Mid-week roundup: Cotiviti’s $10.5B stake to KKR; Cigna buys back $3.2B shares; VA Oracle Cerner faulty med records; LockBit ransomware websites cold-busted at every level, principals indicted; Trualta partners with PointClickCare

Investor KKR announced their buy of a $10.5 billion stake in healthcare analytics Cotiviti. The stake comes from Veritas Capital, creating an equal share of ownership. The recapitalization will be used for commercial expansion, new product development, and technology-related opportunities. It is expected to close subject to regulatory approvals in Q2 this year. According to Axios and Bloomberg, it is financed by a $5 billion leveraged loan sale launched last week, with a $4.4 billion floating rate term loan led by JPM and a $600 million fixed rate term loan led by Goldman Sachs. This is Veritas’ second attempt to exit. While money is leaking back into private equity deals, the new trend is to finance them with more cash than debt. Cotiviti release

Cigna, having sold off its Medicare Advantage plans for $3.7 million to HCSC, is repurchasing $3.2 billion in stock (7.6 million shares) through agreements with Deutsche Bank and Bank of America. Cigna’s plan remains to repurchase $5 billion of common stock over H1 2024 after ending merger talks with Humana. FierceHealthcare, Cigna release

VA warned about faulty medication records in the Oracle Cerner Millenium EHR. The culprit is in the Health Data Repository, according to a government watchdog. David Case, deputy inspector general for the VA, reported at a House Veterans Affairs Committee Technology Modernization Subcommittee meeting last week, that while VA had no reports of harmful drug interactions, Case had at least one instance of a veteran not given a critical medication for adrenal insufficiency, leading to a near-disastrous outcome. The VA has also not informed the 250,000 veterans with prescription records in the Oracle Cerner system that the records may have errors.. In the VA facilities that have Oracle Cerner, providers, pharmacists, and frontline staff must perform complex manual medication safety checks to replace automated checks.

The Oracle Cerner rollout has been put on hold till summer this year–maybe [TTA 1 Nov 23]. At this hearing, Mike Sicilia of Oracle did show up and attributed the problems in the HDR to multiple systems being involved from VistA and other EHRs, into Oracle Cerner. However, after 10 separate fixes, the most recent software update had a similar data issue during final testing and was quickly pulled. Military.com

A victory versus ransomware. Updated. The LockBit ransomware group has been cold-busted “at every level” by the UK, US, and international law enforcement. According to the Department of Justice release and other sources, the UK’s National Crime Agency’s (NCA) Cyber Division led Operation Cronos, working in cooperation with the Justice Department, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and other law enforcement agencies worldwide. They seized numerous public-facing websites and domains used by LockBit to connect to the organization’s infrastructure along with servers used by LockBit administrators. Russian nationals Artur Sungatov and Ivan Kondratyev, also known as Bassterlord, were indicted in the US District Court of New Jersey in Newark, charged with deploying LockBit against numerous victims throughout the United States. Sungatov was also indicted in the Northern District of California. According to Europol, “Two LockBit actors have been arrested in Poland and Ukraine at the request of the French judicial authorities. The French and US judicial authorities have also issued three international arrest warrants and five indictments.” LockBit’s ‘heart’ is of course in Russia, where nearly all cybercrime is located–they are free to operate there as long as they don’t target anything in RU. Cybernews

Trualta partners with PointClickCare for family caregiver education and support. PointClickCare is a leading EHR for long-term and post-acute care (LTPAC) providers. Trualta provides educational resources to support family caregivers when a patient is discharged through logging in to the resource site, with the ability to access articles, videos, and modules that cover a variety of care topics including preparing for discharge, transitioning from hospital to home, and life after discharge.  Trualta’s information will be offered through PointClickCare’s Marketplace. A recent study by Trualta of caregivers using their materials found that 30 days of Trualta use can decrease annual unexpected hospital visits among care recipients by 20%. Trualta release

News roundup: Musk’s Neuralink implants first human BCI; Cigna’s $3.7B MA sale to HCSC; no Amazon deal for iRobot; DispatchHealth-Instacart food Rx; 5 India health tech fundings (updated)

Elon Musk first out (again) with a human brain-computer interface (BCI). Announced Monday by Neuralink, founded by Elon Musk, is the first human implant of a BCI. No details in the tweet beyond “recovering well’ and “promising neuron spike detection”. The device is a cosmetically invisible implant (N1) in the part of the brain that plans movements. It interprets neural activity, sending a signal to a computer or smartphone through thought. The N1 device, containing several dozen threads holding over 1,000 electrodes, is implanted by a R1 robot. FierceBiotech, MM+M Online

The subjects of the PRIME study are likely those recruited last fall after the FDA approved proceeding with a clinical trial. A blog post on the Neuralink website recruited adult volunteers with quadriplegia–paralysis of the arms and legs caused by a cervical spinal cord injury or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Earlier, Neuralink raised $280 million in a Series D led by Founders Fund. FierceBiotech 8 Aug 2023  There were difficulties, however. Within the past two years, Reuters reported 1,500 animal deaths over four years of research that attracted the attention of the Department of Transportation (DOT) (!) and the Department of Agriculture’s inspector general. FDA held up approval of human clinical trials until last year.

Research and companies in the BCI race have been making news since at least 2016 but have not reached clinical trials. In 2022 Synchron had an oversubscribed Series C of $75 million for the Stentrode blood vessel device (in clinical trials) and Synchron Switch BCI devices [TTA 17 Dec 22]. Last year, Precision Neuroscience raised $41 million in a Series B [TTA 28 Jan 23]. Their focus is on treatment of neurological illnesses and events such as stroke, traumatic brain injury, and dementia. Of course, one could debate implant ethics, but not for these limited uses right now.

To no one’s surprise including the relatively low price of $3.7 billion, Cigna sold its 600,000-member Medicare Advantage business to HCSC, beating out Elevance (the former Anthem). Cigna is also selling its supplemental benefits and Medicare Part D plans, along with CareAllies, a subsidiary that assists primary care practices with value-based care in Medicare and commercial plans. Together, they cover 3.6 million people, but the now-money-losing MA business represented only 2% of the total MA market. Closing is expected to be in 2025, subject to the usual regulatory approvals. HCSC currently operates in five states and this marks a major growth opportunity for them, if they pass state and Federal scrutiny.

