‘Insurtech’ Bright Health’s IPO second largest to date, but falls slightly short of estimates (updated)

Bright Health Group’s IPO last Friday (23 June) fell a little short of the $1 billion+ raise and valuation projection two weeks ago, but not by much on a bad market day. Their $924 million raise was based on a float of 51.3 million shares at an opening price of $18 per share, with a targeted price range of $20 to $23. (Thursday 1 July’s BHG close: $16.85, a typical pattern.)

The raise compares favorably to Oscar Health’s blockbuster $1.44 billion IPO, Clover Health’s controversial but lucrative SPAC [TTA 9 Feb]. and Alignment Health’s $490 million.  Bright Health also acquired Zipnosis, a telehealth/telemedicine ‘white label’ triage system for large health systems, in April [TTA 6 Apr].

The IPO now creates a company value of $11.23 billion, down from the expected $14 billion. Bright Health is unique in its category in not only offering exchange and Medicare Advantage plans but also NeueHealth, 61 advanced risk-bearing primary care clinics delivering in-person and virtual care to 75,000 unique patients. FierceHealthcare, Reuters, Bright Health Group release. Also see TTA 18 June and 28 May.

A smash Q1 for digital health funding–but the SPAC party may be winding down fast

An Overflowing Tub of Big Funding and Even Bigger Deals. The bubble bath that was Q1 deals and funding is no surprise to our Readers. Your Editor at one point apologized for the often twice-weekly roundups. (Better the Tedium of Deals than COVID and Shutdown, though.)

Rock Health provides a bevy of totals and charts in its usual quarterly summary of US digital health deals.

  • US funding crested $6.7 bn over 147 deals during January through March, more than doubling 2020’s $3.1 bn in Q1 over 107 deals.
  • Trending was on par through February, until it spiked in March with four mega-deals (over $100 million) over two days: Clarify (analytics), Unite Us (SDOH tech), Strive Health (kidney care), and Insitro (drug discovery). These deals also exceeded 2020’s hot Q3 ($4.1 bn) and Q4 ($4.0 bn).
  • Bigger, better. Deals skewed towards the giant economy size. $100 million+ deals represented 66 percent of total Q1 funding
  • Deal sizes in Series B and C were bigger than ever, with a hefty Series B or C not uncommon any more. Series B raises were on average $49 million and C $77 million. One of March’s megadeals was a Series B–Strive Health with a $140 million Series B [TTA 18 Mar].
  • Series A deal size barely kept up with inflation, languishing in the $12 to $15 million range since 2018.
  • Hot sectors were a total turnaround from previous years. Mental health, primary care, and substance use disorders, once the ugly ducklings which would get their founders tossed out of cocktail parties, became Cinderellas Before Midnight at #1, #2, and #3 respectively. Oncology, musculoskeletal (MSK), and gastrointestinal filled out the Top 6 list.
  • M&As were also blistering: 57 acquisitions in Q1, versus Q4 2020’s 45

Given the trends and nine months to go, will it blow the doors off 2020’s total funding of $14 bn? It looks like it…but…We invite your predictions in the Comments below.

Les bon temps may rouler, but that cloud you see on the horizon may have SPAC written on it. A quick review: Special Purpose Acquisition Companies (SPACs) typically are public companies that raise money through their own IPOs for the express purpose of buying other companies. Often called a ‘blank check’, they have no purpose other than buying one or two other companies–in the latter case, merging them like the announced Cloudbreak and UpHealth last November–and converting over to the company’s identity and business. The timeframe is usually two years. Essentially, the active company goes public with a minimum of the messy, long, expensive, and revelatory process of filing directly with the SEC (in the US). This quarter, Rock Health’s stat on SPACs was that they raised $83.1 bn this quarter, exceeding by $0.5 bn all SPAC activity in 2020, mainly late in the year. Their count was two SPACs closing in Q1 and 8 more announced but not yet closed (counting Cloudbreak/UpHealth as one).

As an exit door for investors, it’s worked very well–but is dependent on private equity and public investors having confidence in SPACs. One thinning of the bubble may be the scrutiny of Clover Health’s SPAC by the SEC [TTA 9 Feb] over not revealing that they were under investigation by the Department of Justice (DOJ). Certainly this was a material circumstance that could dissuade investors, among other dodgy business practices later unveiled. Mr. Market tells a tale; Clover went public 8 Jan at $15.90 and closed today at $7.61. Their YahooFinance listing has a long list of law firms filing class-action lawsuits on behalf of shareholders.

