Short takes 2: Humana’s CEO changeover; Owlet Dream Sock CE Mark, UK approval; TytoCare goes to school; LG enters home health with Primefocus; Samsung $92M buys Sonio (FR); raises by Blackwell in health cybersec, Watershed Health

Keeping it short and sweet for the end of the week.

Payer Humana changing out CEOs. The wrap for current CEO Bruce Broussard is coming a little earlier than anticipated, with the planned changeover to Jim Rechtin on 1 July. Mr. Broussard will depart the board of directors but stay on as a ‘strategic advisor’ until 2026, which is a typical arrangement for CEOs usually tied to compensation. Mr. Rechtin’s experience prior to joining Humana as president/COO in January was as Envision Healthcare’s CEO and with OptumCare and DaVita. Last year, Humana and Cigna failed to merge after shareholders disapproved and the evident conflict in PBMs [TTA 13 Dec 23]. 2024 earnings were revised downwards in April due to ongoing losses in Medicare Advantage plans. Release, FierceHealthcare

Owlet’s Dream Sock now has EU CE Mark, UK medical device approvals. The European medical device clearance by the EU notified body was announced on 2 May, with the UK certification following on 14 May. As certified for the EU and UK, the Dream Sock is intended for use with healthy infants between 0-18 months and 2.5-13.6 kg. The Dream Sock measures oxygen saturation and pulse rate which are reported on a smartphone app and on a base station to provide baby sleep insights. In the US, it was FDA cleared under de novo last November. It is sold without prescription through retailers and directly through Owlet. Owlet plans to debut it in Germany, France, and the UK later this year. CE Mark, UK releases. Mobihealthnews

TytoCare expands a logical market–school RPM. Their school health initiative that started before the pandemic has added or expanded in five healthcare systems. This brings primary and urgent care services to over 2,500 schools in 31 states. Three of the five systems are Cone Health (North Carolina), Sentara Health (Virginia), and A Plus Family HealthCare (Kentucky). TytoCare works with school nurses and adminstrators for remote diagnostics, not only for children presenting with illness but also for monitoring children with chronic conditions. Blog, Mobihealthnews

LG NOVA launches Primefocus Health in North America. LG, well known for monitors and TVs in healthcare settings, is introducing a “provider-focused, patient-centric healthcare platform” to connect patients in home care with their providers. It will use “innovative non-invasive technology for tracking patient progress for multiple medical conditions, which can be integrated with the provider’s electronic health record system, artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities for ease of use.” No demos or further specifics are provided.  LG NOVA is LG Electronics North America Innovation Center and demonstrates an interest in additional healthcare expansion. Release, Mobihealthnews

LG’s rival Samsung buying France’s Sonio for $92 million. The fetal AI ultrasound company originally partnered with Samsung Healthcare France in 2021 in order to confirm the efficacy of its AI for pregnancy/prenatal monitoring. It raised a $14 million Series A last year for a US commercial launch of their AI FDA 510(k) cleared Sonio Detect, a machine-agnostic AI assistant software for reporting and imaging. Samsung Medison, the ultrasound division of Samsung, must await French regulatory approvals, including the French Ministry of the Economy and Finance. Release, MedTech Dive

And in latest fundings:

Healthcare focused Blackwell Security now has a $13 million Series A, led by co-creators General Catalyst and Rally Ventures. The funding will expand their Managed Healthcare Extended Detection and Response (MHXDR) offering. They are also acquiring their first CEO, Geyer Jones, from cybersecurity/IoT companies Cylera and RSA.  Release, Mobihealthnews

New Orleans-headquartered Watershed Health completed a $13.6 million venture round funding. This was led by First Trust Capital Partners with participation from FCA Venture Partners, Create Health Ventures, Impact Engine, 450 Ventures, LDH Ventures II/Launchpad Digital Health, and others that adds to a 2022 $9.8 million venture round. The new funding will be to expand their SaaS platform plus grow the engineering, development, customer success and sales teams. Watershed is a care coordination platform with a community focus that connects clinical and non-clinical providers such as SDOH resources. Release

News roundup: GE Healthcare warns on ultrasound vulnerabilities, Geisinger leverages Best Buy/Geek Squad for RPM, telehealth aids NYC shelter homeless, Fay raises $25M, ClearDATA’s AWS distinction, Validic’s MedTech award

GE Healthcare warns hospitals and clinics on cybersecurity vulnerabilities in ultrasound devices. On their Product Security Portal, GE Healthcare issued three Coordinated Security Vulnerability Disclosures affecting:

  • a software application implementation called kiosk mode vulnerable to local breakouts
  • the Common Service Desktop (CSD) component vulnerable to command injection and path traversal
  • EchoPAC Software Only (SWO), EchoPAC TurnKey, and ImageVault products, vulnerable to unencrypted communication, unencrypted database and hardcoded, unencrypted credentials

These primarily affect the Vivid line of ultrasound devices. Cybersec firm Nozomi Networks Labs found vulnerabilities in the system that could be exploited to gain administrative privileges and recommended that ultrasound devices 1) not be left unattended and 2) block incoming connections to workstations that have the clinical software installed and are connected to unprotected networks. Healthcare Dive

Geisinger partners on patient monitoring with healthcare devices delivered by Best Buy/Geek Squad. For the past two years, Geisinger Health, now part of Risant Health, has been using Geek Squad to deliver and activate remote patient monitoring (RPM) devices such as blood-pressure cuffs, weight scales, thermometers, and glucose meters for those in active care management. The results of early pilots are: 50% faster time to activation of devices, 19% higher rate of patient adherence to using a wearable device, and an 18% reduction in technical issues reported. The ConnectedCare 365 program is now being used by 14 clinical programs for patients in acute care episodes, those in pre-surgical or post-acute transition, and those receiving low to complex management of their chronic conditions. 27,000 Geisinger patients have used remote technology since 2010, including 3,000 using the Best Buy—formerly Current Health—platform. An interesting but logical linkup of healthcare and retail services. JAMA Network

NYC’s homeless shelter telehealth program. Since 2020, NYC Health + Hospitals Corporation (HHC) and the New York City Department of Social Services (DSS) have worked together to bring HHC’s Virtual ExpressCare to homeless shelters. In the past year (January 2023 to April 2024), over 5,000 shelter residents across all 600+ shelters have used the program. The shelters use telephones, tablets, and computers provided by DSS to connect residents with Virtual ExpressCare physicians. DSS and other agencies share responsibility for all technical needs, including ensuring WiFi access and equipment cleaning. The program is also extended to shelter staff. Of the primarily (70%) black and Latino residents using the service, nearly half were uninsured, with an additional 5 percent were covered through the NYC Care program. mHealth Intelligence

