Two studies: Telehealth underutilized, underbilled, even during pandemic–and accounted for only modest increases in costs, quality

A newly published study in April’s Health Affairs Scholar points to telehealth’s surprisingly low reimbursable takeup among tradtional Medicare beneficiaries–even during the pandemic. This study evaluates E&M (evaluation and management) Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) billing against codes that were established during the pandemic to pay providers for telehealth (e-visits in the study), 99421-99423. It also broke down e-visits by different clinician types: primary care, medical specialties, surgical specialties, behavioral health, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants, and counted the most frequent diagnoses. E-visits constituted less than 0.1% of E&M services in the monitored period, 2020-22.

Key findings:

  • E-visit billing hit an absolute peak in April 2020 of 728 monthly encounters per 100,000 beneficiaries. It dropped off dramatically by summer 2020 and later stabilized to approximately 90 monthly encounters per 100,000 beneficiaries.
  • Only 0.8% of Medicare beneficiaries who received an E&M service were billed for at least one e-visit.
  • E-visits constituted 0.09%, 0.05%, and 0.05% of all E&M services in 2020, 2021, and 2022.
  • Primary care providers accounted for over 50% of the billing.
  • Approximately 30% were billed at the highest level of clinician time, requiring at least 21 minutes.
  • Hypertension was the most common diagnosis addressed in e-visits (21%), followed by diabetes (2.3%) and COVID-19 (2%).
  • Surprisingly, fewer beneficiaries receiving e-visits lived in rural areas.


Note to Readers: for those puzzled by the absence of mental health diagnoses, FAIR Health’s monthly telehealth tracker which during the pandemic showed Covid/respiratory diagnoses first, then mental health–and mental health as #1 in about 5% of claims since then –FAIR uses a different methodology. It tracks medical claims for private health plans only, not traditional Medicare, Medicare Advantage, or Medicaid. It also does a comparison on CPT 99213, comparing a specific procedure provided via telehealth to the same procedure provided in an office. 15 April methodology release

Editor’s Note, strictly anecdotal: As someone who worked as the sole marketer for a management services company with primary care ACOs during the period in early 2020 when HHS was turning out new codes nearly hourly to create telehealth flexibilities in Medicare, there was considerable confusion around codes and what they covered. Our teams, sourcing from HHS and the AMA, had our hands full to correctly specify and document the CPT codes established at that time. I know because I worked on said documentation that we condensed into a two-page fast guide and then into presentations. Many of the codes were telephonic. My conclusion about this study is that it was very narrow and tracked too few codes. Other factors: practices had difficulty using audio/video telehealth with their patient populations–if the practices had it, patients weren’t ready (tech barriers) or willing to use. Some of the practices reported that they didn’t bill for telehealth encounters during this confused time, trading off reimbursement for overall patient care and marking up quality metrics such as Annual Wellness Visits.

A second telehealth study, published this month in Health Affairs, looked at health systems to assess whether telehealth increased or decreased healthcare spending and usage by Medicare beneficiaries. The study defined by quartile health systems that had high telemedicine usage versus those with higher in-person usage, based on 2020 visits. Their conclusions tracked the changes between the 2019 baseline, 2020, and 2021-22. This study found only a modest increase after 2020 in visits and spend in the highest quartile of telemedicine usage for patient care.

  • In 2020, patients in the highest quartile of telemedicine use had 2.5 telemedicine visits per person (26.8 percent of visits) compared with 0.7 telemedicine visits per person (9.5 percent of visits) in the lowest quartile of telemedicine use.
  • Patients in the highest quartile had modest increases in office visits, care continuity, and medication adherence, as well as decreases in ED visits, relative to patients of health systems in the lowest quartile.
  • During 2021–22, relative to the lowest quartile, patients in the highest quartile had an increase of 0.21 total outpatient visits (telemedicine and in-person) per patient per year (2.2 percent relative increase)
  • That group also had a decrease of 14.4 annual non-COVID-19 emergency department visits per 1,000 patients per year (2.7 percent relative decrease)
  • Per patient per year spending increased by $248 (1.6 percent relative increase)
  • They also had increased adherence for metformin and statins.
  • There were no clear differential changes in hospitalizations or receipt of preventive care.

The researchers contend their findings confirm that the flexibilities around telehealth instituted during the pandemic for Medicare beneficiaries should continue past their scheduled expiration at the end of 2024. The moderate spending increase is also confirmed by another study through 2021 by the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission found that geographic areas with higher telemedicine uptake had a spending increase of $165 per patient and a 3 percent relative increase in total clinical encounters. Healthcare Dive

Short takes: VA seeks vendor to support EHR testing; Defense Health seeks ‘digital front door’ vendor; GAO recommendations to Oracle; Nonin partners with Finland’s Medixine; Lumeris gains $100M equity funding

VA needs support for testers of the Oracle Cerner EHR. Formally, this is called the Independent Enterprise Testing and Support Services Contract for the Department of Veterans Affairs. This will support the testing community overseen by the VA Electronic Health Record Modernization (EHRM) Integration Office Program which is part of the transition/deployment to the Oracle Cerner EHR. The IETSS covers project management, test and evaluation support, testing and technology support, test systems engineering and implementation support and test process, and quality management support. As is typical of Federal/VA contracts, it is a hybrid firm-fixed-price and time-and-materials contract with a 12-month base period of performance, four 12-month options, with an optional transition support period at the end of the period of performance. Responses are due by 3 May. ExecutiveGov, contract/application details on

The Defense Health Agency (DHA) wants to build a ‘digital front door’ for health services. Partnering with the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) at the Pentagon, what’s required is creation of a “technology-enabled framework” in a “new model for delivering care’ integrated with or replacing their current system and that “removes administrative, cognitive and repetitive burdens from the workforce.” This can be supplied by a single vendor or a team of vendors. The change areas are patient experience, provider-supported technology in the health ecosystem, and data management support. NextGov/FCW, DHA press release  The Digital Front Door Plus solicitation with details has a response due by 1 May

The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) has recommendations coming out of their ongoing user satisfaction study of MHS Genesis that impact the joint MHS/VA implementation at the MHS Genesis Lovell FHCC implementation. This went live in March. The recommendation for the VA side is that “the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Federal EHR Modernization Office to identify and address specific barriers to maximizing integration at the FHCC, consistent with the FHCC executive agreement.” GAO report summary

Shifting away from government work…

Finnish health tech company Medixine is expanding its partnership with Nonin’s med monitors. Medixine will be co-developing with Nonin Medical remote digital monitoring services for patient diagnoses of chronic conditions. The first usage combines the Medixine monitoring platform with Nonin’s pulse oximetry devices in areas such as sleep screening using overnight sleep oximetry. This can determine if patients need and qualify for supplemental oxygen or require further testing for sleep apnea in a single night’s test. Medixine release


Lumeris completes a $100 million equity capital raise. The 2 April round announced on Monday was led by lender Deerfield Management and new investor Endeavor Health. Also participating were existing investors Kleiner Perkins, Sandbox Industries, BlueCross BlueShield Venture Partners, and JDLinx (an investment company owned by John Doerr). Total funding now tops $325 million (Crunchbase). Lumeris describes itself as a care strategy, technology, and operations provider for large provider groups to manage all value-based populations, including Medicare Advantage, traditional Medicare, commercial, and Medicaid. The new funding will support expanded partnerships with health systems and physician groups to move them into value-based care models. Mobihealthnews, release

What the DOJ and FTC Merger Guidelines mean for healthcare M&A–a Epstein Becker Green podcast

Are you in the (mostly) lucky group of companies seeking to buy or be bought? This podcast is a ‘must hear’ as likely you’ll be affected. Healthcare law firm Epstein Becker Green’s roundtable podcast in the ‘Diagnosing Health Care’ series is their half-hour condensed view on the new Federal Merger Guidelines that the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) finalized last 18 December. Their view on how it will affect healthcare organizations is not too different from your Editor’s lengthy review of the DOJ/FTC document published on 20 December. The DOJ/FTC end-of-year drop perhaps (ahem) was timed to bury the bad news, drowning it in a punch bowl of good cheer or in holiday busy-ness.