Update: Some speculation remains that now that Cigna has agreed to sell the MA and other businesses, a Humana buy may be more of a go–at a reduced price given Humana’s recent earnings difficulties. This feels, to this Editor, like whistling in the dark. Prima facie, it ignores two factors: the major stumbling block was their respective strengths in pharmacy benefit management (PBM) though with different focuses, and that Cigna, having rid themselves of a money loser in MA, would buy it back and take on short term pain just to get bigger. Perhaps the two, because they seem to like dancing with each other, may partner in some areas like home health or other services, but for now the regulatory landscape is waaaay too hostile to mega-mergers in healthcare and the shareholders feel the same. Why buy the cow, etc.? MedCityNews  Further evidence? The CEO bragged about the sale as moving towards a leaner and more focused organization (the new catchphrase) on the 2 February earning call, as well as their interest in providing services via their Evernorth unit to MA providers, such as tying pharmacy services to the MA plans for four years after the HCSC buy. Healthcare Dive

iRobot sale to Amazon fails due to “no path to regulatory approval”, company lays off 31% of staff. In more bad news for Amazon, regulatory disapproval by the EU finally put paid to the deal for the Roomba maker. The EU found that Amazon’s ownership would have restricted competition in the robot vacuum cleaner category by restricting access to Amazon’s marketplace. This is no different than the FTC and DOJ in the US which blocked it for two years. Amazon will pay iRobot a $94 million breakup fee, which the latter will need as their market capitalization has crashed to $400 million from the $1.7 billion original sales price.  iRobot is reducing staff by 350, its CEO is also stepping down immediately, and they are concentrating now on margin improvements, restricting lines of business, and reducing R&D. CNBC  Consider this Lina Khan’s first ‘scalp’ in her War on Amazon.

DispatchHealth, an in-home care provider, has a new partnership with Instacart, a food delivery service, to directly address nutrition needs for their advanced care patients being treated at home.  Dispatch provides same-day, urgent medical care; hospital alternative care; and recovery care. With Instacart Health, Dispatch creates meal plans and medically tailored meals through shopping lists on Instacart that can be delivered direct to home. Payment must be made by the patient or if their Medicare Advantage plan permits. Food is a significant part of social determinants of health (SDOH) and Dispatch has found that 33% of their patients struggle with this and 22% have serious food insecurity. Orders can be made by phone, phone app, or website. McKnights Home Care, Mobihealthnews, DispatchHealth release   DispatchHealth has also experienced recent layoffs of 88 employees. Home Health Care News

And now for something completely different. India has been buzzing with several fundings in digital health. The roundup’s from Mobihealthnews with additional information from other sources:

  • CureBay, a rural-focused e-clinic from visits to lab tests and prescriptions with 90 locations, scored another Rs 620 million ($7.5 million) in funding as part of a Series A round led by Elevar Equity. IndianStartUpTimes
  • Mental health platform Amaha raised over Rs 50 million ($6 million) in an extended Series A funding round. The app-based treatement platform connects members with clinicians and psychiatrists. It also acquired the Delhi NCR-based Child and Adolescent Mental Health Institute, Children First, that has been providing support to 12,000+ families since its inception in 2008. Release
  • Healspan, an insurance tech startup that manages cashless health insurance claims for 60 hospitals, raised Rs 1.2 million (over $100,000) in pre-seed funding from a round led by startup accelerator PedalStart. ExpressHealthcare India
  • FlexifyMe, a chronic pain digital therapeutics platform with AI-powered patient scanning, gained pre-seed funding from angel platform ah! Ventures Angel Platform. Based in India but with operations in the US and Dubai, their therapy addresses back pain, cervical pain, spondylosis, and other conditions via what they term a unique combination of online physiotherapy, yoga therapy, and AI. BiospectrumIndia  In October, they had raised $1 million from Flipkart Ventures. Times of India
  • Docosage, described as an AI-driven health solutions provider with a telehealth consult, e-prescribing, lab testing, and genetic studies platform, also has an undisclosed amount of pre-seed funding from an individual angel investor. The funding will be used for strategic partnerships by exploring collaborations with hospitals, clinics, insurance companies, and incorporating tech advancements to enhance product features. ExpressHealthcare India 

*Updated 2 Feb for additional analysis around Cigna MA sale to HCSC and copy editing

News roundup: Owlet’s Dream Sock, BabySat go to market; General Catalyst’s HATco agrees to buy Summa; Cigna’s contrasting provider strategy; new ElliQ robot assistant debuts at CES

JP Morgan’s Healthcare Conference (JPM) and CES are as expected big generators of news around digital health–here’s a selection from then and more:

Owlet launches Dream Sock and BabySat at CES. Both were FDA-cleared in November and June 2023 respectively. The Dream Sock baby monitor received first-of-kind de novo clearance for pulse oximetry and sends real-time Health Notifications for low pulse rate, high pulse rate, and low oxygen to parents’ smartphones. Target market is infants 1-18 months and 6 to 30 pounds with direct sale on the Owlet website at $299.

The BabySat is the prescription-only version (left) targeted to infants 1-18 months and 6-30 pounds, but with acute or chronic medical conditions. It also has the unique capability not only to track vital signs but also for the provider to customize alarms for oxygen saturation and pulse rate. Owlet’s BabySat information page explains in plain English the type of medical conditions where the BabySat would be of assistance and the steps to obtain a prescription that is fulfilled through their partner AdaptHealth. A virtual Rx and insurance reimbursement are in the works. A small drawback is that it is only usable with an iPhone. Happily, their stock is also on the rebound at the highest point in six months. Having followed them since the ‘telehealth for the bassinet set’ days of 2012-2013, their continued independence, their rebound from some dark days, as well as their focus on baby health, this Editor continues to wish them bonne chance. Owlet release (via Yahoo Finance).

Big Investor General Catalyst announced their first acquisition move for the Health Assurance Transformation Corporation (HATCo) not at JPM but today (17 Jan). Summa Health is a $1.8 billion (in revenue) non-profit integrated healthcare system headquartered in Akron, Ohio that encompasses hospitals, community medical centers, a health plan, an accountable care organization, a multi-specialty physician organization, medical education, research and the Summa Health Foundation. HATCo’s objective is to transform healthcare towards a goal of “health assurance”, defined as “a more affordable, accessible and proactive system of care” where presumably their extensive experience in investing in healthcare gives them expertise. [TTA 10 Oct 2023] The letter of intent initially sets up a partnership with immediate investment in Summa while due diligence takes place, then when completed moves to a definitive agreement with details of the acquisition and a transaction price in the next few months. Summa would move from a non-profit to a for-profit in becoming a subsidiary of HATCo. According to their information, current management will remain in place.

Summa’s incentive is to stem losses, reportedly at $37 million through Q3 2023, more than double the prior year. HATCo in November stated its desire to buy a health system in Summa’s $1 to $3 billion range. As usual, the buy is subject to regulatory approvals and a final closing date.  HATCo release, Summa Health statement on “our future”, FierceHealthcare

To the contrary, Cigna prefers to partner, not own, healthcare providers. As a payer closer by many degrees to hospitals and practices than General Catalyst, structured much like UnitedHealth Group with Evernorth its counterpart to Optum, they have avoided the aggressive ownership of physician practices. UHG employs about 10%–90,000–physicians through ownership of practices as of December 2023. MedPageToday  At JPM, Cigna CEO Eric Palmer emphasized ‘strategic relationships’ like a minority share of VillageMD (majority owned by Walgreens) in their acquisition of Summit Health, and creating an ‘ecosystem’ that connects to the best partners. Their investments will be wrap-around services in home health, behavioral and virtual care now that a merger with Humana is once again off the table. Becker’s Payer They’ll have some cash to do so; Cigna’s sale of their Medicare Advantage business will likely be to Health Care Service Corporation (HCSC) and fetch $3 to $4 billion. Becker’s Payer

Intuition Robotics debuts ElliQ 3 at CES. An interactive desktop companion robot designed to improve social connection and alleviate loneliness of older adults and those with assistive needs, the new version updates the robot hardware and software capabilities including generative AI capabilities powered by Large Language Model (LLM). The new design from Yves Behar’s design studio, Fuseproject, is also 1.3 pounds lighter and has a 36% smaller footprint which makes it easier to both place and handle, along with a fully integrated screen. Technical improvements include an octa-core SoC and a built-in AI processing unit (APU); 33% more RAM, twice the amount of computing power and memory, and an inclusion of a dual-core AI processing unit (APU), all of which are needed to power generative AI for greater ‘conversant’ capabilities. The LLM technology integrated into the Relationship Orchestration Engine makes real-time decisions regarding actions, scripted conversation, and generative AI conversations. For instance, the person speaking with ElliQ may talk about activities and beliefs, which are stored and classified. In another conversation, ElliQ may use that information to suggest participation in activities and social interactions, while ensuring that the context and flow of conversation is ‘guardrailed’ and appropriate. The AI can also assist the person in activities such as painting or writing poems together.