Nutritional health startup Fay raises $25 million.  The Series A round was led by Forerunner Ventures with participation from General Catalyst and 1984. The virtual network of registered dietician nutritionists emerging from stealth is additionally backed by founders at Grow Therapy and Maven Clinic. Fay’s network of nutritionists are available nationwide and work with insurance plans to provide consumers with nutritional plans covering 30 specialties/conditions, such as eating disorders, diabetes, kidney disease, weight management, gut health, general preventative care, and others. Currently, they work with United Healthcare, CVS Aetna, Blue Cross, Anthem, Cigna, Optum, and Humana. The advantage for dieticians is to build their private practice with Fay’s “business in a box”.   Release

On the cybersecurity front, ClearDATA has achieved Amazon Web Services (AWS) Level 1 Managed Security Service Provider (MSSP) Competency. This required meeting operational and technical AWS quality standards for managed security services. They are one of only 62 firms to be so designated and the only one in healthcare. ClearDATA is a comprehensive provider of cloud, compliance, and security services and software for providers, payers, biopharma, and healthcare solutions. Release 

Validic was selected as “Best Remote Patient Monitoring Solution” in the 8th annual MedTech Breakthrough Awards program conducted by MedTech Breakthrough. Validic was one of the earliest companies (2010) in the RPM/IoT area with data integrated into EHRs for personalized care at scale. Since 2010, it has served 400,000 enrolled patients and 7,000 referring providers. Release

A ‘healthcare prognosis’–from an investor POV

Healthcare investor Venrock took a survey of ‘friends’ on healthcare business and regulatory trends for 2024. Your Editor is surprised (a bit) at what the ‘super smart healthcare friends’ had to say. But keep in mind that the opinion of ‘friends’ even if ‘super smart’ can be just that–opinions that don’t pan out, like Derby horse bets. 

  • No repeat performances of a severe communicable disease like Covid-19–93%
  • Back to office is it for 24 to 33%. No negative effects on recruitment–13%. In this, your Editor sees a certain amount of wishful thinking and frankly, hedging as the top is only one-third. The question only touched the surface, for instance not including hybrid and flexible hours.
  • GLP-1 drugs originally for type 2 diabetes, now for weight loss, will be the hottest thing in pharma in 2024. 70% of the friends believe that a DTC war among brands reminiscent of ED drugs will break out. 63% believe that Medicaid spending to cover GLP-1 drugs will exceed 10% which will be difficult for states to finance.
  • 76% believe that Medicare drug price negotiations will lead to commercial price decreases, with 64% believing that Medicare prices will be lower net of rebate prices
  • While 70% believe that Mr. Market will be up, the picture for digital health funding is split down the middle. 58% believe it will be up over $10.7 billion, the remaining 42% below that. This Editor is with the latter group, believing that the newly adopted DOJ/FTC Merger Guidelines will bite into deals for the rest of the year, with Q1, which typically has carryover, as the peak.
  • 51% believe that IPOs may start to open up with a ‘small group of aging companies’. 41% believe that more than five will go public.
  • 42% believe that M&A will be driven higher by distressed sales, with only 16% believing that there will be good outcomes for sellers. 27% believe M&A will be flat.
  • On the hit list to be acquired: Carbon Health (primary and urgent care, 28%), Omada(virtual chronic care, 24%), Komodo (data mapping) and Accolade (corporate care navigation, both 21%)
  • Unicorns are losing their horns, with 27% believing that 11 to 15 will sink in valuation below $1 billion and 45% 6 to 10.
  • UnitedHealth Group’s antitrust troubles do not seem to trouble these friends, with 42% believing that remedies will be targeted and largely not disruptive to their business. 36% believe that it will be footballed around but die in the courts. Only 9% believe that UHG will be broken up.
  • Will the new policies from DOJ and FTC mean that private equity takeover will be slowed? 44% believe not with 30% noncommittal, but then again these friends are interested in the same.
  • On the legacy PBM issue, 49% believe that the Johnson & Johnson ERISA class action will not have any effect, as switching is expensive with low prices from the majors. 30% are noncommittal.
  • No surprise that 74% believe that more cyberattacks will happen and be successful.
  • 79% think AI in health tech will see material growth–again no surprise–but the jury is split on regulation. 35% believe that there will be Federal regulations, but only after something bad happens, and that overregulation will happen. 42% believe there will be some “light” regulation mainly for political reasons with an additional 23% believing that absolutely nothing will happen.

Venrock is an investor in Devoted Health (health plans), Included Health (telehealth/virtual care), Aledade (VBC and ACOs), Virta (diabetes care), athenahealth, and other medical device and biotech companies.  Venrock’s Healthcare Prognosis 

Short takes: Legrand acquires Enovation, FDA nixes Cue Health’s Covid tests, Ascension confirms ransomware attack–who did it? (updated), beware of ‘vishing’ courtesy of ChatGPT

Legrand Care acquires Enovation. Enovation is a Netherlands-based digital health company with a connected care platform for care monitoring across prevention, early detection, medication checks, and remote healthcare. Its customer base includes ambulances, pharmacies, clinics, hospitals, and home care. With distribution in healthcare organizations across 18 countries, including Scottish Digital Telecare [TTA 11 Aug 2021], it will join the equally international Legrand’s Assisted Living and Healthcare (AL&HC) business unit with Intervox, Neat, Tynetec, Jontek, and Aid Call. Acquisition cost was not disclosed. Release   Legrand and Tynetec are long-time supporters of TTA.

The hammer drops on embattled Cue Health. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has invalidated Cue Health’s Covid-19 Tests for Home and OTC Use and for the authorized lab test version. Home users were advised to discard unused kits in household trash. Both consumers and providers were advised to retest if symptoms persisted after a negative test result. This followed an FDA inspection of their operations that determined that unauthorized changes to the test kit design were made along with failures in performance testing. A Warning Letter was issued to Cue on 9 May. The company has not yet responded. FDA Safety Communication

Cue was one of many biotech manufacturers that marketed Covid-19 point of care/lab, and home testing kits after obtaining Emergency Use Authorizations (EUA) in 2020 and 2021. It exploded in size and went public in September 2021 at $200 million and $16/share with a valuation of $3 billion. Today HLTH shares trade on NasdaqCM at a little bit over $0.13. Their headquarters facilities in San Diego that once had 1,500 employees must be a lonely place, as the company reported another layoff of 230 employees, about half of remaining staff, after earlier layoff rounds of 245 in February and 880 in 2023. Their remaining test is one for Mpox on a EUA. Two other tests developed for flu and RSV are still under FDA review.  Cue Health’s financial reports for 2023 were dismal with revenue down to $71 million, an 85% reduction versus 2022, and a net loss of $373.5 million. Recent reports indicate that the company will refocus on marketing its Cue Health Monitoring System. Management and board changes have also been drastic, with a CEO change in March (Yahoo Finance) and the CFO departing this past Monday. MedTech Dive

Ascension Health finally acknowledged that its cyberattack was ransomware-based. On Saturday 11 May, their website event update confirmed that the cyberattack was ransomware. The Saturday and Monday 13 May updates also confirm that system operations will continue to be disrupted with no timetable set for restoration to normal status. Impacted systems include their EHR, MyChart, and some hospitals are diverting emergency care. The update page now has 12 regional updates and a general + patient FAQ. Update: in these states, Ascension’s retail pharmacies cannot fill prescriptions: Florida, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia. Their website recommends that patients bring paperwork and prescription containers. Lab and imaging results are delayed. Since the hospitals are on manual systems, overall there are delays in admissions–bring documentation. And the class-action suits have started, with reports that three have been filed already. Healthcare IT News

Who dunnit? DataBreaches.net reported over the weekend that Ascension’s hack has been attributed to interestingly named ransomwareistes Black Basta. Late last week, the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) issued an alert on Black Basta. It’s another charming ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) with bad news affiliates like BlackCat/ALPHV wreaking havoc on over 500 organizations globally. No word on whether Ascension has paid ransom. 