This Editor (note: not a lawyer nor do I play one on TV or YouTube) took the view that it was that it was a whole scuttle of coal for healthcare holiday stockings (right) and that it would discourage much of 2024’s healthcare M&A until companies figured what mergers would likely past muster, among other predictions. The EBG folks mostly agree. They also point out that the final Guidelines’ language is “more aggressive” than the draft that many healthcare organizations took issue with–what the article referred to as “substantially more restrictive language and interpretation”. There are some wins from the draft, but much of the language, especially on vertical mergers, simply moved into one or another of the 11 Guidelines. 

The EBG team on the podcast (available for play on the web page and download) are Trish Wagner, John Steren, and Jeremy Morris, moderated by Dan Fahey. Below are some key points made by the team on the podcast. Your Editor recommends that you pull up our 20 December article as a reference to the specific Guideline references they make.

  • Background: Horizontal merger Guidelines were last updated in 2010. Vertical merger Guidelines were issued in 2020 but later rescinded. These new Guidelines apply to both horizontal and vertical mergers and acquisitions. US antitrust is based on three acts passed by Congress: The Sherman Antitrust Act (1890), the Clayton Act (1914), and the Federal Trade Commission Act of 1914, now in US Code Title 15. The Guidelines since then are based on them as well as case law.  (From the wrapup) Courts tend to be very deferential to the Guidelines.
  • The wording of Guideline #8, When a Merger is Part of a Series of Multiple Acquisitions, the Agencies May Examine the Whole Series, is both interesting and aggressive in that it will be considered and opens up a pattern of acquisitions. This can be by private equity (PE) or other owners.
  • Guidelines #1, Mergers Raise a Presumption of Illegality When They Significantly Increase Concentration in a Highly Concentrated Market, and 2, Mergers Can Violate the Law When They Eliminate Substantial Competition Between Firms, impact hospital mergers. Prior merger guidelines focused on highly concentrated markets using a point system (HHI, the Herfindahl-Hirschman Index, is a common measure of market concentration). This measure sets a lower bar.
    • To trigger #1, a market share above 30% and an HHI over 100 can trigger it even in unconcentrated markets.
    • On #2, elimination of direct competition is maybe in and of itself harmful
  • Guideline #6, Mergers Can Violate the Law When They Entrench or Extend a Dominant Position: for horizontal mergers, ‘entrench’ is in practice the operative term, whereas ‘extend’ applies mainly to vertical mergers. Companies will have to demonstrate that the beneficial competitive effects outweigh the anticompetitive, especially when involving consumers. And they will have to demonstrate why the merger is necessary. 
  • Wrapping up:
    • Ms. Wagner: the Guidelines don’t have the force of law, but they do have impact because they are about the process on how mergers are evaluated. Courts have been very deferential to the Guidelines.
    • Mr. Morris: hospital leaders will have to contemplate this “huge change in a moment” which he questioned. He emphasized that organizations involve their antitrust counsel now even earlier than previously.
    • Mr. Steren: “healthcare has a bullseye on its back”. It is immediately more restrictive. It fits right in with what current enforcers do in trying to bring “persuasive authority” to bring new, novel, cases into court. He seconded Mr. Morris’ last remark.

This Editor, as the Canary in the Coal Mine, will assume that UnitedHealth Group and others have already anticipated that they will have difficulty now making new acquisitions, obtaining approvals for ones that haven’t been finalized, or making quick sales of units they no longer want (Walgreens). Hospitals will find that divestiture and regional mergers will be discouraged. Acquirers who’ve been concentrating on filling out their platforms with vertical acquisitions may find that these Guidelines are also written to trip them up–and once tripped, each Guideline knocks on another. (For other predicted consequences, see the 20 December article.)

Breaking: UnitedHealth admits to paying ransomwareistes on Change stolen patient data (updated)

Admitted, finally, to CNBC on Monday. UnitedHealth told CNBC in a statement. “A ransom was paid as part of the company’s commitment to do all it could to protect patient data from disclosure.” UHG’s release alludes to this but without specifics as to what entity was paid (ALPHV? RansomHub?) nor the amount. It vaguely states that it reviewed 22 screenshots “some containing PHI and PII, posted for about a week on the dark web by a malicious threat actor” and that “it is likely to take several months of continued analysis before enough information will be available to identify and notify impacted customers and individuals”. This seems to point to the most recent RansomHub offer of 4TB of Change Healthcare PHI/PII for sale, not the original breach, but UHG’s information is inconclusive for the reader. Also Becker’s.

However, the admission that Change files were breached and a ransom was paid is substantial and points to multiple leaks of the PHI and PII on multiple sites. Despite no identification and notification of customers yet, UHG is offering a support hotline to individuals concerned about the cyberattack, offering free credit monitoring and identity theft protections for two years plus “emotional support.”

Another fun fact that points to in its short article is that the Wall Street Journal (also cited by TechCrunch) said that its research indicated that the original breach came from stolen remote access credentials. It took only a week for ALPHV’s hackers to explore the system before deploying the cyberransom and hacking software through Change’s systems. Updated: the WSJ pins the original breach to 12 February but the hackers didn’t ‘detonate’ the ransomware till 21 February. Also multi-factor authentication is standard operating procedure for remote access, but MFA wasn’t enabled on this.  Developing and will be updated. Our article posted on Monday here with links to our prior articles.

Who really has the 4TB of Change Healthcare data 4 sale? And in great timing, Optum lays off a rumored 20K–say wot?

The data is for sale! And the top does not go down, but the price definitely goes up! That old antique auto auction cry is paraphrased here because the 4TB of patient data hacked from Change’s systems is up for sale, since Change/Optum didn’t buy it. Interested parties should stroll over to the dark web and see RansomHub’s listing for details.

Unlike some news sources that got confused, this apparently is the same 4TB that BlackCat/ALPHV affiliate ‘notchy’ stole (technically, exfiltrated) posted about on a dark web site shortly after the attack [TTA 7 Mar]. According to those early reports, ‘notchy’ was dissatisfied that he didn’t get a cut of the $22 million ransom that Optum supposedly paid the BlackCat/ALPHV group.

For their $22 million ransom, which Change has not, repeat NOT, confirmed, ALPHV gave Change a decryptor key. But, they didn’t have the good manners to 1) return the stolen data to Change or delete it, which included highly sensitive data from multiple Change customers including active military PII (from Tricare), patient PII, payment and claims data, and much more, and 2) pay a cut to the affiliate. And then ALPHV shut down and ran out of town.

Here’s the latest updates from DataBreaches. net

Over a month later, an outfit called RansomHub posted, again on the dark web, that it has the 4TB of data. 

As reported here on 10 April, there was an announcement on the RansomHub website, not signed by ‘notchy’, that if Change wasn’t interested in paying for the data, it would be up for sale. There was some confusion, based on a WIRED report, that this was a second breach. The RansomHub information seemed to point to only ‘notchy’s’ data.