Clover may be the leading edge of a SPAC bust. SPACs are losing their luster because there are too many going through, jamming bandwidth at the bank and law firm level. As time ticks by and deals are delayed, the private funders of SPACs are growing squeamish, according to this report in National Review’s Capital Note (yes, National Review has a finance newsletter). “In the past two weeks alone, four blank-check deals have been halted, with SPAC shares declining significantly from their highs early this year. The slowdown follows an influx of short-sellers into the opaque financial vehicles and a sell-off in high-profile SPACs such as Churchill Capital Corp IV.” Reasons why: lower quality of companies available to go public via SPAC–the low hanging ripe fruit has been picked–and the last mile in SPACs, which is PIPE funding (private equity-investment-in-public-equity financing) is getting skittish. The last shoe to drop? The SEC in late March announced an investigation into SPACs, making inquiries into several banks seeking information on their SPAC dealings, which is alluded to near the end of the Rock Health report. CNBC  (Read further down into the NR article for a Harvard Business Review dissection of the boom-bust dynamics of ‘controversial practices’ like reverse mergers as a forecast of what may happen to SPACs. Increased popularity led to increased negativity in reverse mergers.)

And speaking of SPACs...Health tech/digital health eyes are upon what Glen Tullman and the ‘late of Livongo’ team will be doing with their SPAC, Health Assurance Acquisition Corp., which is backed by Hemant Taneja’s General Catalyst, also a former Livongo funder. Brian Dolan, who is now publishing Exits and Outcomes. His opinion is their buy will be Color, formerly Color Genomics: opinion piece is here. Messrs Tullman and Taneja are also leading Transcarent, a company that brings together employers, employees, and providers in a seamless, app-driven integrated care model. Forbes

The cool-off in SPACs may burst a few bubbles in the bath–and that may be all to the good in the long term.

‘Neoinsurer’ Oscar Health goes for $100 million IPO; Clover Health’s big SPAC under SEC microscope

Oscar Health, one of a number of US ‘insurtech’ or ‘neoinsurance’ private health insurance companies that have nipped at the heels of the Big 9, announced late Friday an IPO on the NYSE. The number of shares and their value is not on the SEC S-1 filing but the estimate of the raise is $100 million. Timing is not disclosed but rumored to be by March or early Q2. The offering is underwritten by Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and Allen and Company.

Oscar was one of the first to offer members apps, telehealth, and fitness trackers–revolutionary back in 2012 but routine now. Expanding beyond its original base of individual health insurance coverage, it now offers Medicare Advantage and small group coverage in 18 states to over 500,000 members. Oscar remains a virtual-first platform with the majority of its members in Florida, Texas, and California. Oscar makes much of member engagement and its partnerships; 47 percent of its overall subscribing membership and 44 percent of its 55-and-up subscribers are monthly active users. Oscar has also partnered with Cleveland Clinic and other larger insurers like Cigna. 

Financing for Oscar to date is over $1.5 bn. It has tidily grown in geographic coverage, members, and revenue–$1.67 billion in 2020 and $1.04 billion in 2019–no simple feat against the Big 9. Oscar’s problem is profitability–operating losses grew proportionately, $402.3 million (+56% from $259.4 million). Operating expenses also grew by 16 percent. TechCrunch gives additional crunch in the financial analysis (article in part, full paid access). Mobihealthnews

Oscar is one of a few health-tech heavy survivors of insurance companies that bloomed like flowers–and wilted–during and post-Obamacare. Clover Health, which thrived in a slice of the Medicare Advantage market, went the SPAC (blank check) route 8 January with Social Capital Hedosophia Holdings. Now with an enterprise value of approximately $3.7 billion, the SPAC indeed put Clover in the clover [TTA 14 Jan].

But perhaps short-lived. Clover’s SPAC is now being scrutinized by the SEC based on last week’s explosive charges by short-seller maven Hindenburg Research (!). Hindenburg’s research report alleges that Clover “lured retail investors into a broken business” by not disclosing a Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation that started (at least) last fall. Clover countered that the investigation is “routine” since Clover is in the Medicare business. Thus, it was not disclosed by Clover to investors as ‘non-material’. DOJ investigations are far more serious than CMS fines for compliance violations, which are not uncommon. Back in 2016, Clover was fined just over $106,000 by CMS on misleading marketing practices.

In short, DOJ investigations are never routine. They usually are the start point for enhanced claims scrutiny and a concatenation of charges, as WellCare, then a scrappy upstart insurer, found out over six agonizing years, 2006-2012, that were serious enough to send much of top management to Club Fed.  The Hindenburg paper (linked above) details other business practices that if true, are dodgy at best and fuel for further investigations.