Speaking of cybersecurity, now something else to worry about–‘vishing’. This is ‘voice phishing’, another generative AI-facilitated hack that uses snippets of a human voice to pose as people or representing organizations via phone call or voicemail. Not enough? There’s ‘smishing’–SMS or text phishing which can invade your phone with all sorts of nasty messages. These attacks, according to cybersec firm Enea, are up twelve-fold since the launch of ChatGPT. Vishing, smishing, and phishing (email) attacks have increased by a staggering 1,265%. 76% of enterprises lack sufficient voice and messaging fraud protection. Can we go back to the 1990s? 2000s? When we worried about “Nigerian princes” email scams? Becker’s, Enea survey report

Is Oracle Health’s Big Vision smacking into the wall of Healthcare Reality? Their business says so.

Once again, ‘healthcare transformation’ may be A Bridge Too Far but definitely a Long Slog for Oracle. A highly critical Bloomberg report details the flat and deteriorating business of Oracle Health, the division that includes the former Cerner. Since their much-touted acquisition of Cerner two years ago [TTA 14 June 2022], Oracle has not righted the basic health system EHR business. Revenue and clients have stagnated with high-profile losses, versus the massive gains predicted only two years ago, and Cerner falling further behind the hospital/practice EHR leader, Epic, with a 26% hospital bed share compared to Epic’s 48%. 

  • Bloomberg’s internal sources indicated that sales reached $5.9 billion in 2023, but are projected to slip to $5.6 billion both in 2024 and 2025.
  • In 2023, 12 accounts did not renew and announced they would replace Cerner with Epic. These are major names such as Northwell Health and Boston Children’s Hospital. In 2022, clients with a combined capacity of 4,658 patients were lost, according to KLAS Research. This is despite the fact that EHRs are not moved lightly. The average commitment is 15 years or more since the ramp-up is taxing and costs are astronomical.
  • Common complaints cited by KLAS center around Cerner’s legacy software and the Cerner transition: tracking clinical revenue, tool integration, technical glitches, and uncertainty or worsened service associated with the Oracle takeover.Boston moved to improve data exchange with surrounding hospitals and Northwell for Epic’s set of better integrated tools.

Oracle laid off many involved with customer accounts. The consulting and sales area laid off 3,000 in one year from March 2023 to February 2024, according to Bloomberg. These may have been as early as May 2023. In June 2023, there were reports that the VA’s pause of Cerner Millenium for at least a year coupled with the completion of MHS Genesis triggered 500 to 1,200 additional Federal service area layoffs plus rescinded job offers. The layoff total may be as high as 4,200 on a pre-acquisition employee base of 28,000, with salaries and promotions frozen. On the executive level, Don Johnson, who once was a successor to CEO Larry Ellison, departed from leading Oracle Health and AI. Reportedly, Dr. David Feinberg, who briefly headed Cerner prior to the sale, is now a ‘ceremonial’ chairman of Oracle Health. [TTA 18 May 2023] Dr. Feinberg also joined Aegis Ventures as a senior advisor and is on Humana’s board, which sounds like a winddown of Oracle responsibilities [TTA 11 Jan]. The layoffs and freezes have improved the former Cerner’s operating margin from 22% to 33%, but not as high as Oracle’s 46% margin.

Since the acquisition and chairman Larry Ellison’s Big Vision promises of creating ‘healthcare transformation’ and ‘better information’, Oracle’s challenge with Cerner has been not only to move their legacy systems onto the cloud but also to integrate Cerner systems with Oracle–and Oracle may have underestimated that complexity as well.

  • Oracle has stated that most customers have been moved to Oracle’s cloud, but inside sources have qualified them as Oracle Health’s smallest and least technically complicated. The big systems with their own domains have yet to be touched.
  • Cerner applications had about 8,000 bugs to be fixed.
  • On the people management/integration side, there are substantial differences between ‘legacy’ Cerner and Oracle people, often centering around not understanding the nuances and complexities inherent in healthcare–as well as compensation and working conditions. This Editor, who as a marketer has had to deal peripherally with ‘legacy systems’ (to the point of tears) through acquisitions on the payer side, knows this is common.

Where Oracle has had success with Cerner’s EHR is in international markets less saturated with EHRs or with home-grown systems, winning contracts in Sweden, the UK and Saudi Arabia. As previously noted, they are a supplier for the NHS. Oracle has moved forward on population health software,  modernizing Cerner’s revenue-tracking tool, and planning for an AI-assisted ambient listening voice note system. 

What remains up in the air is if the VA will restart Millenium transitioning from VistA this year. Oracle is pushing to restart it and its revenue stream this summer as projected last year [TTA 18 May 2023]. This counters VA Secretary Denis McDonough’s testimony last month to the House Veterans Affairs Committee that the VA does not intend to resume deploying it until FY 2025, which does not start until October 2024, and use carryover funding. This FY, there are no funds or plans allocated except for Lovell FHCC, which seems to be going well. The contract, already tightened last April with multiple metrics, demanded improvements, oversight, and annual renewals, is running into more Congressional headwinds this year. Three senators on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee called for the VA “to use the opportunity the new contract structure provides to re-review terms and add additional accountability and oversight provisions to protect veterans and taxpayers.” pointing to the OIG report issued in March. The contract is up for renewal this coming Thursday 16 May. NextGov, Becker’s

The final burden on Oracle–only alluded to in the article–is the debt load undertaken to finance the $28 billion Cerner acquisition. A complex set of bridge and term loans were used to finance the buy [TTA 27 Oct 2022]. At the time, Oracle’s $90 billion debt load was one of the largest in tech. While Oracle’s stock value has been buoyed by its investments in AI, in the current environment, this debt load becomes suspect. Yahoo Finance, Quartz

Separation or sale? WBA putting Boots out for bids; Walgreens pharmacists end month-long HQ protest.

Boots to be ‘booted’ from WBA? Bloomberg and other sources on Monday reported that WBA is now once again searching for buyers for the UK-based Boots pharmacy chain. Earlier reports from end of 2023 into Q1 [TTA 5 March] that it was up for sale were later denied. WBA is at a preliminary stage in working with advisers to seek out some buyers.