DataBreaches followed up with RansomHub to 1) verify they had the data, asking if 2) was it ‘notchy’s data’, and 3) how did RansomHub obtain it if not ‘notchy’? RansomHub also leaked some screenshots of  2011-2013 Medicare claims data. This old data raises even more questions on why this data was even available online and not stored offline…unless…. RansomHub’s 15 April posting included this statement, “The more we go through the data the more we are shocked of the amount of financial, medical, and personal information we find and it will be more devastating than the first attack itself.” 

By 16 April, DataBreaches reported that the listing read:

Change HealthCare – OPTUM Group – United HealthCare Group – FOR SALE

The data in now for sale. Anyone interested in the purchase should contact RansomHub. 

But does RansomHub actually have it? Are they ‘notchy’, in it with ‘notchy’, brokering ‘notchy’, or is it a second 4TB breach? Stay tuned.

Thousands at Optum won’t care one way or another. Reports since last Thursday have been that first hundreds, then thousands, then up to 20,000, have been laid off. These are based on social media postings on LinkedIn and boards like The Layoff where anyone can post. Optum has not confirmed any layoffs to industry media such as FierceHealthcare and Becker’s Hospital Review / Becker’s ASC Review which published reports starting last Friday. Federal and state WARN notices, which usually confirm mass layoffs by state, have been oddly empty. 

Across the reports, Optum has laid off staff from their California care division (400), home health provider Landmark Health (500), urgent care MedExpress (all as of 18 July), Genoa (OptumRx-unknown). Notices range from immediate, to two weeks into May, and forward. Types of jobs eliminated have been at all levels of regional and corporate, affecting engineers, care management, clinical, case directors, data operations, and integration managers. This LinkedIn post claims up to 20,000. Optum’s silence has let the rumor mill run overtime.

CMS has lowered Medicare Advantage reimbursement, but other insurers factored this in earlier this year. The major whack was the Change Healthcare cyberattack. Though the public posture of UnitedHealth Group is that most of the systems are back or being worked around, the financial truth is that the Change disaster will cost them $1.6 billion in 2024 as announced last week. It does lead one to wonder about how mighty UHG, on an acquisition tear for years through today, always doing well and pleasing Mr. Market, got quite so overstaffed. How would it be overstaffed by thousands or the rumored 20,000 who are suddenly, dramatically unnecessary? That may boost the stock, but it gives the Feds yet another ax to grind, what with the House savaging an absent UHG on the cyberattack handling and their payments to providers [TTA 18 April], DOJ taking a hard cold look into UHG’s business practices, specifically around antitrust between the payer group and Optum [TTA 6 Mar], and approvals for the Amedisys buy stalling.

Here’s a view at variance, not about the layoffs but about how UHG is really doing. STAT’s analysis of UHG’s financial report is that the Change losses barely dent the overall picture and won’t affect 2024 earnings. Q1’s loss was mostly the Brazil writedown. It also confirmed that CEO Andrew Witty had a certain gall to say in prepared remarks that the Change situation would have been so much worse had they not been owned by UHG. Mr. Witty will have some ‘splainin’ to do before the House and the Senate, 30 April and 1 May, respectively.

Weekend reading: 23andMe’s exploding plastic inevitable fate–and what might have been

23andMe may go private, break up, or go bankrupt. Not many other options. A major end-of-week news item in healthcare was that 23andMe, the beleaguered genetic testing company, may be taken private by its CEO and founder Anne Wojcicki per an SEC 8-K filing on 18 April and a press release issued the same day. Currently, she is a major shareholder controlling more than 20% of the total outstanding shares with ‘supervoting’ rights that entitle her to approximately 49% voting power. She filed a Schedule 13D the prior day indicating her intent to buy all outstanding shares. No offer value nor timing was specified. Bloomberg, LinkedIn

23andMe shares closed Friday at $0.48 on the Nasdaq Global Select Market. On Wednesday, they closed at an all-time low of $0.36. It has not had a close above $1.00 since 29 September 2023. In November, Nasdaq notified them that the company had 180 days to bring the share price above $1.00 or face delisting–and there is little time remaining on the clock. CNBC

In February, after a disastrous fiscal Q3 with net loss tripling and revenue down 32%, Wojcicki floated the idea of separating the consumer genomics/virtual care and the commercial genomic database/drug discovery businesses but has turned now to taking the company private and fully under her control. Its market cap is now about $200 million with $200 million cash on hand, creating a zero-sum situation. The release states that on 28 March, the board of directors formed a special committee to evaluate alternatives to maximizing shareholder value. But when ‘shareholder value’ has to be approved by one shareholder with 49% of the votes, the BOD’s options may be constrained.  

What a difference in three years. In February 2021 after much anticipation, 23andMe went public in a SPAC founded by Richard Branson and soared to a $3.5 billion valuation. It achieved a $4.8 billion market capitalization after buying in October 2021 Lemonaid, a quick-diagnosis/quick-prescription telehealth company for minor but troublesome conditions that was touted, but never became, a nexus of, to quote the announcement, “healthcare that is based on the combination of your genes, your environment, and your lifestyle.”  At the time, its future seemed unlimited between consumer genetic testing (genotyping, not diagnostic) for health and ancestry, building up Lemonaid into a full-featured virtual diagnostics and health service, while taking the deidentified data and marketing it for commercial research to Big Pharma, initially via a five-year exclusive deal with GSK.

That commercial use proved to be a sticky wicket with consumers concerned about how their data was being protected, with opting out made (deliberately?) opaque and difficult. Other than Lemonaid, 23andMe failed to successfully diversify beyond the core ‘one and done’ genotype testing until very late last year. Last February, after their disastrous 6.9 million record data breach turned the spotlights on, the Wall Street Journal revealed that a pricey subscription program for lifestyle counseling that included clinical exome sequencing plus Lemonaid called Total Health failed to gain traction after its late 2023 debut and their in-house drug discovery moved only two out of 50 into early-stage human trials. The GSK deal expired and was not renewed. 23andMe was also torching through cash. [TTA 2 Feb]. The thick and sticky icing on the cake was 23andMe’s antagonistic response to the breached customers, blaming them for recycling passwords and using multiple features they offered [TTA 19 Jan]. This was rightfully blasted in the industry and the subject of multiple consumer class-action lawsuits.

In this Editor’s opinion, 23andMe’s ship must pass between the Scylla and Charybdis of financial choices. Splitting up a near-worthless company into three money-losing parts, like Gaul, is rearranging deck chairs on the sinking ship (to really scramble our metaphors). In either a Chapter 7 (closure) or Chapter 11 (reorganization) option, Wojcicki would lose control and her spot as CEO, wiping out the shareholders, but she might retain some value in Chapter 11 in the IP, depending on how it is structured. Then finally, there is Wojcicki’s buying out the other shareholders. That is dependent on her having or being able to access the cash from investors. None of this solves the failure of the business model, which was for most customers ‘one and done’ testing, not subscribing to additional services, and unsubscribing from any further data use. They saw nothing attractive or useful in the other services. Then as a member to be hacked and blamed for it? That is a run, do not walk, to the exit.

Chapter 7s are usually forced situations where there is little value left in the company other than intellectual property (as in Pear) and equipment (if applicable), zero confidence in management and product delivery (Olive AI), withdrawal of key client business, collapsing in a heap of litigation (Theranos), and any of the above coupled with overwhelming debt that lenders will no longer carry (Babylon Health).