The SEC notice of investigation was disclosed by Clover last Friday evening, usually a good time to disclose Bad News. This SPAC may have feet of clay.  PYMNTS.com, CNBC

Comings, goings, and more: YouTube goes healthy, COVID vax distribution and EMA hack, IPO/M&A roundup, Japan’s health tech startups highlighted at CES

Short takes on news snippets from just about everywhere. It’s been that kind of a week. (Picture: the famous Raymond Loewy-designed ’49 Studebaker Commander, of which it was joked ‘you can’t tell whether it’s coming or going)

Google-owned YouTube has decided to take a more organized approach to healthcare content with the hiring from CVS Health of Garth Graham, MD, who will serve as its director and global head of healthcare. At CVS, he was chief community health officer and president of the Aetna Foundation. His portfolio will include the development of content from providers including the Cleveland Clinic, the Mayo Clinic, the National Academy of Health, and Harvard’s School of Public Health. It’s seen as a platform for video-formatted health education both US and globally. The importance to Google is evident in the reporting line: Dr. Graham will report to Karen DeSalvo, MD, the chief health officer at Google. One wonders if the next step is the curating (a/k/a demonetizing or removal) of health content not Google-generated. FierceHealthcare, YouTube press release

Some states have done well on COVID-19 distribution. Others haven’t. It apparently doesn’t matter if you’re large or small. In the US, states were given vaccines based on CDC information and consultation with them. The states then designed their own distribution and priorities. Here’s a running tally on Becker’s Hospital Review Meanwhile, back in Hackerville, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) confirmed on 12 January that data relating to regulatory submissions by Moderna, Pfizer, and BioNTech that were on a hacked server was leaked to the internet. Becker’s

In IPO/M&A news:

Centene Corporation is acquiring Magellan Health, a behavioral health, specialty healthcare, and pharmacy management company, for $2.2 billion. Centene continues its transformation into a UnitedHealthcare structured company, with payer programs on one side and health services including population health management, data analytics and other areas of health tech on the other side. Magellan will be operated independently. The deal requires Federal and state review, and is expected to close in second half 2021. Release  Magellan this week announced its lead investment in a $20 million Series B raise by Philadelphia-based NeuroFlow, a clinical behavioral health monitoring system. Philadelphia Business Journal

Amwell announced a public offering of over 11 million shares. The date and pricing for the offering were not mentioned in the release, but at the current share price of $28, this would raise in excess of $308 million. This is on top of their socko IPO last September which raised in excess of $700 million. 

Behavioral therapy continues to be hot, with online behavioral therapy company Talkspace going the SPAC ‘blank check’ route in merging with investor company Hudson Executive Investment. It provides them with $250 million cash. Estimated net revenue is $125 million in 2021, up 69 percent from 2020, creating an enterprise value of $1.4 bn, which is quite a reach. Healthcare Dive, release.

Medicare Advantage payer Clover Health of Jersey City, NJ also went the SPAC route this week with Social Capital Hedosophia Holdings Corp. III, giving it an enterprise value of approximately $3.7 billion. Clover Health styles itself as a health tech company as it analyzes member health and behavioral data to improve medical outcomes and lower costs for patients, many of whom have multiple chronic conditions or are classified as underserved.  Release

Israel’s Itamar Health, which focuses on integrating sleep apnea management into the cardiac patient care pathway, is buying SF-based Spry Health for an undisclosed amount. Founded in 2014, Spry has an FDA-cleared wrist-worn device, the Loop System, that monitors SpO2, respiration rate, and heart rate. Itamar plans to develop a wrist-worn device based on their Peripheral Arterial Tonometry (PAT) immediately, with initial market launch anticipated in 2022. Release

Hinge Health’s Series D raised $300 million and a new valuation of the company at $3 bn. (Remember when $1 bn was a unicorn amount?) Hinge’s specialty is musculoskeletal–a virtual MSK Clinic for back and joint pain care and rehab including access to physical therapists, physicians, health coaches, and wearable sensors to guide exercise therapy. Release

In startup news…Under the radar, Japan has been developing a crop of health tech startups. They were highlighted at this year’s virtual CES by Jetro–the Japan External Trade Organization. Their CES web page has a teaser video and sortable profiles on companies, many of which look very interesting. According to their materials, there are perhaps 10,000 Japan startups but few of them make it out of Japan. This Editor looked forward to their presentation on ‘Turning the Super Aging Society into a Super Smart Society’ yesterday evening, but virtual doesn’t mean that links work or events actually happen, so our reporting will attach some statistics on their super-aging society, as well as a comparison with other countries (PDF).