The price will be steep. Boots’ estimated value is £7 billion (about $8.78 billion). One rumored possibility other than a sale is a UK IPO. The news sent WBA shares up by 5% during Monday trading to a close of $18.12. If a sale or spinoff does go through, it will bring to an end an unusual trans-Atlantic alliance for Walgreens, though other than some Boots beauty products in the No. 7 line, there’s little crossover between the two chains, at least here in the US. Reuters, Crain’s Chicago Business

Meanwhile, back in the trenches, Walgreens’ Chicago-area pharmacists wrapped up on Friday a month-long protest at Walgreens’ Deerfield HQ. These actions, which have been rolling since last year, center around increased staff and hour cutbacks plus the rise of telepharmacy. This replaces pharmacists with technicians for filling prescriptions, with patient questions answered by a remote pharmacist via an iPad. Pharmacists represented by the National Pharmacists Association-Laborers’ International Union of North America (NPhA-LIUNA) have been working without a contract since last May. In the past seven years, they have received a 2% wage increase. The local dispute has been mirrored at Walgreens and CVS locations nationwide. Crain’s Chicago Business

Short takes: Medicare telehealth flexibilities may extend; ‘no interest’ in Transcarent sale; NeueHealth ekes out positive net income; Cigna and Oscar break up; DocGo, Ascension cyberattacked (updated)

Two-year extension of telehealth flexibilities advances in Congress. A small telehealth victory was notched in the House, where the powerful Ways and Means Committee passed the Preserving Telehealth, Hospital, and Ambulance Access Act by a vote of 41-0. The bill would extend many of the Medicare and Federal program telehealth waivers and flexibilities established during the pandemic to the end of 2026. It is now expected that the House will bring the bill to the floor for a full House vote in the fall session. Ways and Means’ jurisdiction is over most financial and revenue-raising Federal measures, such as taxation, Social Security, and Medicare. Highlights of the bill:

  • Geographic and originating-site waivers
  • Ability for Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) and Rural Health Clinics (RHCs) to continue to furnish telehealth services
  • Expanded list of eligible Medicare providers, allowing physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech language pathologists, and audiologists to render telehealth services
  • Ability to offer audio-only services
  • Repeal of telemental health in-person requirement
  • Preservation of the Acute Hospital Care at Home Program through CY2029

Parts are controversial, such as the telemental in-person requirement, hospice recertification, and guardrails around durable medical equipment (DME) and clinical diagnostics requiring reports to prevent fraud, waste and abuse. The bill did not include remote prescribing of controlled substances. Expect further markups to be made before passage in the House, later in the Senate, and the joint bill. The American Telemedicine Association (ATA) applauded the bill with the main caveat being around telehealth controlled substance prescribing. Full text, FierceHealthcare, ATA release

Glen Tullman rules out a sale of Transcarent–but not an IPO. On the heels of a substantial $126 million in Series D funding and a  jumbo $2.2 billion valuation [TTA 8 May], Transcarent’s CEO Tullman, in an interview with MedCityNews, stated that he had “no interest” in selling the company. Transcarent is already run “like a public company”, has a strong leadership team already in place, and “we’ll make any exit decisions for the right reasons.” Mr. Tullman has already run four public companies and IPO’d three: CCC Information Systems (in auto insurance), Livongo, Allscripts (now Veradigm), and Enterprise Systems. Livongo was sold to Teladoc in 2020, with consequences. Veradigm, the former Allscripts, went public in 1999–25 years ago in a vastly different world. Their big bet in enterprise health navigation is now on AI for both physicians and members.

Back to the New Reality, Bizarro World edition. NeueHealth, which is achieving a world record in Dodging Disaster while paying out leadership bonuses, eked out a decent Q1. The former Bright Health Group managed to squeak out revenue of $245.1 million, operational net income of $5.7 million, and an adjusted EBITDA of $2.5 million compared to a Q1 2023 loss of $5.7 million. This doesn’t mean it was profitable because its net income for Q1 was a negative $28.5 million. Revenue dropped by 18%–$55 million–compared to Q1 2023. New Enterprise Associates (NEA) must be pleased, as they are now 60% owner of the operation with another loan of $30 million secured by penny warrants [TTA 16 Apr]. The full year guidance was reaffirmed at $1 billion in revenue with 70% coming from its NeueSolutions business (their management services for ACOs and IPAs), and adjusted EBITDA between $15 million and $25 million. What remains, of course, are the UXBs–the problems with their financial reporting as noted in their 2023 results and that ever-so-nasty $400 million in payments due to CMS in March 2025, as well as to Texas on their exited ACA plans. But NeueHealth has played both ends against the middle and tied up creditors in Gordian knots for a couple of years, so why not keep on keepin’ on for now? Release, earnings call transcript, FierceHealthcare   TTA 5 April

The much-touted partnership of big Cigna and insurtech Oscar Health is breaking up. The Cigna + Oscar joint program covers the small group business. As of the end of Q1, it had 61,428 members enrolled. The program, which had no forecast of profitability, will end in 2025. CEO Mark Bertolini’s statement was rather forceful in this regard. Oscar is shifting to marketing ICHRA, or individual coverage health reimbursement arrangements that permit small businesses to offer employees individual health plans subsidized by employer contributions. Cigna will continue to offer plans for the small and midsize group market. Becker’s

Cyberattacks strike DocGo, Ascension Health. DocGo reported a data breach in its 7 May Form 8-K filed with the SEC. It involved a limited but unspecified amount of protected health information (PHI) of patients using its ambulance services, but was confined only to that. No other report of the breach has been made. This followed a positive Q1 report of revenue up to $192.1 million, from $113 million in the same quarter 2023. Net income was $10.6 million versus last year’s net loss of $3.9 million. Adjusted EBITDA went up to $24.1 million versus $5.6 million. DocGo provides telehealth/RPM, mobile urgent care, disease management, and medical transportation services. It recently lost its lucrative but controversial NYC migrant service contract but retains city Health + Hospitals contracts and some smaller housing service contracts. Mobihealthnews Ascension Health, on the other hand, has had a serious disruption in some clinical operations affecting an undisclosed number of hospitals and systems, but was reported in Michigan. On Wednesday, Ascension detected unusual activity in select technology-network systems. They advised business partners to sever connections to their systems and have brought in Mandiant to assist in investigation and remediation efforts. Ascension is one of the largest health systems in the US, with 140 hospitals in 19 states plus the District of Columbia. Healthcare Finance, Detroit Free Press, Ascension website

Ascension Update: Reports since yesterday are now far more exact. Its EHR, MyChart, several systems for ordering tests and medications, plus some phone systems are unavailable across the system. Some appointments and surgeries have been postponed. There are emergency diversions of care in some locations. Ascension’s statements to media has been that ‘downtime procedures’ will be in place ‘for some time’. There is no timeline given for restoration. Becker’s, Healthcare Dive

 

News roundup: Transcarent raises $126M; 98point6 lays off; Oscar notches first profit; Steward Health’s Ch. 11; Amazon Clinic GM leaves; Amwell’s down but hopeful Q1; Hims founder gets political

A study in contrasts

Already well-funded Transcarent gains another $126 million in a Series D round. Total outside funding is $424 million that boosts its valuation to $2.2 billion. This round will fund expansion and development efforts plus enhancing the platform’s AI capabilities. The Series D round was led by General Catalyst and Glen Tullman’s 7wireVentures, with participation from new investors Memorial Hermann Health System and Geodesic Capital, along with existing investors. As noted in our Rock Health analysis (but not in the company’s release), this raise had a ‘sweetener’ of a 2.5x return should the company IPO or M&A.  Transcarent is an enterprise health navigator that enables employees to use a single platform to navigate their needs for medical, surgery, pharmacy, and mental health care. Transcarent’s differentiator in this space for large self-insured employers is that Transcarent steers employees to higher quality, lower cost care settings. Their pricing is also based on actual users only in risk-based agreements, versus the more common per member per month (PMPM) care management model. Transcarent also pays health systems up front for surgical procedures.