A Must Read for your weekend is Arundhati Parmar’s gem of an essay on 23andMe in MedCityNews–the company’s current dilemma contrasted with what if co-founder Linda Avey had not been ousted in 2009. She expertly sets off interviews with Avey and Wojcicki into an illuminating virtual debate that should be part of an MBA candidate’s case study. Parmar sets them off with analyst views, the experience of a referred 23andMe customer who illuminates the life-changing nature of genetic testing as well as 23andMe’s service drawbacks, and a sparkling view from an empty 23andMe cocktail reception at this past January’s JPM.

TandemStride launches platform to assist survivors of traumatic injury; a personal look

A peer-support platform for those with life-altering injuries. TandemStride is an app for the use and support of those with traumatic injury. It is structured as a peer-to-peer platform to connect those who are injured–from amputations to head and spinal injuries–to mentors and others to share their experiences and connect to resources. The app, available for free on Google Play and the Apple App Store, matches patients with peers who have progressed well in their recovery, with guidance from the TandemStride Assistant. It also connects them with resources such as the Trauma Survivors Network, United Spinal Association, Amputee Coalition, and the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. Local trauma centers can then connect to this national network.

Last week, this Editor had the opportunity to speak with their founder, Matt Kalina. How he came to develop TandemStride threads through health tech’s latest boom and bust cycle–and loops back to the motivation of most industry founders.  He is a veteran of the late Olive AI (post-mortem here) in the GTM (go-to-market) team, was one of their first employees, and one of the last to turn out the lights. After that too-much-too-soon roller coaster, he focused on something personal, beyond another job.

Matt’s brother had a bi-lateral amputation as a college student due to a train accident in 2012. His brother’s injury and recovery had its ups and downs, but he had the important and focused help of his mother, a nurse. This led to Matt looking at others with similar injuries, which are all too common. Psychiatrists, like your Editor’s brother, see many of them in everyday practice. Beyond the physical injuries, there is PTSD coupled with loss of employment and ordinary socialization due to lack of physical ability. One in four have PTSD. But with help, they can overcome. Today, Mark Kalina is married with children, a senior analyst for the MetroHealth System in Cleveland, and works with other traumatic injury survivors. ‘A Leg To Stand On’ on LinkedIn

We discussed the extent and the effect of traumatic injury. Globally, there are 140 million who experience one or more traumatic injuries. These disproportionately affect lower to middle-income and minority people. Based on claims analysis, an Ohio study found that 13% of Medicaid beneficiaries have had physical trauma in the prior year. Timing and quality of rehabilitation are vital to better outcomes, to recovering ability and gaining employment. But there are a lot of gaps not only in treatment but also in the total picture–moving the injured back to their ‘stride’ in life. One in five ‘recidivize’, according to Matt, which means they lose ground after recovery and can wind up back in acute care. Reducing that number is key not only to better individual outcomes, but also to reducing long-term costs to insurers and Medicaid.

As part of the launch, TandemStride, based in Cleveland, is partnered with Molina Healthcare to support members in Ohio recovering from traumatic injury. Collaborating with trauma-focused associations also provides them with technology they did not have before, according to Sue Prentiss, executive director of the American Trauma Society, home to the Trauma Survivors Network. 

What is disturbing is how on a national level, support and resources for traumatic injury haven’t been available or organized for the civilian population. Veterans have the VA and deep resources there, with delivery the problem. Yet we have maybe a dozen or more telemental health services jockeying for business, with a new entrant promising something unique every few months, an overpopulation of competitors similar to what happened more slowly in telehealth. In this Editor’s view, Matt’s technology and building a network of traumatic injury survivors right now is filling a wide gap in care and recovery, connecting fragmented resources, and through community, can boost their long-term outcomes. TandemStride launch release, Matt’s launch posting on LinkedIn

News roundup: Congress hammers absent UHG on Change cyberattack–and more; 10% unhinged at Hinge Health; Steward Health nears insolvency; Two Chairs $72M Series C

UnitedHealth Group facing direct Congressional criticism–and didn’t show up to answer it. The House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing yesterday on the BlackCat/ALPHV cyberattack on UHG/Optum’s Change Healthcare systems. Representatives of the American Hospital Association, which we noted led the earliest efforts to assess the situation, help health systems, and then lobby Health and Human Services to assist providers, the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives, and the Healthcare Sector Coordinating Council testified to a restive group of House representatives. Though reports have said that UHG had previously briefed the committee and CEO Andrew Witty will appear before the Senate Finance Committee on 30 April, both Republicans and Democrats didn’t spare the criticism. Other issues, such as healthcare provider consolidation, cybersecurity coordination, and vertical integration through acquisitions as represented by UHG and Change, entered into the hearing. And it went pretty far. Rep. Buddy Carter (R-GA): “The FTC has failed the American people by allowing vertical integration to happen, and it needs to be busted up.” Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA): “The attack shows how UnitedHealth’s anti-competitive practices present a national security risk because its operations now extend through every point of our healthcare system,” and called it “outrageous”. 

The current administration’s proposed $800 million investment in hospital cybersecurity protections was typed as “woefully insufficient.” 

Returning to the main issues, Larry Bucshon, MD (R-IN) stated that both the government and private companies were slow in assisting providers. John Riggi, AHA’s national adviser for cybersecurity and risk testified that “The federal government did not step in for weeks. Needed flexibilities under Medicare were not immediately available. It took 18 days for CMS to begin allowing providers to apply for advancing accelerated payments.” On how it affected providers, 94% of respondents in an AHA provider survey felt a financial impact from the attack, over half reported a “significant or serious” impact, and 74% of hospitals reported a direct effect on patient care. Payers are resisting advanced payments. UHG was even accused of exploiting the cyberattack to purchase additional practices by Rep. John Joyce, MD (R-PA). Becker’s, Chief Healthcare Executive, STAT

This Editor has previously noted that UHG is taking a $1.6 billion charge for the cyberattack and is separately facing a DOJ investigation on multiple antitrust issues between the payer group and Optum, including their Amedisys buy [TTA 6 Mar]. UHG is also facing multiple class-action lawsuits from practices currently and expected from patients affected by the theft of PHI and PII [TTA 28 Mar]. It’ll be a busy spring and summer for UHG’s legal department.

Hinge Health cuts 10% of staff. Reasons given were the standard tropes of ‘long-term sustainable business’, ‘accelerate our path to profitability, speed up decision making, and better focus our investments’ plus ‘realign our organization’. Their employee group is estimated at 1,700 on LinkedIn, making this about 170 staff released in various functions including engineers. The company is preparing for an IPO, which may not be this year, since they claim to have $400 million in cash on the books. Hinge’s last raise was an October 2021 $400 million Series E led by Tiger Global and Coatue Management for a total funding of $826.1 million over 10 raises (Crunchbase). At that time, their valuation was a bubbly $6.2 billion. Their virtual musculoskeletal rehabilitative therapy for back and joint pain care has since then expanded to rehab for pelvic pain, bowel, and bladder control. TechCrunch  As predicted in our Rock Health Q1 review, Hinge is a perfect example of companies “pursuing IPO and M&A exit pathways concurrently to keep options open” by presenting their financials as if they were already public companies. 