Current partners include the New York State Office for the Aging, Inclusa (a Humana company), and the Area Agency on Aging of Broward County, as well as newer partners like The Olympic Area Agency on Aging, Ypsilanti Meals on Wheels, and others. Release

Israel-based Intuition Robotics most recently raised $25 million in August 2023 in an unlettered round with $20 million in venture capital plus $5 million in venture debt. TTA 19 Sept 2023

News roundup: Apple Watch flagships cease sale due to Masimo ITC ruling (updated); Noom, WW enter GLP-1 telehealth business; Oracle sees health side up despite Cerner drag; Cigna has multiple bidders for MA business

Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2 going off sale in the US this week, upholding the ITC patent ruling favoring medical device developer Masimo. On 26 October, the International Trade Commission (ITC) ruled that Apple in the Series 6 and later violated Masimo’s patents on pulse oximetry (SpO2) sensors and software. [TTA 27 Oct] While this is awaiting presidential approval in the 60-day review period which ends on Christmas Day, Apple proactively restricted US sales of its flagship Series 9 and Ultra 2 watches which contain the blood oxygen sensors. (The SE model does not and continues to be available for direct sale.) According to 9to5Mac, online sales end on 3 pm Eastern Time on Thursday 21 December, while in-Apple Store sales stop after Christmas Eve. Of course, this won’t stop resales of existing stock through outlets like Amazon, Best Buy, and eBay. Under the ITC order, Apple cannot import either model after 25 December as the ITC issued a Limited Exclusion Order (LEO) plus a Cease and Desist Order (CDO). 

The ITC is rarely vetoed by the White House in patent actions. After that point, Apple is free to appeal in Federal District Court, which is highly likely and where the deepest pockets usually win. Also HIStalk 20 Dec and Strata-gee 21 Dec

There are other wrinkles with Masimo, though. Strata-gee.com earlier this month (13 Dec) timelines Masimo’s patent difficulties with the US Patent and Trademark Office’s Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) ruling against the very same patents, decisions upheld by the Federal Circuit Court. The PTAB also ruled against Masimo in the requested review of two Apple patents. Apple’s retaliation is to threaten lawsuits on Masimo’s new smartwatches. The icing on this messy cake is the November Delaware Chancery Court decision against Masimo, awarding $17.8 million in legal fees to activist investors/shareholders Politan Capital Management and Politan Capital NY LLC in a board fight that culminated in two seats to Politan directors.  One can sense that Apple is biding its time, though they could end all of this by negotiating a royalty to Masimo. Updated: see report on the stay effective 27 December here.

Noom and WW enter the weight loss drug-by-telehealth race. Ozempic and Wegovy, GLP-1 agonists, are increasingly popular in off-label use for obesity to produce weight loss, prescribed and managed by telehealth teams.

  • Noom, previously stressing behavioral change via app coaching direct-to-consumer, in October announced at HLTH Noom Med, a drug-focused program prescribing medications such as Saxenda (liraglutide), Wegovy (semaglutide), and the new Zepbound (tirzepatide), a dual GLP-1/G1P, all of which are injectable medications along with other GLP-1 medications such as Ozempic.
  • WW or WeightWatchers last week announced the WeightWatchers Clinic program. Via their recently acquired telehealth weight loss platform Sequence, it will offer weight loss meds and team management.  

They join Teladoc in developing weight loss programs, though Teladoc supports a physician-based care product for employers [TTA 21 April]. Both Noom and WW emphasize that member patients must qualify for the programs based on weight, BMI, and medical condition. Participants are educated through materials, coaching on behavioral management, managing appetite, and nutrition, especially in maintaining adequate protein as these medications not only induce weight loss, but also muscle loss (sarcopenia). One hopes that their teams are also knowledgeable on how these medications that slow down digestion to induce a feeling of fullness don’t mix well with surgical sedation, and that they issue cautions to patients before elective surgery. MedCityNews, FierceHealthcare, Forbes   

Noom has also replaced most of its top management since its new CEO joined in July. There’s a new CFO, chief technology officer (CTO), general counsel, two senior VPs (corporate development and partnerships, healthcare sales and services) a senior director of brand and communications, chief growth officer, chief product officer, and head of people. FierceHealthcare

Oracle Q2 results miss forecasts in rebuilding Cerner. Oracle Health, including the former Cerner, and slowing cloud growth were the culprits in their fiscal Q2 2024. Total revenue was $12.9 billion, up 5% in US dollars (4% in constant currency). Analysts expected $13.05 billion. Excluding Cerner, growth would have been 6% though Oracle did not separately break out revenue for the Cerner EHR business. Investors have noted two consecutive quarters of off-track growth and a weaker forecast for the remainder of the year. According to CEO Safra Catz and chairman Larry Ellison on the earning call, many upgrades and “modernizations” are being made to Cerner Millenium that will wrap up this FY. Half of Millenium customers will be moving over to Oracle Cloud Infrastructure (OCI) by February. They are also “rewriting” Cerner’s health and data intelligence platform, Cerner HealtheIntent, to get into population-scaled health management. ‘Transforming healthcare’ is an expensive proposition indeed. No word on the VA.  FierceHealthcare, Oracle release

And a quick follow up on Cigna’s sale of their Medicare Advantage business. Two payers so far–Health Care Service Corp. (HCSC) and Elevance–are reported to be bidding for Cigna’s MA business. The value of the business is estimated to be about $3 billion and with just under 600,000 members as of September. Both HCSC and Elevance are much larger players in MA. HCSC has over 1 million MA members in Blue Cross Blue Shield affiliates in Illinois, Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Montana. Elevance, the former Anthem, has over 2 million MA members. Bidding is expected to close this week. While MA is losing money for Cigna, they could refuse to sell if bids are unsatisfactory. FierceHealthcare, Becker’s

Cigna-Humana deal fizzles after two weeks after term discussion fails, shareholders nix

That was mercifully fast. After all the speculation and rumors [TTA 2 Dec], Cigna and Humana called off their talks on 10 December after not coming anywhere near terms on the financials. According to the Wall Street Journal, it was also evident that shareholders disliked it nearly immediately by driving down the share prices of both companies by 10%.

