is WellCare Health Plans, which this week completed its acquisition of Meridian Health Plans and entered the S&P 500 on Monday. The Cigna-Express Scripts combine may not require any asset selloff. Seeking Alpha (report is from the Wall Street Journal).

The once blazingly hot Athenahealth is up for sale but can’t seem to get arrested by another healthcare company. Both Cerner and UnitedHealthcare passed on an acquisition. One of the larger shareholders, Elliot Management, initiated moves toward a hostile takeover in May, and in the process managed to oust founder and CEO Jonathan Bush on still-murky charges of past domestic abuse and workplace sexual harassment. Mr. Elliot is partnering with Bain Capital which owns Waystar, a revenue cycle management (RCM) company from the merged ZirMed and Navicure. Waystar could benefit from Athenahealth’s systems and IP. Mr. Bush would receive a relatively small sum in a sale –$4.8 million– with new executive chair and former GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt earning $150,000 a month in salary and $150,000 in restricted stock perhaps looking for a new job. Elliot’s reputation is that of a corporate raider–taking over businesses to strip assets and sell off the remains. New York Post, POLITICO Morning eHealth.

UPDATED 19 Sept Reports from yesterday indicate that Mr. Elliot has ‘balked’ at the $160 per share price that Athenahealth is asking, and may be angling for a lower price, according to the NY Post report. Reportedly no one else–Cerner and UnitedHealthcare–is interested, though Athenahealth has extended the bid deadline to 27 September. There may be problems uncovered by the due diligence. It’s also a recognized hardball lowball strategy to get the share price way down. The industry is betting on the latter because the former is difficult to contemplate for customers and healthcare as a whole. Also HealthcareITNews.

News roundup: Walmart and Microsoft AI, are derm apps endangering public with 88% skin cancer diagnosis?

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Lasso.jpg” thumb_width=”150″ /]Walmart and Microsoft partner to change the retail experience via AI. The five-year agreement will switch over applications to the cloud and will affect shipping and supply chain. It’s projected in Healthcare Dive that the impact will be in healthcare as well. Microsoft announced last month that it is forming a unit to advance AI and cloud-based healthcare tools. The landscape is under extreme pressure in retail and healthcare delivery, and Walmart needs to ready for future moves which will certainly happen. Walmart is rumored to be interested in acquiring Humana and is currently working with Emory Healthcare in Atlanta. Then there is CVS-Aetna, Cigna-Express Scripts, Google, and (looming above all) Amazon. (Though you can tuck all the years of Amazon’s profits into one year of Walmart’s.)

The ITV News headline grabs attention — but are dermatology apps really endangering the public when teledermatology can help diagnose 88 percent of people with skin cancer and 97 percent of those with benign lesions? A University of Birmingham-led research team did a metastudy of the literature and found three failings: “a lack of rigorous published trials to show they work and are safe, a lack of input during the app development from specialists to identify which lesions are suspicious and flaws in how the technology analyses photos” particularly for scaly or non-pigmented melanomas. But did access to these apps encourage early diagnosis which can lead to up to 100 percent five-year survival? Of course review is required as recommended by the study, but this last factor was not really examined at the British Association of Dermatologists’ annual meeting in Edinburgh. University of Birmingham release with study abstract

Care Innovations sells off Validation Institute. But is there more to the story? And a side of Walmart Health action.

The Health Value Institute, part of Woburn, Massachusetts-based conference organizer World Congress, announced late last week the acquisition of the Validation Institute from Care Innovations. Terms were not disclosed. The Health Value Institute and the Validation Institute recently partnered to validate the outcomes for the Health Value Award finalists and awards this past April at the 15th Annual World Health Care Congress. According to both parties, the acquisition will help to expand the membership of validated companies, and the present offerings for HR, broker, and benefit executives. Release.