Steward Health Care nears bankruptcy court. And the Optum buy of Stewardship Health practices won’t save it in time. Steward’s lenders are giving the health network until the end of April–two weeks away–to prove it can repay its considerable debts. Its recovery plan which included the Stewardship sale has been criticized as unworkable given the volume of debt and the regulatory implications of selling their hospital assets. The Optum acquisition is required to undergo a 30-day review by Massachusetts’ Health Policy Commission (HPC)–and while it was announced at the end of March, it had not started by mid-April. Given UHG’s other problems and scrutiny of practice purchases by the DOJ and FTC, Optum may walk away or wait. No purchase price had been announced but it would be a drop in a bottomless well anyway. The mounting problems of Steward Health Care are detailed in Healthcare Dive’s analysis.

And to end on a more optimistic note, Two Chairs, a telemental health provider out of San Francisco, scored a $72 million Series C. Lead investors are Amplo and Fifth Down Capital with debt financing from Bridge Bank. The new raise, majority equity, brings Two Chairs’ total funding to $103 million. Their hybrid virtual and in-person therapy model is available at present in California, Florida, and Washington and markets to consumers, payers (Aetna nationally, Kaiser Permanente in Washington and Northern California), providers, and employers. The company states it will use the fresh funding to expand its markets and improve its technology platform. Currently, they have more than 500 clinicians on staff, most of whom are full-time. Their differentiator in the crowded telemental health category is their emphasis on measurement-based care, aided by a “matching consult,” facilitated by a proprietary 300-variable algorithm that creates the right therapist-client match (the ‘two chairs’ of the company’s name), which studies indicate is the most important factor in determining a good outcome.  Release, FierceHealthcare, MedCityNews

ISfTeH student contest and award 2024–deadline 26 April!

From Frederic Lievens of the International Society for Telehealth and e-Health:

For this year’s ISfTeH Student Contest and Award, we are inviting ISfTeH student members to submit an abstract about their work, research, project or experience in the field of telemedicine and digital health.

Deadline for submission is April 26th.

For information on how to submit your abstract, contact our ISfTeH Student Membership coordinator, Dr. Simone Farah.

The selected abstracts will be presented ‘live’ by the students during two online sessions on May 17th and June 14th. Later this year, in October, the award session will take place, in which the winners (first, second and third place) will receive a cash prize sponsored by ISfTeH member, Medgate.

  • If you are a student, but not yet a student member in the ISfTeH, submit your membership application at
  • If you are working at a school or university and would like your students to be involved in the contest, also contact Dr. Simone Farah.

Editor Donna would invite our international Readers to keep up with ISfTeH on their website linked above, with member and supported affiliate events from Finland to Nigeria.

Mid-week short takes: UnitedHealth’s $1.2B Q1 loss from Change attack, another Walgreens layoff, Dexcom-MD Revolution partner, $47.5 raise, GeBBS Healthcare may sell for $1B

UnitedHealth Group rang up Q1 revenue of $99.8 billion, with adjusted earnings from operations $8.5 billion, but had a net loss of $1.22 billion (WSJ). (Ed. note–Becker’s has $1.4 million) The loss was created not only from the cyberattack on Change Healthcare’s systems ($0.74/share) but also a $7 billion charge due to the sale of UHG’s Brazil operations.

  • Q1 revenue was up $7.9 billion versus same quarter 2023.
  • Their year 2024 forecast of the damage done by the ALPHV cyberattack on Change is $1.6 billion ($1.15 to $1.35 per share).
  • Optum’s Q1 revenues of $61 billion grew by $7 billion over prior year, led by Optum Health and Optum Rx due to continued strong expansion in the number of people served

Someone at HIStalk did some counting and noted that the Optum Solution Status dashboard for Change Healthcare shows 109 of 137 applications remain down, not much different than when we eyeballed it on 3 April. CNBC, UHG release, HIStalk, Becker’s, MSN/WSJ

Walgreens continues to cut staff–this go-around, it’s corporate support center employees both in Chicago and working remotely. No total was provided by the Walgreens spokesperson contacted by Crain’s Chicago Business. This adds to 900 corporate staff laid off in several waves earlier this year and last fall, VillageMD staff due to 140 closures, and 646 distribution center staff laid off last month. Walgreens stock is down 33% this year. 

In cheerier news, Dexcom is partnering with remote patient monitoring (RPM) provider MD Revolution to add its continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) system to MD Revolution’s RPM platform. MDR is a startup company marketing its RPM platform to large practices, health systems, and healthcare organizations. Current raises date back to 2015 totaling under $60 million mostly from venture round funding (Crunchbase). Release

Inpatient data analytics company raised a Series C investment of $47.5 million, led by Growth Equity at Goldman Sachs Asset Management (Goldman Sachs). This adds to a modest $21.5 million from various investors from 2013 to 2022 (Crunchbase). Kontakt provides patient flow analytics to health systems to optimize patient, staff, and resource flows, improving safety, coordination, and service delivery. It uses a combination of RTLS property tracking, cloud, and AI to provide real-time location data and orchestrate staff, equipment, and clinical spaces around a patient’s care journey. The additional funds will be used for sales expansion and AI development. HIStalk, Release 

GeBBS Healthcare Solutions on the block, may fetch $1 billion. The LA-based business process outsourcing (BPO)/revenue cycle management (RCM) company, currently owned by ChrysCapital of New Delhi, is on the market for a reported $800 million to $1 billion. This would be a tidy payday for ChrysCapital which back in 2018 acquired an 80% stake in GeBBS for $140 million with a valuation then of $175 million. ChrysCapital is India’s largest home-grown PE investor. Economic Times-India Times, HIStalk

News roundup: VillageMD sued on Meta Pixel trackers; Cerebral pays $7.1M FTC fine on data sharing, cancellation policy; VA may resume Oracle Cerner implementation during FY2025; Epic-Particle Health dispute on PHI sharing

It’s all about personal health data–sharing, bad sharing, and bad transfers in this roundup.

VillageMD takes another hit, this time on Meta Pixel ad tracker issues. A class-action lawsuit filed on 10 April charges VillageMD (formally Village Practice Management Company), via its Village Medical website, of using the Meta Pixel ad tracker for disclosing user-protected health information (PHI) and other identifiable information generally classified as PII. This included visitors to their website seeking information and patient users of Village Medical’s web-based tools for scheduling and the patient portal. The lawsuit by a “John Doe”, a patient since January 2023 resident in Quincy, Massachusetts but brought by three Midwest law firms in the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, states that VillageMD used trackers that transferred this personal information to Meta Networks’ Facebook and Instagram, as well as other third parties like Google, for use in targeted advertising, in violation of HIPAA and other regulations. The lawsuit seeks 1) an injunction stopping Village Medical from using ad trackers and 2) monetary redress via damages–actual, compensatory, statutory, and punitive for the entire affected class. The suit also alleges that VillageMD violated its own internal procedures. Crain’s Health Pulse, Healthcare Dive

Readers will recall that in June 2022, STAT and The Markup published a study and follow-ups on Meta Pixel and ad tracker use by healthcare organizations. Ostensibly, the ad trackers were there to better track website performance and to tailor information for the patient [TTA 17 June, 21 June 2022], but they sent information to third parties that violated HIPAA and privacy guidelines. Ad trackers were also monetized. Meta blamed the health systems [TTA 16 May 2023] for misuse though they used the data for ad serving.  Congressional hearings, FTC, and DOJ followed later in 2022 and 2023. Multiple class action lawsuits against providers large and small have ensued. Providers have pushed back on FTC and HHS rules on ad trackers, stating the restrictions hamper their ability to build better websites based on customer usage and to serve individuals with useful information. 