Their sources indicated that it would be a share and cash deal by Cigna for Humana, which added to shareholder displeasure. Cigna will be instead buying back up to $10 billion in stock to drive up their valuation. Reportedly, the repurchasing of least $5 billion of stock will take place between now and H1 2024. Cigna will also concentrate on smaller ‘bolt-on’ acquisitions and the sale of its Medicare Advantage business as previously announced. In the past five days, Cigna shares plumped by nearly $50 and Humana’s by about $10.

The WSJ‘s sources stated that Cigna continues to believe in a combination with Humana, something that the two companies have danced around for years, dating back even before the proposed payer megamergers of 2015 which saw Humana’s acquisition by Aetna (and Cigna’s by Anthem, now Elevance) disapproved both by states and at the Federal antitrust level. The two would, at least on paper, be a good fit, with Cigna’s strength in commercial plans plus Evernorth’s services added to Humana’s in Medicare Advantage, Medicaid, and home health services under CenterWell. It would have created a strong rival to UnitedHealth Group and CVS Health at $300 billion in revenue. What may have proved to be the antitrust stumbling block were their respective strengths in pharmacy benefit management (PBM) though with different focuses.

Even more than the increasingly hostile Federal antitrust environment between DOJ and FTC, it also points to the paucity of funding for mergers and acquisitions–M&A down 14% so far this year to about $1.2 trillion according to Dealogic.

In about three years, healthcare funding has gone from money thrown by VC and PE investors at what we recognize now as shaky propositions (Cerebral, Babylon Health, Olive AI, Pear) to no interest (or funds available) in what would be quality matchups. The pendulum swings–and swings back. We hope. Healthcare Dive

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!

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.

Week’s end roundup: Theranica clears, Pixel Watch fall alert, Veradigm delays, Walmart adding 40+ clinics by 2024, Bright Health’s dim future, Ontrak founder charged with insider trading

Theranica received FDA 510(k) clearance for its Nerivio device for migraine prevention in patients 12 and older. Theranica’s devices are based on a pain inhibition mechanism known as Conditioned Pain Modulation (CPM) where someone who suffers pain has a dysfunctional response to harmless stimuli. According to their product information, Nerivio wraps around the upper arm and uses non-painful remote electrical modulation (REN) to activate peripheral nerves to modulate pain. In addition to the device, the app allows users to customize their migraine treatments, receive reminders for preventive treatments, track patterns, and share migraine data with their doctor, as well as a guided relaxation routine. Theranica is based in Israel and New Jersey. Release, Mobihealthnews

Google’s Pixel Watch added fall detection to capabilities. It uses the motion sensors already in the watch and machine learning to detect a hard fall. If the wearer hasn’t moved within 30 seconds, it will vibrate, sound an alarm and display an on-screen notification that can be called off by pressing ‘I’m OK’ (left) or ‘I need help’. If the former, the alarms escalate until an automated call to 911 is made. The user has to activate the feature and Google claimes that the ML will help it avoid false positives. A very useful feature for older people, lone workers, and runners/walkers, but at the price point of $350 at Best Buy or $11/month via AT&T or Verizon, perhaps not all that attractive to cost-conscious users.    Engadget, Google blog post, Mobihealthnews

And in the Delays Must Be Catching Department, Veradigm, the former Allscripts, is delaying its Q4 and FY 2022 reporting due to a software flaw that affected its revenue reporting. Originally 1 March, the new date is yet to be determined, but they anticipate a reduction of $20 million dollars against what was previously reported from Q3 2021 into estimates for Q4 2022. Not exactly confidence-making for a company in the data management/software business. Coincidentally, the company which bought then-Allscripts’ large hospital/practice EHRs, now called Altera, Canadian giant Constellation Software, is also delaying its Q4/FY 2022 reporting, in this instance due to the Altera acquisition [TTA 15 Feb]. Veradigm’s release gives you the more complicated explanation.

Walmart Health’s Big Announcement is that it will be doubling the number of its Health Centers from the current 32 to over 75. By Q1 2024, Walmart’s plan is to open 28 new locations in the following metros: Dallas (10), Houston (8), Phoenix (6) and Kansas City MO (4). Missouri and Arizona are new states. All these will include the Epic EHR and the infrastructure improvements previewed earlier this week [TTA 1 Mar]. Release

Insurtech Bright Health may have a dim future. 18 months ago, Bright Health seemed to be the most promising insurtech out there, with a healthy Medicare Advantage plan base, family and individual plans, substantial growth, acquisitions of Zipnosis (‘white label’ telehealth triage for health systems) and development of the NeueHealth value-based care provider management network. Bright Health had a buttoned-up management team from UnitedHealth Group, investment groups, Target, CVS, and the Advisory Board. They raised $2.4 billion from prestige investors, including Cigna Ventures and Bessemer, went public on the NYSE in June 2021, and added $925 million in two post-IPO raises in December 2021 and October 2022 (Crunchbase). Fellow insurtechs Oscar and Clover struggled through their own financial and management challenges after an IPO and SPAC respectively. Oscar was sued last year by shareholders for misleading information; Clover lost $558 million in 2021, but reduced to $338.8 million in 2022 and promising a path to profitability. Healthcare Finance

Bright Health now appears to be a broken-bulb-filament away from default and bankruptcy. They ended 2021 with a $1.2 billion loss which is not unusual with companies of this type (see above). Bright exited individual and family plans in six states plus cut back MA expansion plans, also not atypical. Healthcare Finance This didn’t appear to help. By last December, their stock declined to below $1 triggering a notice of delisting from the NYSE if it’s not above $1 by May. The stock continues to trade below $0.50. They reported a 2022 loss of $1.4 billion, $0.2 billion up from 2021, on increased revenue. This week, it’s been reported they have told investors that they are facing credit insolvency, having run through $350 million in revolving credit, violated a liquidity covenant, and need $300 million to cover it by end of April. Further analysis in FierceHealthcare and on an interesting LinkedIn post by Ari Gottlieb, ‘Pay for Failure’.

And if there weren’t enough proof that the High Wide and Handsome Days Are Over, the Department of Justice (DOJ) indicted CEO Terren Peizer of Ontrak, a telemental health provider, with insider trading using Rule 10b5-1 trading plans. This rule was actually set up by the SEC to allow insiders to safely trade their shares by setting up a predetermined plan that specifies in advance the share price, amount, and transaction date, plus certifying that they are not aware of non-public information that can influence the price. The last is the rub. DOJ alleges that during mid-year 2021, Peizer was aware that the largest Ontrak customer, Cigna, was at high risk of departing on the heels of Aetna, and sold his stock. If convicted, Peizer may be facing up to 45 years in Club Fed plus disgorgement of funds. Ontrak trades on Nasdaq, today at about $0.60. FierceHealthcare

News roundup: UHG closes $5.4B LHC deal, Teladoc’s record $13.7B ’22 loss, Olive AI divesting UM, Cigna exec can’t join CVS, VA anti-suicide program awards, Equiva-Infiniti ACP initiative, Newel Health’s Parkinson’s device

UnitedHealth Group added more home care to its Optum unit with the close of the LHC Group deal on 22 February. Final cost was $5.4 billion or $170 per share of the now-delisted Nasdaq company. The acquisition was announced in March and survived two reviews: a request from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for additional information which held up the close past the original December date and a shareholder suit on ‘material nondisclosure’ in the SEC filing. FTC requested information on worker pay and ‘vertical harm’ on market competition, but did not proceed with further action prior to the closing. LHC Group serves 960 locations in 37 states, with 30,000 employees and revenue of $2.2 billion last year. The original announcement indicated that the Louisiana-based management team will be coming over to Optum Health and co-founders Keith and Ginger Myers will personally invest $10 million in UHG following the acquisition close. Interestingly, as of today (Thursday noon ET), neither company has announced the closing on their websites. Home Health News, FierceHealthcare  For those into value-based care, as previously noted, Optum is acquiring via LHC Imperium Health, a good-sized ACO, population health, and management services company. It’s another fit as Optum is a major physician group owner, many of whom are also in ACOs, and made LHC even more attractive. According to their website, Imperium now manages 16 ACOs and is in partnership with a large ACO group. 