The Validation Institute was launched with fanfare back in June 2014, when GE still had a chunk of the company and during the 2 1/2 year repositioning (revival? resuscitation?) led by Sean Slovenski from the doldrums of the prior Louis Burns regime. Mr. Slovenski departed in early 2016 to be president of population health at Healthways/Sharecare, which lasted a little over a year. However, this week Mr. Slovenski made headlines as the new SVP Health & Wellness of Walmart, reporting directly to the head of their US business.  The hiring of a senior executive with a few years at Humana and a short time at Sharecare, another Walmart partner, coupled with several years in healthcare tech and provider-side is certainly indicative of Walmart’s serious focus on healthcare provision. It’s a fascinating race with Amazon and CVS-Aetna–with the mystery of what Walgreens Boots Alliance will do. Also Healthcare Dive.

But back to Care Innovations. Signs of a new direction–and a loss. The case can be made that the Validation Institute, the Jefferson College of Population Health, and validating individuals and companies was no longer core to their business which is centered around their RPM platform Health Harmony (with QuietCare still hanging in there!) However, this Editor notes the prominent addition of  ‘platform-as-a-service’ advisory services for those who are developing health apps, which appears to be a spinoff of their engineering/IT services. Vivify Health, a competitor, already does this. There is a vote of confidence; in June, Roche signed on with a strategic investment (undisclosed) as well as integration of the mySugr integrated diabetes management/app solution (release).

Looking around their recently refreshed website, there is an absence–that of the two or three pages previously dedicated to the Veterans Health Administration (VA) and the press release of the VA award. This tends to lend credence to the rumors that there was a second company that did not pass the Trade Adjustment Act (TAA) requirements that knocked out Iron Bow/Vivify Health from the VA, or for another undisclosed reason CI bowed out of a potentially $258 million five-year contract. If so, that leaves for the VA Medtronic and 1Vision/AMC Health. It’s certainly a limited menu for the supposedly growing numbers of veterans requiring telehealth and a limited choice for their care coordinators–and not quite as presented to the public or the 2015 competitors in the solicitation. Who benefits? Who loses? (Disclosure: This Editor worked for one of the finalists and a VA supplier from 2003, Viterion.)  Hat tip to one of our ‘Industry Insiders’, but the opinions expressed here are her own.

Department of Justice won’t challenge CVS-Aetna merger: report

DOJ, stay away from our doors! The $69 bn CVS Health and Aetna mega-merger looks like it will go sailing down that river, if Mr. Market is right. Shares in both companies enjoyed a nice bump on today’s report that the DOJ won’t challenge this merger. The local Hartford Courant is relieved that Aetna plans to stay in their longtime HQ city (since 1853), conveniently omitting their long-standing plan to set up a big shop in NYC. CNBC

What a difference from a year ago when two mega-mega-mergers, Aetna-Humana and Anthem-Cigna, were shot d0wn–nay, riddled with bullets–in the Senate and in two courts [TTA 9 Feb 17]. Cigna is still living with the hangover of their bad breakup with Anthem, with a fight over a nearly $1.9 bn breakup fee [TTA 17 May 17] continuing in the Delaware Chancery Court in 2019.  Cigna nixed any other insurers in a horizontal merger and sought out Express Scripts, a pharmacy benefits manager (PBM) which was reeling a bit after its largest client (coincidentally) Anthem departed. Anthem sued its PBM, Express Scripts, for $15 billion, alleging the PBM overcharged it by $3 billion annually The merger will cost them over $550 million in transaction cost and that is just the beginning. That $1.9 bn would sure come in handy. Modern Healthcare 

Rock Health’s ‘Another record-breaking first half’ in digital health funding is actually–flat. (With a Soapbox Extra!)

The Breathless Tone was the clue. “It’s déjà vu for digital health, with yet another record breaking half for venture funding.” It was déjà vu, but not of the good sort. This Editor hates to assume, so she checked the year-to-year numbers–and first half 2018 versus 2017 broke no records:

  • 2018:  $3.4 bn invested in 193 digital health deals 
  • 2017: $3.5 bn invested in 188 digital health companies [TTA 11 July 17]

But ‘flat’ doesn’t make for good headlines. Digging into it, there are trends we should be aware of — and Rock Health does a great job of parsing–but a certain wobbliness carried over from 2017 even though the $5.8 bn year finished 32 percent up over 2016, analyzed here [TTA 5 Apr 18]. Their projection for 2018 full year is $6.9 bn and 386 deals.

