What the DOJ and FTC Merger Guidelines mean for healthcare M&A–review of the Epstein Becker Green podcast

Are you in the (mostly) lucky group of companies seeking to buy or be bought? This podcast is a ‘must hear’ as likely you’ll be affected. Healthcare law firm Epstein Becker Green’s roundtable podcast in the ‘Diagnosing Health Care’ series is their half-hour condensed view on the new Federal Merger Guidelines that the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) finalized last 18 December. Their view on how it will affect healthcare organizations is not too different from your Editor’s lengthy review of the DOJ/FTC document published on 20 December. The DOJ/FTC end-of-year drop perhaps (ahem) was timed to bury the bad news, drowning it in a punch bowl of good cheer or in holiday busy-ness.

This Editor (note: not a lawyer nor do I play one on TV or YouTube) took the view that it was that it was a whole scuttle of coal for healthcare holiday stockings (right) and that it would discourage much of 2024’s healthcare M&A until companies figured what mergers would likely past muster, among other predictions. The EBG folks mostly agree. They also point out that the final Guidelines’ language is “more aggressive” than the draft that many healthcare organizations took issue with–what the article referred to as “substantially more restrictive language and interpretation”. There are some wins from the draft, but much of the language, especially on vertical mergers, simply moved into one or another of the 11 Guidelines. 

The EBG team on the podcast (available for play on the web page and download) are Trish Wagner, John Steren, and Jeremy Morris, moderated by Dan Fahey. Below are some key points made by the team on the podcast. Your Editor recommends that you pull up our 20 December article as a reference to the specific Guideline references they make.

  • Background: Horizontal merger Guidelines were last updated in 2010. Vertical merger Guidelines were issued in 2020 but later rescinded. These new Guidelines apply to both horizontal and vertical mergers and acquisitions. US antitrust is based on three acts passed by Congress: The Sherman Antitrust Act (1890), the Clayton Act (1914), and the Federal Trade Commission Act of 1914, now in US Code Title 15. The Guidelines since then are based on them as well as case law.  (From the wrapup) Courts tend to be very deferential to the Guidelines.
  • The wording of Guideline #8, When a Merger is Part of a Series of Multiple Acquisitions, the Agencies May Examine the Whole Series, is both interesting and aggressive in that it will be considered and opens up a pattern of acquisitions. This can be by private equity (PE) or other owners.
  • Guidelines #1, Mergers Raise a Presumption of Illegality When They Significantly Increase Concentration in a Highly Concentrated Market, and 2, Mergers Can Violate the Law When They Eliminate Substantial Competition Between Firms, impact hospital mergers. Prior merger guidelines focused on highly concentrated markets using a point system (HHI, the Herfindahl-Hirschman Index, is a common measure of market concentration). This measure sets a lower bar.
    • To trigger #1, a market share above 30% and an HHI over 100 can trigger it even in unconcentrated markets.
    • On #2, elimination of direct competition is maybe in and of itself harmful
  • Guideline #6, Mergers Can Violate the Law When They Entrench or Extend a Dominant Position: for horizontal mergers, ‘entrench’ is in practice the operative term, whereas ‘extend’ applies mainly to vertical mergers. Companies will have to demonstrate that the beneficial competitive effects outweigh the anticompetitive, especially when involving consumers. And they will have to demonstrate why the merger is necessary. 
  • Wrapping up:
    • Ms. Wagner: the Guidelines don’t have the force of law, but they do have impact because they are about the process on how mergers are evaluated. Courts have been very deferential to the Guidelines.
    • Mr. Morris: hospital leaders will have to contemplate this “huge change in a moment” which he questioned. He emphasized that organizations involve their antitrust counsel now even earlier than previously.
    • Mr. Steren: “healthcare has a bullseye on its back”. It is immediately more restrictive. It fits right in with what current enforcers do in trying to bring “persuasive authority” to bring new, novel, cases into court. He seconded Mr. Morris’ last remark.

