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

Deal and news roundup: Cigna acquires MDLive, Oscar Health $1bn IPO preview, Teladoc’s smash revenue–and losses, Medisafe’s $30M Series C

The big news this week in Telehealth World is Cigna’s agreement to acquire MDLive. MDLive will be part of Evernorth, Cigna’s health services portfolio. From the release and news reports,  Cigna has been a long-time partner of and investor (through Cigna Ventures) in MDLive, which has grown to 60 million members. No purchase price nor management changes have been disclosed. Headquartered in Florida, since 2009 MDLive raised close to $200 million in investment in five rounds, the last $50 million in private equity in September, and was rumored to be prepping an IPO. 

Evernorth was rebranded within Cigna last September for management services which can be sold outside of Cigna, a move that follows both CVS Aetna and UnitedHealthGroup. It contains pharmacy benefit management company Express Scripts, specialty pharmacy Accredo, and medical benefit manager eviCore along with several other smaller related businesses. Last year, it brought in $116.1 billion in revenues for Cigna last year, a 20 percent jump from 2019, according to Cigna’s annual report. MDLive release, Healthcare Dive, FierceHealthcare

‘Neoinsurer’ Oscar Health’s IPO raise, scheduled for next week, is now estimated to be in the eye-blinking $1 bn to $1.2 bn range, with over 30 million shares valued at $32-34 per share. At the beginning of the month, it was estimated to be a modest $100 million [TTA 9 Feb]. Daffodils in February? More in TechCrunch, Reuters

Meanwhile, the Big Kahuna of Telehealth, Teladoc, ended 2020 with a smashing $1.1 bn in revenue and equally smashing losses. Their Q4 revenue was $383 million, up 145 percent from $156 million in Q4 2019. Visits skyrocketed due to the pandemic of course–10.6 million, up 156% from 2019. Paid membership hit 51.8 million, up 41 percent from 2019’s 36.7 million. Both membership and visits are expected to increase in 2021. Livongo, acquired in October, added substantially to 2020’s losses of $485 million, up 389 percent from 2019’s $99 million. Q4 losses were $394 million in the fourth quarter, up from $19 million in 2019. FierceHealthcare, Teladoc release

And happily, but more modestly, Medisafe’s smartphone-based medication management app has raised a $30 million Series C, led by Sanofi Ventures and ALIVE Israel HealthTech Fund. From a basic app when this Editor first profiled the company and met Omri ‘Bob’ Shor over a coffee in 2013, the app now is more a digital drug companion and a platform for patient adherence programs. Kudos! Release

Anthem-Cigna merger lawsuit finally wraps with ‘No damages for you! Or you!’

Not with a bang, but a whimper and a large bill. The long, drawn-out (May 2017!) lawsuit and countersuit in Delaware Chancery Court between payers Anthem and Cigna ended with the decision by Vice Chancellor J. Travis Laster to refuse to award damages to either party in the litigation.

Cigna, which was seeking nearly $15 bn from Anthem, seemed to receive the worst of his judgment. In his decision (PDF), VC Laster stated that Cigna was unable to prove that Anthem breached the Efforts Covenants and in fact, Cigna sought to derail the deal by pulling back on integration efforts, thus itself breaching the covenants. Thus, Cigna was not entitled to the $1.85 bn breakup fee or additional damages. Anthem proved that they sought to complete the merger and Cigna did not, thus seeking $20 bn in damages. In counterpoint, Cigna was able to prove that the deal would have been blocked regardless of their actions to demo the deal.

VC Laster’s conclusion, “In this corporate soap opera, the members of executive teams at Anthem and Cigna played themselves. Their battle for power spanned multiple acts….Each party must bear the losses it suffered as a result of their star-crossed venture.” The testimony revealed the deep divisions and battle lines between both companies during the merger preliminaries, until the Federal courts and DOJ put paid to it.

Yet the denouement of this Merger Made In Hell may not be fini. Anthem said in a statement to Fierce Healthcare that it feels “this decision is in the best interests of Anthem and our stakeholders.” But a Cigna spokesperson said they are not finished and considering a potential appeal. “We are pleased that the Court agreed with us that Cigna did not cause the merger to fail. We continue to strongly believe in the merits of our case, and we are evaluating our options with respect to appeal.” Certainly not the peaceful-in-public parting after the Federal denial of their merger by Aetna (acquired by CVS) and Humana (still in play).