Let’s take a look at their trends:

  • “The future of healthcare startups is inextricably linked to the strategies of large, enterprise-scale healthcare players—as customers, partners, investors, and even potential acquirers.” It’s no mistake that the big news this week was Amazon acquiring tiny, chronic-conditions specializing prescription supplier PillPack after a bidding war with Walmart for an astounding $1bn, making its 32 year-0ld founder very rich indeed and gaining Amazon pharmacy licenses in 49 states. (Prediction: Walmart will be pleased it lost the war as it will find its own solutions and alliances.) 
    • Enterprise healthcare players are cautious, even by Rock Health’s admission, but the big money is going into deals that vertically integrate and complement, at least for a time–for example, Roche’s purchase of Flatiron Health. And when it doesn’t work, it tends to end in a whimper–this May’s quiet sale by Aetna of Medicity to Health Catalyst for an undisclosed sum. Back in 2011, Aetna bought it for $500 million. (Notably not included in the Rock Health analysis, even though they track Health Catalyst and the HIE/analytics sector.)
  • The market is dependent on big deals getting bigger. If you are well-developed, in the right sector, and mature (as early-stage companies go), you have a better shot at that $100 million B, D, E or Growth funding round. B rounds actually grew a bit, with seed and A rounds dipping below 50 percent for the first time since 2012. 
  • The Theranos Effect is real. Unvalidated, hyped up claims don’t get $900 million anymore. In fact, there’s real concern that there’s a reluctance to fund innovation versus integration. The wise part of this is that large fundings went to companies validating through clinical trial results, FDA clearance (or closing in on it), and CDC blessing.
  • The dabbling investor is rapidly disappearing. 62 percent of investors in first half had made prior investments in digital health including staying with companies in following rounds.
  • Digital health companies, like others, are staying private longer and avoiding public markets. Exits remain on par with 2017 at 60. Speculation is that Health Catalyst and Grand Rounds are the next IPOs, but there hasn’t been one since iRhythm in October 2016. The Digital Health public company index is showing a lot less pink these days as well, which may be an encouraging sign.
  • Behavioral health is finally getting its due. “Behavioral health startups received more funding this half than in any prior six-month period, with a cumulative $273M for 15 unique companies (nearly double the $137M closed in H1 2016, the previous record half for funding of behavioral health companies). Of these 15 companies, more than half have a virtual or on-demand component.”

Keep in mind that Rock Health tracks deals over $2 million in value from venture capital, excluding government and grant funding. They omit non-US deals, even if heavily US funded. 

Their projection for 2018 full year is $6.9 bn and 386 deals. Will their projection pan out? Only the full year will tell!

A Soapbox Extra!

Rock Health, like most Left Coast companies, believes that Vinod Khosla is a semi-deity. This Editor happens to not be convinced, based on predictions that won’t pan out, like machines replacing 80 percent of doctors; making statements such as VCs have less sexual harassment than other areas, and even banning surfers off his beach. He was at a Rock Health forum recently and made this eye-rolling (at least to this Editor) statement:

Is there one area in the last 30 years where the initial innovation was driven by an institution of any sort? I couldn’t think of a single area where innovation—large innovation—came from a big institution. Retailing wasn’t disrupted by Walmart, it was by Amazon. Media wasn’t changed by CBS or NBC, it was by YouTube and Twitter. Cars weren’t transformed by Volkswagen and GM—and people said you can’t do cars in startups—but then came Tesla.

Other than making a point that Clayton Christensen made a decade or more ago, the real nugget to be gained here is that formerly innovative companies that get big don’t grow innovation (though 3M tends to be an exception, and Motorola didn’t do too badly with the cell phone). They can buy it–and always have. 