Tullman, who is also Transcarent’s CEO, is well known for creating high profile companies that eventually are sold or IPO’d for high valuations. These deals make his followers money, but often not the buyers (ask Teladoc) or the employees left in the lurch. This Editor does wonder, given the state of US business right now, how this competitive enterprise care management niche earns this kind of investment and valuation. Release, Mobihealthnews 

One of Transcarent’s buys last year was 98point6’s virtual care and related assets that included 98point6’s physician group, self-insured employer business, and an irrevocable software license in a deal worth potentially $100 million according to publicity. 98point6 then had a well publicized and $32 million-financed pivot to being a software company and licensor, acquiring remaining assets from asynchronous telehealth provider Bright.md this past January for 55% in equity and 45% in cash. Despite all this, little noted was that at the end of April was that 98point6 laid off an undisclosed number of its estimated 100 US-based staff. One wonders if this affects service to Bright.md’s provider customers. GeekWire

On the health plan side, rebooted insurtech Oscar Health finally got into the black with $177.4 million in net income for Q1 and beat earnings per share estimates. It’s no surprise to those of us who’ve followed the modus operandi of Mark Bertolini, who took the reins a year ago March [TTA 30 Mar 2023] and stated at the time that his focus was moving Oscar to profitability. Total revenue was $2.1 billion, a 46% increase versus Q1 2023, driven primarily by higher membership, rate increases, and lower risk adjustment as a percentage of premiums. Release. Becker’s, FierceHealthcare Their full 2024 is projected at $8.3 to $8.4 billion in revenue, $125 to $175 million in adjusted EBIDTA. Oscar solely offers ACA exchange plans for individuals and small groups, having exited Medicare Advantage after 2022. Release

Steward Health Care filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy on 6 May. As forecast when the company moved to sell its provider group Stewardship Health to Optum [TTA 18 Apr], Steward’s debt load in its 31 hospitals and operations forced the restructuring on Monday. What’s owed: $1.2 billion in total loan debts, about $6.6 billion in long-term lease payments, north of $600 million to 30 of its largest lenders (Change Healthcare, Philips North America LLC, Medline Industries, AYA Healthcare and Cerner). There’s $289.8 million in unpaid compensation obligations: $68 million to its own workers in unpaid employee salaries, $105.6 million in payments for physician services and $47.7 million owed to staffing agencies. Topping it off–$979.4 million outstanding in trade obligations, of which approximately 70% are over 120 days past due.

Debtor-in-possession is now Medical Properties Trust (MPT) which will finance $75 million up front extending to $225 million more if Steward’s asset selloff milestones are completed on time. MPT will need to be far more forthcoming about Steward’s finances than Steward has been. The Stewardship Health sale to Optum now has to pass through the US Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Texas as well as Massachusetts regulators. Becker’s, Healthcare Dive 6 May, 7 May

Amazon Clinic loses its general manager, Nworah Ayogu, MD. He departed for Thrive Capital, a secretive VC (based on its website) that invests in technology, internet, and software companies. Dr. Ayogu, who doubled as chief medical officer of Amazon Pharmacy, stated the move will enable him to focus “exclusively on healthcare” after nearly four years with Amazon. He launched Clinic in November 2022 to a full 50-state rollout of the asynchronous and synchronous telehealth service last August, after a privacy challenge that escalated to the Senatorial level and forced a rollout delay [TTA 1 Aug 2023]. It sounds more like the doctor needs to go on a break. Amazon has not announced a replacement nor has Thrive issued any information. Becker’s, Modern Healthcare

Amwell’s soft Q1 reflective of telehealth as a whole. Its Q1 revenue of $59.5 million was 7% below Q1 2023’s $64 million, and missed Mr. Market’s forecasts. Where there was improvement was that net loss narrowed considerably to $73.4 million from prior year’s $398.5 million, when it took a hefty non-cash goodwill impairment charge. The bright spot Amwell is forecasting is that their Federal contract with Defense Health Agency, jointly with Leidos, will impact by Q4. Their part of the Digital First initiative for the Military Health System (MHS) will replace the current system, MHS Video Connect, with Amwell Converge [TTA 15 May]. Their pending NYSE stock delisting they plan to remedy with a reverse stock split to be announced.  Healthcare Dive, Amwell’s SEC Form 10-Q

Hims CEO and founder Andrew Dudum Does a Dumb. Mr. Dudum made a statement that on X that was interpreted by most to be encouraging the disruptive anti-Israel university and elsewhere protests which have roiled cities like New York and Los Angeles for weeks and are canceling graduations at Columbia University and University of Southern California. A statement like “If you’re currently protesting against the genocide of the Palestinian people & for your university’s divestment from Israel, keep going. It’s working.” and went on to say that companies would be eager to hire them is plain and clear. It immediately garnered criticism from investment group, industry, and software heads, as well as conservative and moderate media. This Editor will put on her marketing cap and remind Mr. Dudum of Marketing 101–be memorable, but do not offend the customer or investors who give you money. You have, after all, a company that depends upon appealing to a wide spectrum of people with easy and recurring telehealth prescriptions for hair loss, weight loss, skin problems, women’s health concerns, and erectile dysfunction. Your statement was not only completely unnecessary but also inflammatory at a bad time–it offended many customers no matter what religion or beliefs. Stock dropped. Customers canceled. Note to Mr. Dudum: if you want a thriving business, don’t live up to your name. FoxBusiness

News roundup: UHG CEO’s Bad Day at Capitol Hill; Kaiser’s 13.4M data breach; Walgreens’ stock beatup; Cigna writes off VillageMD; Oracle Cerner shrinks 50%; Owlet BabySat gets Wheel; fundings for Midi, Trovo, Alaffia, Klineo

It was a Bad Day at Boot (Capitol) Hill for UnitedHealth Group’s CEO Andrew Witty. On May Day, he was the Man In The Arena facing two Congressional grillings–the first from the Senate Finance Committee in the morning, and the second in the afternoon from the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. The precipitating event was the Optum/Change Healthcare data breach and system hacking by ALPHV/BlackCat, a disruption which is as of today not fully resolved.  Millions of patients may have had data stolen and exposed–a number that has yet to be determined, but an outcome for which UHG, while paying the ransomwaristes, has prepared. Already, the VA has notified 15 million veterans and families of that possibility.