Unsurprisingly, Teladoc notched a record loss for 2022– $13.7 billion on revenue of $2.4 billion. This included the Q1 2022 $6.6 billion write-off of the Livongo acquisition. On the investor call, company executives scaled down 2023 revenue forecasts to $2.55-$2.68 billion, which is about 9% growth. Teladoc remains at about 80 million members. The company’s ‘balanced growth’ plan to move toward profitability has already resulted in January’s announcement of 6% of staff being laid off and a reduced geographic footprint, presumably including real estate and leases. Healthcare Dive, HISTalk 2/24/23 which also cross-references the MedCityNews Livongo ‘lemon’ interview

Olive AI continues to shrink and juggle, with today’s announcement of their putting their utilization management service line up for sale. Earlier, they announced divesting their population health and 340B service lines to a sister company. The UM line buyer would take on the accounts and the 100-person staff. Olive AI is an automator of routine health system administration tasks such as these. Their pivot will be in automating revenue cycle management for health systems. Last week, Olive announced the release of 215 employees, about 35% of its remaining staff, in addition to its July layoff of 450 employees, then about 33% of staff. If this Editor’s calculations are correct, Olive is down to about 900 or less. Becker’s  Original report in Axios is paywalled, but indicates problems with the software’s efficacy, multiple executive departures, and a previous asset sale.

Yes, Virginia–non-competes ARE enforceable. So Amy Bricker, Cigna’s former head of pharmacy benefits unit Express Scripts, found out when she tried to join CVS as a senior executive as chief product officer for its consumer area, not Caremark which is a direct competitor. She had signed a two-year non-compete/non-disclosure barring her from any employment with any direct competitor. Cigna apparently imposes non-competes on only their most senior executives, a total of 16. This is a temporary restraining order from the US District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri to bar her from joining the company, duration unknown. Cigna had to post a $250,000 bond for possible future damages. FTC (again) is attempting to ban non-compete use both in future and retroactively. Restraining order, Healthcare Finance News, Healthcare Dive

Some blue side up news: 

  • Mission Daybreak Grand Challenge awarded by the VA. 10 companies were awarded $20 million to pursue digital health approaches to prevent veteran suicide as part of a 10-year VA initiative. The first-place winners were Stop Soldier Suicide and Televeda, awarded $3 million each. Healthcare IT News has additional details on all the finalists.
  • Digital health is leveraging an existing $14.2 billion FCC initiative called the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). Two companies, Equiva Health, a digital patient engagement and health relationship management solution provider, is partnering with internet provider Infiniti Mobile to create Equiva ACP Connect. The product configures tablets and mobile devices for care management and patient education distributed by hospitals, nursing homes, insurers, and other healthcare organizations. Release
  • Newel Health has received a grant from the Michael J. Fox Foundation to further development for Soturi, a digital therapeutic solution for Parkinson’s disease management. Soturi utilizes data collected from a wearable sensor, using an algorithm-based decision-making method, for personalized treatment. The project will be presented at the SINdem conference in Bressanone, Italy on 24th February. Release (PharmaPhorum)

VillageMD opens the Walgreens purse, set to buy Summit Health for $8.9B

Moving from rumor to deal in a New York Minute. Primary care provider VillageMD has moved to a definitive agreement to acquire specialty/urgent care provider Summit Medical in an $8.9 billion deal including debt. This was heavily rumored last week [TTA 1 Nov]

This will create a provider behemoth of 680 provider locations, 750 primary care providers, and 1,200 specialty care providers in 26 markets. The fun facts:

  • VillageMD has 342 total primary care clinics in 22 southern and northeastern markets covering 15 states, with 152 co-located with Walgreens; these will eventually increase to 200.
  • Summit Health has 370 locations in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and central Oregon. VillageMD and Summit do not overlap (except in NJ) on markets.  
  • VillageMD consists of primarily owned and affiliated primary care practices; Summit Health specialty practices (neurology, chiropractic, cardiology, orthopedics, dermatology) plus 150 CityMD urgent care locations.
  • VillageMD has successfully mastered value-based care models in Medicare and entered advanced Medicare ACO models early and vigorously (Editor’s information). Summit Health presently is primarily is fee-for-service with some participation in value-based programs.

The participation in this one is interesting: 

  • Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA) will invest $3.5 billion through an even mix of debt and equity 
  • Cigna’s health services organization Evernorth will become a minority owner; the exact percentage is not disclosed at this point
  • It’s not disclosed at this time whether Summit Health’s current majority owner, Walburg Pincus, will retain an interest in the combined companies. 

WBA remains the largest and consolidating shareholder of VillageMD, but with this acquisition, reduces its ownership share from approximately 62-63% to 53%. WBA’s other US non-retail healthcare interests include specialty pharmacy company Shields Health Solutions and at-home care provider CareCentrix.

Based on their release, the acquisition is expected to close in January 2023, subject to the usual Hart-Scott-Rodino Act (HSR) premerger notification and report with the DOJ and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that initiates a 30-day waiting period.

Bet on VillageMD and Summit closing deeper into Q1–but closing. This Editor’s over/under is that this is overly optimistic given the current DOJ and FTC’s scrutiny and apparent dislike of healthcare acquisitions, even though the provider groups don’t overlap except in a minor way in NJ. But perhaps Amazon, with a healthcare footprint primarily in pharmacy and shuttering Amazon Care, thought OneMedical would move smartly. CVS thought the same with Signify Health, yet both are on information Second Requests that extend the waiting period. DOJ is after all smarting hard with a Federal District Court nixing their challenge of UHG’s Optum with Change Healthcare, but it’s hard to throw typical antitrust at this one.