Go back a few more decades and all of these companies were disrupters–and bought out (or bankrupted) other disrupters. CBS and NBC transformed entertainment through popularizing radio and then TV. VW created the small car market in the US and saved the German auto industry. GM innovated both horizontally (acquiring car companies, starting other brands) and integrated vertically (buying DELCO which created the first truly workable self-starting ignition system in 1912).

YouTube? Bought by innovator Google. Twitter? Waiting, wanting to be bought. Innovation? Khosla is off the beam again. Without Walmart, there would be no Amazon–and Amazon’s total lifetime profit fits nicely into one year of Walmart’s. Tesla is not innovative–it is a hyped up version of electric car technology in a styled package that occasionally blows up and remains on the borderline of financial disaster. (Model 3, where art thou?)

I’d argue that Geisinger, Mayo Clinic, and Intermountain Healthcare have been pretty innovative over the last 30 years. Mr. Khosla, read Mr. Christensen again!

News roundup: First Stop, GlobalMed, American Well, Avizia, Medicity, Health Catalyst, Allscripts, Welbeing, BenevolentAI

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Lasso.jpg” thumb_width=”125″ /]Announcements and acquisitions have been multiplying–here’s what’s most interesting.

In companies we’ve recently written about:

Our recent Contributor Bruce Judson, now with corporate telemedicine provider First Stop Health, wrote us enroute to the Government Finance Officials Association conference in St. Louis that FSH achieved triple-digit top-line revenue growth and also achieved an average utilization rate of 52 percent. The formal announcement was made earlier this week at the HLTH conference in Las Vegas (release), where another one of our Contributors, Sarianne Gruber, is attending for Answers Media Company.

GlobalMed, a prior contributor to Perspectives, is offering a lower cost telemedicine alternative to practices with a flat fee starting at $799 per month for three years. Startup costs remain at about $5,000. The starting kit includes a cart, a total exam camera, stethoscope and vitals linked to the organization’s network, and a nurse license. Additional compatible equipment is available at extra cost. We know that a number of comparable telemedicine cart-based kits run upwards of $8,000. It is one of the first public acknowledgments this Editor has seen (but has known for years) that high cost is a major impediment for implementing both telehealth and telemedicine in practices. Health Data Management.

In other news:

Telemedicine and telehealth consolidation continues with American Well’s acquisition of hospital-based telemed/workflow systems provider Avizia. Avizia has a product line of telemedicine carts and workflow software for 40 different specialties, including telestroke and telebehavioral health. The acquisition price was not disclosed. Prior investors in this 2013 Cisco spinoff include Northwell Health, NY-Presbyterian, HealthQuest, and other providers in seven rounds totaling over $23 million. Healthcare IT News

A further sign of consolidation, this time in the crowded health information business, is the Medicity acquisition by Health Catalyst. Health Catalyst is primarily a data analytics and warehousing company while Medicity focuses more on data interoperability and patient engagement for practices, health systems, and HIEs. Medicity was purchased by Aetna in 2011 with much fanfare for $500 million as one of its ‘Emerging Businesses’, rebranded as Healthagen in 2013 [TTA 28 Feb 14] which never quite took off. Out of that unit, what remains are Active Health Solutions and Aetna Accountable Care Solutions, a payer-driven value-based care management company. The amount of the sale was not disclosed but is expected to close in 90 days. Health Catalyst’s CEO Brent Dover served as president of Medicity up to 2013, and both companies are located in Salt Lake City. What is interesting about this sale is that CVS, which is buying Aetna, has no comparable in-house technology. It’s a probable shedding of peripheral or money-losing businesses prior to sale.  HISTalk, MedCityNews

Allscripts continues on its acquisition binge with patient communication and engagement platform HealthGrid. HealthGrid is a mobile app platform that delivers care and education materials traditionally distributed from practices to patients via paper. In January, Allscripts bought practice EHR Practice Fusion for $100 million (a loss to investors) and earlier McKesson’s HIT business for $185 million. It’s a noticeable shift to value-added care tools for this formerly EHR-centric company. Mobihealthnews. 

