TTA’s Week: Google predicts outcomes, RPM wins €$, CVS-Aetna hurdles, Amazon looms, Japan copes

 

Big steps forward? Google’s predictive health, Virta’s diabetes reversal, remote patient monitoring’s €$. Baby steps for Medicare telehealth parity, Japan’s social care. Scary Monsters scare less in the morning but the cyberhacks continue. And Happy 60th DARPA!

Google ‘deep learning’ model more accurately predicts in-hospital mortality, readmissions, length of stay in seven-year study (Predictive health’s possible giant step)
Scary Monsters, Take 4: further investor thoughts on CVS-Aetna, the Amazon Threat–and Aetna’s skeleton in the closet? (CVS may be the smarter partner in the merger)
Rounding up what’s news: LindaCare, TytoCare funding; Medicare telehealth parity, Norway’s big cyberhack, Virta reversing diabetes, DARPA’s 60th birthday
Japan as aging bellwether: experiential VR, claim that robots increase activity by 50 percent (Coping with an aging population develops)

Will the Amazon/Berkshire/JPMC venture really be a ‘meaningful disruptor’? And as expected, CVS-Aetna bears more merger scrutiny by DOJ. 

Scary Monsters, Take 3: one week later, JPMorgan Chase takes heat, Amazon speculation, industry skepticism (Boo Again! There’s fallout with this disruption.)
CVS-Aetna: DOJ requests additional information at deadline (updated for CVS earnings)
(As predicted, DOJ takes the lead. And CVS is quite healthy and nimble.)

When Giants decide to transform healthcare, it puts advertising that didn’t deliver masquerading as ‘behavior change technology’ in the unshuddery shade. Continuing the debate on the efficacy of health apps. Are we getting to the tricorder on the back of a smartphone? And are we getting to collaborative virtual care through the vendor door? 

Scary Monsters, Take 2: Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, JPMorgan Chase’s addressing employee healthcare (Boo! Seriously, there are issues)

Another unicorn loses its horn–Outcome Health finally loses the CEO and president (Just what healthcare needs–another ‘transformer’ which didn’t deliver)
Get happier, lose weight, be fitter–the efficacy of apps debated in studies present and future pilots (Set goals, pay money, dear patient)
5 vital signs, one ‘heavyweight’ device on the back of your Moto X smartphone (Are we getting to tricorders through smartphone mods?)
InTouch Health launches a three-way collaboration on virtual acute care with Jefferson Health, Mission Health (Finally, information sharing–and it took a vendor to do it)

Amazon as Healthcare’s Scary Monster, Robots on Parade (when they’re not fainting), fall prevention and apps get protective, and NHS plays catchup with the 21st Century’s Digital Times

What’s up with Amazon in healthcare? Follow the money. (The Scary Monster parsed away from the hype)
MediBioSense and Blue Cedar take a new approach to secure medical wearable data (UK/US) (Protect the app, protect the data)
Hip-protective airbags get another entrant from France. And fall prediction steps forward. (Oui and sí for airbags to cushion the blow, tech to determine fall risk)
Robots, robots at CES: ElliQ, Sophia the ‘humanoid’, companions, pets, butlers, maids…and at a supermarket near you? (The Parade of Cute–And Not Working)
Robots, robots, everywhere…even when they’re NHS 111 online algorithms (NHS’ continued difficulty with Digital Times)

Of continued interest….

Iron Bow’s uncertain future with $258 million VA Home Telehealth contract (A Federal ruling against partner Vivify Health stops the program–can Iron Bow save it?)
Babylon Health’s ‘GP at hand’ not at hand for NHS England–yet. When will technology be? (Is there ‘Life on Mars’? Is there?)
CVS-Aetna: It’s not integrated healthcare, it’s experiential retail! (A different look at a complicated merger proposing another reason why it may set the pace)
Babylon’s ‘GP at hand’ has thousands of London patients in hand (A hit with Londoners indicates pent-up demand for virtual care)

Fall prevention: the technology–and Dutch–cures (Falling tech keeps seniors mobile…and learning to fall right)