The chief beneficiaries of this three-year drama? The law firms listed on page 1 of the opinion. Also Wall Street Journal (paywalled in part).

Another COVID casualty: a final decision on the Cigna-Anthem damages settlement

Remember Cigna and Anthem, a Merger Made In Hell? This Editor loves to follow up a good public slugfest which has been going on in Delaware Chancery Court since May of 2017. As our Readers may recall, the Doomed To Fail merger, finally pounded into the ground by the Federal courts, soon degenerated into what a former VP of your Editor’s would call a ‘Who Shot John’ scenario. Anthem would not pay Cigna the breakup fee of $1.85 bn. Cigna then demanded an additional $13 bn in a ‘Funny Valentine’ of damages, accusing Anthem of harming Cigna’s business. Anthem then in turn claimed $20 bn in damages. Three years later, other than a blip of news in March 2019, the imminent decision was to be at the end of February or even March this year (Axios, Reuters). We all know what happened in March–a pandemic that shut the courts. The timing could not be worse, as COVID has bitten hard into payer profits, and a settlement could bite even harder, putting either company into the red–going back years.

Whatever company wins may, after legal fees, may have enough money to buy one of these–before the concours restoration.

 

Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield adds virtual dental care with The TeleDentists in 9 states

Could it be that a certain sage from New Jersey is on the money in predicting to this Editor that telemedicine has advanced about 10 years in the past two months? Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield (BCBS) is adding the virtual dental care provided by The TeleDentists to its plans in nine states: Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Wisconsin, Colorado, and California. Through 30 June, the plans will cover virtual exams at 100 percent with no deductibles, copays, paperwork or claims to file. The virtual visit dentistry service offered by The TeleDentists is designed for urgent situations and to avoid an initial visit to the ER which can be several hundred dollars.

A member will locate a remote dentist through Anthem’s provider finder, then link to The TeleDentists’ site where the member is screened for history. A connection to a dentist then takes place quickly, in as little as 10 minutes, 24/7/365. The format is a video consult plus chat (TeleDentists uses the HIPAA-compliant VSee platform) to evaluate the plan member, then to guide on next steps. If necessary, the dentist will prescribe medications, such as antibiotics and non-narcotic pain relievers.

In the US, Anthem is #3 after UnitedHealthCare and Kaiser. It is the largest for profit insurer in the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association. In California alone, it has 800,000 members.  This adds to The TeleDentists partnership with Cigna announced earlier this month [TTA 15 April]. Releases (9) on Business Wire. Hat tip to CEO Howard Reis.

Cigna launches dental telehealth with Dental Virtual Care–including The TeleDentists

In the US, most insurance payers have been responding to the COVID-19 pandemic by waiving cost-sharing, such as deductibles and co-pays, for coronavirus treatment–and also waiving co-pays for medical telemedicine/telehealth visits for any reason. A medical area that hasn’t been considered previously, but is becoming more important as restrictions continue, is dental treatment. Nearly all dental practices have been shut or open for emergency treatment only since mid-March.

Cigna is possibly the first payer to innovate a Dental Virtual Care program for emergency care using its own dental network and that of The TeleDentists [TTA 19 June 19]–and at no cost through 31 May. (For instance, The TeleDentists’ average consult cost is $69.) Cigna’s 16 million members of their employer-sponsored insurance plans are eligible for the program. 

Teledentristry is designed for urgent situations, such as pain, infection, and swelling, and to avoid an initial visit to the ER. The visit is done through a video consult plus chat (TeleDentists uses the VSee platform) to evaluate the plan member, then to guide on next steps. If necessary, the dentist will prescribe medications, such as antibiotics and non-narcotic pain relievers.

The program will continue later than 31 May subject to state regulations and benefit plans as part of Cigna Dental Health Connect. Cigna release. Hat tip to CEO Howard Reis.

