23andMe hacking may have affected 6.9 million+ users–not 14,000–in massive PII breach

What was 14,000 may affect up to 6.9 million users. Genetic testing and information company 23andMe is now admitting that the October data breach that affected 0.1% of their 14 million customer base, or 14,000 users per their SEC filing last Friday, may have exposed the records and personally identifiable information (PII) of 6.9 million users, about half their customer database. In later replies to industry publications TechCrunch and WIRED, a 23andMe spokesperson admitted that hackers accessed the PII of about 5.5 million people who opted-in to 23andMe’s DNA Relatives feature. Add into that an additional 1.4 million “had their Family Tree profile information accessed”. an enhancement to DNA Relatives. The DNA Relatives breach stole individual and family names, birth year, relationship labels, the percentage of DNA shared with relatives, ancestry reports, and self-reported location. Family Tree information exposed display names, relationship labels, birth year, self-reported location, and whether the user decided to share their information.

(Editor’s note: The size of the breach is enough to revive this vintage picture of WWF/WWE wrestler Hulk Hogan in his ‘Hulkamania Running Wild’ persona.)

23andMe has attributed the massive breach to credential stuffing–the reuse of leaked login credentials from other websites and services. But many users have gone public with the information that their logins were unique to 23andMe. 23andMe’s credibility on this issue took a beating from none other than the US National Security Agency (NSA) cybersecurity director Rob Joyce. He wrote on his personal X account that “They disclose the credential stuffing attacks, but they don’t say how the accounts were targeted for stuffing. This was unique and not an account that could be scraped from the web or other sites.” In fact, Mr. Joyce creates a unique email for each account. The cause for the wider breach may lie in data sharing with a partner, MyHeritage, in adding functionality to Family Tree. It seems clear that credential stuffing wasn’t the only technique used to break into the 23andMe user data.

23andMe, as well as Ancestry.com and MyHeritage, now require or strongly recommend two-factor authentication for access to personal accounts. About time. They have also changed terms of service to “encourage a prompt resolution of any disputes”.

What is distressing is that the hacks on the retail side of 23andMe are only the tip of the iceberg–that the really valuable part of their genetic data goes to pharmaceutical companies. Cyberthieves know that motherlode is incredibly valuable to bad actors like the Chinese and the Chinese Communist Party, both key markets for stolen health data. (Developing)

News roundup: ONC recommends ‘nutrition labeling’ for healthcare AI apps but Google moves forward; CVS’ health services rebranding as Healthspire (updated); Clover Health repots out of ACO REACH

Straining toward a model for AI app information? The latest grope by Federal regulators towards the “trustworthy use of artificial intelligence”, as the American Telemedicine Association terms it, is a labeling system that has been likened to ‘nutrition labeling’. This near-incomprehensible analogy to food labeling was proposed back in April by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), now headed by Micky Tripathi, Ph.D. This disclosure would consist of how the app was trained, how it performs, how it should be used, and how it shouldn’t, which does not sound onerous at all. The disclosures are designed to forestall issues around performance and bias that have previously appeared, such as Epic’s AI system designed to predict sepsis risk and an algorithm designed to flag patients needing assistance with complex treatment regimens. 

An optional proposed disclosure around how the app was trained and tested would be important to healthcare organizations but potentially problematic to developers. There are quite a few caveats expressed by Silicon Valley investors around hurting startups and even giants like Epic through over-disclosure of proprietary information, enabling reverse engineering and poaching of intellectual property. Everyone likes transparency, trust, safety, and efficacy, but the conundrum is to disclose what is needed for proper and cautious use without providing an entreé to IP. Wall Street Journal, Becker’s, ATA release and AI principles 

Google, predictably, damns the torpedoes, full speed ahead with healthcare AI. And intends to write the rules. They’ve deployed AI tools already with Mayo Clinic and HCA Healthcare–Mayo for medical records and research papers, HCA for clinical notes. EHR Meditech is using Google’s AI for clinical documentation and to summarize patient histories. Bayer is also working with Google. Their products include a licensed algorithm for breast and lung cancer detection, a tool for diagnosing diabetic retinopathy, and a question-answering bot. Google makes no secret that they plan to influence Federal efforts at setting standards by hiring lobbyists, most of whom are out of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and playing a large role in industry groups such as the Coalition for Health AI (CHAI).  If you believe that Google, Microsoft, Amazon (playing catchup), or other healthcare service companies like UnitedHealth Group’s Optum will twiddle their thumbs and wait for the Feds to set standards and (good grief) enforce disclosure on AI tools, this Editor has several lovely bridges for sale. POLITICO, Becker’s

CVS Health grouping health services and multi-payer assets under CVS Healthspire. Monday’s announcement at the Forbes Healthcare Summit will roll up new $20 billion acquisitions Oak Street Health and Signify Health along with 1,100 MinuteClinics, the CVS Caremark pharmacy benefit manager (PBM), CVS Specialty, and its new Cordavis operation that works with pharmaceutical companies to bring to market  biosimilars. The rebranding, a clever melding of ‘health’ and ‘inspire’, will start this month into 2024. It’s not revealed whether the current names will be sunsetted for CVS Healthspire, or whether they will keep their established brand names. The parallels are with Evernorth (Cigna), Optum (UnitedHealth Group), and Carelon (Elevance, the former Anthem) in creating a vertically integrated healthcare company. At Investor Day, CVS Pharmacy announced a cost-plus arrangement for retail prescriptions built on the cost of the drug, a set markup, and a fee that reflects the care and value of pharmacy services–clearly in competition with Mark Cuban CostPlus.  Forbes, FierceHealthcare, CVS release, Investor Day release  

Clover Health exits the advanced value-based primary care program, ACO REACH. Clover’s exit at the end of the 2023 performance year after two years disbands their practice arrangements for CMS’ advanced original Medicare shared savings program, formerly Direct Contracting, and provision of beneficiary services after completing their required wrapups and reporting. It is part of their recent moves to become profitable, focusing on their Medicare Advantage business and Clover Assistant management. They outsourced their Medicare Advantage plan administration to UST HealthProof for a savings of $30 million and laid off 10% of staff as part of restructuring. A 2021 SPAC on Nasdaq debuting above $16 that survived investigations by the SEC and DOJ now has shares trading currently under the $1.00 minimum for listing. Clover also finally settled seven shareholder lawsuits over its non-disclosure of the DOJ investigation at the time of the SPAC. Cleaning house is all part of living to fight another day, like other ‘insurtechs’ such as Oscar Health. Clover release, FierceHealthcare  Also: Looking back at insurtechs and their ‘disruption’,  Insurtechs in the widening gyre

Stayin’ alive–or trying. Bright Health Texas plan seized for liquidation; Cano Health reverse splits, up for sale

Bright Health’s future continues to dim. Last week, the Texas Department of Insurance (DOI) filed notice in Travis County district court that Bright Health’s subsidiary, Bright Health Insurance Company of Texas as defendant, was financially insolvent and would be liquidated. The insolvency and receivership was declared on 29 November. Bright Health’s Texas assets could not cover liabilities plus a required surplus under law. The Commissioner of the DOI is responsible for the liquidation that was done with the consent of Bright Health as an agreed with the defendant order (PDF link here).

Bright Health had exited the Texas market, ending its ACA plans in July and an agreement with Molina Healthcare to serve Medicaid and ACA Marketplace populations in Florida and Texas starting in 2024, according to July reports [TTA 6 July]. Reading the order, Bright Health and all of its entities including NeueHealth are enjoined from any actions regarding Bright Health Texas.

Is there a bottom short of Chapter 7? Bright Health is not only in major debt, reportedly $500 million, to JP Morgan to pay off its credit facility, but also to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to cover risk liabilities from its discontinued ACA (Affordable Care Act-individual plan) insurance businesses. That liability is, according to reports, $380 million in risk-adjustment payments, including $89.6 million in Texas. In the puzzle palace scheme of ACA plans, this is designed to ‘even out’ the differential between higher and lower-risk members in an ACA market. This risk adjustment of nearly $90 million also affects the bottom line of other plans in Texas run by Centene, Molina, and BCBS Texas, as well as smaller local plans, as this payment is distributed to them. But from the liquidation order, no one can collect on this risk adjustment as an asset (see page 7 of the order).