Advances in 2017 which may set the digital health stage for 2018 (Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s treatments; All of Us, DeepMind Streams, and Telehealth in Outer Space!)
Rounding up the roundups in health tech and digital health for 2017; looking forward to 2018’s Nitty-Gritty (Dancing to the M&As, canaries, Babylon, KardiaBands on Apple Watches…)
The Theranos Story, ch. 45: a ‘Christmas present’ $100 million loan from Fortress averts bankruptcy (updated) (A Trojan Horse?)
2017 wrapup: state telehealth reimbursement policies and progress made (Center for Connected Health Policy tracks 63 legislative actions in 34 states)

 


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

click to enlargeThe 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!

click to enlargeThis 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.

Rounding up the roundups in health tech and digital health for 2017; looking forward to 2018’s Nitty-Gritty

click to enlargeOur Editors will be lassoing our thoughts for what happened in 2017 and looking forward to 2018 in several articles. So let’s get started! Happy Trails!

2017’s digital health M&A is well-covered by Jonah Comstock’s Mobihealthnews overview. In this aggregation, the M&A trends to be seen are 1) merging of services that are rather alike (e.g. two diabetes app/education or telehealth/telemedicine providers) to buy market share, 2) services that complement each other by being similar but with strengths in different markets or broaden capabilities (Teladoc and Best Doctors, GlobalMed and TreatMD), 3) fill a gap in a portfolio (Philips‘ various acquisitions), or 4) payers trying yet again to cement themselves into digital health, which has had a checkered record indeed. This consolidation is to be expected in a fluid and relatively early stage environment.

In this roundup, we miss the telecom moves of prior years, most of which have misfired. WebMD, once an acquirer, once on the ropes, is being acquired into a fully corporate info provider structure with its pending acquisition by KKR’s Internet Brands, an information SaaS/web hoster in multiple verticals. This points to the commodification of healthcare information. 

click to enlargeLove that canary! We have a paradigm breaker in the pending CVS-Aetna merger into the very structure of how healthcare can be made more convenient, delivered, billed, and paid for–if it is approved and not challenged, which is a very real possibility. Over the next two years, if this works, look for supermarkets to get into the healthcare business. Payers, drug stores, and retailers have few places to go. The worldwide wild card: Walgreens Boots. Start with our article here and move to our previous articles linked at the end.

US telehealth and telemedicine’s march towards reimbursement and parity payment continues. See our article on the CCHP roundup and policy paper (for the most stalwart of wonks only). Another major change in the US is payment for more services under Medicare, issued in early November by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) in its Final Rule for the 2018 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule. This also increases payment to nearly $60 per month for remote patient monitoring, which will help struggling RPM providers. Not quite a stride, but less of a stumble for the Grizzled Survivors. MedCityNews

In the UK, our friends at The King’s Fund have rounded up their most popular content of 2017 here. Newer models of telehealth and telemedicine such as Babylon Health and PushDoctor continue to struggle to find a place in the national structure. (Babylon’s challenge to the CQC was dropped before Christmas at their cost of £11,000 in High Court costs.) Judging from our Tender Alerts, compared to the US, telecare integration into housing is far ahead for those most in need especially in support at home. Yet there are glaring disparities due to funding–witness the national scandal of NHS Kernow withdrawing telehealth from local residents earlier this year [TTA coverage here]. This Editor is pleased to report that as of 5 December, NHS Kernow’s Governing Body has approved plans to retain and reconfigure Telehealth services, working in partnership with the provider Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust (CFT). Their notice is here.

More UK roundups are available on Digital Health News: 2017 review, most read stories, and cybersecurity predictions for 2018. David Doherty’s compiled a group of the major international health tech events for 2018 over at 3G Doctor. Which reminds this Editor to tell him to list #MedMo18 November 29-30 in NYC and that he might want to consider updating the name to 5G Doctor to mark the transition over to 5G wireless service advancing in 2018.