In UK news:

Welbeing has won Norwich City Council’s Norwich Community Alarm Service (NCAS). It provides a 24-hour, year-round monitoring and response service for over 6,500 adults who are vulnerable or at risk in this part of East Anglia. The press release is on UK Telehealthcare‘s news page. 

BenevolentAI, a UK company using artificial intelligence for drug development, raised $115 million in new funding, mostly from undisclosed investors in the United States, according to Mobihealthnews, for a total funding of over $200 million. The company uses AI to reduce drug discovery time and risk. It does not do its own drug discovery but sells the intellectual property discovered by their AI algorithms, claiming to cut drug development timelines by four years and improve efficiencies by 60 percent compared to pharma industry averages.

CVS-Aetna: DOJ requests additional information at deadline (updated for CVS earnings)

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/canary-in-the-coal-mine.jpgw595.jpeg” thumb_width=”150″ /]The Canary Tweets. The sources [TTA 8 Dec] were correct that the Department of Justice (DOJ) would take the lead on reviewing the CVS-Aetna merger. Yesterday (1 Feb) they did, requesting additional information. This extends the waiting period for an additional 30 days or more.  The CVS Form 8-K (SEC), which reports the request for information, is here courtesy of Seeking Alpha.

The US law governing this is the Hart-Scott-Rodino Act Antitrust Improvements Act of 1976 (HSR). A pre-merger notification and report was filed with DOJ and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on 2 January. There’s a 30-day period for an additional information request and that was taken by the DOJ yesterday. The length of the compliance process may extend for 30 days but may be less if the request is satisfied or more if requested by the parties involved. 

CVS and Aetna still hope to complete the merger by the second half of 2018. The respective shareholder meetings are already scheduled for 20 March. Our previous coverage here.

Editor’s thoughts: CVS-Aetna, despite its size, is a relatively straightforward merger, but because of its nature and size, expect some political haymaking and delays to come. This will be a preview of the action around the Amazon-Berkshire Hathaway-JPMorgan Chase cooperative partnership, in whatever they decide to create, if they create: “there’s many a slip twixt cup and lip.”

Updated for 4th Quarter Financials: CVS is reasonably healthy and nimble. Their earnings report is positive in earnings, operating profit, and reinvestment versus prior year. Under US securities law, it’s silent on Aetna. Form 8-K and press release via Seeking Alpha.

Scary Monsters, Take 2: Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, JPMorgan Chase’s addressing employee healthcare

Shudders through the US financial markets resulted from Tuesday’s Big Reveal of an Amazon-Berkshire Hathaway-JPMorgan Chase combine. Ostensibly they will be “partnering on ways to address healthcare for their U.S. employees, with the aim of improving employee satisfaction and reducing costs” and setting up an independent company “free from profit-making incentives and constraints. The initial focus of the new company will be on technology solutions that will provide U.S. employees and their families with simplified, high-quality and transparent healthcare at a reasonable cost.” This and the Warren Buffett quote about ballooning healthcare costs being a “hungry tapeworm” on the American economy have gained the most notice. Mr. Bezos’ and Mr. Dimon’s statements are anodyne. The company will initially and unsurprisingly be spearheaded by one representative from each company. The combined companies have 1.1 million employees. Release. CNBC.

There is a great deal in those lead quotes which is both cheering and worrisome. To quote a long time industry insider in the health tech/med device area, “What this tells me is finally, enough pain has been felt to actually try to do something. We need more of this.” This Editor notes the emphasis on ‘technology solutions’ which at first glance is good news for those of us engaged in 1) healthcare tech and 2) innovative care models.

But what exactly is meant by ‘technology’? And will they become an insurer?

What most of the glowing initial comments overlooked was the Absolute Torture of Regulation around American healthcare. If this combine chooses to operate as an insurer or as a PBM, for starters there are 50 states to get through. Each state has a department of insurance–in California’s case, two. Recall the Aetna-Humana and Cigna-Anthem mergers had to go through the gauntlet of approval by each state and didn’t succeed. PBM regulation varies by state, but in about half the US states there are licensing regulations either through departments of insurance or health. On the Federal level, there’s HHS, various Congressional committees, Commerce, and possibly DOJ.