This Editor, as the Canary in the Coal Mine, will assume that UnitedHealth Group and others have already anticipated that they will have difficulty now making new acquisitions, obtaining approvals for ones that haven’t been finalized, or making quick sales of units they no longer want (Walgreens). Hospitals will find that divestiture and regional mergers will be discouraged. Acquirers who’ve been concentrating on filling out their platforms with vertical acquisitions may find that these Guidelines are also written to trip them up–and once tripped, each Guideline knocks on another. (For other predicted consequences, see the 20 December article.)

Digital health’s Q1 according to Rock Health: the New Reality is a flat spin back to 2019

Though it’s busier, and no banks collapsed, the New Reality takes us back once again to 2019, before the champagne days of 2021 and first half 2022. Rock Health’s Q1 2024 summary of US digital health deals hasn’t a bit of froth to it and is headlined “Great (reset) expectations”. But the highlights show a bit of revival after 2023, where there was, in the immortal words of Frank Zappa, “no way to delay that trouble comin’ every day”.

  • In Q1 2024, there was $2.7 billion in funding across 133 deals, with an average deal size of $20.6 million. This was a great improvement over Q4 2023’s limp $1.9 billion across 122 deals, the lowest funding quarter since Q3 2019. [TTA 8 Feb]
  • 2024’s Q1 was the lowest first quarter by sector funding since 2019, since 2022 and 2023’s Q1’s were the best of their respective years.
  • Number of deals are up but the deal size remains small at $20.6 million–no blockbusters. Q1’s 133 deals beat out each of the past six quarters, but just edged out Q1 2023’s 132. 
  • Unlabeled rounds grew from 2023: 48% to year 2023’s 44% of the total. Labeled rounds, predicted to make a comeback in 2024, haven’t come back quite yet.
  • Deal structures are getting very, very creative. DecisionRx gave Carlyle Group the option to convert a $100 million debt facility to 25% of outstanding shares, which is trading a lot of equity in the company for not a lot of money. Transcarent has a $125 million Series D that tags a sweetener of 2.5x to funders should the company M&A or IPO. This Editor noted the structure of Dario Health’s February acquisition of Twill as “a dizzying chronicle of funding legerdemain that this Editor hasn’t seen since her airline days”

It wasn’t a surprise that AI was ‘the thing this year’ in attracting funding–almost as much as financial success being redefined as bottom-line profitability, conservative (what we used to call sandbagged) forecasts, and an emphasis on outcome data.

  • Companies that claimed AI in their products or services accounted for 45 deals with $1.1 billion of Q1’s funding, or 40%, versus 2023’s 33% of funding. 

Rock Health’s analysis made much of outcomes data and that showing efficacy is now more important--and at earlier stages. It serves to differentiate players in the market (something we marketers have known about forever). For funders it can illuminate the value for their investment. And funders will scrutinize x 3.

  • Companies, unable to satisfy public shareholders so easily pleased in the SPAC and IPO palmy days of 2021-23, are leaving, not entering, public markets. Veradigm had to delist this year because of Nasdaq financial reporting problems from bad software despite being financially healthy–and acquiring ScienceIO. Rock Health does not include the recent pending delistings of Clover Health and Amwell. Both NextGen Healthcare and SOC Telemed went private last year. Others were acquired: Science 37, BenefitFocus, Castlight, Signify Health, and Tabula Rasa. Four went out of business: Babylon Health (Ch. 7 US, administration in UK), Pear Therapeutics (Ch. 11, IP sold), UPHealth (Ch. 11), and Better Therapeutics (closure).
  • Rock Health sees this as an important ‘recalibration’ for valuations, particularly for startups. “Startup valuations stem from expected investor returns at exit, and funders often use comps from publicly-traded players’ market capitalizations to triangulate company potential.”

Rock Health concludes that the expectations around exits have shifted drastically. The predicted return of M&A hasn’t yet. Their latest projection is that companies “may embark on dual-track processes, pursuing IPO and M&A exit pathways concurrently to keep options open”. For now, for digital health, it’s the end of growth-minded forecasting and the start of reporting their financials conservatively, with plenty of outcomes attached–as if they were being publicly traded and had quarterly earnings calls with analysts and journalists on their tail.

Editor’s note: Notably missing from their summary was the usual charts of raises by series stage (A, B, etc.) and digital health sector (mental health, cardiac, etc.).