Where’s the evidence? Healthcare unicorns lack the proof and credibility of peer-reviewed studies.

Another sign that too many healthcare unicorns are decoupled from the rock-solid fundamental reality–that they work. Healthcare unicorns–those startups valued over $1 bn–are unicorns because they have patents, processes, or a line of business that has immense potential to be profitable. The standard in healthcare, unlike other tech, is the peer-reviewed study. Is this process or device effective based upon the study? Does this drug looks like it will work? Is this study validating, encouraging? Peer-reviewed research takes place before a drug or device goes into clinical trials — a precursor. It ensures a certain level of disclosure, validation, and transparency at an early stage.

Instead, these unicorns largely rely on ‘stealth research’–a term coined by Dr. John P.A. Ioannidis, the co-director of the Meta-Research Innovation Center at Stanford University (METRICS). He summed it up in his latest peer-reviewed paper, “Stealth research: lack of peer-reviewed evidence from healthcare unicorns” (co-authored with Ioana A. Cristea and Eli M. Cahan), published in the European Journal of Clinical Investigation 28 Jan: 

In 2014, one of us (JPAI) wrote a viewpoint article coining the term “stealth research” for touted biomedical innovation happening outside the peer-reviewed literature in a confusing mix of “possibly brilliant ideas, aggressive corporate announcements, and mass media hype.”

The term ‘stealth research’ was prompted to the author by the practices of Theranos–ironically, a company that started and was funded in the Stanford nexus. By the time Dr. Ioannidis’ viewpoint paper was published in JAMA in Feb 2015, Theranos had ballooned to a $9 bn valuation. His paper was the first to question Theranos’ science–and Theranos aggressively pushed back against Dr. Ioannidis, including their general counsel attempting to convince the author to recant his own writing. Three years later, we know the outcome.

This latest study concludes that there is a real dearth of peer-reviewed research among healthcare unicorns–and that it’s detrimental. It measured whether these unicorns published peer-reviewed articles and whether they publish highly-cited (in other publications) articles; compared them against companies with lower valuations; and whether founders or board members themselves impacted the scientific literature through their own citations.

The meta-study looked at 18 current and 29 exited healthcare unicorns. Highlights:

  • Two companies–23andMe and Adaptive Biotechnologies published almost half of all unicorn papers–196 combined
  • Three unicorns (Outcome Health, GuaHao and Oscar Health) had no published papers, and two more (Clover Health, Zocdoc) had published just one
  • Seven of the exited unicorns had zero to one papers
  • In fact, ‘there was a negative, non-statistically significant association between company valuation and number of published or highly-cited papers’

As our Readers know, Outcome Health had a little problem around artificially inflated advertising placement wrapped in health ed and placed in doctors’ offices [TTA 29 Jan 18]. Oscar and Clover Health are insurers. Zocdoc…well, we know their business model is to get as many doctors to sign up in their scheduling app and pay as much as possible. But it’s the drug and device companies that are especially worrisome in a stealth research model. The paper points out among other examples StemCentrx, bought for $10.2 bn in 2016 by AbbVie for its Rova T targeted antibody drug for cancer treatment, was halted at Phase III because it was not effective. Acerta Pharma, also focused on cancer treatments, was bought by AstraZeneca for $7.3 bn; two years ago, AstraZeneca had to withdraw the Acerta data and admit that Acerta falsified preclinical data for its drug.

The conclusions are that healthcare unicorns contribute minimally to relevant, high-impact published research, and that greater scrutiny by the scientific community through peer-reviewed research is needed to ensure credibility for the underlying work by these startups. “There is no need for numerous papers. Discrete pivotal, high-impact articles would suffice.”

This Editor returns to #5 on Rock Health’s Bubble Meter: high valuations decoupled from fundamentals. Based on this, the lack of publishing represents risk–to investors and to patients who would benefit from better vetted treatments. To these companies, however, the risk is in having their technology or researched poached–as well as the investment in time and money research represents.

The study authors point out several ways to minimize the risk, including collaborating with academic centers in research, validation without disclosing all technical details, secure patents, and contributing their technology to other research. A higher-risk way is to “withhold significant publications until successful validation from agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or the European Medicines Agency (EMA)” but usually investors won’t wait that long. ‘Stealth Research’ paper, TechCrunch review Hat tip to David Albert, MD, of AliveCor via Twitter

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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