The CVS-Aetna hearing is on the move–finally

The train that is the CVS-Aetna hearing, in the courtroom presided over by Judge Richard Leon of the US District Court for the District of Columbia, is at long last chugging down the tracks. And Pauline is still tied up. Tuesday 4 June was Day 1 of this hearing. Early reports are just being filed. The issue is whether Judge Leon will authorize the Department of Justice’s approval of the merger or dissolve a closed merger, based on his authority under the Tunney Act and his own repeated intent to search for harm that the merger might do to the public. 

Today’s hearing focused on Aetna’s divestiture of its Medicare Part D business as a prelude to the merger, and whether it was quite enough. Much of the discussion was on the relative strength of the buyer, WellCare (itself in the early stages of being acquired), and whether it could be truly competitive in the Part D market. The other factor is that CVS as a dominant pharmacy benefits manager (PBM) could undermine WellCare in several ways. PBMs operate opaquely and are highly concentrated, with CVS, Optum (UnitedHealthcare), and Cigna-Express Scripts accounting for 70 percent of the market. Modern Healthcare

Other issues for Days 2 and 3 will cover the effects on competition in health insurance, retail pharmacy and specialty pharmacy.

Healthcare Dive discusses how these hearings are already setting precedent on how Tunney Act hearings are conducted, their scope (Judge Leon has ruled against every attempt by CVS-Aetna to limit it), and the unprecedented live testimony.  There is the good possibility that Judge Leon will decide to dissolve the merger for competitive reasons, which DOJ likely would appeal. Add to this the cost of the delayed integration and the precedent set by the District Court on scrutiny of any healthcare merger, and this tedious hearing along with Judge Leon’s actions leading to it hold major consequences.

Drawn-out decision on the CVS-Aetna merger held up again in Federal court

“The Perils of Pauline” saga that is the CVS-Aetna merger continues. Judge Richard Leon of the US District Court for the District of Columbia twirled his mustache and announced that his court will hold a hearing in May on the merger. Practically nobody dislikes this particular $69 billion merger that’s already closed–not the companies, shareholders, Congress, the states, and not the Department of Justice, once Aetna sold off its Medicare Part D drug business to WellCare. But Judge Leon is an exception.

The Tunney Act requires the government to file proposed merger settlements as an approval of the consent decree with a Federal district court to assure they are in the public interest. Most are filed, reviewed by a judge, and approved with no hearings. Since October, Judge Leon has been examining the merger up, down, and sideways in, of course, the public interest and great attention by the press. Now a week (or more) of May hearings will commence with those who don’t like this merger, including the American Medical Association, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, pharmacy and consumer groups.

Certainly this is long and drawn out, even for the DC district court. Even the high drama of the Aetna-Humana and Cigna-Anthem mergers took a little less time. Judge Leon continues to get coverage and the merger continues to be held up. Reuters, Fox News, Seeking Alpha

Comings and goings: CVS-Aetna finalizing, Anthem sued over merger, top changes at IBM Watson Health

imageWhat better way to introduce this new feature than with a picture of a Raymond Loewy-designed 1947 Studebaker Starlight Coupe, where wags of the time joked that you couldn’t tell whether it was coming or going?

Is it the turkey or the stuffing? In any case, it will be the place you’ll be going for the Pepto. The CVS-Aetna merger, CVS says, will close by Thanksgiving. This is despite various objections floated by California’s insurance commissioner, New York’s financial services superintendent, and the advocacy group Consumers Union. CEO Larry Merlo is confident that all three can be dealt with rapidly, with thumbs up from 23 of the 28 states needed and is close to getting the remaining five including resolving California and NY. The Q3 earnings call was buoyant, with CVS exceeding their projected overall revenue with $47.3 billion. up 2.4% or $1.1 billion from the same quarter in 2017. The divestiture of Aetna’s Medicare Part D prescription drug plans to WellCare, helpful in speeding the approvals, will not take effect until 2020. Healthcare Dive speculates, as we did, that a merged CVS-Aetna will be expanding MinuteClinics to create urgent care facilities where it makes sense–it is not a big lift. And they will get into this far sooner than Amazon. which will split its ‘second headquarters’ among the warehouses and apartment buildings of Long Island City and the office towers of Crystal City VA.