2023 was buying time, 2024 is face the music time: Rock Health

Rock Health’s year-end wrapup, which usually makes a splash, didn’t this year. It was released this year in conjunction with the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference in the week after New Year’s, which almost guaranteed it would fly below the radar.

Another analogy: if you were doing aerobatics, 2023 for digital health was maintaining a flat spin from altitude if you could (left/above), 2024 would be getting out of the flat spin and into level flight before you and the ground had a meeting, so to speak.

Rock Health’s summary of 2023 was minus their typical frothiness:

  • It was back to 2019 across the board, as if 2020-21 never happened.
    • Full year 2023 raised $10.7 billion across 492 US deals. It was the lowest amount of capital invested since 2019, which finished with $8.1 billion across 413 deals. By comparison, 2022’s total was $15.3 billion across 577 deals.
    • Q4 2023 was the lowest funding quarter since Q3 2019, with an anemic raise of $1.9 billion across 122 deals.
  • M&A was left for dead, unexpectedly so from their earlier projections. (Note to Rock Health–it could be the negative attitude toward deals emanating from Washington)
  • A and B stage companies had trouble raising money in the usual lettered way. 81% of currently active venture-backed startups that raised a round in 2021 didn’t raise a labeled one in 2023. Some resorted to ‘extensions’ that further diluted existing ownership or unlabeled rounds that left more questions about when the next raise was going to be. Unlabeled rounds hit an all-time record of 44% of total raises, double that of 2022. (This Editor notes that there were no analyses of C and D rounds, because there were so few.)
  • “Silent rounds” of financing happened but were hard to gauge–and because they were inside, didn’t measure the attractiveness or competitiveness of the company in the real market. It was pure, simple survival of the company and the investment.
  • Startup shutdowns, in their view, were no higher than usual–less than 5% of venture-backed US digital health companies (i.e., have raised >$2M).

In this Editor’s view, the percentage does not capture the prominence of the startup shutdowns: Babylon Health, Quil Health, Pear Therapeutics, OliveAI, Smile Direct, Cureatr, SimpleHealth, The Pill Club, Hurdle. It also doesn’t count Amazon shutting down Halo, Cano Health’s parting out before this week’s bankruptcy, as well as Bright Health’s (now NeueHealth) divestitures and shutdowns through 2023 leading to their becoming a very different company in 2024. 

For 2024, Rock Health is seeing:

  • The return of labeled raises (A, B, C etc.) In their view, many companies will not be able to manage this without moving into ‘hot’ areas like obesity care (cue the Ozempic), value-based care enablement, or AI. Those that can’t will either have ‘down’ rounds or close (see this week’s closing of Astarte Medical in the NICU segment because they wouldn’t integrate AI).
  • M&A will increase, with acquirers buying low among the now cash-strapped companies. This Editor would add that both DOJ and FTC will have their say about this, having published new Merger Guidelines in December.
  • Publicly traded companies will ‘recalibrate’, which is a polite way of saying a lot of companies will face delisting. As of 31 December 31, 2023, at least 17% of public digital health companies trading on the NASDAQ or NYSE were noncompliant with listing standards. This Editor notes that 23andMe is the latest cracked SPAC in jeopardy. Some will rally, the strongest may IPO. BrightSpring Health IPO’d on 26 January, Waystar’s is pending. 

Their sobering conclusion. Too many companies were created in the last few years of the boom. “2024 will be a year of recalibration and consolidation. Some startups will rally, finding that high capital efficiency and exceptional offerings pay off to secure them their next major fundraise. Others will need to make the tough call to wind down operations or accept lower-than-hoped-for M&A offers, particularly in saturated segments.”

At last, Rock Health and TTA have met on similar ground. This Editor’s take back in December. From ‘Signs of the next phase in 2024’:

“…the board is being cleared of the also-rans and never-should-have-beens. They are like dead plants and brush that need to be cleaned out so that new growth can happen. We are cycling through some of them already as we move to a New Reality and winding this up.”