The sale of California plans to Molina in July was estimated at $600 million, and that was contingent on Bright Health surviving into 2024. The value of the plans, with continued losses, is likely reduced as it’s six months later. It is not expected to close until Q1 2024. For the $380 million payment owed to CMS, Bright has entered an interest-only repayment agreement with them, a favorable but ‘skin of the teeth’ arrangement. The credit facility from New Enterprise Associates in August was only $60 million. But their adjusted EBITDA reported at that time for Q2 and H1 were actually in the black: $6.4 million for Q2 and $670,000 for H1. 

The big question to this Editor, as it was to analyst Ari Gottlieb, is how the $89.6 million, now enjoined in Texas, is not considered a default on the risk-adjustment payment agreement and is turned over to the Department of the Treasury for collection. Read Mr. Gottlieb’s POV here on LinkedIn. But this Editor has to hand it to Bright Health. They have done a masterful job of tying states, CMS, and even Molina into Gordian knots that buy time against what seems to be the inevitable.  Becker’s

Cano Health is also trying to stay alive until it gets sold. The board and shareholders on 2 November (release) accepted a 1 for 100 reverse share split, exchanging 100 old shares of Class A and B stock for one Class A share. This is to regain compliance with the New York Stock Exchange’s (NYSE) listing rules. Cano is currently trading at $8.95 (5 Dec @ 13.33pm).

As previously reported, Cano lost $497 million in Q3. Some results showed improvement, with capitated revenue of $770.3 million increasing 23% and 7% PMPM (per member per month) versus Q3 2022. Not good was the adjusted EBITDA of $(66.1) million in Q3 2023 coming in at $(84.3) million lower than Q3 2022 ($18.2 million) due to a higher medical cost ratio (MCR). Reading further into the release, liquidity appears to be low–$53 million, consisting of cash and cash equivalents (excluding restricted cash of approximately $34 million). They also have a revolving line of credit with Credit Suisse, but it is fully drawn. Cano projects operating performance improvement for Q4. It continues to sell assets, lay off staff, and is for sale as a company on what is left, which is their Florida-based clinic network. 9 Nov release

Short takes: a rumor of merger/buy with Cigna and Humana–what are the odds? (updated) And what’s up with the low number of HIMSS 24 exhibitors?

crystal-ballCigna and Humana, perfect together? Only if they can get the deal through the Feds and the states. Late this week, the Wall Street Journal revealed that Cigna and Humana were exploring either a merger or, as some theorize, a buy of Humana ($93 billion in revenue, $60 billion valuation) by much-larger Cigna ($181 billion in revenue, $78 billion valuation). Between them, it is estimated that they would have 35 million members. No transaction cost has been estimated, but the WSJ sources indicate it will be a stock-and-cash deal that could be finalized by the end of the year if all goes well.

On paper, industry observers like it but point out the overlap in one significant area.

  • Cigna earlier announced that it wants to sell its relatively small Medicare Advantage business, concentrating on its leadership in the commercial business and with its service businesses under the Evernorth umbrella.
  • Humana is exiting its commercial health plans to focus on MA and Medicaid, as well as its large footprint in the home health business with CenterWell.
  • Humana’s CEO Bruce Broussard is retiring next year, with newcomer to Humana Jim Rechtin joining as COO in January 2024 as his replacement. Cigna’s CEO David Cordani is a sprightly 57 and likely not to go anywhere.
  • The overlap area that could be problematic is pharmacy benefit management (PBM) with each having about 17-18 million in Express Scripts (Cigna), the second largest in the US, and Humana Pharmacy Solutions. 

Liking it on paper is one thing–FTC, DOJ, and 50 states may not feel so enthusiastic. It’s established through their actions that both Federal agencies are reining in M&A with new and restrictive merger guidelines scheduled to go into effect next year [TTA 20 July]. Healthcare is a major political hot button for this administration for cost–especially drug costs. That is where the reportedly equally sized in revenue PBM operations present the most major conflict to a merger or a buy, both in service and valuation. Both serve their own plan members as well as others, notably Express Scripts with 24% of claims, whereas Humana’s serves primarily its own plan members with 8% of claims. Neither are easy to divest without creating antitrust questions for acquirers and a major dent in Humana’s services. The final factor: Lina Khan, chair of the FTC, has never seen a merger that she’s liked based on her own statements [TTA 24 Aug].

Doomed to repeat history? In 2015, two payer mega-mergers involving these same companies were concocted: Cigna with Anthem and Humana with Aetna. They hit the buzzsaws of DOJ and before that, state approvals. The DOJ pursued them on antitrust in the Federal courts which derailed both by January 2017. Running up to that, every state got an approval vote through review by each state’s Department of Banking and Insurance or equivalent. Many did not approve or with conditions. The other factor is corporate. In the runup to the merger, Anthem-Cigna was marked by escalating animosity from the management suites to the worker cubes. After the deals were scuppered in the Federal District Court, Anthem and Cigna bitterly fought over damages and cancellation fees in Delaware Chancery Court. Aetna and Humana took their lumps and breakup fees, and went on. Aetna went on to merge with CVS, a deal that avoided most of the antitrust flak. Humana went on to acquisitions in other areas.

Our betting line. Both insurers will look at the financials in this hard-to-get-arrested year. Both will feel out the Feds before going forward. Both will calculate whether it’s best to start now or wait till next year and a possible change in administration. Neither company wants to be a political target in an election year. Defensively, Cigna may make noises about other combinations–Centene and Molina have been mentioned–which present their own difficulties and troubles, to strategically try to force the issue. Stay tuned! MedCityNews, Axios

Update: Other analysts suddenly are on board with this Editor’s gimlety view of the matchup, citing antitrust and how Federal regulators are primed to challenge major deals. The FTC is specifically probing the PBM business. The fact that the deal, according to JP Morgan, could take 12 to 24 months is no surprise as par for the course, but Mr. Market didn’t like it, dragging down both companies’ share prices every day since the rumor broke. (Hmmmm….do they read TTA?)  But a small lamp was lit by one analyst: a Cigna-Humana combo could present real competition to the 9,000 lb. elephant of healthcare, UnitedHealth Group, and that might help to put it over. FierceHealthcare

Another concern that occurred to your Editor: Cigna’s international footprint could mean additional approvals by UK and EU regulators.

According to Healthcare Dive’s analysis, the combined entity would have a PBM market share of 32%, right up against CVS Health-Caremark at 33% and UHG’s OptumRx way behind at 22%. It’s a small group with big barriers to entry which makes it a slam-dunk to antitrust regulators.  A whistle in the dark might be UHG’s long-drawn-out buy of Change Healthcare, but there were divestitures of business before closing and both parties managed to prove to the satisfaction of a US District Court that the separation to Optum Insight would not affect business relationships with other health plans. But here, both are health plans, and both have PBMs.

HIMSS 24 exhibitors, where are you? An item in today’s HIStalk on the ‘interesting’ choice as closing keynoter of football coach Nick Saban (U of Alabama Crimson Tide) at a healthcare IT conference went on to compare the number of booked HIMSS exhibitors to date with HIMSS 23’s floor total. This Editor, who for a few years booked the least expensive HIMSS space for the company she worked for back then well in advance, could not believe the low number of exhibitors three months from show time in March. Checking the HIMSS show website, there are 501 exhibitors listed. In 2023, according to HIStalk, there were 1,216. Many of these exhibitors have multiple booths in the Orange County (Orlando) Convention Center, but it still indicates the uncertain state of healthcare, pullbacks in marketing budgets, the rise of real competition in HLTH and ViVE, and perhaps some concerns about the show management transition from HIMSS itself to Informa. Are industry and IT influentials skipping HIMSS next year? Stay tuned or comment below!

Has Amazon lost its ‘edge’ in healthcare? Or finally seeing reality?