Go big or go home, indeed.     Healthcare Dive, Becker’s

News roundup: Oracle’s modernizing Cerner’s tech, but VA hedges training with AWS; Redesign Health’s $65M raise; Kyruus buys Epion Health; Zócalo Health raises $5M seed; Cigna Evernorth adds to digital formulary

Oracle’s Q1 2023 earnings call (Motley Fool transcript here) wasn’t much of a surprise. Earnings were up 23% to $11.4 billion. Cerner contributed $1.4 billion but was partly responsible for a 34% rise in operating expenses along with their business mix of our business. The Q2 forecast is 21% to 23%. But what should not be a surprise to anyone was the rapid Oracleization of Cerner’s tech. Answering a question about what value Oracle is delivering to Cerner’s products, Larry Ellison outlined that Cerner will have its first “pretty complete” health management product out within 12 months, using the Oracle Autonomous Database that runs itself without human labor, plus an all-new application development tool called APEX, a low-code tool. Ellison claims that the APEX low-code tool has security built into the tool, thus not requiring audits, and if the application fails, it rolls over into another data center and keeps running. In contrast, using standard methods, the product would take three to four years to build. Becker’s Health IT

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is relying on Amazon Web Services for training services in transitioning from VistA to Cerner Millenium. The AWS programs will train VA Office of Information Technology staff in three areas: ENCOR implementation, operating Cisco enterprise network core technologies, architecting Amazon Web Services, and Red Hat System administration. The training will cost $54,000 over a base period of about two months. Becker’s Health IT

Redesign Health’s Series C racks up $65 million from General Catalyst, CVS Health Ventures, UPMC Enterprises, TriplePoint Capital, Eden Global Partners, Euclidean Capital, Declaration Partners, and Samsung Next. Redesign is an unusual enterprise that creates startups from its own research, assembles management teams, brands, and funds them. Since 2018, they have created 40 healthcare startups. The funding will be used not for funding additional startups but to expand Redesign’s capabilities in startup creation. Some of their startups: Ever/body (cosmetic dermatology), Calibrate (weight loss, which brutally lost a quarter of the company in July), Jasper (cancer care), Vault Health (virtual diagnostics), and MedArrive (EMS dispatch). Fast Company, FierceHealthcare.

Kyruus adds patient engagement to provider search with Epion Health buy. Kyruus, headquartered in Boston, connects providers in healthcare organizations with people needing the right care, as well as for organizations to maintain provider information and data management. Epion Health, headquartered in Hoboken NJ (near NYC), developed a platform to connect patients with their providers including services such as online check-in, telehealth, integrated reminders for scheduling, and patient education. The acquisition expands Kyruus to 500 health systems and medical groups. Terms and management transitions were not disclosed. For Kyruus, which acquired patient navigation too. HealthSparq from investor Cambia Health Solutions, this helps them build out an end-to-end provider-patient platform. Kyruus release, Mobihealthnews

Startup Zócalo Health raised seed funding of $5M to launch virtual healthcare in California, Texas, and Washington. Zócalo (Spanish for plaza or town square) will offer in those states “virtual first family medicine service designed by Latinos, for Latinos”. Already operating in California, Texas and Washington will be added by end of year. Promotoras de salud will serve as health coaches to their patients. Mobihealthnews

Cigna’s health services/tech arm, Evernorth, announced that it is adding two digital health apps to its formulary: UK/US Big Health’s Sleepio for insomnia and Daylight for anxiety, Quit Genius’ alcohol use disorder and opioid use disorder programs, and HealthBeacon’s injectable medication adherence tool for inflammatory conditions. They also announced pilot programs for Jasper Health (Redesign Health, above), Zerigo Health for psoriasis and eczema, Hinge Health’s new women’s pelvic health program, and Lid Sync’s medication adherence tool. Mobihealthnews

Wednesday AM roundup all about money: $28B Oracle-Cerner closes today, 9 June strategy talk; Teladoc class-action lawsuits begin; Cigna’s look at loneliness

As you read this, Oracle has closed on their acquisition of Cerner Corporation. According to the Oracle release, approximately 204,280,589 shares, or 69.2% for $28 billion, have been validly tendered and other conditions, such as passing antitrust approvals, have been satisfied. If there are other loose ends to tie off, they aren’t impediments to the closing.

Interested Readers can register to hear Larry Ellison, Oracle’s chairman, and other speakers outline Oracle’s strategy to “redefine the future of healthcare” (a song we’ve heard before) on 9 June at 3pm Central Time. If our UK Readers have been wondering what former PM Tony Blair’s been up to, he’ll be on this call. Other UK speakers are David Walliker, chief digital officer of Oxford University Hospitals, and Kevin Jarrold, joint CIO of Imperial College Healthcare. Another outside speaker is Meharry Medical College‘s CEO, James E.K. Hildreth, MD, PhD. Meharry, located in Nashville, is the second oldest medical school founded (1876) to educate black Americans in medicine and dentistry.  

Here we go with class-action lawsuits against Teladoc based on loss of share value and misleading statements. Teladoc, whose stock has taken a long jump off a very tall building (90% loss from the high), is being sued in US District Court for the Southern District of New York by a shareholder, Jeremy Schneider. This is a Federal securities class-action lawsuit (text here) with Mr. Schneider representing shareholders who purchased Teladoc shares between 28 October 2021 and 27 April 2022 (the date of announcing Q1 2022 results). The charges involve materially false statements that Teladoc made on its business, operations, and prospects including minimizing competition leading to increased advertising costs, unrealistic projections for revenue made in the period, and the impact of the Livongo writeoff announced Q1–a noncash goodwill impairment charge of $6.6 billion, or over $41 per share [TTA 4 May recaps Q1].

A lookup on Justia indicates that Mr. Schneider is being represented by Jeremy Alan Lieberman of Pomerantz LLP. The filing names Jason Gorevic, CEO, and Mala Murthy, CFO as individual defendants along with Teladoc. Mr. Schneider is not a large shareholder; his investment was a little over $250,000 from December 2021 to February 2022. Other shareholders may join the suit by contacting Pomerantz.

What usually happens after this is other firms file class-action suits in the same court representing other shareholders. An example of this trolling is this announcement/release from Bernstein Liebhard LLP

If you like risk and volatility, TDOC and AMWL shares remain relatively cheap (the latter below $5) and haven’t recovered. TTA reflected on Amwell’s equally shaky Q1 and growing losses in May 

If and when they’ll recover is anyone’s guess, with increased direct-to-consumer competition from retail (CVS, Walmart) and with providers maintaining their own telehealth systems, homegrown and whitelabeled (Bluestream Health, Zipnosis). Healthcare Dive, Mobihealthnews recap much of what led to this point.

If you feel a little lonelier after your Teladoc (or other telehealth) shares tanked, or you feel like life hasn’t gotten back to normal now that the pandemic is really over (despite the hoo-hah over monkeypox), Cigna’s latest research commissioned from Morning Consult will be on point. Isolation is a function of lower income, lower physical and mental health, and being a single parent or mother. Contrary to the usual assumption, young adults 18 to 24 feel lonelier and more left out (79%) compared to those aged 66 and over (41%). (Your Editor speculates that the office and workplace are more necessary for socialization by those starting their careers than those toward the end who’ve built their networks.) What’s also a little surprising is the increased indication of loneliness among racial lines with black/African American (68%) and Hispanics (72%) feeling significantly lonely. The impact at work is less productivity and more unhappiness with their jobs. The study recommends increases in work and community activities, work flexibility, improved benefits, and workplace inclusion. A bit more along with quotes from Cigna’s Evernorth subsidiary in FierceHealthcare

Thursday news roundup: Cigna deploys over $12B for investment, Cerner’s Feinberg to Humana board, Teladoc on Amazon Alexa, admitting Livongo problems, and XRHealth VR therapy scores $10M

Cigna’s opportunity piggybank just added $12 billion+. It’s a combination of selling off non-core businesses, share repurchasing authorization, and redeploying funds to areas such as capital investment and Cigna Ventures. This includes:

  • $5.4 billion after-tax from the sale of its international life, accident, and supplemental benefits businesses in seven countries
  • $450 million invested in Cigna Ventures, its innovation investment arm
  • An expected $7 billion for share repurchase this year from a $10 billion authorization. To date this year, Cigna has already repurchased $1.2 billion of shares.

