Will 2024 be the mirror image of 2023? This time last year, signs pointed to slow, steady growth after the bubble bath of 2020-early 2022 was followed by failures of tech-leveraged banks (SVB and Signature in March 2023) leading to a mid-year bust [TTA 11 Aug 23]. Some big deals kicked off the year (CVS’ Carbon Health investment, Oak Street mega-buy TTA 16 Feb 23). Then as the year went on, they were followed by sheer turmoil–huge losses and business divestitures (Cano Health, Bright Health, insurtechs like Clover and Oscar), bankruptcies and shutdowns (Babylon, Pear, Quil, OliveAI, Smile Direct, Cureatr, Rite Aid), IP lawsuits (Apple-Masimo, Apple-AliveCor, FruitStreet-Sharecare), C-levels walking the plank (Walgreens, Noom), and big layoffs nearly every week. Cigna and Humana called off merging again, perhaps because Cigna didn’t like what it saw. M&A fell to its lowest level in years and IPOs fell to zero.
To cap the year, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) issued new Merger Guidelines that made the M&A mountain even steeper, and will follow up this year with Pre-Merger Notification guidelines that will make that part even more costly. Both signal hard times for M&A. Add to that the overt hostility the chair of the FTC has to any kind of M&A and the weaponization of the tools government has at hand…..Even early-stage, independent companies which allegedly these agencies are trying to foster don’t catch a break. A change in the tax law hitting hardest in 2023 forces annual expenses in research and experimentation (R&E) to be amortized over five years versus one year which severely affects their financials. (Section 174 explained here)
The crystal ball promises to be more like a Magic 8 Ball this year. Other than a flurry of smaller-scale investments, a rumor of a $5 billion EHR company sale (Netsmart), and predictable layoffs in health systems, the start of the year in healthcare has been fairly (ominously?) quiet.
HealthcareFinance talked to two partners in law firm Akerman’s healthcare practice group to get their take, weaving in some findings from a PWC report:
- Buyer interest in acquiring practices and surgery centers
- Partnerships on rise, for example Amazon’s One Medical with health systems
- Smaller hospitals in mid-America will merge as there is “safety in numbers’
- More investment in life sciences and drug development, especially diabetes/weight loss drugs in the GLP-1 category
- Anything around AI attracts interest
The two big factors: interest rates (the Federal Reserve has signaled no further increases, and maybe cuts in 2024) and (of course) a presidential election as well as all of the House, much of the Senate, and state gubernatorial offices.
Bubbling under this are reports of two big pending IPOs:
- Home health, pharmacy, and eldercare services provider BrightSpring Health filed with the SEC on 3 January for a near-billion dollar IPO (publicly released on 17th). This is estimated to raise $960 million, valuing the company at about $3 billion. Common stock will debut between $15 and $18 on Nasdaq under the symbol BTSG. They are also selling 8 million tangible equity units at $50. Proceeds will go from the offerings to repay outstanding debt under various credit facilities and pay penalties associated with terminating its monitoring agreement with Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. L.P. (KKR, the current owner) and Walgreens Boots Alliance. BrightSpring serves 400,000 daily patients and dispensed 34 million prescriptions in 2022. IPO timing is still to be announced. This is the second time the company has filed, abandoning its first attempt in late 2021 as the market softened in 2022. KKR is signalling an exit…will it happen this time? Release, FierceHealthcare
- Waystar’s IPO is still pending after being announced late last year [TTA 26 Oct 23]. The RCM and payments software company delayed it to 2024 due to an uncertain market at year’s end. Reportedly the roadshows were postponed to December but there has been no confirmation that they took place. Will it happen?
Fasten your seatbelts…it may be a bumpy ride.