Data breaches continue to be a worry. The Protenus/DataBreaches.net roundup for November continues the breach a day trend. The largest breach they detected was of over 16,000 patient records at the Hackensack Sleep and Pulmonary Center in New Jersey. The monthly total was almost 84,000 records, a low compared to the prior few months, but there may be some reporting shifting into December. Protenus blog, MedCityNews

And perhaps there’s a future for wearables, in the watch form. The Apple Watch’s disconnecting from the phone (and the slowness of older models) has led to companies like AliveCor’s KardiaBand EKG (ECG) providing add-ons to the watch. Apple is trying to develop its own non-invasive blood glucose monitor, with Alphabet’s (Google) Verily Study Watch in test having sensors that can collect data on heart rate, gait and skin temperature. More here from CNBC on Big Tech and healthcare, Apple’s wearables.

Telehealth saves lives, as an Australian nurse at an isolated Coral Bay clinic found out. He hooked himself up to the ECG machine and dialed into the Emergency Telehealth Service (ETS). With assistance from volunteers, he was able to medicate himself with clotbusters until the Royal Flying Doctor Service transferred him to a Perth hospital. Now if he had a KardiaBand….WAToday.com.au  Hat tip to Mike Clark

This Editor’s parting words for 2017 will be right down to the Real Nitty-Gritty, so read on!: (more…)

A basket of reflections, considerations on CVS-Aetna: Epic, Cerner, the model, and hospitals’ role

click to enlargeWith the holidays and the end of the year coming in a little over two short weeks, there’s plenty of room for thoughts, reasoned speculation, and some unusual takes on the CVS-Aetna merger. This Editor remains in her belief that among us, there’s a bit of exhaustion and an attitude of ‘wait and see’ around the topic among us. The canaries have a case of the vapors….

Let’s sort through some of the more interesting POVs expressed of late by our fellow pressies, which Readers can consider in between cups of good cheer and bites of All That Food. Bear in mind that this merger has a long road to go on a hard road, with potholes marked DOJ and (in this Editor’s opinion) HHS, before it’s a done deal in 2018.

  • A big win for Epic. Currently the EHR for CVS’ MinuteClinics and most recently the care management programs of CVS Specialty, Epic is bullish on the opportunities in what their VP of population health termed the ‘gray space’ in the patient experience outside of the traditional sites of care. In October, CVS added Epic’s Healthy Planet population health analytics platform to learn more about drug dispensing patterns and medication adherence–this Editor believes in preparation for merger talks. The open question this Editor has after all the glow in this article is how Aetna’s varied systems (e.g. ActiveHealth, Medicity, and others) would integrate into Epic, and the price of poker, because with Epic it’s never free. Ask any hospital. Healthcare IT News.
    • Certainly, their main competitor Cerner is feeling the heat after a slowdown in its VA plans, the single largest EHR implementation ever. Congress has held up initial funding making the contract effective (Washington Technology). It is geometrically more complicated than their simultaneous DoD implementation, with $10 billion estimated over 10 years (FCW). Other wrenches in the works: a fresh CliniComp lawsuit against Cerner based on infringement against their 2003 patent on remote hosting, and their appeal of the no-bid award to Cerner [TTA 23 Aug] against VA. Kansas City Business Journal, Healthcare IT News
  • Is it going to increase cost? It might. And what about info sharing with providers? A Harvard Medical School professor opined to Marketplace that instead of self-treatment at home for a cold, the patient might actually traipse to a MinuteClinic for care, thus driving up healthcare costs. This resembles the RAND logic around telemedicine consult expense we deflated in a series of articles back in the spring. Information sharing with regular providers is a bigger issue which urgent cares, telemedicine, and clinics already are dealing with. The paradox is that integration with a payer, with a retailer’s ability to track ancillary purchases such as OTC meds and DME purchases, might actually help that issue. But will it? Will a combined CVS-Aetna share information or hoard it, further disempowering patients? This Stat article calls on Mark Bertolini to promote shared information, engagement, and accountability to balance the scales.
  • Do we really need hospitals? If they don’t change, we might need a lot less of them except for highly specialized treatment. And this is likely a good thing. The HBR points out that CVS-Aetna is hardly the only threat to the traditional hospital–there’s Johns Hopkins’ Hospital at Home program for older adults, UnitedHealthcare’s growing network of providers under OptumCare, including the recent deal for DaVita dialysis centers, and free-standing, low-cost “neighborhood” hospitals, almost like pop-up stores. The article doesn’t mention ‘consult stations’ like Europe’s H4D, which is proving that the kiosk idea isn’t dead. 