Amazon’s long and winding road to Healthcare Reality is no surprise to those tracking Amazon’s moves over the past few years. And Bloomberg agrees. In the eyes of many of the industry, Amazon was one of the top companies revolutionizing healthcare in a consumer-focused, tech-driven model. They were making The Big Moves along with giants CVS and Walgreens with an open wallet, with Walmart lagging and tagging behind. But when you turn a Gimlet Eye to the track record, The Big Moves were marked by hubris, uncertainty, lack of focus, lack of healthcare expertise, and just plain bad judgment.

  • First, there was the sinkhole known eventually as Haven, 2018-2021. This partnership with JP Morgan and Berkshire Hathaway (RIP to the legendary Charlie Munger) generated truckloads of 50,000-foot quotes by JPM’s Jamie Dimon and B-H’s Warren Buffett about the ‘hungry tapeworm’ of healthcare costs and the need to simplify it for their million-odd employees. It was clear that Amazon was relegated to the ‘junior partner’. Their reaction was to go their own way well before the shutdown and make its own acquisitions, acquiring PillPack in mid-2019 as the first move towards a PBM, Amazon Pharmacy, then pushing Amazon Care for large employers. TTA 6 Jan 2021
  • Then there was the brief and mysterious life of Amazon Care, 2019-2022. Their mix of virtual care, in-home, and telehealth services signed up large employers such as Hilton and (of course) Amazon with the eventual vision of delivering in-home care of visits and medications via mobile providers. Despite plenty of pivoting behind the scrim but eventually going nationwide with some, not all, of their services, their vision wasn’t attractive to most large employers. Even before One Medical was acquired in July 2022, Amazon decided to ditch Care by end of 2022. TTA 25 Aug 2022
  • And $3.9 billion later, there is One Medical, acquired earlier this year. It has never made money and won’t for at least two fiscal years. It doesn’t resemble an Amazon-style delivery model either. It’s a membership model practice group with individual paying members plus 9,000 corporate service contracts and telehealth. Of course, memberships including telehealth are being offered to the millions of Amazon Prime members at a drastically discounted rate starting earlier this month.
  • Bubbling under this is Amazon Clinic, an asynchronous virtual consult service leaked in November 2022, formally announced in June 2023 but delayed until August on data privacy issues that attracted Senatorial scrutiny on whether information would be passed to other Amazon services for merchandising [TTA 27 June]. Visits cost an average of $50. Amazon is surprisingly mum on Clinic’s status.

From the collection of articles linked above, plus TTA’s ongoing chronicle of FTC’s (and DOJ’s) consistent scrutiny (some call it vendetta) re Amazon [TTA 24 Aug, 27 Oct], one cannot conclude that Amazon has lived up to its publicity, dominating coverage earlier this year, that it would be a leading Healthcare Transformer. In that last article, this Editor’s obvious doubts were summarized as “What we view as a juggernaut is facing more than their share of distractions and changing circumstance.”

It is awfully nice to know that Bloomberg has taken our small ball of misgivings and run with it. Their article describes, through interviews with current and former employees, patients, competitors, and industry analysts, a “culture of hubris”, believing that “Silicon Valley-style invention could outsmart industry incumbents” and management not listening to the industry people they did hire. The hubris goes back to the very beginning. Even transitioning a young but deep in the red company like PillPack, bought for a truly ridiculous amount of money but that fit easily into the Amazon model, took an inordinate amount of time–about two years. Amazon Pharmacy, built on the PillPack bones, doesn’t seem to be meeting expectations, running headlong into local retailers such as CVS, Walmart, and Walgreens, discounters such as GoodRx, and deliverers such as Mark Cuban Cost Plus. No surprises there when you waste two years. Wall Street doesn’t like it much either, despite the promises from CEO Andy Jassy that healthcare is their long-term growth area, carrying through the vision of former CEO and now chairman Jeff Bezos.

It also doesn’t help to be the corporate target of the FTC, not mentioned in the Bloomberg article.

This Editor will quote herself from a recent article. While it was in the context of learnings from Olive AI, it applies equally to those with lots of success in other businesses or even other parts of healthcare. Know that healthcare, no matter what the conferences say, is an entrenched, over-regulated, risk-averse, and thus extremely slow-moving business. The risk level is high, the reward may be incremental, at best. And the big guys–the payers, big health systems, and their vendors, will always have it all over you.

New York State drafting proposed cybersecurity regulations for hospitals, allocates $500M for upgrades

New York State is imposing new regulations that would establish cybersecurity policies and procedures for hospitals in the state. According to the NYS release, “hospitals will be required to establish a cybersecurity program and take proven steps to assess internal and external cybersecurity risks, use defensive techniques and infrastructure, implement measures to protect their information systems from unauthorized access or other malicious acts, and take actions to prevent cybersecurity events before they happen.” The draft regulations, announced last week, will be published by the Department of Health on 6 December, and will complement existing Federal standards under HIPAA. 

The proposed regulations will mandate:

  • Response plans to a cybersecurity incident
  • Notification to appropriate partners
  • Testing of response plans to ensure continuity of patient care while systems are restored to normal operations
  • Written procedures, guidelines, and standards to develop secure practices for in-house applications
  • Policies and procedures for evaluating, assessing, and testing the security of externally developed applications used by the hospital
  • Multi-factor authentication (MFA) implemented to access internal networks from outside networks
  • Establishment of a Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) if one doesn’t exist presently in order to enforce the new policies, plus annual reviews and updates 

The draft regulations are scheduled to be published on 6 December with a 60-day public comment period ending on 5 February 2024. After the finalization and adoption of the new regulations, hospitals have exactly one year to comply.

Included in the state’s FY24 budget is $500 million in funding for modernization of clinical tech, cybersecurity tools, EMRs and other technological upgrades. They will be part of an upcoming statewide capital program call for applications to improve quality of care, patient experience, accessibility, and efficiency. Given the size of NY state and number of hospitals, plus the time frame, this fund may be spread thin indeed. NYS release, MedCityNews

This Editor attended the Official Cybersecurity Summit New York 2023 last Friday, with a security briefing by NY State’s deputy chief cyber officer for operations, Jesse Sloman. He described the overall strategy of the state agency, the first ever, as building a unified, resilient, and prepared cybersecurity strategy across all agencies in the state, with a single point for operations including law enforcement, military, transportation, and of course healthcare. Certainly, internally instigated breaches, ransomware attacks, DDOS, and nation-state/transnational cyberattacks by Russian ransomwareistes like CLOP are expensive. He quoted a five-year loss of $27.6 billion with 3.2 million complaints–with 2022 alone costing $10.3 billion.

What’s his biggest concern? A multi-state, multi-sector geopolitical event that threatens multiple operations.

News roundup: AstraZeneca’s Evinova to market clinical trial health tech; BehaVR-Fern merge; UpHealth sells Cloudbreak telehealth translation; MedwebX launches; Tunstall-UEdinburgh research partnership; NextGen loses 84 after going private

AstraZeneca makes a bet on selling health tech for drug development. Evinova, a separate health tech business within AstraZeneca, will market and develop proprietary technology and sell it to other pharma, biotech, and clinical research organizations (CROs) to optimize clinical trials. According to their release, these technologies have already been used in successful clinical trials in over 40 countries. CROs Parexel and Fortrea have already formally agreed to offer the three-part Evinova ‘drug development suite’ to their customers. Other partnerships include Accenture and Amazon Web Services.