Whatever happened to the Delaware Chancery Court battle between Anthem and Cigna? Surprisingly, no news from Wilmington, but that didn’t stop Anthem shareholder Henry Bittmann from suing both companies this week in Marion (Indiana) Superior Court. The basis of the suit is Anthem’s willfully going ahead with the attempted merger despite having member plans under the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association meant the merger was doomed to fail, and they intended all along for “Anthem to swallow, and then sideline, Cigna to eliminate a competitor, in violation of the antitrust laws.” On top of this, both companies hated each other. A match made in hell. Cigna has moved on with its money and bought Express Scripts.

IBM Watson Health division head Deborah DiSanzo departs, to no one’s surprise. Healthcare IT News received a confirmation from IBM that Ms. DiSanzo will be joining IBM Cognitive Solutions’ strategy team, though no capacity or title was stated. She was hired from Philips to lead the division through some high profile years, starting her tenure along with the splashy new Cambridge HQ in 2015, but setbacks mounted later as their massive data crunching and compilation was outflanked by machine learning, other AI methodologies, and blockchain. According to an article in STAT+ (subscription needed), they didn’t get the glitches in their patient record language processing software fixed in ‘Project Josephine’, and that was it for her. High profile partner departures in the past year such as MD Anderson Cancer Centers, troubles and lack of growth at acquired companies, topped by the damning IEEE Spectrum and Der Spiegel articles, made it not if, but when. No announcement yet of a successor.

CVS-Aetna, Cigna-Express Scripts reportedly on road to merger approval; Athenahealth in hostile takeover–or not (updated)

CVS’ pickup of Aetna, and Cigna‘s acquisition of Express Scripts are reported to be clearing the Department of Justice anti-trust review within the next few weeks, just in time for pumpkin season. The DOJ may have concerns on some assets related to Medicare drug coverage and may require a sell-off to resolve them. One potential buyer is WellCare Health Plans, which this week completed its acquisition of Meridian Health Plans and entered the S&P 500 on Monday. The Cigna-Express Scripts combine may not require any asset selloff. Seeking Alpha (report is from the Wall Street Journal).

The once blazingly hot Athenahealth is up for sale but can’t seem to get arrested by another healthcare company. Both Cerner and UnitedHealthcare passed on an acquisition. One of the larger shareholders, Elliot Management, initiated moves toward a hostile takeover in May, and in the process managed to oust founder and CEO Jonathan Bush on still-murky charges of past domestic abuse and workplace sexual harassment. Mr. Elliot is partnering with Bain Capital which owns Waystar, a revenue cycle management (RCM) company from the merged ZirMed and Navicure. Waystar could benefit from Athenahealth’s systems and IP. Mr. Bush would receive a relatively small sum in a sale –$4.8 million– with new executive chair and former GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt earning $150,000 a month in salary and $150,000 in restricted stock perhaps looking for a new job. Elliot’s reputation is that of a corporate raider–taking over businesses to strip assets and sell off the remains. New York Post, POLITICO Morning eHealth.

UPDATED 19 Sept Reports from yesterday indicate that Mr. Elliot has ‘balked’ at the $160 per share price that Athenahealth is asking, and may be angling for a lower price, according to the NY Post report. Reportedly no one else–Cerner and UnitedHealthcare–is interested, though Athenahealth has extended the bid deadline to 27 September. There may be problems uncovered by the due diligence. It’s also a recognized hardball lowball strategy to get the share price way down. The industry is betting on the latter because the former is difficult to contemplate for customers and healthcare as a whole. Also HealthcareITNews.

News roundup: Walmart and Microsoft AI, are derm apps endangering public with 88% skin cancer diagnosis?

[grow_thumb image=”https://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Lasso.jpg” thumb_width=”150″ /]Walmart and Microsoft partner to change the retail experience via AI. The five-year agreement will switch over applications to the cloud and will affect shipping and supply chain. It’s projected in Healthcare Dive that the impact will be in healthcare as well. Microsoft announced last month that it is forming a unit to advance AI and cloud-based healthcare tools. The landscape is under extreme pressure in retail and healthcare delivery, and Walmart needs to ready for future moves which will certainly happen. Walmart is rumored to be interested in acquiring Humana and is currently working with Emory Healthcare in Atlanta. Then there is CVS-Aetna, Cigna-Express Scripts, Google, and (looming above all) Amazon. (Though you can tuck all the years of Amazon’s profits into one year of Walmart’s.)