This Editor will be linking below to multiple articles and Mr. Witty’s prepared testimony. Interested Readers can also refer to YouTube for extensive links to video testimony. Highlights:

  • Both houses criticized the slow response and amount of financial assistance given to providers after the shutdown of Change’s systems prevented (and still is preventing) timely claims processing and payment. While ‘near normal’ volumes of medical claims and 86% restoration of payment processing sounds good, that leaves a lot of wiggle room on over two months of totally disrupted processing and payment. The billion or so cited sounds impressive but much of this is in loans. Most practices and groups simply do not have the financial cushion or billing skillset to bridge this disruption, to pay back loans, or to bookkeep this.
  • Also criticized at this late date was UHG being unable to determine how many individuals had PHI exposed in the breach.
  • As to cause, the description of UHG finding that surprise, surprise, Change’s systems were way out of date, stored on physical servers versus the cloud, and used Citrix remote access without multi-factor authentication (MFA) was utterly savaged. According to Mr. Witty, ALPHV after days of knocking around got in on the one server that did not have MFA authentication.

The blunt fact is that UHG had close to two years (January 2021-Oct 2022) before the buy closed. Due diligence consisting of a full audit had to have been done on Change’s IT systems. They processed what UHG wanted to buy. In this Editor’s estimation, Job #1! for UHG should have been ensuring that Change’s systems were hardened, then upgrading to what Mr. Witty called UnitedHealth’s standards. This Editor will go further. A minimum requirement for the sale should have been security hardening. There was time before the closing.

Senator Thom Tillis, R-North Carolina, had the best riposte. He brought a copy of “Hacking for Dummies” to the hearing, highlighting MFA. I doubt he was much moved by UHG now bringing in cybersecurity company Mandiant to both investigate and harden their systems, nor by UHG having to pay ransom, without knowing whose data was compromised.

  • Beyond the breach, UHG was called ‘monopolistic’ by both Republican and Democrat Members. There were calls to break up UHG as not ‘too big to fail’. UHG has grown by acquisition and consolidation of services. As this Editor has speculated, this is likely coming to an end with the new, much more stringent Merger Guidelines. This sentiment paints a large, unmissable target on UHG’s back for aiming FTC’s and DOJ’s missiles. (DOJ also has a huge score to settle with UHG dating back to the failure to block the Change sale.)

By the end of the day, Mr. Witty looked quite the worse for wear–tie and collar askew, slightly sweaty, versus the perfect poses of the various Members. Becker’s, FierceHealthcare, Axios, HealthcareDive    Mr. Witty’s Senate testimony statement, House testimony statement

Speaking of data breaches, Kaiser Permanente reported a big one to Health and Human Services (HHS). This relates to ad tracker information shared with third-party advertisers such as Google, Microsoft, and X. Kaiser used it in secured areas of their website and mobile apps. Information disclosed could be name and IP. Kaiser reported it on 12 April but only disclosed on 25 April that 13.4 million records may have been affected. The ad trackers have since been removed. TechCrunch, FierceHealthcare 

Walgreens stock not recovering. April was WBA’s worst month in five years and May is no better, with the stock muddling around $17.50. The month slid around 18%. Their 52-week high was $33. As of now, CEO Tim Wentworth’s actions such as closing locations and writing down VillageMD haven’t convinced Mr. Market of WBA’s worth, but in fairness it’s early in his tenure. In the Insult to Injury Department, it was revealed that the IRS is seeking to claw back $2.7 billion in unpaid 2014-2017 taxes. Crain’s Chicago Business

Cigna is also writing down its interest in VillageMD. Almost forgotten is that in late 2022, Cigna invested $2.5 billion into VillageMD. They have now written down $1.8 billion of that ‘low teens’ ownership. The planned tie was connecting Village Medical into Evernorth, Cigna’s medical services area. It was also supposed to provide Cigna with an annual return on investment, but one assumes it did not. The writeoff threw Cigna’s Q1 into the red with a net loss of almost $300 million versus a prior year profit of $1.3 billion, despite a strong quarter that grew revenue 23% versus prior year to $57.3 billion. Healthcare Dive

Oracle Health has been successful–in shrinking Cerner by close to half. Records of employment at Cerner’s Kansas City-based operation have declined from 11,900 people in 2022 (Kansas City Area Development Council) to a current 6,400 (internal documents). Cerner itself reported 12,778 local full-time-equivalent employees in 2022. Oracle had multiple layoffs of Cerner affecting Kansas City workers and has consolidated multiple office buildings and campuses. Becker’s

In more cheerful news:

Baby monitor Owlet announced a strategic partnership with Wheel for Owlet’s BabySat. BabySat is Owlet’s FDA-cleared prescription vital signs monitor for infants 1-18 months. Wheel clinicians can now prescribe BabySat which enables parents to order BabySat from Owlet and other suppliers. With Wheel, BabySat also integrates with durable medical equipment (DME) suppliers who accept and can bill for the product through many insurance providers for partial or full reimbursement. Wheel is a virtual care platform and physician/nurse-practitioner online network available direct to consumer and to enterprises. Owlet release

And rounding up funding:

MidiHealth closed a $60M Series B funding. This was led by Emerson Collective with participation from Memorial Hermann, SemperVirens, Felicis, Icon Ventures, Black Angel Group, Gingerbread Capital, Able Partners, G9, and Operator Collective for a total of $99 million in funding. Midi provides virtual support for women going through peri- and full menopause. The fresh funding will help them expand national insurance coverage, hire and upskill an additional 150 clinicians by end of year, diversify service lines, and scale to care for 1 million+ women per year by 2029. Release

Trovo Health launched with $15 million in seed funding, led by Oak HC/FT. The NYC-based AI-powered provider task assistance platform will use the funding to build its technology platform, clinical operations, and leadership team. Mobihealthnews 

In the same roundup, NYC-based Alaffia Health scored a $10 million Series A round. This was led by FirstMark Capital with participation from Aperture Venture Capital. Alaffia creates generative AI solutions for payment integrity in health insurance claims operations, with the aim of eliminating insurance fraud, waste, and abuse for health plans, third-party administrators, self-insured employers, stop-loss carriers, and government agencies. Their total raise to date is $17.6 million. Paris-based Klineo also raised €2 million for its oncology clinical trials search platforms, assisted by AI, for the use of doctors and patients. BPIFrance and business angels participated in the round.

Teladoc’s Q1: increased revenue, increased net loss, dealing with slowing growth–as is CVS Health

Teladoc had a passable Q1, given the sudden departure of their CEO, a lackluster 2023, and a downbeat (realistic?) 2024 forecast. The highlights were versus Q1 prior year:

  • Revenue increased 3% to $646.1 million. This exceeded their 2024 projection of $630 to $645 million but the percentage increase is below the 5.2% Teladoc is forecasting for the full year. Their US revenue grew 1% to $547.6 million while international revenue grew 13% to $98.5 million.
  • But net loss also increased far more on a percentage basis–18% to $81.9 million, or $0.49 per share. Some of the loss was due to stock-based compensation expense, severance expenses, and amortization of acquired intangibles. Due to these, the increased revenue did not offset or narrow losses.
  • Adjusted EBIDTA increased 20% to $63.1 million, which is positive.