Another ‘oversharing’ company, troubled telemental Cerebral, whacked with $7.1 million FTC fine on disclosing consumer information via ad trackers plus ‘negative option’ cancellation policy. The proposed order for a permanent injunction filed by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and docketed on 15 April has to be approved by the Federal District Court for the Southern District of Florida. The fine for the company only penalized the following:

  • Cerebral released 3.2 million consumers’ information to third parties such as practices, LinkedIn, and TikTok. This included PHI and PII such as names, medical histories, addresses, IP addresses, payment methods including insurance, sexual orientation, and more. Even more outrageously, they also used the mail for postcards that had sensitive information such as diagnosis printed on them. The insult on injury was that Cerebral failed to disclose or buried information on data sharing to consumers signing up for their ‘safe, secure, and discreet’ services. Cerebral now has to restrict nearly all information to third parties.
  • Cerebral also set up their service cancellation as a ‘negative option’ cancellation policy, which in reality meant that it was renewed indefinitely unless the customer took action to cancel. It was not adequately disclosed in violation of the federal Restore Online Shoppers’ Confidence Act (ROSCA). Then Cerebral made it extremely difficult to cancel by instituting a complex procedure that required multiple steps and often took several days to execute. They even eliminated a one-step cancel button at their then-CEO Kyle Robertson’s direction. The order requires this to be corrected including deleting the negative option.
  • Former employees were not blocked from accessing patient medical records from May to December 2021. It also failed to ensure that providers were only able to access their patients’ records.

Cerebral’s settlement with the FTC and DOJ breaks down to $5.1 million to provide partial refunds to consumers impacted by their deceptive cancellation practices. They also levied a civil penalty of $10 million, reduced to $2 million as Cerebral was unable to pay the full amount. The decision and fine do not cover charges to be decided by the court against the former Cerebral CEO Robertson due to his extensive personal involvement in these practices. Those have not been settled and apparently were severed from the company as a separate action (FTC case information). Since 2022, Mr. Robertson has consistently blamed company management and investors for pushing for bad practices such as prescribing restricted stimulant drugs. Cerebral countersued him for defaulting on a $49.8 million loan taken in January 2022 to buy 1.06 million shares of Cerebral common stock. More to come, as the order also does not address other Federal violations under investigation, such as those under the Controlled Substances Act.  FTC release, FierceHealthcare  

VA to possibly resume Oracle Cerner EHR implementation at VA sites before the end of FY 2025, even if not in budget. During House Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearings on FY 2025 and 2026 budgets, VA Secretary Denis McDonough last Thursday (11 April) said that the VA intends to resume deploying the Oracle Cerner EHR as part of VA’s Electronic Health Records Modernization (EHRM) before the end of FY 2025. As Federal years go from October to September, FY 2025 starts October 2024 and ends September 2025. When asked if VA plans to maintain the “program reset” as they termed it in April 2023 for all of FY25, Secy. McDonough said that “we do not.”However, there is no budget allocated for additional implementations in either FY. The plan is to use carryover funding.

Oracle Cerner’s Millenium EHR was implemented at five VA locations before suspending in April 2023 for a massive re-evaluation which involved reworking systems such as the Health Data Repository which created critical scheduling and pharmacy problems detailed by the Office of Inspector General (OIG)  [TTA 28 Mar]. The joint VA and MHS/Genesis Lovell FHCC implementation, which went live in March, is not included.  NextGov/FCW, Healthcare Dive

And in another dispute about data sharing, leading EHR Epic cut off requests made by some Particle Health customers, expressing concern about privacy risks. Particle Health is a health data exchange API platform for developers. Both Epic and Particle are part of Carequality, a large scale data exchange group that connects 600,000 care providers, 50,000 clinics, and 4,200 hospitals to facilitate the exchange of patient medical records On 21 March, Epic filed a dispute with Carequality that some of Particle’s users “might be inaccurately representing the purpose associated with their record retrievals.” and stopped responding to some Particle Health customer queries. This has now degenerated into a ‘who said what‘ dispute, with Particle and their CEO alleging that Epic implied that it completely disconnected Particle Health and its customers from Epic’s data, while Epic has said that after a review by its 15-member Care Everywhere Governing Council, they flagged three companies who were using Particle’s Carequality connection to access data not related to patient care or treatment. There’s also a larger concern being brought up by providers on the use of these mass data exchanges for fraudulent extraction of data or use that would violate HIPAA guidelines. FierceHealthcare, CNBC, Becker’s, Morningstar

The New Reality, Bizarro World version: NeueHealth gets $30M loan increase from NEA, now majority owner

Because NeueHealth needs money now after a 2023 cratering–then paying 2023 performance bonuses to its top execs. New Enterprise Associates (NEA), one of NeueHealth’s remaining key funders, has decided to double down on its bet and extended $30 million to NeueHealth. It’s structured as a credit facility agreement effective 8 April, with NeueHealth able to access $20 million immediately and the remaining $10 million after 180 days. It’s secured by penny warrants ($0.01) of 1,113,563 shares of the company’s common stock to the lenders. According to FierceHealthcare’s Noah Tong, this brings NEA’s shares to more than 2.76 million shares since it first entered the credit agreement. These warrants which allow the purchase of shares at a nominal price are divided among various NEA entities., NeueHealth release, SEC Form 8-K

NEA is now majority owner at 60%, up 10 percentage points. It can also appoint one of its members to NeueHealth’s board, which will expand to 11 members.

Despite the disclosure in its March 10-K that additional funding was needed this year to continue as a going concern, the need for fast cash was urgent enough that the board of directors’ audit committee approved a waiver of shareholder approval on the warrant issuance, as waiting would jeopardize the financial viability of the company. NeueHealth stated the additional cash would be used for general business purposes.

The additional cash infusion is after shocking many observers in healthcare with CEO Mike Mikan’s $1.9 million bonus for performance, along with cash bonuses of $875,000 to CFO Jay Matushak and Executive Vice President of Consumer Care Tomas Orozco. NeueHealth’s 2023 was marked by exiting all their healthcare plans, owing tens to hundreds of millions to states on losing plans and CMS on repayment agreements, a name change from Bright Health, an HQ move, and finally a net loss of $627.7 million with an adjusted EBITDA loss of $8.5 million for 2023. TTA 5 April

Industry observer Ari Gottlieb to both Mr. Tong and in his own LinkedIn post noted that NeueHealth reported that they had, at the end of 2023, $90 million in unrestricted cash. He also noted that CalSTRS, the California State Teachers Retirement System, NeueHealth’s other major investor, did not participate. Mr. Gottlieb also speculated that Molina Healthcare, to which Bright Health sold their Medicare Advantage (MA) plans, may ask for further adjustments to the payment price as the MA plans’ performance was poor.

Has NEA lost its investors’ minds and cash–or are they seeing something we don’t see in NeueHealth?

Editor’s note: The reference to Bizarro World, for those unfamiliar with the Superman oeuvre, is explained here.

Digital health’s Q1 according to Rock Health: the New Reality is a flat spin back to 2019

Though it’s busier, and no banks collapsed, the New Reality takes us back once again to 2019, before the champagne days of 2021 and first half 2022. Rock Health’s Q1 2024 summary of US digital health deals hasn’t a bit of froth to it and is headlined “Great (reset) expectations”. But the highlights show a bit of revival after 2023, where there was, in the immortal words of Frank Zappa, “no way to delay that trouble comin’ every day”.