The ITV News headline grabs attention — but are dermatology apps really endangering the public when teledermatology can help diagnose 88 percent of people with skin cancer and 97 percent of those with benign lesions? A University of Birmingham-led research team did a metastudy of the literature and found three failings: “a lack of rigorous published trials to show they work and are safe, a lack of input during the app development from specialists to identify which lesions are suspicious and flaws in how the technology analyses photos” particularly for scaly or non-pigmented melanomas. But did access to these apps encourage early diagnosis which can lead to up to 100 percent five-year survival? Of course review is required as recommended by the study, but this last factor was not really examined at the British Association of Dermatologists’ annual meeting in Edinburgh. University of Birmingham release with study abstract

Department of Justice won’t challenge CVS-Aetna merger: report

DOJ, stay away from our doors! The $69 bn CVS Health and Aetna mega-merger looks like it will go sailing down that river, if Mr. Market is right. Shares in both companies enjoyed a nice bump on today’s report that the DOJ won’t challenge this merger. The local Hartford Courant is relieved that Aetna plans to stay in their longtime HQ city (since 1853), conveniently omitting their long-standing plan to set up a big shop in NYC. CNBC

What a difference from a year ago when two mega-mega-mergers, Aetna-Humana and Anthem-Cigna, were shot d0wn–nay, riddled with bullets–in the Senate and in two courts [TTA 9 Feb 17]. Cigna is still living with the hangover of their bad breakup with Anthem, with a fight over a nearly $1.9 bn breakup fee [TTA 17 May 17] continuing in the Delaware Chancery Court in 2019.  Cigna nixed any other insurers in a horizontal merger and sought out Express Scripts, a pharmacy benefits manager (PBM) which was reeling a bit after its largest client (coincidentally) Anthem departed. Anthem sued its PBM, Express Scripts, for $15 billion, alleging the PBM overcharged it by $3 billion annually The merger will cost them over $550 million in transaction cost and that is just the beginning. That $1.9 bn would sure come in handy. Modern Healthcare 

Is the Amazon Effect good or bad for consumers–and health tech?

Your busy Editor, who has been on business assignment this past month, has noticed the relative quiet around the subject of How Amazon is Rattling Healthcare. We’ve already noted here the retail and pharmacy/pharmacy benefit effects with CVS-Aetna, Albertsons-Rite Aid, and Cigna-Express Scripts. Aside from the bottom line, and Cigna finally closing a gap with other insurers with pharmacy benefit management services (PBM), is it good for the healthcare consumer as promised? 

Max Nisen’s article in Bloomberg Gadfly (sic) says ‘not so fast’. His argument is as follows:

  • Companies are largely following the lead of UnitedHealth and its Optum units, which integrate not only insurance and PBM but physician groups and analytics.
  • Deals will continue. There’s other insurers like Anthem, Humana, and the regional Blues; urgent clinics like CityMD, AtlantiCare, and MedExpress. Looming above all with clinics and retail pharmacies is Walgreens Boots and on the retail side, other supermarkets like Publix and Ahold Group.
  • Consolidation means fewer alternatives, competition, and thus less downward pricing pressure for both providers and consumers, as options decrease into what resembles a closed system. The merged companies will have debt to pay off, with pressure to pay off lenders and shareholders.

All this is regardless of what Amazon does with JP Morgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway. Their admirable, seemingly altruistic reasons for this joint venture, in this view, has multiple unintended consequences and negative effects for ordinary folk–and doctors.

As for healthcare technology, when a Big Trend takes the air out of the room–EHRs, ACA, Watson/big data, even wearables, IoT and Big Data– more mundane everyday tech like remote patient monitoring and telecare, which depend on integrating into  healthcare/wellness/chronic care management systems and reimbursement (by those same insurers), tend to suffocate. 

