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.

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.

Can Big Pharmas hiring of digital execs actually ‘reimagine medicine’?

Reimagination or hallucination? In recent weeks, both Glaxo Smith Kline and now Novartis have hired digital analytics and marketing executives out of non-healthcare businesses to lead their digital transformation. For GSK, Karenann Terrell joined in the new position of chief digital and technology officer from six years as chief information officer for Walmart and CIO for pharma Baxter International. From Sainsbury’s Argos, Bertrand Bodson will be assuming the chief digital officer title at Novartis without any previous healthcare experience.

Both are expected to be transformative, disruptive, and ‘reimagine medicine’. Ms. Terrell’s experience and accomplishments appear to be the closest fit to her GSK’s job expectations of integrating digital, data, and analytics strategy with enhancing clinical trials and drug discovery, as well as improving professional and consumer interactions. Novartis’ mission for Mr. Bodson aims even higher. In addition to these, he will be ‘transforming our business model using digital technologies’, ‘reimagine (sic) medicine by leveraging digital on behalf of millions of patients and practitioners’, and ‘leading cultural change’.

Both companies have good starts in advanced technologies–GSK in AI, sensor technologies for managing COPD, and a medical device mobile app; Novartis with ‘smart pill’ Proteus, a pilot with heart medication Entresto tied to monitoring and coaching, and through its Alcon subsidiary with Google, a wired-up contact lens that detects blood glucose [TTA 17 July 14]. However, this last appears to be stalled in trials and Alcon on the block. According to the FT, Novartis is feeling the pressure to develop more digital partnerships, such as Novo Nordisk’s teaming with Glooko and Sanofi with Verily Life, all in diabetic management. Acquisitions may also be the way forward.

A significant impediment to all this integration is consumer and professional trust. If too closely tied to a pharmaceutical company or appearing to be too self-serving, remote monitoring and counseling may not be trusted to be in the patient’s (or doctor’s) best interest or objective as to better approaches. The overuse of analytics, for instance in counseling or patient direction, may be perceived as violating patient privacy–creeping out the patient isn’t helpful. The bottom line: will these digital technologies serve the patient and maintain medical best practices–or best serve the pharmaceutical company’s interests?

This Editor doesn’t question these individuals’ ability, but the organizations’ capability for change. But count this Editor as a skeptic on whether one or two digital execs can marshal the bandwidth and the internal credibility to transform these lumbering, complex, regulated, and long cycle businesses. Big Retail is fast moving by comparison. PMLive 31 July (GSK), 13 Sept (Novartis)  Hat tip to TTA alumna Toni Bunting

Soapbox: How healthcare disruption can be sidetracked

click to enlargeRon Hammerle’s comment on Disruptive innovation in healthcare hasn’t begun yet: Christensen (TTA 31 Mar), posted on LinkedIn’s Healthcare Innovation by Design group, made the excellent point that a potentially disruptive and decentralizing healthcare service–retail clinics–has been sidetracked, at least in the US, leaving an open question on their reason for being. This Editor thought it was worthy of a Soapbox. Mr. Hammerle knows of what he speaks because his Tampa, Florida-based company, Health Resources Ltd., works with retail and employer-based clinics to connect them via telemedicine/telehealth systems with medical centers.

When Clayton Christensen first anticipated that retail clinics would be disruptive to the established healthcare industry, their business model was potentially disruptive. What has subsequently happened, however, is a prime example of how potentially disruptive movements can be sidetracked.

After acquiring MinuteClinic and laying the foundation for taking retail clinics national, CVS Caremark chose to make deals with hospitals, which could easily afford to rent, open and operate such clinics without making money on the front end or facing real disruption. Retail clinics were a loss leader to hospitals in exchange for large, downstream revenues, and slightly-enhanced market share for the retailer’s pharmacy.

After CVS shocked Walgreens with one-two punches involving MinuteClinic and Caremark acquisitions, Walgreens came back with three counter-punches of its own:

1. They doubled the number of their clinics (to 700) in less than two years, thwarted AMA opposition, leapfrogged ahead of CVS in clinic count and totally changed the retail clinic model by setting up politically-invisible, broader service, make-your-profit-up-front, employer-based clinics. (more…)