The reality is that we won’t know what this merger entails until it actually happens, if it happens–and its final shape will take years to mold. Related: CVS-Aetna: the canary says that DOJ likely to review mergerAnalysis of the CVS-Aetna merger: a new era, a canary in a mine–or both?CVS’ bid for Aetna–will it happen, and kick off a trend? (what will Amazon and other retailers, including supermarkets, do?)

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.

Analysis of the CVS-Aetna merger: a new era, a canary in a mine–or both?

click to enlargeThis Editor has been at two healthcare conferences in the last four business days (with tomorrow being a third). They should be abuzz about how the CVS-Aetna merger may transform healthcare delivery. To her surprise, there’s been a surprising lack of talk. There is a certain element of ‘old news’, as the initial reports date back five weeks but the sheer size of it ($240bn combined future value, $69bn purchase, an estimated $750 million in near-term synergies), being the largest health insurance deal in history, and the anticipated effects on the health delivery model normally would be a breaking news topic. To this Editor, it is a sign that no one truly knows what to make of it, and perhaps it’s too big–or threatening–to grasp for provider and payer executives especially.

For an overview of what we saw at the time as reasons why and possible competitor reaction, Readers should look back to our original article [TTA 28 Oct]. It’s being presented by both companies as a vertical merger of two complementary organizations, which already were moving towards this model, integrating their different services into “America’s front door to quality health care” (CVS CEO Larry Merlo)–a lower cost setting that saves premium dollars and brings integrated care to consumers’ doorsteps.

CVS brings to the table huge point of care assets: 9,700 pharmacy locations, 1,100 MinuteClinics, Omnicare’s senior pharmacy solutions, Coram’s infusion services, and the more than 4,000 CVS Health nursing professionals providing in-clinic and home-based care. Aetna has about 23.1 million medical members, 14.5 million dental members, and 15.2 million pharmacy benefit management (PBM) services members. Aetna also has a wealth of advanced data analytics capabilities through two subsidiaries, ActiveHealth Management and  Medicity’s health information exchange technology.

Seeking Alpha has an intriguing POV on this entry into a ‘new era’: that both CVS and Aetna consider this to be a long-term reshaping of their business model under the threat posed by Amazon, and are willing to do this despite little short-term financial benefit for either company. The problem as the writer sees it: execution. This is re-engineering care on a national scale, and its benefits are based upon combining intangibles, a murky area indeed especially in healthcare. Time is also a factor, as Amazon is getting pharmacy licenses in multiple states, and is rather an expert at combining intangibles.

Does it signal that the approach to a ‘new era’ in healthcare is accelerating? If this is a preview, 2018 will be extremely interesting. Our ‘canary in the coal mine’ may tweet–or fall over on its perch, asphyxiated.

Some additional points to consider: (more…)

CVS’ bid for Aetna–will it happen, and kick off a trend? (updated)

We have scant facts about the reported bid of US drugstore giant CVS to purchase insurance giant Aetna for a tidy sum of $200 per share, or $66 billion plus. This may have been in development for weeks or months, but wisely the sides are keeping mum. According to FOX Business, “an Aetna spokesperson declined to chime in on the reports, saying the company doesn’t “comment on rumors or speculation” and to Drug Store News, a CVS Health spokesperson did the same. Aetna’s current market cap is $53 billion, so it’s a great deal for shareholders if it does happen.