On the buy and funding side:

RealizedCare formed from BehaVR and Fern Health. This interesting combination of virtual reality behavioral health (BehaVR) and chronic pain manager Fern Health promises digital therapeutics for value-based chronic pain care management. RealizedCare’s market is health plans, employers and value-based providers, working with them to identify, assess, and engage their members, employees, and patients with chronic pain. Their advanced care management platform is powered by DTx technology to scale pain management. Fern Health is backed by Aachen, Germany pharmaceutical company Grünenthal which will be a strategic investor in RealizedCare.  The combined company will be US-based in Nashville. Financials and workforce transitions are not disclosed, but two CEOs are listed on their website–Brad Lawson, CEO, Fern Health, and Aaron Gani, founder and CEO. Release, Mobihealthnews

UpHealth sells off telehealth translation services holding Cloudbreak Health to private equity firm GTCR, as part of a complex reorganization. Cloudbreak provides video remote interpreting (VRI) through its Martti (My Accessible Real-Time Trusted Interpreter) tool to aid in simultaneous translation in over 250 languages. Purchase price is $180 million and subject to regulatory and shareholder approvals, with closing anticipated by Q1 2024. Cloudbreak is currently headquartered in Columbus, Ohio. UpHealth has been selling off and putting into Chapter 11 various holdings such as UpHealth Holdings [TTA 29 Sep], Behavioral Health Services (BHS), and Thrasys, Inc., but not the publicly traded UpHealth Inc., which closed today on the NYSE at $0.79 having just resumed trading (Yahoo Finance, UpHealth release). Reportedly UpHealth will be refocusing on addiction treatment services provided in South Florida. More on their complex financials in their Q3 reportRelease

Short takes:

Digital medical imaging and storage company Medweb announced MedwebX, a HIPAA-compliant solution designed for sharing imaging, studies, data, and reports across networks. Release

Oracle’s moves into Music City Nashville [TTA 2 Nov] continue with the announcement of the Oracle Health Summit on 13 February 2024. According to the Nashville Business Journal, it’s a brief one emailed out to save the date and confirm their information when further details are available. The invitation reads in part, “At this daylong event, you’ll network with peers, hear from experts on the latest trends, and learn how leading organizations are using data-driven technology to deliver human-centered experiences.” Wonder if Bill Frist will be invited.

Tunstall Healthcare and the University of Edinburgh signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on telecare research. Edinburgh’s Advanced Care Research Centre will provide the academic ecosystem for the partnership, including medicine, engineering, informatics, data, and social sciences. Research will center on the development and deployment of digital tools and techniques for telecare, including multi-partner collaborations.  AT Today

And just in time for Thanksgiving…post-going private NextGen Healthcare will be releasing 84 employees at its St. Louis, Missouri location, according to their WARN notice filed with the state. The layoffs are “as a result of staffing optimization efforts” in connection with the company’s purchase by private equity firm Thoma Bravo. Layoffs of management, supervisors, account receivables staff, representatives, and analysts who work onsite, hybrid, and remote will be staggered with some released 16 January with others 1 February and 1 March. Some employees will be remaining in St. Louis, though NextGen is headquartered in Atlanta. Becker’s, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, St. Louis Business Journal

Some final words on Olive AI–what can we learn from its failure? (updated)

“To the extent Olive might have sold something, they didn’t deliver – otherwise they’d still be in business.”–Emily Evans, managing director, Hedgeye Risk Management (quoted in Columbus Business Review)

Seeing this article on how Olive AI ‘ran out of time and money’ in Becker’s Hospital Review, this Editor hoped that it would be a final word, a summing up of what was likened to the seismic equivalent of Theranos’ failure in the health IT and ‘changing healthcare’ space. It wasn’t, but a terse summary of a very long article in Columbus Business Journal–Columbus, Ohio being their headquarters city. 

It’s a decade-long story (2012 as CrossChx to 2023). Up to March 2020, it seemed to be a reasonable narrative of a company and entrepreneur, Sean Lane, who built on his USAF background and founding an earlier successful software business (BTS Software) to transform healthcare through automating routine tasks through what they termed ‘AI’ but was more like software programming coupled with machine learning. With General Catalyst’s $52 million in hand and the encouragement of industry experts, he evangelized, hard, at multiple conferences. Some savvy investors and advisers (Ms. Evans above) saw that Mr. Lane didn’t know much about healthcare even during the ‘throw money at anything health tech’ days of 2020-21. But Olive AI easily gained two more 2020 raises totaling over $330 million, plus the capper in July 2021 of $400 million, for a total of over $850 million.

With the funds, Mr. Lane acquired or developed multiple businesses for Olive including prior authorizations, revenue cycle management, population health, business intelligence, and analytics for surgery. He even put $50 million into designing a Medicaid managed care insurer, Circulo Health, which was sold off in 17 months. The pivots came thick and fast, but the sales didn’t follow and the negative client reviews (KLAS) plus non-renewals started to pile up. Come 2022 with healthcare paying the Pandemic Piper and interest rates inflating, the VC funding spigots turned suddenly to ‘OFF’. The grow-at-any-cost early-stage companies found that when it came to VC funding, as they say in New Jersey, they couldn’t get arrested. So the end, as with Pear, Olive, and Babylon, came quickly. (Cue the tinny piano playing ‘Melancholy Baby’ in a dive bar.)

So for your startup or early stage company… A Guide to Avoiding A Train Wreck.

  • Don’t believe your own press releases, no matter how well written. And make sure your marketing people are seasoned pros who say what you do accurately and have been there, done that. (And when the most seasoned gives the raised eyebrow…ask why.)
  • Don’t constantly bang the gong that your solution/s will transform healthcare (memo to Larry Ellison). Stick to solving client problems and do that well, though you may have to evangelize a little. In the end, create ‘raving fans’. 
  • Don’t go it alone. Create strong supplier alliances where you need them. Then treat your partners and their corresponding account managers well and give them the resources they need.
  • Take the absolute minimum of Other People’s Money, even when it’s being thrown at you and everyone else, including your competitors which you will keep a cynical eye on. Stow cash away in the old fashioned way, in a reputable and not overextended bank, for the rainy days that will come.
  • There are certain investors and ‘thought leaders’ to smile at and run away from. (Two of them are mentioned in the article.) Their track records are dubious or they have their own agendas.
  • Get to positive cash flow as quickly as you can. 
  • Hire well, but not too many. And beware of execs with non-competes. They tie up your legal counsel who may also be keeping an eye on your IP, compliance, and finances.
  • Overdeliver and create happy clients who renew and expand your business–but don’t give away the store doing it
  • If you have to buy another company, don’t buy when the streets look paved with gold. Buy when there is some Type A on the pavement. And when you buy, ensure it makes sense in your business model, the acquisition actually does what they claim, their IP is free and clear, and the company owners aren’t overeager to sell (a clue to hidden problems).
  • Don’t, whatever you do, step on Superman’s cape. Avoid getting into conflicts with big guys like Epic, Oracle, or UnitedHealthcare. Especially don’t say that you will put them out of business. (You won’t.)
  • Know that healthcare, no matter what the conferences say, is an entrenched, over-regulated, risk-averse, and thus extremely slow-moving business. The risk level is high, the reward may be incremental, at best. And the big guys–the payers, big health systems, and their vendors, will always have it all over you.

Updated–Some more advice from different points of view:

“Hope is not a business model”–advice from two VCs, with a bit more advice on basic banking

ViVE post-script: VC panel opines in midst of digital health’s new reality (depression?), and extra ViVE from an attendee

Your thoughts on the above and your real-world examples invited as comments!

Short takes: Oracle Cerner still has major hurdles, says VA, Congress; One Medical adds Hackensack Meridian to specialist network, HTA to employer benefits; NHS trialing AI tracking of home behavioral patterns for at-risk patients

VA’s All Quiet on the EHR Front doesn’t mean nothing is happening. With the House hard at work with a new speaker, negotiating budget extensions, and generally trying to get work done before the Christmas-New Year recess, the work of subcommittees goes on. Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Montana), chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs’ Subcommittee on Technology Modernization, yesterday (15 Nov) in what was titled “Electronic Health Record Modernization Deep Dive: System Uptime” got an update on the status of Oracle Cerner from Kurt DelBene, the VA’s chief information officer. His testimony wasn’t exactly reassuring. “Overall we still think there’s a ways to go. I don’t want to present the system as all set and ready to go.” In a rare show of bipartisanship, ranking member Rep. Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick, D-Florida, said that “[Oracle] training and change management are still woefully inadequate and user satisfaction is still critically low.” And despite being invited by Chairman Rosendale, Oracle’s Mike Sicilia didn’t show up or send regrets, which made Rep. Cherfilus-McCormick a little livid. FedScoop  HISTalk in its recap also pointed out that Rep.Rosendale “cited a report saying that it will take Oracle Health 15 more years to match VistA’s functionality. [VA deputy CIO Laura Prietula] responded that she doesn’t think it will take that long.” Oracle Cerner, in the few VA locations where it is operative, has not had a complete system outage in six months. Hearing and 1 hour 46 min. video (YouTube), hearing documents