Also of interest: Cigna may be too late to the PBM party (InvestorPlace)

Scary Monsters, Take 2: Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, JPMorgan Chase’s addressing employee healthcare

Shudders through the US financial markets resulted from Tuesday’s Big Reveal of an Amazon-Berkshire Hathaway-JPMorgan Chase combine. Ostensibly they will be “partnering on ways to address healthcare for their U.S. employees, with the aim of improving employee satisfaction and reducing costs” and setting up an independent company “free from profit-making incentives and constraints. The initial focus of the new company will be on technology solutions that will provide U.S. employees and their families with simplified, high-quality and transparent healthcare at a reasonable cost.” This and the Warren Buffett quote about ballooning healthcare costs being a “hungry tapeworm” on the American economy have gained the most notice. Mr. Bezos’ and Mr. Dimon’s statements are anodyne. The company will initially and unsurprisingly be spearheaded by one representative from each company. The combined companies have 1.1 million employees. Release. CNBC.

There is a great deal in those lead quotes which is both cheering and worrisome. To quote a long time industry insider in the health tech/med device area, “What this tells me is finally, enough pain has been felt to actually try to do something. We need more of this.” This Editor notes the emphasis on ‘technology solutions’ which at first glance is good news for those of us engaged in 1) healthcare tech and 2) innovative care models.

But what exactly is meant by ‘technology’? And will they become an insurer?

What most of the glowing initial comments overlooked was the Absolute Torture of Regulation around American healthcare. If this combine chooses to operate as an insurer or as a PBM, for starters there are 50 states to get through. Each state has a department of insurance–in California’s case, two. Recall the Aetna-Humana and Cigna-Anthem mergers had to go through the gauntlet of approval by each state and didn’t succeed. PBM regulation varies by state, but in about half the US states there are licensing regulations either through departments of insurance or health. On the Federal level, there’s HHS, various Congressional committees, Commerce, and possibly DOJ.

Large companies generally self-insure for healthcare. They use insurers as ASO–administrative services only–in order to lower costs. Which leads to…why didn’t these companies work directly with their insurers to redo health benefits? Why the cudgel and not the scalpel?

Lest we forget, the Affordable Care Act (ACA, a/k/a Obamacare) mandated what insurance must cover–and it ballooned costs for companies because additional coverages were heaped upon the usual premium increases. Ask any individual buyer of health insurance what their costs were in 2012 versus 2017, and that’s not due to any tapeworm. Forbes

Conspicuously not mentioned were doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers. How will this overworked, abused, and stressed-out group, on whose shoulders all this will wind up being heaped, fare? And what about hospitals and their future? Health systems? The questions will multiply.

Disruption is now the thing this year. Of course, shares of healthcare companies took a beating today, many of which do business with these three companies: CNBC names Cigna, Express Scripts, CVS, Aetna (themselves partnering for innovation), and UnitedHealthGroup. Amazon uses Premera Blue Cross (a non-profit). 

Because of Amazon’s recent moves in pharmacy [TTA 23 Jan], there is much focus on Amazon, but the companies with direct financial and insurance experience are…JPMChase and Berkshire Hathaway.

An Editor’s predictions:

  • Nothing will be fast or simple about this, given the size and task. 
  • The intentions are good but not altruistic. Inevitably, it will focus on what will work for these companies but not necessarily for others or for individuals.
  • An insurer–or insurers–will either join or be purchased by this combine in order to make this happen.

Hat tips to Toni Bunting and our anonymous insider.

Analysis of the CVS-Aetna merger: a new era, a canary in a mine–or both?

[grow_thumb image=”https://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/canary-in-the-coal-mine.jpgw595.jpeg” thumb_width=”150″ /]This Editor has been at two healthcare conferences in the last four business days (with tomorrow being a third). They should be abuzz about how the CVS-Aetna merger may transform healthcare delivery. To her surprise, there’s been a surprising lack of talk. There is a certain element of ‘old news’, as the initial reports date back five weeks but the sheer size of it ($240bn combined future value, $69bn purchase, an estimated $750 million in near-term synergies), being the largest health insurance deal in history, and the anticipated effects on the health delivery model normally would be a breaking news topic. To this Editor, it is a sign that no one truly knows what to make of it, and perhaps it’s too big–or threatening–to grasp for provider and payer executives especially.

For an overview of what we saw at the time as reasons why and possible competitor reaction, Readers should look back to our original article [TTA 28 Oct]. It’s being presented by both companies as a vertical merger of two complementary organizations, which already were moving towards this model, integrating their different services into “America’s front door to quality health care” (CVS CEO Larry Merlo)–a lower cost setting that saves premium dollars and brings integrated care to consumers’ doorsteps.