Additional TTA views on 2024: The New Reality permeating JPM, and Peering through the cloudy crystal ball into 2024

Peering through the cloudy crystal ball into 2024 healthcare investment and company health

crystal-ballWill 2024 be the mirror image of 2023? This time last year, signs pointed to slow, steady growth after the bubble bath of 2020-early 2022 was followed by failures of tech-leveraged banks (SVB and Signature in March 2023) leading to a mid-year bust [TTA 11 Aug 23]. Some big deals kicked off the year (CVS’ Carbon Health investment, Oak Street mega-buy TTA 16 Feb 23). Then as the year went on, they were followed by sheer turmoil–huge losses and business divestitures (Cano Health, Bright Health, insurtechs like Clover and Oscar), bankruptcies and shutdowns (Babylon, Pear, Quil, OliveAI, Smile Direct, Cureatr, Rite Aid), IP lawsuits (Apple-Masimo, Apple-AliveCor, FruitStreet-Sharecare), C-levels walking the plank (Walgreens, Noom), and big layoffs nearly every week. Cigna and Humana called off merging again, perhaps because Cigna didn’t like what it saw. M&A fell to its lowest level in years and IPOs fell to zero.

To cap the year, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) issued new Merger Guidelines that made the M&A mountain even steeper, and will follow up this year with Pre-Merger Notification guidelines that will make that part even more costly. Both signal hard times for M&A. Add to that the overt hostility the chair of the FTC has to any kind of M&A and the weaponization of the tools government has at hand…..Even early-stage, independent companies which allegedly these agencies are trying to foster don’t catch a break. A change in the tax law hitting hardest in 2023 forces annual expenses in research and experimentation (R&E) to be amortized over five years versus one year which severely affects their financials. (Section 174 explained here)

The crystal ball promises to be more like a Magic 8 Ball this year. Other than a flurry of smaller-scale investments, a rumor of a $5 billion EHR company sale (Netsmart), and predictable layoffs in health systems, the start of the year in healthcare has been fairly (ominously?) quiet.

HealthcareFinance talked to two partners in law firm Akerman’s healthcare practice group to get their take, weaving in some findings from a PWC report: 

  • Buyer interest in acquiring practices and surgery centers
  • Partnerships on rise, for example Amazon’s One Medical with health systems 
  • Smaller hospitals in mid-America will merge as there is “safety in numbers’
  • More investment in life sciences and drug development, especially diabetes/weight loss drugs in the GLP-1 category
  • Anything around AI attracts interest

The two big factors: interest rates (the Federal Reserve has signaled no further increases, and maybe cuts in 2024) and (of course) a presidential election as well as all of the House, much of the Senate, and state gubernatorial offices.

Bubbling under this are reports of two big pending IPOs:

  • Home health, pharmacy, and eldercare services provider BrightSpring Health filed with the SEC on 3 January for a near-billion dollar IPO (publicly released on 17th). This is estimated to raise $960 million, valuing the company at about $3 billion. Common stock will debut between $15 and $18 on Nasdaq under the symbol BTSG. They are also selling 8 million tangible equity units at $50. Proceeds will go from the offerings to repay outstanding debt under various credit facilities and pay penalties associated with terminating its monitoring agreement with Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. L.P. (KKR, the current owner) and Walgreens Boots Alliance. BrightSpring serves 400,000 daily patients and dispensed 34 million prescriptions in 2022. IPO timing is still to be announced. This is the second time the company has filed, abandoning its first attempt in late 2021 as the market softened in 2022. KKR is signalling an exit…will it happen this time? Release, FierceHealthcare
  • Waystar’s IPO is still pending after being announced late last year [TTA 26 Oct 23]. The RCM and payments software company delayed it to 2024 due to an uncertain market at year’s end. Reportedly the roadshows were postponed to December but there has been no confirmation that they took place. Will it happen?

Fasten your seatbelts…it may be a bumpy ride.

DOJ and FTC finalize Merger Guidelines, deliver coal for holiday stockings and the New Year (updated)

DOJ and FTC deliver a scuttle of coal for healthcare holiday stockings. The Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) finalized the Merger Guidelines that were drafted back in July [TTA 20 July]. They update prior guidelines first issued in 1968 that have been revised six times since then. They are not legally binding but demonstrate how each agency will examine any merger or acquisition going forward–and are advance notice on how they can and will stop either. US antitrust law is based on three acts passed by Congress: The Sherman Antitrust Act (1890), the Clayton Act (1914), and the Federal Trade Commission Act of 1914, now in US Code Title 15.