Amazon continues to build out One Medical to, perhaps, ubiquity. On the East Coast, Amazon’s One Medical adds a major New Jersey health system relationship, Hackensack Meridian Health. Like its newly inked relationship with CommonSpirit Health, it will add integrated specialty providers to One Medical’s primary care focus. Specific locations based on patient needs are not specified yet nor financials. Implementation timing is unusually long–by the end of 2024. On a faster track may be One Medical’s deal with Health Transformation Alliance (HTA), a consortium of large US employers comprising 67 employers including Coca-Cola, Intel, Boeing, and many others totaling nearly 5 million employees. Timing and financials were not disclosed. This adds to One Medical’s current contracts with 8,500 companies that offer its primary care services as an employee health benefit. Becker’s, FierceHealthcare

NHS experiments with predictive health indicators and AI modeling for at-risk patients to prevent unnecessary admissions. Four GP practices in Somerset will be using an AI system that will flag registered patients who have complex health needs first, and are most at risk of hospital admission or who rarely contact their GP. Monitored in Buckinghamshire, the most interesting part of this is that the AI is linked to electronic sensors on kettles and fridges that spot changes in Somerset patients’ eating and drinking habits, obviously as an indicator of changes in health. (Does this remind anyone of 3rings or QuietCare?) Changes are reported to an Onward Care team of health coaches, nurses, and GPs who speak to patients and ask about any health or living issues. They can provide, based on patient input, deliveries of food parcels, arranging for cleaning or shopping services, home alterations to help to avoid falls, or to link them up with local voluntary groups to reconnect them with community resources or simply to help avoid loneliness. Clinical care can also be scheduled including specialist care. The NHS reports that GP practices can use this system to solve 95% of their issues or escalate anything clinical. Why this is important: hard winter and isolation, even with the holidays, loom after an autumn of wild weather and the persistent shortage of hospital beds and GP capacity/timeliness of appointments.  DigitalHealth.net

Perspectives: The Impact of Virtual Nursing on Telehealth

TTA has an open invitation to industry leaders to contribute to our Perspectives non-promotional opinion area. Today’s contribution is from Donna Gudmestad, MHL, BSN, RN, CCRN-K, who is clinical program manager and clinical product owner of mobile technology for Caregility, which provides secure, reliable, and HIPAA-compliant audio and video communication designed for any device and clinical workflow, in both acute and ambulatory settings supporting 1,300+ hospitals across dozens of health systems. Ms. Gudmestad has 30+ years of nursing experience and 14+ years of telemedicine operational and implementation experience. Prior to Caregility, she served as a bedside clinician, clinical manager, director of operations, and director of implementation. Her bachelor’s degree in nursing is from Indiana Wesleyan University and later earned a Master of Health Leadership from Western Governors University.

In this article, Ms. Gudmestad discusses how virtual nursing is not a substitute for in-person nursing, but supports traditional nursing by transcending physical boundaries in specific ways, both in patient care and in clinical workflow tasks, leading to better outcomes.

As healthcare executives, we are witnessing a remarkable transformation in the telehealth and virtual care industry, driven by the emergence of virtual nursing. This innovative approach to patient care, combining the convenience of telehealth with the expertise and empathy of registered nurses, is reshaping the healthcare landscape in profound ways– specifically the role of virtual nursing in clinical workflows and its profound impact on patient care.

Virtual nursing is not merely a digitized version of traditional nursing; it’s a dynamic interaction that transcends physical boundaries. Through video calls and chat interfaces, nurses can provide personalized guidance, address patient queries, offer much-needed emotional support, and provide workflow support for nursing staff. This heightened engagement fosters stronger patient-clinician relationships, resulting in enhanced patient satisfaction and greater adherence to treatment plans.

One of the essential aspects of clinical workflows is efficient patient triage. Virtual nurses excel in this domain, rapidly assessing the urgency of a patient’s condition and determining whether intervention is necessary. This swift and accurate decision-making reduces overcrowding in emergency rooms and clinics, optimizing resource allocation.

Beyond triage, virtual nurses excel in continuous monitoring. They can track vital signs, medication adherence, and symptom management remotely. Adjusting treatment plans and assisting patients in managing their conditions from the comfort of their homes becomes a reality. This proactive approach not only enhances patient care but also minimizes complications and readmissions.

After hospitalization or surgical procedures, patients require diligent follow-up to monitor their recovery. Virtual nursing streamlines this process by enabling nurses to conduct post-discharge check-ins via video calls. This proactive approach minimizes complications and the chance of costly readmission, leading to improved patient outcomes.

By reducing the necessity for in-person visits and hospital readmissions, virtual nursing contributes significantly to cost reduction for both patients and healthcare providers. This multifaceted approach to improving patient care enhances access, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness, positioning virtual nursing as a transformative force in healthcare.

From an inpatient perspective, virtual nursing helps to support bedside nursing staff by performing some of the most time-consuming activities such as admissions and discharges in addition to other supportive workflows. With certain technologies in place such as peripheral devices, virtual nurses can even also perform admission assessments throughout the hospital with the assistance of a bedside nurse tech.

As technology continues to advance and healthcare providers increasingly embrace virtual nursing, we can anticipate continued growth and evolution in the industry. Virtual nursing is more than just a trend; it represents a fundamental shift in the way we deliver and receive healthcare services. It offers a vision of healthcare that is accessible, efficient, and patient-centric.

Virtual nursing is not merely an addition to our healthcare toolbox; it is a catalyst for redefining clinical workflows and patient care. As healthcare executives, we have the privilege of witnessing this transformation firsthand. The future of healthcare is being shaped by innovations like virtual nursing, with benefits that extend far beyond our current understanding. Embracing this shift is not just a strategic choice; it is a commitment to delivering healthcare that is smarter, more compassionate, and more accessible to all.

Roundup: Virgin Pulse, NextGen close fast; Elucid, Eleos, Vida, Neteera funding; One Medical-CommonSpirit; Indian Health $2.5B EHR to General Dynamics+Oracle; losses, layoffs at Cano Health, 15% digital cuts at Mass General Brigham

No surprise that some big deals in digital health closed at year’s end before we roll out the turkey and the holiday decorations.

  • The Virgin Pulse-HealthComp merger that adds benefits analytics to Virgin’s employee wellness platform closed last Thursday (9 November). It was announced only in late September [TTA 29 Sep]. This creates what they estimate is a $3 billion company. Ownership is also changing to New Mountain Capital, the owner of HealthComp, now as the majority owner of the new company with Marlin Equity Partners in minority ownership with others including Blackstone and Morgan Health. Other than Chris Michalak becoming CEO of Virgin Pulse and HealthComp, there is no confirmation of financing nor management/employee transitions or headquarters (Virgin is in Providence Rhode Island, HealthComp in Fresno California). Virgin release
  • EHR NextGen closed its $1.8 billion taking-private by private equity firm Thoma Bravo after shareholders approved it the previous Tuesday for $23.95/share in cash. This was announced around US Labor Day and closed in record time on Friday 10 November. As previously noted, this ended 41 years of public trading for a company that was one of the pioneers of EHRs and practice management. In its release, Thoma Bravo will “leverage its operational and software expertise” and “adding new products and capabilities, both organically and inorganically, to continue enabling NextGen Healthcare’s customers to deliver exceptional patient outcomes.” Healthcare Dive, FierceHealthcare (also Virgin Pulse)

Are these lights at the end of the dark M&A tunnel for health tech and related? Or avoiding the oncoming train of FTC and DOJ regulations that collide head-on with M&A with the pending imposition of the Draft Merger Guidelines and the Premerger Notification rules under Hart-Scott-Rodino (HSR)?

It seems like top digital health law firm Epstein Becker Green has caught up with Editor Cassandra [TTA 20 July, 20 June]  in this Diagnosing Health Care Podcast of 10 November. Fun estimate: the time in filing a premerger notification may be increased by 289%. The cloudy crystal ball was clear indeed….