Looking at their main market segments, their Integrated Care segment revenue grew 8% to $377.1 million, Once again, BetterHelp, their behavioral telehealth unit and one-time hope for growth, continued to disappoint with a 4% decrease in revenue to $269.0 million.

The forecast for Q2 is: 

  • Revenue $635 – $660 million
  • Net loss per share ($0.45) – ($0.35), slightly lower than Q1
  • Adjusted EBITDA $70 – $80 million

Integrated Care’s forecast is an increase of 2 to 5% in revenue, while BetterHelp’s remains weak with a decrease of 4 to 8% in revenue.

So far, cutting costs, higher margins, cutting jobs in data science and engineering, third-party (supplier?) costs, and getting on that ‘path to profitability’ has had limited results, at least to Mr. Market which continues to drop the stock–40% to date and deteriorating. On the earnings call, interim CEO and CFO Mala Murthy, in referring to this, said “We are not waiting. We have a plan to deliver, we have investments to execute, and that is absolutely our focus.” Will Mr. Market believe this in a shrinking market? The search for a permanent CEO is underway, and the replacement is expected to be named later this year. Teladoc release, Mobihealthnews, FierceHealthcare

The broader meaning? This Editor explored what happened at Teladoc and the aftermath after some of the dust settled [TTA 9 April]. The Teladoc foundational model as a stand-alone, mostly urgent care service is not growing but shrinking. It doesn’t coordinate care nor does it integrate well into providers. While the pandemic gave that model a lift, it also boosted integrated services as modules into patient portals, EHRs, population health, and other provider-based platforms. Among higher care need Medicare beneficiaries, usage was there but minimal detailed in two recent studies. Even asynchronous and telephonic telehealth gained since they were reimbursed or low cost. Before, during, and after the pandemic, there were too many telehealth companies for the limited demand. Add in the continuing proliferation of telementalhealth providers, still popping up like tulips in spring–another reason why BetterHelp, one of the earlier entrants, isn’t getting traction. FierceHealthcare adds more points such as over-supply cratering price (and the revenue model) and hybridization: white-labeling with providers, virtual specialty clinics such as those under Included Health’s, and partnerships with health plans and employers. 

CVS Health’s Q1 also wasn’t swell for reasons that are impacting their full year. High medical costs affected their Aetna plans, with high utilization in Medicare Advantage, inpatient admissions, and outpatient services were all high in Q1–$900 million higher than CVS expected. Lower MA STAR ratings will affect their forward Federal reimbursements, with one of their largest MA plans falling from 4.5 to 3.5 rating in 2024. According to CEO Karen Lynch, most of this utilization was from a patient usage reversion to pre-pandemic patterns. Their Q1 revenue of $88.4 billion was up 4% versus prior year with net income falling by almost half to $1.1 billion, both significantly below analysts’ expectations. CVS adjusted their full year downward, which led to their stock falling another 19%. Change Healthcare’s data breach is also affecting their forecasts with delayed claims, leading CVS to set a reserve of $500 million. HealthcareDive

Midweek news roundup: Optum exiting telehealth, laying off; Advocate Health selling MobileHelp; VA notifying 15M veterans re Change PHI breach, Oracle moving to Nashville–maybe? (updated)

Optum Virtual Care closing, staff layoffs in progress. Optum Everycare CEO Jennifer Phalen on an 18 April internal conference call announced that the unit would close. According to sources, some employees would have layoff dates in July. No further details were available on other layoffs or plans for integrating Virtual Care’s capabilities into other Optum units, except for generalities. “We are com­mit­ted to pro­vid­ing pa­tients with a ro­bust net­work of providers for vir­tu­al ur­gent, pri­ma­ry and spe­cial­ty care op­tions,” and “We con­tin­u­al­ly re­view the ca­pa­bil­i­ties and ser­vices we of­fer to meet the grow­ing and evolv­ing needs of our busi­ness­es and the peo­ple we serve.” a spokesper­son for Unit­ed­Health said to End­points, a biopharma publication from the University of Kansas which broke the story.

For Optum, this is the second shoe drop about layoffs and closures in less than two weeks. Reports from social media and layoff-specific boards indicated that thousands were being laid off, from their plans to urgent care and providers [TTA 23 Apr]. These were not confirmed by Optum nor by UnitedHealth Group. It’s not known if this unit’s closure was included in the total. 

The larger picture is that it is symptomatic of the sudden growth, then equally sudden consolidation, of general telehealth. Optum opened the unit in April 2021 as the pandemic entered year 2. Utilizing existing capabilities, UHG claimed it facilitated more than 33 million telehealth visits in 2020, up from 1.2 million in 2019. The number looks sky high but in that time of practices closing it was a free-for-all in telehealth–and ‘facilitating’ is a nebulous catchword that could mean a practice using Facetime, telephones, or an EHR/population health platform module. Commercial claims for telehealth have remained at 4 to 5% since (FAIR Health, Jan 2024). Even during the pandemic’s first year, telehealth claims hit a peak of 13 percent in April 2020 that dropped fast to 6% by August 2020. Well over 60% are for behavioral telehealth claims.

A leading indicator: Last June, Optum Everycare’s CEO from their 2021 start, Kristi Henderson, a former Optum SVP for digital transformation, departed to become CEO of Confluent Health, a national network of occupational and physical therapy clinics. It was about as far away as one could get from telehealth, digital transformation, and Amazon Care, her former employer that expired in 2022.

Apparently, UHG and Optum see no further need for a virtual care specialty unit, instead integrating it into plans and other Optum services. According to MedCityNews, industry analysts aren’t surprised. Both Amwell and Teladoc have had well-known struggles. The latest: Walmart, after investing millions into their unit that included full clinics and a virtual care service, also made news on 30 April that it is closing both. Also greatly on UHG’s mind: cleanup after the Change debacle, making Mr. Market happy, and the looming antitrust action by DOJBecker’s, Healthcare IT News, 

In another sign that healthcare investors are selling off ancillary businesses, Advocate Health is selling PERS provider MobileHelp. It “no longer fit the strategic priorities of Advocate Health” according to their 22 April audit report (see document pages 10 and 13) and was authorized last December.