Both parties have sound reasons to consider a merger:

  • CVS, like all retailers, is suffering from the Amazon Effect at its retail stores
  • Retail mergers are done with the Walgreens Boots AllianceRite Aid merger going through considerable difficulties until approved last month
  • The US DOJ and Congress has signaled its disapproval of any major payer merger (see the dragged-out drama of Aetna-Humana)
  • It has reportedly had problems with its pharmacy benefit management (PBM) arm from insurers like Optum (United HealthCare), and only last week announced that it was forming a PBM with another giant, Anthem, called IngenioRx (which to Forbes is a reason why this merger won’t happen–this Editor calls it ‘hedging one’s bets’ or ‘leverage’)
  • Aetna was hard hit by the (un)Affordable Care Act (ACA), and in May announced its complete exit from individual care plans by next year. Losses were $700 million between 2014 and 2016, with over $200 million in 2017 estimated (and this is prior to the Trump Administration’s ending of subsidies).
  • It’s a neat redesign of the payer/provider system. This would create an end-to-end system: insurance coverage from Aetna, CVS’ Minute Clinics delivering care onsite, integrated PBM, retail delivery of care, pharmaceuticals, and medical supplies–plus relationships with many hospital providers (see list here)–this Editor is the first to note this CVS relationship with providers.

We will be in for more regulatory drama, of course–and plenty of competitor reaction. Can we look forward to others such as:

  • Walgreens Boots with Anthem or Cigna (currently at each others’ throats in Delaware court
  • Other specialized, Medicare Advantage/Medicare/Medicaid networks such as Humana or WellCare?
  • Will supermarkets, also big retail pharmacy providers, get into the act? Publix, Wegmans, Shop Rite or Ahold (Stop & Shop, Giant) buying regionals or specialty insurers like the above, a Blue or two, Oscar, Clover, Bright Health….or seeking alliances?
  • And then, there’s Amazon and Whole Foods….no pharmacy in-house at Whole Foods, but talk about a delivery system?

Also Chicago Tribune, MedCityNews.

UPDATED. In seeking an update for the Anthem-Cigna ‘Who Shot John’ court action about breakup fees (there isn’t yet), this Editor came across a must-read analysis in Health Affairs 

(more…)

Connected Health Summit 2017 San Diego — last chance to book!!

29-31 August, The Omni Hotel, San Diego

click to enlargeStarting tomorrow, but not too late to book! Take a trip to Southern California for the end of the traditional summer season (sob!). This year’s Connected Health Summit, organized by research organization Parks Associates, spotlights health technologies as part of the Internet of Things (IoT) and the transformational impact of these connected solutions on the US healthcare system. Presentations are organized around:

  • Remote health monitoring for accountable care
  • Consumer-centric wellness and fitness solutions
  • Independent living technologies and services, including reinventing home health
  • Innovative virtual/convenience care models

Keynoters include 

  • John W. Cosgriff, Chief Strategy Officer, UnitedHealthcare
  • Saquib Rahim MD, MBA, Chief Medical Officer, Aetna
  • Vidya Raman-Tangella, Senior Vice President, and Head, UHC Innovation Center of Excellence, UnitedHealth Group
  • Dale Rayman, Senior Vice President, Actuarial Consulting & Business Development, Sharecare
  • Chanin Wendling, AVP, Informatics, Geisinger Health System

Latest press release info on the conference and the convergence of connected health, IoT, and smart home is here.

For more information and to still save 20 percent, click on the Connected Health Summit’s link here. Telehealth & Telecare Aware is pleased once again to be a media supporter of CHS 2017. Twitter at #CONNHealth17

The End or Beginning? Anthem ends Cigna merger, won’t pay breakup fee, seeks damages (updated)

click to enlargeUpdated. Anthem on Friday 12 May beat Delaware Chancery Court’s Judge Travis Laster’s ticking clock [TTA 11 May], and finally, formally called off its merger with Cigna. Instead of sighs of relief and seeking oblivion in a few bottles of adult beverages, Anthem still won’t stop and let Cigna go. Anthem now refuses to pay the breakup fee per their agreement, claiming once again that Cigna sabotaged the merger, and wants blood from that rock. From the Anthem announcement:

In light of yesterday’s decision and Cigna’s refusal to support the merger, however, Anthem has delivered to Cigna a notice terminating the Merger Agreement. Cigna has failed to perform and comply in all material respects with its contractual obligations. As a result, Cigna is not entitled to a termination fee. On the contrary, Cigna’s repeated willful breaches of the Merger Agreement and its successful sabotage of the transaction has caused Anthem to suffer massive damages, claims which Anthem intends to vigorously pursue against Cigna. (Editor’s highlight)

Now we have Anthem seeking damages from Cigna, which is a matched set with Cigna’s Funny Valentine of 14 February adding over $13 bn in damages to recoup the unrealized premium that shareholders did not earn as a result of the merger failure. Anticipating Anthem’s position even at that time, they flipped a wicked backhand in their statement:

Anthem contracted for and assumed full responsibility to lead the federal and state regulatory approval process, as well as the litigation strategy, under the merger agreement. Cigna fulfilled all of its contractual obligations and fully cooperated with Anthem throughout the approval process.

Our Readers will also recall that in March, Cigna joined with Anthem in supporting Anthem’s appeal to the DC Court of Appeals, an unusual move in this light, but one that further reinforced their non-saboteur ‘we’re just innocent victims here’ position. Cigna has not yet publicly responded. The AMA cheered its apparent complete victory in the name of doctors and patients.

They hate each other and have from the start. The real victims here are the policyholders–patients–of both companies, with both companies distracted by a legal battle. How different they are from both Aetna and Humana, which (at least publicly) politely ended all efforts after the merger denial, paid out their breakup, and went back to business, which right now presents challenges with ACA hitting the long-predicted Actuarial Brick Wall. (Aetna exiting ACA individual exchange plans in 2018)

Judge Laster’s plans for a restful summer on Delaware’s beautiful beaches and bays are likely to have gone the way of the mouse in Robert Burns’ poem ‘To A Mouse’ (stanza 7). He is not alone in Indianapolis or Bloomfield, Connecticut:

But Mousie, thou art no thy-lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!

See you in court! Fortune, Modern Healthcare, Healthcare DiveInterested in the previous details? See our coverage here, including our take on ‘whither the policyholders (patients) and corporate buyers’.

Anthem to Cigna: This merger is on, despite the appeals court decision, but the clock is ticking

click to enlargeThe War of the Payers continues.

Update: The DC Court of Appeals released its decision Friday 28 April to deny the Anthem-Cigna merger, upholding the District Court’s decision. This was a 2 to 1 vote that was issued immediately prior to the 30 April merger expiration. It cited that the savings would not mitigate the anti-competitive effects in the national, large group, and local markets, mainly in Medicare Advantage. What has been under-reported is that 11 states plus DC originally joined with the DOJ to enjoin (stop) the merger. In the US system, any healthcare merger also has to be approved by the states, and this merger was a failure in this area. Remarkably, even the dissenting judge cited problems with hospitals and doctors due to the combined company’s negotiating power.

In any rational business deal, this would be the final nail in the coffin, especially with one of the merger partners already wanting to leave. Unless Anthem wants to appeal to the US Supreme Court, this merger has reached The End of the Line. Yet publicly Anthem is pursuing, at least for the time being. In a statement, Anthem expressed “We are committed to completing the transaction and are currently reviewing the opinion and will carefully evaluate our options.”  Court decision in full. Healthcare Dive. MedCityNews.

To recap other recent developments: In February, the two insurers were filing and counter-filing each other in Delaware Chancery Court–Cigna to end their merger, Anthem to continue. Last Wednesday (19 April), Anthem filed an injunction to prevent the deal from expiring as per the merger agreement on 30 April. This injunction may be heard by the Chancery Court on 8 May, according to Anthem documents, but the main court documents are still under seal. (Law 360, via Healthcare Dive 24 April)

In prior Federal court actions, the Federal District Court in DC, based on action by the US Department of Justice, first denied the merger on 8 February on antitrust and anti-competitive grounds [TTA 9 Feb]. Unlike the also denied Aetna-Humana merger, it was publicly known, to the point where it was cited in the District Court decision, that the companies had significant disagreements on the merger. After the denial, Anthem wasted no time in appealing for a reversal of the decision with the DC Court of Appeals. Cigna lost no time in initially wanting no part of any appeal of the ruling by Anthem–and filed in Delaware Chancery Court for $13 bn in damages in addition to the contractual breakup fee of $1.85 bn [TTA 14 Feb]. Two days later, Anthem filed in the same court for an injunction to delay the merger agreement’s legal termination [TTA 16 Feb]. In March, Cigna surprisingly filed a brief in support of Anthem’s appeal (Healthcare Dive). Anthem has also denied rumors of an appeal to the Justice Department to save the merger (Reuters), which is now moot if it ever existed.