After 30,000 public comments in the 60-day period, the published Guidelines are now down to 11, but in context based on this Editor’s read (caveat, not a lawyer nor play one on TV) are not materially different than the July draft of 13, perhaps considered unlucky. The language in each Guideline restates the draft language in substantially more restrictive language and interpretation. The agencies’ stated purpose is that when two companies propose a merger that “raises concerns” on one or more of these Guidelines, the agencies “closely examine” whether the effect of the merger may be to substantially lessen competition or to tend to create a monopoly (sometimes referred to as a “prima facie case”). Two “C” words are repeated throughout–concentration and consolidation. 

The guidelines are verbatim from the 51-page DOJ/FTC document (PDF link) issued 18 December and are grouped on how the agencies use these guidelines. They are effective immediately.

Distinct frameworks the agencies use to identify that a merger raises prima facie concerns (1-6)

Guideline 1: Mergers Raise a Presumption of Illegality When They Significantly Increase Concentration in a Highly Concentrated Market.
Guideline 2: Mergers Can Violate the Law When They Eliminate Substantial Competition Between Firms.
Guideline 3: Mergers Can Violate the Law When They Increase the Risk of Coordination
Guideline 4: Mergers Can Violate the Law When They Eliminate a Potential Entrant in a Concentrated Market
Guideline 5: Mergers Can Violate the Law When They Create a Firm That May Limit Access to Products or Services That Its Rivals Use to Compete
Guideline 6: Mergers Can Violate the Law When They Entrench or Extend a Dominant Position

How to apply those frameworks in several specific settings (7-11)

Guideline 7: When an Industry Undergoes a Trend Toward Consolidation, the Agencies Consider Whether It Increases the Risk a Merger May Substantially Lessen Competition or Tend to Create a Monopoly
Guideline 8: When a Merger is Part of a Series of Multiple Acquisitions, the Agencies May Examine the Whole Series
Guideline 9: When a Merger Involves a Multi-Sided Platform, the Agencies Examine Competition Between Platforms, on a Platform, or to Displace a Platform
Guideline 10: When a Merger Involves Competing Buyers, the Agencies Examine Whether It May Substantially Lessen Competition for Workers, Creators, Suppliers, or Other Providers
Guideline 11: When an Acquisition Involves Partial Ownership or Minority Interests, the Agencies Examine Its Impact on Competition

The Guidelines are summarized in the Overview. Section 2 explains them more completely with how the agencies apply the Guidelines. Section 3 identifies rebuttal evidence that companies could typically present, and Section 4 presents a non-exhaustive discussion of analytical, economic, and evidentiary tools the Agencies use for evaluation. 

More coal, Ebenezer Scrooge. As this Editor described the draft guidelines in July, it it is hard to see that any merger or acquisition of like companies or even complimentary organizations building out capabilities or platforms could pass. Each one of these Guidelines is a tripwire and once tripped, can trip others. Each one of these can be used by FTC and DOJ to present to a Federal district court, where decisions are now more influential than the body of US Supreme Court decisions. Healthcare Dive notes the Illumina decision in the Fifth Circuit appeals court, liberally cited in the Guidelines document. This is forcing Illumina’s divestiture of cancer test developer Grail, earlier purchased for $7.1 billion. 

So now the coal’s been delivered…what will 2024 and out look like?