Last week was also a busy time for smaller companies’ fundings–even letter rounds! 

  • Elucid scored $80 million in Series C funding led by led by Elevage Medical Technologies, bringing total funding for this AI-assisted cardiovascular imaging company. They have the “only FDA-cleared non-invasive tool able to accurately characterize arterial plaque, simulating what pathologists would see under a microscope and establishing a histologic ground truth. The company is also pursuing an indication for non-invasive measurement of fractional flow reserve (FFRCT), uniquely derived from its PlaqueIQ technology, to measure coronary blockages and the extent of ischemia.” Release
  • In behavioral health, Eleos Health now has $40 million in Series B funding to add to previous funding of $28 million. The Series B was led by Menlo Ventures, with participation from F-Prime Capital, Eight Roads, Arkin Digital Health, SamsungNEXT, and ION. Eleos has developed AI-assisted solutions for group therapy sessions, compliance automation, case management, concurrent documentation, and value-based care support. They will use the additional funding for further development as well as network expansion and EHR partnerships. Release
  • Vida Health, which offers health coaching for chronic conditions, primarily obesity and diabetes management, gained $28.5 million in an unlettered round led by existing investors Ally Bridge, Canvas Ventures, General Atlantic, Hercules Capital, and others. Vida also announced a change of CEOs. Joe Murad succeeds Stephanie Tilenius, who is stepping down after nine years as founder/CEO, transitioning to an advisory capacity. Mr. Murad joins the company’s board. He was previously with WithMe Health, where he was president/CEO for nearly five years and previously headed PokitDoc before its acquisition by Change Healthcare in 2018. Release  Also Mobihealthnews on Elucid, Eleos, and Vida.
  • Israeli RPM company Neteera now has an additional $6.7 million as part of a Series B extension. Their unique RPM uses sub-THZ radar to monitor vital signs through bedding and clothing, then analyzes the data and produces reports on its platform. Neteera partners with Foxconn on their RPM and currently sells to long-term care facilities in the US.  Pulse 2.0

Amazon’s One Medical announced a partnership with CommonSpirit Health’s Virginia Mason Franciscan Health (VMFH) in the Seattle Puget Sound metro. This will add integrated specialty care in that area to One Medical’s primary care focus. VMFH has 2,000 providers in an integrated network of providers, outpatient facilities, and hospitals. Financials weren’t disclosed, but according to Becker’s, in another One Medical partnership, a health system disclosed that it “reimburses One Medical for providing care on its behalf and collects the fee-for-service revenue from the patient visits. One Medical previously collaborated with Seattle-based Swedish (part of Renton, Wash.-based Providence) in the region.” VMFH release, FierceHealthcare

The federal Indian Health System (IHS) is modernizing its EHR and moving to a General Dynamics IT-managed Oracle Cerner system. Its current system is the 40+-year-old Resource and Patient Management System–based on (surprise!) VistA. What is most interesting in the release is that General Dynamics Information Technology (IT) is listed as the primary contractor that will “build, configure, and maintain a new IHS enterprise Electronic Health Record system utilizing Oracle Cerner technology.” One very interesting bit of verbiage! The IHS used an “Indefinite Delivery, Indefinite Quantity” contract structure for this requirement which is explained as “the IHS will issue specific task orders for technical support and services. This gives the IHS the ability to adjust what it purchases, incorporate lessons learned, user input, and availability of new technology.” Reports indicate its ultimate value to General Dynamics IT in the 10-year contract to be close to $2.5 billion. IHS provides healthcare services for 2.8 million American Indians and Native Alaskans belonging to over 570 tribes. IHS release, Healthcare IT News

Cano Health continues its hemorrhage. Q3 loss was $497.1 million in Q3, with a cut of 21% of its workforce, or approximately 842 staff. Their loss was 4x times the year-prior Q3 on revenue of $788.1 million. Adding to operating losses, they were hit with a $354 million impairment charge and poor operating results from higher third-party medical costs. 52% of the staff cuts reflect the sales of operating units such as in Texas and Nevada to Humana CenterWell and exits in California, New Mexico, and Illinois. The remaining 48% is from restructuring. Now a Florida-only operation except for Puerto Rico (ending early 2024), they are concentrating on ACO REACH and Medicare Advantage there. Their clinics are now 126, down from 169 at the end of June. Cano is still looking for a buyer, which indicates that they anticipate further rough going. Healthcare Dive, Cano Health Q3 Financial Powerpoint

And winding up the bad news, Mass General Brigham, which is partnering with Best Buy for their Healthcare at Home programs, will be doing it with at least 15% fewer digital staff. They are offering voluntary separation packages to those employees in the hope of finding enough takers. The offer is a not especially generous two weeks of severance for every year of service. If the magic number of 15% is not reached, layoffs will start after Thanksgiving. Reportedly a state agency, the Massachusetts Health Policy Commission, has deemed that MGB’s cost growth is too much. MGB is the largest private employer in Massachusetts with 80,000 workers. The offers were floated starting from 1 November and will close on 15 November, with layoffs if needed to be announced on 4 December. The targeting of digital is claimed to be for modernization. The area is responsible for multiple areas of IT and maintaining patients’ electronic health records. Boston Herald, Healthcare Dive

Breaking: Walgreens lays off 5% of corporate staff; chief medical officer, chief of staff for CEO to depart (updated)

The Walgreens shakeup and belt-tightening continues under new CEO Tim Wentworth–starting at the top. The first company memo that was leaked late Thursday 9 November to Bloomberg (paywalled) announced that Kevin Ban, MD, executive VP and chief medical officer, will depart tomorrow (10 Nov). He will be replaced by chief clinical officer Sashi Moodley, MD, not in the memo but according to Bloomberg‘s sources. Luke Sauter, chief of staff to the CEO, will also be leaving. No date was disclosed. In a separate memo, 5% or 267 of Walgreens’ corporate staff will be laid off across multiple departments at their Deerfield Illinois HQ, no notification or effective date disclosed. Bloomberg confirmed the departures with Walgreens, but no further details were provided. The cuts will not affect call centers, micro fulfillment centers, or stores.

Looking at LinkedIn, Dr. Ban joined Walgreens as CMO in January 2022 from Athenahealth. He replaced Patrick Carroll, MD, who left to take the CMO slot at Hims & Hers. Dr. Ban was promoted to global CMO of Walgreens Boots Alliance and added the EVP title in October 2022, a little over a year ago. Dr. Moodley joined in July 2021 from CareMore Health as WBA’s CCO for US Healthcare. Mr. Sauter, the chief of staff, is a long-time (15+ years) Walgreens executive in multiple positions, including VP of strategy and finance officer after multiple finance positions. He was named chief of staff to previous CEO Roz Brewer in July 2022.

It’s perhaps understandable in a cost-cutting situation that the functions of the CMO and CCO overlap to some degree, and the chief of staff to the CEO is an unusual position in today’s companies. It also demonstrates that Wentworth is willing to distribute at least some of the pain of trimming Walgreens staff and projects as part of the previously announced $1 billion cost reduction plan after a steep fiscal Q4 net loss of $180 million [TTA 18 Oct]. Crain’s Chicago Business is also paywalled but readable in part.

This is a developing story and will be updated with additional information when available.

Update: The 5% corporate layoff, which will affect the Deerfield office, is the second this year. There was a 10% reduction in Chicago and Deerfield in May. 393 were released in August at their manufacturing plant in Edwardsville, Illinois, in anticipation of its closing. Yahoo Finance/Chicago Tribune  On Reddit, commenters indicate that marketing and health & beauty departments were the hardest hit. There was also an employee town hall that wasn’t well received.

The Healthcare Dive article published today highlights the 45% drop in share price since January, particularly steep since August, and the struggle to attain profitability in their US Healthcare division, which includes Village MD. The October-announced $1 billion in cost reductions did not buoy stock as hoped, dropping further since then. Walgreens has not replaced the CFO who departed in July.

On Friday 10 November, Walgreens also sold a hefty share of Cencora common stock (the former Amerisource Bergen) in a combination of share repurchase at $250 million and variable prepaid forward transactions starting in Q4 2026 could potentially max out at $675 million. WBA continues to own about 15% of Cencora and remains on its board. Their release explains the financial pretzel, clearly designed to improve liquidity and cash management. 