As the clock winds down, there remain rivers of bad blood and accusations of bad faith between these two organizations which will continue to be fought in court. Was this merger ever really necessary? No, and it never was, and in our 16 February/21 February update (see analysis), this Editor opines on why Anthem’s to-date persistence in pursuing this has been extraordinarily harmful–to their customers and to both companies.

Updated: Aetna’s Bertolini to Humana: Let’s call the whole thing off.

Updated–Humana exits individual exchange policy markets

Breaking News On this Valentine’s Day, a Romance Gone Flat. This morning, both Aetna and Humana formally announced the end of their merger, ruling out any appeal of the Federal District Court decision against it last month [TTA 24 Jan]. While positioned as a mutual agreement, Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini took the key quote in the release: “While we continue to believe that a combined company would create greater value for health care consumers through improved affordability and quality, the current environment makes it too challenging to continue pursuing the transaction. We are disappointed to take this course of action after 19 months of planning, but both companies need to move forward with their respective strategies in order to continue to meet member expectations. Our mutual respect for our companies’ capabilities has grown throughout this process, and we remain committed to a shared goal of helping drive the shift to a consumer-centric health care system.”

Humana’s release limited the announcement to one line and briskly moved on to what really counts–the financials. They will receive a breakup payment of $1 bn (after taxes, $630 million) from Aetna, with their 2017 financial guidance call/release taking place after 4pm EST today. Molina Healthcare, which was to receive certain Aetna Medicare Advantage assets from Aetna post-merger to relieve an over-dominance in some markets, will also receive an undisclosed termination fee. Ka-ching! CNBC, Hartford Courant (Aetna’s hometown paper)

UPDATED 2/14-16 Humana’s financial release announced an updated strategy, share repurchases, a nicely increased dividend–and, buried in the release, their exit effective 2018 from the ‘individual commercial’ business, which are individual policies offered in 11 states through the ACA-created Federal Marketplaces, citing an ‘unbalanced risk pool’ and losses estimated at $45 million for FY17. (By 2018, it may be a moot point.) It is ironic that Aetna’s exit from exchange policies due to unprofitability (or not, as it turned out to be in a few cases) proved to be one of the many bricks that broke the merger, in Judge Bates’ view. The truth is that Aetna and Humana are hardly alone in fleeing the exchanges, and that they have turned out to be unprofitable, as predicted.

click to enlargeConsistent with their behavior over the 19 months of the proposed merger, both Aetna and Humana are publicly respectful, unlike….

These other two will never be one, something must be done? The demise of the Anthem-Cigna merger [TTA 9 Feb], now breaking up in Delaware Chancery Court, may mean a period of Payer Merger Quiet. Does this mean a refocusing on benefiting corporate and individual policyholders during the certain changes to come? Aetna may also proceed with a plan to move operations to Boston, which may affect hundreds of jobs, but has pledged to keep a presence in Hartford according to the Hartford Courant. Humana continues to be interested in investment opportunities and, from reports, another merger.

Goodness knows what the end will be! (Hat tip to Ira Gershwin for the title and the interpolated lyrics!)

Anthem-Cigna merger nixed, finally (US)

click to enlarge Breaking News. Not with a bang, but a whimper. Late Wednesday 8 Feb, the anticipated decision derailing the $54 million Anthem-Cigna merger was released by the Federal District Court, District of Columbia. Judge Amy Berman Jackson’s decision denying the merger was very much along the anti-competitive and anti-trust rationales contained in the 19 January advance report by the New York Post. There’s little that hasn’t already been explored in our prior reports, so we will leave the rehashing to sources like CNBC. The general consensus is that the four Big Payer Merger participants (Aetna and Humana merger denied [TTA 24 Jan]) will be moving on, perhaps to their advantage as most of the premises for merging, based on ACA’s effects, are expected to change, drastically.