CVS brings to the table huge point of care assets: 9,700 pharmacy locations, 1,100 MinuteClinics, Omnicare’s senior pharmacy solutions, Coram’s infusion services, and the more than 4,000 CVS Health nursing professionals providing in-clinic and home-based care. Aetna has about 23.1 million medical members, 14.5 million dental members, and 15.2 million pharmacy benefit management (PBM) services members. Aetna also has a wealth of advanced data analytics capabilities through two subsidiaries, ActiveHealth Management and  Medicity’s health information exchange technology.

Seeking Alpha has an intriguing POV on this entry into a ‘new era’: that both CVS and Aetna consider this to be a long-term reshaping of their business model under the threat posed by Amazon, and are willing to do this despite little short-term financial benefit for either company. The problem as the writer sees it: execution. This is re-engineering care on a national scale, and its benefits are based upon combining intangibles, a murky area indeed especially in healthcare. Time is also a factor, as Amazon is getting pharmacy licenses in multiple states, and is rather an expert at combining intangibles.

Does it signal that the approach to a ‘new era’ in healthcare is accelerating? If this is a preview, 2018 will be extremely interesting. Our ‘canary in the coal mine’ may tweet–or fall over on its perch, asphyxiated.

Some additional points to consider: (more…)

CVS’ bid for Aetna–will it happen, and kick off a trend? (updated)

We have scant facts about the reported bid of US drugstore giant CVS to purchase insurance giant Aetna for a tidy sum of $200 per share, or $66 billion plus. This may have been in development for weeks or months, but wisely the sides are keeping mum. According to FOX Business, “an Aetna spokesperson declined to chime in on the reports, saying the company doesn’t “comment on rumors or speculation” and to Drug Store News, a CVS Health spokesperson did the same. Aetna’s current market cap is $53 billion, so it’s a great deal for shareholders if it does happen.

Both parties have sound reasons to consider a merger:

  • CVS, like all retailers, is suffering from the Amazon Effect at its retail stores
  • Retail mergers are done with the Walgreens Boots AllianceRite Aid merger going through considerable difficulties until approved last month
  • The US DOJ and Congress has signaled its disapproval of any major payer merger (see the dragged-out drama of Aetna-Humana)
  • It has reportedly had problems with its pharmacy benefit management (PBM) arm from insurers like Optum (United HealthCare), and only last week announced that it was forming a PBM with another giant, Anthem, called IngenioRx (which to Forbes is a reason why this merger won’t happen–this Editor calls it ‘hedging one’s bets’ or ‘leverage’)
  • Aetna was hard hit by the (un)Affordable Care Act (ACA), and in May announced its complete exit from individual care plans by next year. Losses were $700 million between 2014 and 2016, with over $200 million in 2017 estimated (and this is prior to the Trump Administration’s ending of subsidies).
  • It’s a neat redesign of the payer/provider system. This would create an end-to-end system: insurance coverage from Aetna, CVS’ Minute Clinics delivering care onsite, integrated PBM, retail delivery of care, pharmaceuticals, and medical supplies–plus relationships with many hospital providers (see list here)–this Editor is the first to note this CVS relationship with providers.

We will be in for more regulatory drama, of course–and plenty of competitor reaction. Can we look forward to others such as:

  • Walgreens Boots with Anthem or Cigna (currently at each others’ throats in Delaware court
  • Other specialized, Medicare Advantage/Medicare/Medicaid networks such as Humana or WellCare?
  • Will supermarkets, also big retail pharmacy providers, get into the act? Publix, Wegmans, Shop Rite or Ahold (Stop & Shop, Giant) buying regionals or specialty insurers like the above, a Blue or two, Oscar, Clover, Bright Health….or seeking alliances?
  • And then, there’s Amazon and Whole Foods….no pharmacy in-house at Whole Foods, but talk about a delivery system?

Also Chicago Tribune, MedCityNews.

UPDATED. In seeking an update for the Anthem-Cigna ‘Who Shot John’ court action about breakup fees (there isn’t yet), this Editor came across a must-read analysis in Health Affairs 

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