Advocate, through its investment arm Advocate Aurora Enterprises, acquired both MobileHelp, one of the earliest mobile PERS, and sister company Clear Arch Health, a remote patient monitoring provider, in April 2022. Cost was not disclosed at that time but later was reported to be $290.7 million. The plan at the time was to combine both MobileHelp and Clear Arch with a senior care/home health provider earlier acquired by Advocate for $187 million, Senior Helpers. That company was sold in March to Chicago-based private equity firm Waud Capital Partners for an undisclosed amount. The MobileHelp sale is expected to close later this year. Buyer and price are not disclosed. The expected loss on the MobileHelp sale was figured into FY 2023 as part of an asset impairment write-down of $150 million, which Advocate said was “related to the expected loss on the sale of MobileHelp.” The PERS and RPM business is a largely consolidated ‘cash cow’ type of business that (Editor’s prediction) will be snapped up by another player like Connect America, Alert One, or a smaller player like ModivCare. Milwaukee Business Journal, Becker’s, Crain’s Chicago Business (requires subscription)

VA admits that some veterans may be affected by Change Healthcare data breach, PII/PHI disclosure. While Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough at this time believes that “there’s no confirmation yet” that veteran data was exposed, the scope of the Change Healthcare breach has led VA to formally alert via email 15 million veterans and their families of the possibility. The email also included information “about the two years of free credit monitoring and identity theft protection” that Change Healthcare is offering to those affected by the attack. The VA maintains that the attack resulted in only a temporary delay in filling 40,000 prescriptions but did not cause “any adverse impact on patient care or outcomes,” according to a department spokesman. NextGov/FCW 26 April, 23 April 

In related news, HHS as of 19 April had not received any notification from Change Healthcare nor UHG. They are required to file a breach report as providers and also as covered entities. They have 60 days from the breach occurrence on 21 February to report, which is coming right up. Becker’s

If Larry said it, it must be true…assemble the moving boxes. At an Oracle conference in Nashville last week, Oracle chairman Larry Ellison said to Bill Frist of investment firm Frist Cressey Ventures that he planned to move the company to that city as “It’s the center of the industry we’re most concerned about, which is the healthcare industry.” It’s their second public Larry and Billy meetup in the last few months, the last in November at the Frist Cressey Ventures Forum where Ellison had previously touted Nashville. Ellison is investing in and building a 70-acre, $1.35 billion campus on Nashville’s riverfront. Oracle is currently HQ’d in Austin, Texas having moved in 2020 from Redwood City, California but with extensive facilities remaining in the state. Texas and Tennessee have one thing in common–a superior business climate. Both are long on lifestyle, though Austin is not as temperate (read, hot) as Nashville. What Nashville has that Austin doesn’t is being a healthcare hub. At least in Ellison’s view, healthcare is where it’s at and so is Nashville. So as long as he’s running Oracle from his manse on Lanai, Oracle does what Larry says. Healthcare Dive, Healthcare IT News, The Tennessean

More fun facts about Larry Ellison and Nashville: David Ellison, his son, is founder of Skydance Media, a major Hollywood production company (Mission: Impossible and others) and negotiating a zillion-dollar merger with Paramount Pictures. David’s wife is a singer trying to make it in Music City and they have a home there. Kind of like the age-old trend of moving the HQ near where the CEO’s living. On moving the HQ to Nashville from Austin, this would affect perhaps 2,500 workers based there currently. Most of Oracle’s workers are dispersed and work remotely. 6,400 of former Cerner-ites are still in Missouri and 7,000 remain in California. Big hat tip to HIStalk—scroll down and see more about Larry and Billy’s talk, which also covered cybersecurity, the NHS (which uses Cerner), and automating hospitals and the hospital-payer interface.

Walmart Health shutters health centers, Walmart Virtual Care, in sudden move (updated–why?)

In a shocker, Walmart throws in towel on onsite primary care, urgent care, and telehealth, effective today (30 April)Walmart’s release stated that “we determined there is not a sustainable business model for us to continue” either service since “the challenging reimbursement environment and escalating operating costs create a lack of profitability that make the care business unsustainable for us at this time.” Analysts also attributed the difficulties to the rising cost of labor, real estate, complex billing procedures, and reimbursement rates that haven’t increased in years.

The boom was lowered only three weeks after Walmart announced that they were slowing down 2024 openings of its primary and urgent care centers from 30 to 22 [TTA 5 April]. From aggressive promises back in 2018 of at least 1,000 locations, later revised to 4,000 locations by 2029, to serve the underserved with primary care, dental care, and basic lab and imaging services, only 51 centers were opened in superstores in six states–Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Missouri, and Texas. The top executive spot became a revolving door. 

The release did not disclose when the center closures would be effective. From the screenshot above from the Walmart Health website, it can be inferred that because appointments must be scheduled within the next 30 days and no new patients are being accepted, the closures will be start to be effective 30 or 31 May. The centers employ physicians, dentists, and nurse-practitioners. Walmart Health also had recently inked high profile partnerships with Centene’s Ambetter-Sunshine Health plan as an ACA preferred provider [TTA 8 Nov 23] and with Orlando Health in Florida for care coordination. It is not known what will happen to these latter partnerships. Update. UnitedHealthcare and Walmart have ended their co-branded Medicare Advantage “Walmart Flex” plan. This was part of a 10-year deal inked last year. The MA plan was available in Georgia only, with ambitions to expand. Other partner programs were available in Florida and Georgia. Becker’s

Walmart Health Virtual Care, in contrast, has no such notice on its website. Virtual Care services may be more problematic to shut down as they are provided to health plan members (e.g. UnitedHealthcare) and employers. Walmart Health acquired MeMD telehealth in May 2021 in very different times–at that time, they had five million members. Virtual Care also covers behavioral health. That winddown may differ in timing based on contracts and patient handoffs.

The release affirms that ~4,500 Walmart pharmacies and 3,000 +optical centers will continue and grow. Pharmacies already offer Testing and Treatment services, health screenings, access to specialty pharmacy medication and care, as well as other essential services such as medication therapy management. In vision care, Walmart recently acquired 200 Vision Centers.

Employees affected will receive either the opportunity to move to another location or separation benefits. The practices are “partners’ and will be paid for 90 days. Walmart’s wobbliness on the health provision front, along with rising costs, less reimbursement, and more competition than they thought, caught up to them in the end–as it did with VillageMD/Village Medical and Walgreens.  Healthcare Dive, Becker’s, Crain’s Chicago Business

Update. Perhaps there’s another trend here. A user of Walmart Health, ‘Wiggles’, posted on the always interesting HIStalk making some excellent points. Many of their appointments were canceled due to lack of available clinicians. He or she surmised that physicians (and this Editor would add, nurse-practitioners) don’t find putting in hours at a Walmart Health carries any prestige for the money earned nor that they enjoy ‘care-by-wire’. Your Editor would add that the areas where Walmart built the clinics may be areas of clinician scarcity–that they are booked solid. Add to that two cited reasons for shrinking Walgreens’ VillageMD operation–that they cannot fill the patient panels for each physician in many areas (saturation?), nor can they get the physicians in other areas to work in the space offered at a co-location (undesirable working conditions?). Could it be, as ‘Wiggles’ surmises, that here’s an opportunity for clinical professionals to take back control? (This is on top of the actions that pharmacists are taking across Walgreens and CVS on their working conditions.)

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.

HealthExec

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 SAM.gov

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–review of the 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 DataBreaches.net 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.