  • This will freeze M&A for months as companies try to figure this out. It’s not hard to guess that the imminent publication of the Guidelines nudged the termination of the Cigna-Humana deal. Hospital and health system mergers will continue to find nothing but discouragement.
  • Watch for an acceleration of existing company failures in 2024 and disruption in the current funding structure. Smaller healthcare companies, fattened on the investment binge of 2020-21, but now betting on a buyout from a near competitor, are either going to stick it out on their own or run out of runway. VC and PE companies investing not strategically, but for the purpose of a 18-24 month exit or quick payday, will largely be out of luck. Public companies may languish unless they move quickly to profitability. This may stimulate a new look at investing–strategic investors that look at the very long term–or not. (JP Morgan in January will be verrrrry interesting.)
  • Companies that have grown organically or benefited from previous acquisitions but need to acquire capabilities for a platform to continue to be competitive will also be affected. These could trip Guideline 9 and if found to be anti-competitive, may trip Guideline 8: “If an individual transaction is part of a firm’s pattern or strategy of multiple acquisitions, the Agencies consider the cumulative effect of the pattern or strategy.”
  • The behemoths like UnitedHealth Group, Walgreens Boots Alliance, and CVS Health will have no rivals for many years. The flip side: they will have trouble making additional acquisitions without forcing divestitures, or find buyers when they wish to divest money-losing units.
  • Partnerships may accelerate–with all their risks of purloined IP and monetary disputes. But smaller companies may use it to band together without antitrust risk.
  • The SPAC (special purpose acquisition company) may make a comeback. They will not have any antitrust conflicts but risk a chancy public market, at least in the US. 
  • The conglomerate–unrelated businesses under a holding or investment company–may rise again, as it did in a tight antitrust environment in the 1960s. Remember Gulf + Western and LTV (Ling Temco Vought)–both gone? Berkshire Hathaway is a prime example of a current conglomerate. Foreign investment groups may also find US healthcare an attractive proposition.
  • Offshore reincorporation. Much as Medtronic moved its corporate headquarters from Minneapolis to Dublin, Ireland, companies may move offshore to friendlier climes like Ireland, Estonia, Hungary or the Visegrad nations, and the Channel Islands, effecting their M&A there and making their US branches operational only. 

But…there’s more. Both DOJ and FTC will be reviewing the 2010 Horizontal Merger Guidelines and the 2020 Vertical Merger Guidelines. Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy year. 

FTC press release (which makes clear what agency is leading!), Crowell (law firm) short analysis, PrivateFundsCFO

Additional sources added 2 January: National Law Review (article by Foley & Lardner), Healthcare Finance News

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!

Healthcare M&A hit a 3 year low in Q2 2023, to the surprise of none: KPMG

“Is deal making ready to rebound?”–KPMG tries to find the bright side in their new study of healthcare activity. If Q2 reflects the trend, it won’t be this year. See below for what this Editor sees that KPMG doesn’t.

  • There were 245 deals in Q2 2023, 7% below deal volume in Q2 2022 and 41% below the bull market of Q2 2021.
  • Buyers shifted from the financial buyer (e.g. a long-term investor), now at 29% of deals, to strategic buyers who look to expand or augment their businesses at 71%. This is a complete flip from the prior year, where strategic buyers were 37% (98) of a total of 264 transactions.
  • Sectors have also shifted:  42% of deals included physician groups, 27% were IT/digital health sector, 16% were in post-acute care, and 15% involved health systems. The shift away from digital health is pronounced from the palmy pandemic days of 2021 where 737 deals raised $29.1 billion.

There aren’t many big deals on the board in Q2, mostly announced and not closed: CVS Health-Oak Street (closed), Optum-Amedisys, TPG and AmerisourceBergen-OneOncology, Molina-BrightHealthcare’s CA plans, Froedert Health-ThedaCare, and Kaiser Healthcare-Geisinger (forming Risant Health). The last is still to be structured.

KPMG’s reason why for the paucity of deals were the Fed and the continuance of interest rate hikes to supposedly slow inflation (which hasn’t worked much and instead is depressing the economy), the US political situation (turmoil), and what they politely term “uncertainty about the valuations of potential acquisition targets.” Healthcare Dive, Becker’s

“Uncertainty about the valuations of potential acquisition targets” is an understatement. This Editor looks back at that time of  2020 to perhaps Q1 2022 as a binge of insane proportions and self-reinforcing FOMO. Rivers of free-flowing money for any company in digital health–who can blame founders and funders for grabbing their buckets and filling them? The hangover? Equally insane. Of SPACs alone, which were treated like the future of IPOs, nearly all cracked. Valuations of established telehealth companies plunged 70-90%. The money? The river bed is largely dry except for a few puddles and branches. The call for profitability is late.