Cigna must also be relieved after its reported ‘merger remorse’ after too many rumored disagreements with Anthem. According to Bloomberg, Cigna is sitting on $7 to $14 billion deployable capital, with the high end including extra debt. (Does this include the $1.85 bn breakup fee that Anthem owes to Cigna? Stay tuned on how Anthem tries to get out of this.) And the American Medical Association is beyond delighted (release).

Of course, there’s a lot of speculation about all that loose cash being deployed on new merger targets, which include the Usual Suspects of Humana, WellCare, Centene and Molina. Some free advice: all these companies should, for the next year, sit quietly and breathe deeply (as many employees who would be redundant in any merger are). They should also take care of business (TCB!), refocus on serving their policyholders, make their processes far less onerous on providers, and let it all shake out rather than rushing out to find out Who To Buy. (New Attorney General Jeff Sessions was sworn in this morning, and many changes are coming in both healthcare policy and the judiciary.) Also Neil Versel’s pointed take in MedCityNews.

Updates on Anthem-Cigna, Aetna-Humana mergers

click to enlargeFor our Readers following the Continuing Soap Opera which involves the payer mergers of Aetna-Humana and Anthem-Cigna, some updates:

  • Anthem-Cigna still undecided by despite our 19 January report that the merger would be denied by Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia. Reading the SEC 8-K filed in July 2015, the extension to 30 April is automatic if the merger is not consummated or is non-appealable by 31 January. Likely this is to Cigna’s chagrin, as multiple sources over the two years this has been going on have detailed the growing disagreements between the two companies. As we noted in January, Anthem is also running up against ‘the Blues rule’ where it does business as a Blue Cross Blue Shield plan. The arguments that this internal competition is beneficial are pretzel-like indeed.
  • A labor union investor, Westchester Putnam Counties Heavy & Highway Laborers Local 60 Benefits Funds, is suing Aetna for shareholder losses in the Federal District Court in the District of Connecticut (complaint here). The demand is for a jury trial and details what they believe to be false and misleading statements by management and not disclosing adverse facts.

Healthcare Dive is recommended for their two deeper dives: 1 Feb on Anthem-Cigna and the outcomes of both mergers, 30 Jan on the labor union lawsuit. The likelihood of either happening becomes more remote as time goes by, but there could be a surprise.

Breaking: Aetna-Humana merger blocked by Federal court

Breaking News from Washington Judge John B. Bates of the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia ruled today (23 Jan), as expected, against the merger of insurance giants Aetna and Humana. Grounds cited were the reduction in competition for Medicare Advantage plans, where both companies compete. “In this case, the government alleged that the merger of Aetna and Humana would be likely to substantially lessen competition in markets for individual Medicare Advantage plans and health insurance sold on the public exchanges.” The decision could be appealed in the US Appeals Court for the DC Circuit, or could be abandoned for different combinations, for example a rumored Cigna-Humana merger, or smaller companies in the Medicare/Medicaid market such as Centene, WellCare, and Molina Healthcare. Certainly there is money about: Humana would gain a $1 bn breakup fee from Aetna, and Cigna $1.85 bn.

No decision to date has been made in the Anthem-Cigna merger, but the general consensus of reports is that it will be denied by Federal Judge Jackson soon. [TTA 19 Jan]

Healthcare DiveBloomberg, Business InsiderBenzinga

Of course, with a new President determined to immediately roll back the more onerous regulatory parts of the ACA, in one of his first Executive Orders directing that Federal agencies ease the “regulatory burdens” of ObamaCare on both patients (the mandatory coverage) and providers, the denial of these two mega-mergers in the 2009-2016 environment may be seen as a capital ‘dodging the bullet’ in a reconfigured–and far less giving to Big Payers–environment. FoxNews