Your busy Editor, who has been on business assignment this past month, has noticed the relative quiet around the subject of How Amazon is Rattling Healthcare. We’ve already noted here the retail and pharmacy/pharmacy benefit effects with CVS-Aetna, Albertsons-Rite Aid, and Cigna-Express Scripts. Aside from the bottom line, and Cigna finally closing a gap with other insurers with pharmacy benefit management services (PBM), is it good for the healthcare consumer as promised?
Max Nisen’s article in Bloomberg Gadfly (sic) says ‘not so fast’. His argument is as follows:
- Companies are largely following the lead of UnitedHealth and its Optum units, which integrate not only insurance and PBM but physician groups and analytics.
- Deals will continue. There’s other insurers like Anthem, Humana, and the regional Blues; urgent clinics like CityMD, AtlantiCare, and MedExpress. Looming above all with clinics and retail pharmacies is Walgreens Boots and on the retail side, other supermarkets like Publix and Ahold Group.
- Consolidation means fewer alternatives, competition, and thus less downward pricing pressure for both providers and consumers, as options decrease into what resembles a closed system. The merged companies will have debt to pay off, with pressure to pay off lenders and shareholders.
All this is regardless of what Amazon does with JP Morgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway. Their admirable, seemingly altruistic reasons for this joint venture, in this view, has multiple unintended consequences and negative effects for ordinary folk–and doctors.
As for healthcare technology, when a Big Trend takes the air out of the room–EHRs, ACA, Watson/big data, even wearables, IoT and Big Data– more mundane everyday tech like remote patient monitoring and telecare, which depend on integrating into healthcare/wellness/chronic care management systems and reimbursement (by those same insurers), tend to suffocate.
Also of interest: Cigna may be too late to the PBM party (InvestorPlace)
Obviously, CVS is confident of an approved merger and that it will work. CVS issued $40bn of investment-grade debt today (6 March) to finance the purchase of Aetna, according to sources talking to Bloomberg. The attraction was premium interest and other incentives, up to 1.95 percentage points above Treasuries in the 30-year portion of the nine-part offering. This serves to refinance a bridge loan of $49bn from 20 investors that was taken in December to initially finance the $67.5 bn acquisition.
By Bloomberg’s calculation, the bond sale ranked only behind $40bn +blockbusters from Verizon (2013) and AB InBev (2016). Analysts and portfolio managers cheered at the terms. It’s expected to close by second half 2018. No word yet from DOJ, however, which asked for additional information on 1 Feb which further extends their waiting period. Mutual shareholder meetings are still scheduled for 20 March [TTA 2 Feb].
Another positive investor take is over at Seeking Alpha, citing excellent fundamentals, a diverse revenue stream, and innovation in “management’s commitment to evolve the company for the future” as well as “trying to revolutionize the doctor-patient-pharmacy relationship, and using its convenience store appeal to support it.” But we knew that already! The article goes on to extrapolate on the Amazon Effect and where CVS, with a bit of tweaking (healthier food choices with pre-made options in stores, much as many Duane Reade/Walgreens have in NYC), could steal a march. (Our prior coverage and mentions are here.)
The perceived ‘Amazon Effect’ continues. As predicted when the CVS-Aetna merger proposal made its first news last October while the Autumn Leaves were falling (cue the Ferrante and Teicher), other retail shoes would be dropping. Today’s major news is supermarket Albertsons buying most of drug store chain Rite Aid–the 2,600 stores that Walgreens Boots was prohibited from acquiring due to antitrust concerns. (Their eventual deal was for 1,932 stores.)
The terms are cash and stock with an estimated value of the combined companies of $24 billion (WSJ). Present Rite Aid shareholders will take 29 percent of the combined companies and present Albertson shareholders over 70 percent. Another benefit for Albertsons–it’s a quick and easy way to go public without an IPO using Rite Aid’s public status to effect a reverse takeover merger. It solves for Rite Aid (and Walgreens) the large problem of the unsold Rite Aid stores.
Albertsons’ 2,200 supermarkets are in 38 states and the District of Columbia and comprise multiple brands such as Safeway and Acme in addition to Albertsons. Rite Aid stand-alone stores will continue to operate under their brand name as will most in-store pharmacies. The Rite Aid CEO John Standley will become CEO of the combined company with the Albertsons CEO moving up to chairman. CNBC, Seeking Alpha
Updated: For your weekend reading, here’s Jane Sarasohn-Kahn’s measured take on this acquisition in her HealthPopuli.
Who’s next? Place your bets here in Comments!