  • In Q1 2024, there was $2.7 billion in funding across 133 deals, with an average deal size of $20.6 million. This was a great improvement over Q4 2023’s limp $1.9 billion across 122 deals, the lowest funding quarter since Q3 2019. [TTA 8 Feb]
  • 2024’s Q1 was the lowest first quarter by sector funding since 2019, since 2022 and 2023’s Q1’s were the best of their respective years.
  • Number of deals are up but the deal size remains small at $20.6 million–no blockbusters. Q1’s 133 deals beat out each of the past six quarters, but just edged out Q1 2023’s 132. 
  • Unlabeled rounds grew from 2023: 48% to year 2023’s 44% of the total. Labeled rounds, predicted to make a comeback in 2024, haven’t come back quite yet.
  • Deal structures are getting very, very creative. DecisionRx gave Carlyle Group the option to convert a $100 million debt facility to 25% of outstanding shares, which is trading a lot of equity in the company for not a lot of money. Transcarent has a $125 million Series D that tags a sweetener of 2.5x to funders should the company M&A or IPO. This Editor noted the structure of Dario Health’s February acquisition of Twill as “a dizzying chronicle of funding legerdemain that this Editor hasn’t seen since her airline days”

It wasn’t a surprise that AI was ‘the thing this year’ in attracting funding–almost as much as financial success being redefined as bottom-line profitability, conservative (what we used to call sandbagged) forecasts, and an emphasis on outcome data.

  • Companies that claimed AI in their products or services accounted for 45 deals with $1.1 billion of Q1’s funding, or 40%, versus 2023’s 33% of funding. 

Rock Health’s analysis made much of outcomes data and that showing efficacy is now more important--and at earlier stages. It serves to differentiate players in the market (something we marketers have known about forever). For funders it can illuminate the value for their investment. And funders will scrutinize x 3.

  • Companies, unable to satisfy public shareholders so easily pleased in the SPAC and IPO palmy days of 2021-23, are leaving, not entering, public markets. Veradigm had to delist this year because of Nasdaq financial reporting problems from bad software despite being financially healthy–and acquiring ScienceIO. Rock Health does not include the recent pending delistings of Clover Health and Amwell. Both NextGen Healthcare and SOC Telemed went private last year. Others were acquired: Science 37, BenefitFocus, Castlight, Signify Health, and Tabula Rasa. Four went out of business: Babylon Health (Ch. 7 US, administration in UK), Pear Therapeutics (Ch. 11, IP sold), UPHealth (Ch. 11), and Better Therapeutics (closure).
  • Rock Health sees this as an important ‘recalibration’ for valuations, particularly for startups. “Startup valuations stem from expected investor returns at exit, and funders often use comps from publicly-traded players’ market capitalizations to triangulate company potential.”

Rock Health concludes that the expectations around exits have shifted drastically. The predicted return of M&A hasn’t yet. Their latest projection is that companies “may embark on dual-track processes, pursuing IPO and M&A exit pathways concurrently to keep options open”. For now, for digital health, it’s the end of growth-minded forecasting and the start of reporting their financials conservatively, with plenty of outcomes attached–as if they were being publicly traded and had quarterly earnings calls with analysts and journalists on their tail.

Editor’s note: Notably missing from their summary was the usual charts of raises by series stage (A, B, etc.) and digital health sector (mental health, cardiac, etc.).

VillageMD names new president and COO as it shrinks to 620 locations

Jim Murray retires from Centene to take the role of VillageMD’s president and chief operating officer. The appointment was effective on 1 April. He will be responsible for leading operations of Village Medical, Summit Medical, and CityMD.  Last October, VillageMD named new divisional heads: Rishi Sikka, MD as president of Village Medical, Dan Frogel, MD as president and chief clinical officer of CityMD, and Becky Levy, JD as president of Summit Health and Starling PhysiciansVillageMD release, Crain’s Chicago Business

As noted previously, VillageMD has been retreating quickly from its aggressive plans circa 2022 for expansion into Walgreens locations to closure of the co-locations and already established free-standing offices. The planned 140 closures are well above the originally estimated 50, then 85 locations, including all in Florida and six in its home state of Illinois. Majority owner Walgreens has already taken a $5.8 billion writedown of its estimated $9-10 billion investment. Industry analyst Brian Tanquilut, a health care services equity research analyst at Jefferies, estimated to Crain’s that VillageMD lost $800 million in 2023.

Jim Murray retired as Centene’s chief transformation officer on 29 March, just in time to move to VillageMD.  His planned retirement was announced by Centene last May. Previously, he had been president and chief operating officer at Magellan Health from January 2020 to its acquisition by Centene in January 2022. Subsequently, Centene sold parts of Magellan such as Specialty Health and Rx. His experience crosses both provider and payer, at Dallas-based PrimeWest Health, the Dallas-based hospital system LifeCare Health Partners, and prior to that, 28 years at Humana, departing as chief operating officer. It does show one how close the circles are at the C-level. St. Louis Today

News roundup: Now Clover Health faces delisting; BlackCat/ALPHV affiliate with 4TB of data puts it up for sale; $58M for Biolinq’s ‘smallest blood glucose biosensor’

Clover Health takes another pass at Nasdaq delisting. Once again, Clover’s Class A shares (CLOV) have been trading with an average closing price of below $1.00 over a consecutive 30 trading-day period, which violates Nasdaq’s continued listing minimum price criteria for the Nasdaq Global Select Market. This was announced in their most recent 8-K filed with the SEC 2 April. Clover has until 30 September to remedy the situation. An additional 180-day period may be elected if Clover transfers to the Nasdaq Capital Market. FierceHealthcare, Becker’s

The delisting is a rerun of their situation last year at this time. Clover considered a reverse stock split to be approved by shareholders but the share price improved on its own and the action was not necessary. This year, it may be. Clover is currently trading at $0.7365. Last August, it hit a high of $1.55 before sliding to below $1.00. An example of a SPAC through Social Capital Hedosophia Holdings, it hit a high of over $15 on 8 January 2021 before cracking that year based on revelations that Clover did not reveal a Department of Justice investigation starting the prior year, which prompted an SEC investigation [TTA 9 Feb 2021], triggering seven shareholder lawsuits that were not settled until December 2023. Clover Health exited the advanced value-based primary care program, ACO REACH, at the end of the 2023 performance year after two years to focus on their Medicare Advantage and Clover Assistant businesses [TTA 6 Dec 2023]. Financially, Clover closed 2023 with revenue of $2.033 billion (down from 2022’s $3.5 billion), net loss of $213.4 million, and an adjusted EBITDA loss of $44.7 million, with the losses improved over 2022. Clover release 

As predicted, 4TB of Change Healthcare data is up for sale. In a typical ransomwareiste move, the affiliate making nasty comments about BlackCat/ALPHV and claiming it had 4TB of data now has put the specs out on a dark web site called Ransomhub. The post first accuses ALPHV of stealing the $22 million ransom paid by UnitedHealth Group and not sharing it with the affiliate. It then claims it has highly sensitive data from multiple Change customers including active military PII (from Tricare), patient PII, payment and claims data, and much more. If Change/UHG isn’t interested, it will be up for sale to the highest bidder. Readers will recall the claims of ‘notchy’ early in the Change Healthcare attack [TTA 7 Mar] though UHG has not confirmed any payment to ALPHV. The demand for payment for the 4TB of data that ‘notchy’ claimed to possess was hardly unexpected.