Editor’s Note/Opinion 10/11: For an employer of this size, the layoffs represent an extreme downsizing that indicates several years of overhiring or wrong hiring in pursuit of corporate goals no longer in sight and strategic mistakes (like Theranos so long ago, but biting back with a $44 million settlement to Arizona patients). Some acquisitions may not be working out. Time will tell whether the majority buy-in of Village MD and financing its further acquisitions was smart or foolish, as already the office co-location scheme is being trimmed after little time in place [TTA 18 Oct]. As is true almost 100% of the time, hard times uncover the numerical and compensation bloat at the C-suite and senior level, and many strategic mistakes.

In short, leaving aside the Cencora stock sale to raise cash, drastic cuts like this usually leave an organization at many levels and the survivors staggering for some time. They have to be done with understanding, not blame, that most of those departing weren’t responsible for corporate strategic sins and, yes, mercy on those affected, beyond one line in a press release or a town hall. Circular firing squads don’t help recovery either.

Early news roundup: Envision exits Ch. 11, splits; Walgreens’ new CIO; Philips’ $60M from Gates Foundation; more on Walmart-Orlando Health partnership; Cigna may sell MA business

Staffing firm Envision Healthcare exits Chapter 11 bankruptcy, splits off AmSurg clinics. One of the Big Bankruptcies earlier this year has been reorganized, cutting $8 billion in debt by 70% and spinning off its AmSurg surgical clinics to new ownership. The hospital and physician staffing company was hurt as early as 2020 with shortages of available staff, then the pandemic which cut patient volumes, and conflicts with payers around out-of-network billing charges. The last put the company in conflict with the ‘no surprises’ patient protection billing law that took effect this year. One particular legal spat with UnitedHealthcare tied up both companies for years, but was won by Envision after an independent arbitration panel this past spring awarded Envision $91 million, finding that UHC breached its in-network contract. KKR, which had taken Envision private in 2018, lost $3.5 billion in equity, one of their largest corporate investment losses. Henry Howe, the company’s chief financial officer, takes over as interim CEO on 1 December as current CEO Jim Rechtin leaves to join Humana. Healthcare Dive  Background: TTA 12 May, 16 May   

Walgreens fills its chief information officer vacancy with the interim CIO. Neal Sample was appointed last Wednesday (1 Nov) as CIO and EVP, reporting to new CEO Tim Wentworth and joining the executive and IT governance committees. Sample was appointed last month as an IT advisor after CIO Hsiao Wang left suddenly on 2 October. Both Wentworth and Sample worked with each other at Express Scripts, with Sample holding both COO and CIO positions there, then departing for the CIO position at Northwestern Mutual. Walgreens release, Retail Dive

Philips receives an additional $44 million from the Gates Foundation for further Lumify Ultrasound System development. The total of $60 million in grants starting in 2021 was for the development of AI-enabled applications to improve obstetric care in low- and middle-income countries. The Lumify handheld ultrasound system assists frontline health workers, such as midwives, in interpreting obstetric images and identifying possible complications during pregnancy in hours versus weeks of training. The system’s Kenya trial was successful. The additional funding will be used to expand global adoption in underserved rural communities. Philips release  This follows Gates Foundation grants to GE Healthcare ($44 million) and Butterfly Network ($5 million) for easily deployed ultrasound and imaging systems to support low-income countries’ rural maternal health and respiratory scanning. Mobihealthnews

More on Orlando Health’s partnership with Walmart. Briefly noted here last week in Walmart’s release and reporting on Walmart Health’s new partnership with Centene’s Ambetter plan in Florida was the Orlando Health hospital partnership. This will coordinate care for patients admitted to the health system’s hospitals or who need specialty care. It is a first for Walmart as it has not previously partnered with local health systems on specialty and hospital care as an extension of its clinics. Eight of its 48 clinics are in the Orlando area. Becker’s Health IT 1 Nov, 6 Nov

Cigna is exploring a sale of its Medicare Advantage (MA) business. According to the exclusive report by Reuters (may be paywalled), Cigna is in early stages, at this point consulting with an investment bank. Cigna is not much of a player in the difficult state-by-state, county-by-county MA business, with 599,000 members as of 30 September, which is about 3% of their 19 million total insurance members. But it has been problematic, with Cigna recently paying CMS $172 million to settle allegations that it violated the False Claims Act by submitting incorrect data to obtain higher payments. By comparison, UnitedHealthcare and Humana have nearly half (47% or 14.5 million) of the national 30.8 million MA members (KFF). Becker’s

Week-end short takes: payer earnings for Centene, Cigna, Humana; Centene and Walmart partner in FL; Dispatch Health and US Acute Care partner; Amwell widens loss; ProMedica $710M home health sale; AQuity’s $200M sale to IKS Health (updated)

On the payer side, buyers of telehealth are trying maintain course:

Challenged Centene beat Wall Street estimates, but clouds loom. For Q3 they reported $38 billion in revenue, but year-over-year profit of $469 million was down 36%. 2014 forecast earnings were already downgraded. Centene is heavily dependent, as some other payers are, on state Medicaid. New Federal guidelines are ending the automatic eligibility redeterminations that took effect during the Covid pandemic. 2024 redeterminations may take millions more off the rolls, though many requalify. The payer contracts with 31 states to offer Medicaid coverage and has lost 1.1 million Medicaid members over redeterminations to date. Their Medicare Advantage (MA) plans were also hit in 2023 with low Star ratings, which reduce desirability and payment status with CMS, but recovered for 2024 with 87% over 3 stars (the minimum) compared to 53%. Layoffs also have bitten into Centene with a known layoff of 2,000 this summer, plus another unannounced layoff terminating staff in December, according to this Editor’s source. Healthcare Dive  Update: Centene is terminating 2,000, or about 3% of workforce, with an end date of 8 December. Becker’s Payer

Cigna also beat Wall Street estimates in a generally upbeat forecast. For Q3, they reported revenue of $49 billion, up 8% year over year. Net income was down 50% to $1.4 billion but understandably as Cigna sold businesses in six countries. Membership are up 9% year over year to $19.6 billion, mostly due to commercial membership. Cigna has little exposure to ACA business, but that grew as well and margins are improving. Healthcare Dive 

Humana saw increased Q3 utilization in its MA plans plus increased Covid hospitalization. This helped to drive its medical loss ratio (MLR) up for 2023. While beating the Street on revenue of $26.4 billion and profit of $1.1 billion and with projected MA growth MA of 19%, or about 860,000 members plus 2024 of 45,000, shares went a bit wobbly. In Star ratings, they did well and maintained a 4.5 Star (out of 5) in its largest contract with 40% of its MA members while the second largest contract improved from 4.5 to 5 stars. Healthcare Dive

A brighter spot for Centene is a partnership with Walmart in Florida on ACA plans. Ambetter from Sunshine Health in Florida is adding Walmart Health Centers to its preferred provider network. This will cover seven counties and focus on care coordination and referral management. Walmart is also working with Orlando Health, a private, not-for-profit network of community and specialty hospitals across Florida, to improve care coordination in the Orlando area initially. Walmart release, Becker’s

In partnerships, Dispatch Health announced today (2 Nov) that will be working with US Acute Care Solutions (USACS) to offer additional support for patients after a hospital stay or when they need hospital-to-home alternative care. Dispatch Health offers same-day, urgent medical care; hospital alternative care; and recovery care. USACS is owned by its physicians and hospital system partners for integrated acute care, including emergency medicine, hospitalist, and critical care services. Dispatch Health release

Back to Big Telehealth, Amwell didn’t have a good quarter. Their net loss of $137.1 million was up 94% year-over-year. This quarter included $78.9 million in impairment charges linked to sustained decreases in its share price and market capitalization. So far in 2023, these impairments have totaled $436.5 million. Another hit was that revenue declined 11% year over year to $61.9 million. Amwell is working to complete the transition of its customers to Converge. On the positive but very long term side, Amwell is partnering with the Leidos Partnership for Defense Health (LPDH) with the US Defense Health Agency as part of the Digital First initiative for the Military Health System (MHS). This will replace the MHS Video Connect system with Amwell Converge, a “comprehensive hybrid care enablement platform designed to power the full continuum of care using digital, virtual, and automated modalities”, and link to MHS GENESIS, the Oracle Cerner EHR. The contract may be worth up to $180 million over 22 months in a prolonged rollout. Healthcare Dive, Amwell release