The Cigna Ventures funding will go towards three announced areas: insights and analytics; digital health and experience; and care delivery and enablement. Originally formed in 2018 with $250 million, they now have seven VC partners and 15 direct investments, including Arcadia, Babyscripts, Cricket Health, Ginger, Omada, and RecoveryOne. 

Buried in the release is this: “…the company is not currently contemplating large-scale mergers or acquisitions” which would seem to put a tight lid on the long-rumored acquisition of parts or all of Centene [TTA 28 Jan]. (Too much wake turbulence?) But following on this, “The company intends to continue making strategic investments in innovation through targeted bolt-on or tuck-in acquisitions” which fits sell-offs, as well as investment in early-stage companies through Cigna Ventures. Also FierceHealthcare

Insurer Humana’s board expands to 14 with the addition of David Feinberg, MD, the current CEO of Cerner and future executive of Oracle, provided the merger is approved. He joins the current seven independent directors on the Humana board. Last week, Starboard Value LP, an activist investor hedge fund, reached an agreement with Humana to appoint two Starboard-backed board members starting next month and retire two incumbents. Humana limped through last year with a $14 million Q4 loss and Medicare Advantage losses to both traditional rivals and insurtechs. With over 25 years in healthcare management including CEO positions at Geisinger Health System and three divisions of UCLA Health, it’s a smart move. Release, FierceHealthcare

“Alexa, I want to talk to a doctor”–and that doc will be through Teladoc. Amazon customers with supported Echo devices, such as an Echo, Echo Dot, and Echo Show, will now be able to access Teladoc and a virtual care session 24/7. Initially it will be voice-only with audio/video to come. The release states that visits may be free through insurance or $75 direct pay. It did give a much-needed lift to Teladoc shares, which have been hammered by 76% in the past year, on the announcement and in the past few days, feeding the usual rumor mill that Amazon may be writing a check for Teladoc shares.

Teladoc has finally admitted via its annual report (SEC 10-K) that the Livongo acquisition has not been all beer and skittles. It impacted its indebtedness (page 35) and on page 52, significant insecurities on the integration of the two companies, well over a year after the acquisition.

Our failure to meet the challenges involved in successfully integrating the operations of the two companies or to otherwise realize any of the anticipated benefits of the merger, including additional cost savings and synergies, could impair our operations. In addition, the overall integration of Livongo post-merger will continue to be a time-consuming and expensive process that, without proper planning and effective and timely implementation, could significantly disrupt our business.

Healthcare IT News and HISTalk

VR physical therapy has remained a “we try harder” area of telehealth for several years, with a lot of initial promise in treating returning veterans with PTSD in de-escalating symptoms but having a hard time getting takeup. XRHealth, an early-stage company offering VR-driven physical, occupational, and speech therapies, gained a $10 million venture round backed by HTC, Bridges Israel impact investment fund, AARP, and crowdfunding on StartEngine.com and existing investors. According to Crunchbase, this is par for their course since 2016; their total of $35 million has been in pre-seed, seed, grant, crowd, and venture funding. Based in Brookline, Massachusetts with R&D in Israel, it is good to see them progress, having ‘been there and done that’ with two early-stage health tech firms.

However, their release does them a great disservice. It is, frankly, 90% nonsense in trying to position them out of the gate as “the gateway to the healthcare metaverse” and “growing the open ecosystem and providing greater access to care while reducing costs. Interoperability is key…”. This Editor had to go to their website to find out what they do. As a marketer and reporter, the First Rule of Press Releases is say what the news is, what the company does, and why it’s important in the first two paragraphs. The rest is reinforcement and expansion, with the spokesperson quote part of that and never in paragraph #2. Additional advice: don’t pick up a word now branded by Facebook (Meta). Hat tip to HISTalk

News, deals, rumors roundup: Cerner’s DOD and VA go-lives, Akili’s ADHD therapy SPACs, Talkiatry’s $37M raise, Alto sings a $200M supper–and the Cigna-Centene rumors don’t stop

While Cerner’s acquisition by Oracle is winding its way through regulatory approvals, their EHR implementations are moving forward through both the Military Health System (Department of Defense) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

  • Within the MHS, Brooke Army Medical Center and Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center, both in the San Antonio (Texas) Market, went live with MHS GENESIS on 22 January. The change most visible to patients is the transition from TRICARE Online to the MHS GENESIS Patient Portal which enables 24/7 access for visit notes, secure messaging, test results, appointment scheduling, and online prescription renewal. MHS covers military retirees, active military, and family beneficiaries. According to the MHS’s website, the goal this year is to get to halfway–to implement MHS GENESIS in more than half of all military hospitals and clinics. It’s been taking place since 2017 and, in true military fashion, it’s planned in waves. Coming up are Naval Medical Center Camp Lejeune in South Carolina on 19 March and William Beaumont Army Medical Center in El Paso in summer.
  • VA is moving far more slowly, just getting to its second hospital. The Columbus VA go-live has been pushed back from 5 March to 30 April, citing training slowdowns due to a spike in staff COVID cases. Walla Walla, Washington is set for after Columbus, but the date is to be confirmed. The first, failed implementation at Spokane’s Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in late 2020 was the subject of Federal hearings and a complete redo in VA’s plans and procedures in cutting over from VistA to Cerner Millenium. TTA 28 July and previous. Federal News Network

Akili Interactive, which has developed tech-driven, game-based cognitive therapies for ADHD and other psychiatric and neurological conditions, has gone public through a SPAC via a merger with Social Capital Suvretta Holdings Corp. I, The transaction is expected to close in mid-2022. Akili will be listed on the Nasdaq stock market under the new ticker symbol AKLI.

The SPAC is expected to provide up to $412 million in gross cash proceeds and value the company at over $1 billion. Investors in the $162 million PIPE are Suvretta Capital Management’s Averill strategy, Apeiron Investment Group, Temasek, co-founder PureTech Health, Polaris Partners, Evidity Health Capital, JAZZ Venture Partners, and Omidyar Technology Ventures. The funds raised will support the commercial debut of EndeavorRx, a FDA-cleared and CE-marked prescription digital therapeutic for pediatric ADHD. The technology is termed the Selective Stimulus Management Engine (SSME) and will be rolled out for ADHD, ASD, MS, and MDD treatment.

TTA noted Akili last year in a trial of AKL-T01 at several hospitals for treatment of long-COVID-related cognition problems. Unfortunately, the writing in their SPAC release made this Editor feel like she needed a few treatments.