Large companies generally self-insure for healthcare. They use insurers as ASO–administrative services only–in order to lower costs. Which leads to…why didn’t these companies work directly with their insurers to redo health benefits? Why the cudgel and not the scalpel?

Lest we forget, the Affordable Care Act (ACA, a/k/a Obamacare) mandated what insurance must cover–and it ballooned costs for companies because additional coverages were heaped upon the usual premium increases. Ask any individual buyer of health insurance what their costs were in 2012 versus 2017, and that’s not due to any tapeworm. Forbes

Conspicuously not mentioned were doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers. How will this overworked, abused, and stressed-out group, on whose shoulders all this will wind up being heaped, fare? And what about hospitals and their future? Health systems? The questions will multiply.

Disruption is now the thing this year. Of course, shares of healthcare companies took a beating today, many of which do business with these three companies: CNBC names Cigna, Express Scripts, CVS, Aetna (themselves partnering for innovation), and UnitedHealthGroup. Amazon uses Premera Blue Cross (a non-profit). 

Because of Amazon’s recent moves in pharmacy [TTA 23 Jan], there is much focus on Amazon, but the companies with direct financial and insurance experience are…JPMChase and Berkshire Hathaway.

An Editor’s predictions:

  • Nothing will be fast or simple about this, given the size and task. 
  • The intentions are good but not altruistic. Inevitably, it will focus on what will work for these companies but not necessarily for others or for individuals.
  • An insurer–or insurers–will either join or be purchased by this combine in order to make this happen.

Hat tips to Toni Bunting and our anonymous insider.

CVS-Aetna: It’s not integrated healthcare, it’s experiential retail!

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/canary-in-the-coal-mine.jpgw595.jpeg” thumb_width=”150″ /]This very interesting take on financial analysis site Seeking Alpha draws another insight from the CVS-Aetna merger–it’s actually part of the rising commercial real estate trend of experiential retail. Here’s the logic. CVS MinuteClinics increase traffic to CVS stores. If they are part of a shopping center, that means those patients might grab a meal, coffee, or shop. Reportedly CVS and Aetna will add nurses and nutritionists, which will further increase attraction, stickiness, and traffic. 

CVS and Walgreens‘ clinics have started, in the new model, to become significant, even anchor, tenants of shopping centers, filling up the empty storefronts left by traditional retail. Doctors’ offices, urgent cares like CityMD, and hospital-run outpatient clinics are filling retail spaces and anchoring new developments. Another part of the experience–fitness clubs, which are also converting vacant office spaces–a line extension increasingly popular with health systems. CVS also bought out department store Target’s drugstores and in-store clinics, which is another model (fill a prescription, buy socks or a TV). Another line extension is partnerships with urgent cares or outpatient clinics, not much of a stretch since CVS already has affiliations with health systems in many areas.

Add telemedicine (Aetna’s partnership with Teladoc) to the above: both MinuteClinics and in-home become 24/7 operations. Not mentioned here is that Aetna can add in-person or kiosk services in CVS stores to file claims, answer questions, or sell coverage.

As this model becomes clearer, big supermarket operators like Ahold (Stop & Shop, Giant), Wegmans, Publix, Shop Rite and others, which have pharmacies in most locations, may ally with or merge with insurers or health systems–or partner with CVS-Aetna. There is also the 9,000 lb. elephant called Walmart, which is 2/3 of the way to an experiential model including nutrition, diet, and fitness (ask any WalMartian). Further insights on how this merger is forcing retailers to adapt are in Drug Store News.

CVS-Aetna could very well be a major mover in experiential retail, which may save all those strip malls. But this article points out, as this Editor has already, that the full shape of what could be experiential healthcare will take years to work and shake out, assuming the merger is approved. Our prior coverage is here.