In sale news, some big numbers are posting:

Ohio-based 12-hospital system ProMedica is selling its home health, palliative and hospice business to Atlanta-based Gentiva Health Services for a tidy $710 million. Gentiva is the largest hospice care company in the US. 4,000 employees will be transitioning. The hospice operations will go under the Heartland Hospice brand by the end of 2023, with home health also joining Heartland Home Health and the palliative care business under Empatia Palliative Care brand between the end of this year and 2024. Becker’s

AQuity selling to IKS Health for $200 million. The sale will add AQuity’s medical-coding, clinical-documentation and revenue-support capabilities to IKS’ technology-backed care enablement platform. This creates a $330 million company with a 14,000 person workforce that includes 1,500 clinicians, 350 medical coders, technology experts, clinical documentation specialists, and revenue integrity specialists. Another example of a larger trend in companies acquiring specific companies to build out their platforms and become more ‘one-stop shopping’, a more attractive proposition at least for now to VCs. Mobihealthnews. More discussion on why VCs are no longer hot on niche or point solutions in MedCityNews.

This ‘n’ that: HHS settles *2017* ransomware breach, Carbon Health lays off 114 in restructuring, why oh why VC General Catalyst wants a $3B health system, when Larry Met Billy, a lexicon of workplace terms

It only took five years to levy a $100,000 fine. Doctors’ Management Services, a Massachusetts-based medical management company, had a ransomware attack back in 2017 that exposed 206,695 individuals to personal health information violations. The Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR), which is charged with actually enforcing penalties and remedies for data breaches, decided that Doctors’ management hadn’t done quite enough to protect their patients. The cyberattack was identified in December 2018, but Doctors’ didn’t report the breach to OCR until April 2019. Their network had been infected with GandCrab ransomware. After determining various protection failures, HHS put them on a three-year corrective plan to protect their data and collected the $100,000 fine, their very first. But still, nearly four years later? And with breaches, ransomware, and hacking going on every day?  Healthcare Dive

Another Covid unicorn comes down with a bang. Carbon Health, a 13-state network of primary care clinics along with virtual care in areas such as mental health, says ‘bye’ to 114 or 5% of its staff. It grew and got funded big during Covid as it set up testing and vaccine initiatives, achieving a valuation of $3 billion. In 2021, Covid accounted for 60% of their revenue, but as it waned in 2022, so did their revenue by 23%. To date, their funding has been over $622 million, with $100 million in January in a Series D funded by CVS Health Ventures. This isn’t their first big layoff–200 staffers said goodbye in January as well as 250 in mid-2022 which was about 8%. Becker’s

General Catalyst’s newest venture into Health Transformation Land, HATco, The Health Assurance Transformation Corporation, is in the market for a health system in the “$1 billion to $3 billion” range. Not too small to not have an impact in their communities, and large enough to have capabilities around value-based care plus a track record of excellence. This is to create their ‘blueprint’ for healthcare transformation. Interested parties should contact CEO Marc Harrison, MD. Their other plans to get there were announced at HLTH. As to why…General Catalyst has had a lot of experience with companies, and perhaps they feel they have a Better Way to Get There. Becker’s, TTA 10 Oct.

Of Note…The second wealthiest executive in healthcare, Oracle’s Larry Ellison, wasn’t too busy to hang out with the third wealthiest on Forbes’ list, former senator and HCA honcho Bill Frist, in Nashville at the inaugural Frist Cressey Ventures Forum. Ellison is also investing in a 70-acre, $1.35 billion campus on Nashville’s riverfront. It’s always nice to make nice with the neighbors, especially when they have major holdings in a large health corporation. Becker’s

To wrap up This ‘N’ That, Becker’s has a useful article that will keep you au courant on those workplace terms you see on places like LinkedIn. ‘Quiet quitting’, so popular in 2021-2, has had its day with layoffs leading to real ‘quitting’, leaving behind ‘grumpy stayers’ who try to get away with ‘Bare Minimum Mondays’. ‘Coffee badging’ was a new one on your Editor. The rest are catchy phrases for things as old as time in the workplace.

Catching up on Oracle Cerner and the VA, plus the AI ‘tech sprint’

Since Congress passed appropriations for the VA in September/October [TTA 3 Aug on House bill] after a busy and acrimonious summer, things have been very, very quiet. The appropriations require multiple mandatories around reporting by Oracle and the VA, which have kept them busy. Prior to this, VA screeched to a halt any further implementations of the Cerner EHR until the five current ones are fixed. The exception–the Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center in Chicago, the only fully-integrated VA and Department of Defense (Military Health System) healthcare system, with a projected go-live of March 2024.. As MHS, a much smaller and focused system, is just about completed with Cerner and the VA implementation is now postponed, Oracle decided to lay off former Cerner staff in fairly substantial numbers–500 to a rumored 1,200 layoffs in June.

Additional updates:

  • As of a September report on FedScoop, VA and Oracle Cerner plan to resume implementations during the summer of 2024, according to Dr. Neil Evans, acting program executive director of the VA’s EHRM Office, during a House Appropriations Oversight hearing on implementation of the VA’s EHRM initiative with Oracle Cerner that included Oracle’s Mike Sicilia.
  • At that hearing, VA reported that the first round of fixes were completed on the EHR on 31 August in the first round of three-month increments.
  • But during the Appropriations Oversight hearing, leaders of the VA medical facilities already using the Oracle-Cerner EHR testified that productivity is still less than when they were on VistA. Workers are putting in longer hours to cover the workload. Overal, the five the medical centers have hired on extra staff to compensate and have reported “exhausted, sometimes tearful, and frankly distressed” staff in dealing with multiple errors.
    • Robert Fischer, director of the flashpoint Mann-Grandstaff VA medical center in Spokane, Washington, testified that they hired 20% more staff and 15% more clinicians to handle the same workloads. “I would say one of the root causes is related to Oracle-Cerner’s lack of appreciation for the complexity of VA operations,” Fischer said.
    • Since implementation, employees have investigated 1,600 Oracle-Cerner-related patient safety events, 15,000 “break-fix” IT help tickets, and 28,000 medical orders that “did not execute successfully as anticipated.
    • Example: at the VA Ambulatory Care Center in Columbus, Ohio, “Imagine being a doctor in Columbus, and receiving a critical message about a patient you have never seen, who’s been admitted to a Department of Defense site thousands of miles away, because his provider has a similar name,” Meredith Arensman, their chief of staff, testified. “Imagine being an optometrist and finding an eyeglass prescription that has your signature, that you know you never signed … These are not possibilities. It has been the reality.” Federal News Network
  • Perhaps as a backup, the VA inked a deal made public today (31 October) with 13 community hospital systems for data sharing.  The stated intent is by data sharing, they will improve veterans’ care in or outside the VA system, facilitate veterans taking advantage of VA and community resources, and connect veterans with VA benefits, including new benefits for toxic exposure-related conditions under the PACT Act. However, it’s also well known that VA offloads to community health systems. The systems are listed in the VA release. Work has already started and proof-of-concept is due in early 2024. FedScoop

VA also has to cover the now executive-ordered (EO’d) $1 million ‘tech sprint’ for healthcare innovation to 1) reduce staff burnout and 2) create AI-centered tools to save time for clinicians, such as clinicians’ note-taking and integration into veterans’ medical records. This one will consist of two three-month AI Tech Sprint competitions. More distraction. FedScoop

The Cerner blues, VA and health system driven, are affecting the Oracle share price. But Oracle chairman’s Larry Ellison need not worry. His net worth of $130.9 billion makes him the second wealthiest person in healthcare, topped only by Jeff Bezos of Amazon and followed by Thomas Frist and family, according to Forbes. Becker’s