Mentalhealthtech (psychtech?) continues to attract funding. Psychiatric care startup Talkiatry topped off its July $20 million raise with an additional $17 million from Left Lane Capital for a $37 million Series A financing round. CityMD founder Dr. Richard Park, Sikwoo Capital Partners, and Relevance Ventures also participated. Talkiatry uses an online assessment for a preliminary diagnosis and then matches you with a participating psychiatrist.  It is in-network with payers such as Cigna, Aetna, UnitedHealthcare (Oxford Health Plan), Oscar, and Humana. Funding will be used to expand beyond NYC. Mobihealthnews

Digital pharmacy is also hot. Alto, which promises same-day filling and courier delivery, raised a $200 million Series E led by Softbank Vision Fund. Their total to date is over $550 million. Alto serves selected areas mainly in California, Nevada, Texas, and NYC (Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn). Competitors Capsule had another raise of $300 million in April for a total of $570 million and Medly raised a $100 million Series B in 2020. Mobihealthnews

In the wake turbulence of Centene’s dramatic management shakeup last month [TTA 18 Dec], rumors continue to surface that insurer Cigna is interested in acquiring all, or possibly part, of Centene. Bloomberg News in publishing its article earlier this week cited ‘people familiar with the matter’ said that talks took place last year, but that they are not ongoing. Seeking Alpha picked this up, adding market activity boosting Centene. Perhaps the disclosure and the ‘denials’ align with what this Editor has heard–that it’s very much ongoing but under wraps.

A Centene buy makes sense, but only with Cigna. While Cigna is almost double the market value of Centene, it does not have the sprawling business model the latter has, nor do their businesses overlap much. However, some divestiture would be needed to do a deal, given the constrained regulatory environment in the US on the Federal and state levels. Any insurer merger is seen as anti-competitive, unless it is an acquisition of a smaller, struggling plan. 

It certainly would vault Cigna into the top rank of insurers with non-Centene branded exchange, Medicare Advantage and Medicaid plans, a provider network, an established MSO, and other lines of business including Magellan behavioral health management. Cigna might also value Centene’s international holdings, such as private hospitals Circle Health in the UK and Ribera in Spain. A sale would also create a quick and profitable ROI for Politan Capital Management, the activist investor company that initiated the retirement of 25 year CEO Michael Neidorff last month, rather than managing and reorganizing the sprawl of Centene’s businesses to make it more profitable.

Telehealth saves $100+ per visit or lab tests, reduces unnecessary ER/ED + urgent care visits 19%: Cigna/MDLIVE study (updated for RPM offering))

Studies which quantify telehealth cost savings and visit reduction are always welcome. Cigna, through its telehealth company MDLIVE (purchased in April 2021), crunched the numbers and found some quantifiable savings and positive results:

  • Depending on whether the visit is for non-urgent primary care, visiting a specialist, or urgent care, telehealth savings are in the $100 range per visit: $93, $120, and $141 respectively. 
  • For urgent care, reducing unnecessary visits to both urgent care clinics and ER/ED settings is a major cost savings and a key measure of health plan performance. Virtual visits were found to reduce unnecessary emergency room or urgent care visits by 19%.
  • Lab visits were also reduced in cost. Patients who saw MDLIVE providers during urgent care visits were able to avoid unnecessary tests, saving an average of $118 for each episode of care.

Unfortunately, some of the results offered up by Cigna are countered by other sources–and surprisingly they didn’t cross-check:

  • Evernorth, their health services business, estimates that telehealth visits are currently 25% of all visits. That is far above the claims information that FAIR Health tracks, where telehealth is below 4%. Back in April 2020, it was 13%. Even Epic’s tracking indicated that the peak of 69% of visits in April 2020 tailed off one month later to 21% [TTA 8 Jan].
  • Citing 2020 only data around virtual wellness screenings and health conditions as a new normal is problematic. Cigna claims that more than 75% of Cigna customers who had an MDLIVE virtual wellness screening in 2020 not only lacked a primary care physician but also that two-thirds of these PCP-less patients learned they had a health condition via the virtual screening. Practices and people were locked down for most of 2020 and these numbers are likely skewed. 

But as quantifiable directional findings, the top three are welcome news. Cigna/MDLIVE release, Becker’s Payer Issues

Updated  MDLIVE announced today a remote patient monitoring program for members with chronic conditions Members can upload monitoring information such as blood glucose or blood pressure to their patient portal so that their MDLIVE doctor can review during the next telehealth visit. This feature will be available to health plans that utilize MDLIVE primary care services. Later this year, they will offer a device interface to the patient portal so that no manual entry will be needed. Mobihealthnews

News and deal roundup: Microsoft’s $20B deal for Nuance; Cigna Evernorth finalizes MDLive; GoodRx buys HealthiNation; Papa’s $60M Series C

Our Big Deal is Microsoft’s acquisition of Nuance Communications, a cloud and AI-based speech recognition company which has been a leader in healthcare for a few decades. Most recognizable are their Dragon and PowerScribe trade names. Microsoft is paying $56.00 per share, a 23 percent premium to the closing price of Nuance on 9 April, an all-cash transaction valued at $19.7 bn. Closing is projected to be end of 2021 as subject to regulatory and final shareholder approvals.

Nuance and Microsoft have closely worked together for some time with Microsoft Cloud using Nuance speech recognition and Nuance clinical speech recognition offerings built on Microsoft Azure. Nuance claims that in the US, 55 percent of physicians, 75 percent of radiologists, and 77 percent of hospitals use their products. It’s a big but expected bet for Microsoft in healthcare against Apple that is expected to double Microsoft’s total addressable market (TAM) in the healthcare provider space to nearly $500 billion. It also adds enterprise AI expertise and customer engagement solutions in Interactive Voice Response (IVR), virtual assistants, and digital and biometric solutions for companies outside of healthcare. Microsoft release, Becker’s Health IT

Cigna closed its purchase of telehealth provider MDLive on 19 April. Purchase price and management transitions were not disclosed. MDLive will be part of Evernorth, Cigna’s health services portfolio. That portfolio includes Accredo, Express Scripts, Direct Health, fertility health, and more. Earlier coverage 27 February. Evernorth release, FierceHealthcare. 

GoodRx closed its purchase of health education video producer HealthiNation. Sale price was not disclosed. HealthiNation’s video library will reinforce GoodRx’s consumer information on prescription prices for better consumer decisions. Release, Mobihealthnews  

Senior services and socialization ecosystem Papa now has a brand new Series C of $60 million, via Tiger Global Management. Papa connects seniors with Papa Pals, a ‘family on demand’ that appear to be heavily college students. Papa Pals visit with them and provide in-person and virtual companionship, assist with house tasks, technology training, and transportation to doctors’ appointments. Scheduling is done via a smartphone app. The company added Papa Health last year, connecting in ‘Papa Docs’ (an unnerving term for those who recall ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier of Haiti) for primary care, chronic care management, and urgent care. Papa works extensively with Medicare Advantage plans such as Humana, Reliance, Florida Blue, and Aetna. Founded in Miami in 2017 with now total funding of over $91 million and available in 50 states, earlier round funders include Comcast Ventures and Canaan Partners. Release, Crunchbase, FierceHealthcare