A non-invasive “smallest ever” transdermal biosensor in development may turn the CGM business upside down. Biolinq’s latest round of $58 million will fund a pivotal clinical trial and FDA submission of its intradermal glucose sensor. The funding was led by Alpha Wave Ventures, with participation from Niterra’s corporate venture capital fund jointly operated with Pegasus Tech Ventures and existing investors RiverVest Venture Partners, AXA IM Alts, Global Health Investment Corporation, and four others, for a total since 2014 of $254 million. Crunchbase Current blood glucose sensors penetrate the skin with tiny needles. The Biolinq biosensor uses electrochemical sensors to measure glucose levels from the intradermal space just beneath the surface of the skin, on top of the capillary layer avoiding scarring. To access the intradermal layer, the sensors must be “200 times smaller than a human hair filament” according to Biolinq CEO Rich Yang. It also can combine blood glucose information with relative levels of activity in one device to eventually measure other analytes. The device as currently designed displays key information directly on the sensor–yellow light for high blood glucose, blue for normal. Release, MedCityNews

Opinion: Further thoughts on Teladoc, Amwell, and the future of telehealth–what happens next?

The end of last week marked an Apocalypse Light in telehealth, but it was coming in this Editor’s opinion. And Pepper the Robot has nothing to do with it, other than representing telehealth’s state, and perhaps this Editor’s.

Two events–the forced exit of 15-year CEO Jason Gorevic from Teladoc and both Teladoc’s and Amwell’s continued market weakness and long roads to breakeven, if ever–have caused many in the field to think hard about our direction and where telehealth is going.

Both Teladoc and Amwell are the pioneers in provider-to-patient telehealth, going back over 20 years. While Amwell is no longer the #2 to Teladoc’s #1, both were in the forefront of how remote consults have transformed healthcare. The ability to remotely diagnose and provide care at distance is now a ‘given’ that has shifted the baseline for providers, patients, and payers. Nearly every entrant has or has acquired a remote in-person or app feature, whether care management, diagnostics, health education, or telemental health.

Because Teladoc’s struggles are writ large in the industry, we might benefit from a closer look at What Happened–and what in this Editor’s opinion might happen next.

What Happened?

The pandemic. Yes, it provided a major boost to any telehealth provider’s business whether corporate or provider-based. It mainstreamed telehealth. Smaller players like MDLive and Included Health snatched market share. But it also introduced ‘silly money’ that led companies to think that all they had to do was hold out the buckets, fill them with cash, and buy business. By late 2020, practices had reopened–and telehealth usage nosedived quickly, stabilizing to around 5% of medical claims, over 60% of which is mental health according to the FAIR Health end of 2023 telehealth tracker. 

The integration of telehealth into multiple platforms is now commonplace. This Editor observed in her work with her then-employer in early 2020 that the population health platform they had introduced already had integrated HIPAA-compliant telehealth platforms as a module–all that was needed to get the practices up and running on it–and coding correctly. Health systems now integrate telehealth into their patient portals. EHRs even for the small practice market now have integrated telehealth. As mentioned, specialized telehealth such as telemental health took off during the pandemic and, after a cleanout period, have largely stayed with us. Asynchronous telehealth has also become acceptable to consumers. (Interestingly, the leading asynchronous diagnoses are for hypertension and respiratory diseases that benefit companies like Amazon Clinic and triage-type systems.)

People use it when needed, but the enterprise payment model is subscriber-based. Teladoc has long claimed its subscriber base is 90 million people–but user data from HHS (ASPE 3/2023) indicates that only one of four use it. For an enterprise, paying for subscribers, this is a big fat line item ready to cut. Payers have also integrated telehealth into their coverage. Teladoc has, to its credit, created payer partnerships such as with Aetna, but so have others.

Bottom line: there’s no more ‘blue water’ market left for a big player like Teladoc with a model dependent on growth and on enterprise sales that are inherently price-driven. It’s a hard and painful change to realize that your technology is no longer the future, and that you have to slug it out in the mud with everyone else. 

A closer look at Teladoc. 

After 20 years, why wasn’t it profitable? A look back on our Teladoc coverage prior to the pandemic indicated growth was created by buying up smaller competitors, domestic and international, at premium prices. InTouch Health was a notable one, acquired January 2020 for $600 million. But Teladoc was way overdue on turning a profit before 2020, at which point it should have firmly moved into the black. And then reality hit by early 2022.

Where was the board in all this? This Editor does not pretend to know the minds of those far more experienced in the financial aspect of business than she. But after 15 years of CEO Jason Gorevic and the 2022 $6.6 billion write-down of Livongo which precipitated the long 90%+ loss in market value slide, why was he given walking papers only last Friday? Boards are supposed to be wise heads, looking out for the business and the shareholders. Did they get caught in the hype or hope that BetterHelp would save the company? Did something else happen? (Fun fact: Mr. Gorevic remains on the board.)

A track record of flawed judgment and recovery. In December 2018, their COO/CFO was dismissed after charges of insider trading and sexual misconduct. There have been two COOs since then, the first, David Sides, moving to CEO of NextGen Healthcare in 2021. In May 2019, Teladoc’s NCQA accreditation, first won in 2013, was placed under an unusual “corrective action” by NCQA which was termed by the CEO ‘much ado about nothing’. Au contraire, it was a black eye at the time and the industry never quite knew what happened. And then there was Livongo….

The Livongo deal killed Teladoc; saying the quiet part out loud. As this Editor stated at the time, the $18.5 billion purchase price of Livongo was dangerous for Teladoc (see ‘Gimlet Eyes’ from August 2020 here and here). It was a too-fast too-much too-soon deal that closed in three months at the summer peak of the pandemic and lockdowns looking like forever. The very notion that Livongo would open doors in hospitals and cross-selling to enterprises was suspect even at the time. The deal that Gorevic and 7WireVentures’ Glen Tullman and Livongo CEO Zane Burke concocted was ‘Grand Theft Auto’–for Livongo and their leadership, especially if they sold their Teladoc shares. It was never a merger of equals nor was it additive in value. Teladoc then made multiple, continuing transitioning and management errors, including not retaining Livongo executives, which have been well documented. And again–where was the board on this?

Where are the analysts? They seem to accept a storyline that ‘all is OK’ for 2024 now that Gorevic is gone. But standing pat on the Q1 and 2024 guidance as nearly all have done is suspect. Unlike Amwell, Teladoc has not forecast when it will achieve breakeven, much less profitability.

What’s Next? Given all the above, when will the aftershocks hit? Sooner or later?

If one looks to Walgreens as an example, where disaster hit quickly and hard last summer, a board member, Ginger Graham, took the acting CEO position. She took front and center on investor calls and executing reorganizations, which for an interim is unusual. Almost immediately, the cleanout began at the CIO and CFO levels and moved downward. Tim Wentworth joined as CEO in mid-October 2023 seven weeks after Roz Brewer was separated. VillageMD was identified quickly as a large part of the problem. He took the writedown even before locations were fully closed and made multiple moves to cut costs starting at the corporate level before moving into the field. This is not to make light of the human damage and the jury remains out on the wisdom of some of the moves. But Wentworth has moved quickly, decisively, and positioned it realistically in saying ‘this is not a 12-month turnaround’ and wisely caveating that board alignment around the strategic review was essential. Timid he is not.

Teladoc needs to move quickly, and intelligently–now, not later. While acting CEO Mala Murthy, backed by the board, makes decisive moves, Teladoc must find and appoint a Tim Wentworth-type at the helm for the turnaround. Quickly. It’s important not only for Teladoc but also for the telehealth industry.  But neither Mr. Market, judging on share price, nor this Editor, based on their track record, are hopeful.