Racking up reasons why from this Editor’s POV that aren’t in the KPMG analysis:

  • Investors such as VCs and providers no longer have the money because 1) they spent it and 2) can’t raise it. Those who have ‘dry powder’ are either reserving it for a brighter day, cutting back themselves, or deploying it to what they perceived as safer bets such as fintech and biopharma. The deals being made especially in digital health are small. Private equity, family offices, and high net worth investors are mostly staying out of healthcare, or being extraordinarily cautious about both where they invest and how much. More on this: TTA 5 April.
  • A four-bank collapse–Silicon Valley Bank’s failure most notably was a dagger in the heart of West Coast VCs. Add to it First Republic, Silvergate, and Signature in NYC (a favorite of Silicon Alley), plus Credit Suisse being taken over by UBS, all in fairly short order in late winter, ant that will tend to curb anyone’s enthusiasm. It also affected companies that located their cash, investments, and payables/receivables in these banks.
  • High valuations seem to have an inverse relationship to survival. This past year has seen the total ‘hull loss’ of the following former ‘industry darling’ companies: Pear Therapeutics, SimpleHealth, The Pill Club, Hurdle, Quil Health [TTA 11 July], and now Babylon Health.  Teetering on the edge are Bright Health Group and possibly 23andMe. Insurtechs Clover and Oscar are cleaning up frantically, trying to recover. Established companies such as Teladoc and Amwell have taken it in the shins and talk a lot about profitability after years almost proudly not being profitable. Onetime ‘too hot for their shirts’ telemental health is still trying to survive the scandals around Cerebral and Truepill. What remains isn’t favorable: too many companies chasing the same younger group of people who want virtual mental health, plus DEA confusion around Schedule II medication telehealth prescribing [TTA 14 June]. 
  • Big acquirers CVS Health (Oak Street Health, Signify Health) and Walgreens Boots Alliance (VillageMD) are posting down numbers, retrenching, selling units, closing stores, and laying off staff in a matter of months to a year post-acquisition.

And to wrap…there are six letters may sink any revival of M&A: DOJ (Department of Justice) and FTC (Federal Trade Commission), with a commission relishing their activist role. 

  • Draft Merger Guidelines that update corporate merger guidelines originally from 1968 but updated many times since. The 13 Guidelines drafted by DOJ Antitrust and the FTC have the intent to prevent mergers that threaten competition or create monopolies. But reading them, nearly every merger or acquisition other than in a horizontal or conglomerate model will be in violation of one of the 13. [TTA 20 July
  • Earlier, the Premerger Notification changes to the filing process covered under the Hart-Scott-Rodino (HSR) Act for transactions over $111.4 million. Again, it raises the height of the mountain and the time required for all transactions other than the smallest. [TTA 29 June]
  • FTC reviving the 2009 Health Breach Notification Rule to clamp down on ad trackers, fining Teladoc’s BetterHelp and GoodRx millions, and sending letters to 130 hospitals and health systems to put them on notice that they are on the radar [TTA 27 July].

This Editor is shocked that this concatenation of Federal actions have not gained the attention they deserve, especially the first–or maybe the legal departments are just working verrry verrry qwietly to register their objections.

Perhaps there will be a bounce in M&A–companies moving to acquire under the wire of both the merger guidelines and the premerger notification changes–akin to what Wall Street calls a ‘dead cat bounce’ (apologies to felines). After they’re in effect, watch for another dead stop in M&A and investor exits until everyone adjusts to the new rules and figures out new workarounds. No one wants to be the first out of the gate in this situation.

(Edited for clarifications)

Another antitrust shoe drops: FTC, DOJ publish Draft Merger Guidelines for comment–what are the effects?

The Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have published for public comment a draft of revised corporate merger guidelines. These update prior guidelines from 1968 which have been revised six times since. These are stated as incorporating comments from hearings and comments that started in January

The Draft Merger Guidelines on FTC.gov are open for comment for the next 60 days (18 September), cleverly during a time when most of Washington DC is repairing to cooler climes for summer holidays. They are centered on what DOJ Antitrust and FTC loftily call The 13 Guidelines. These will be used singly or in combination for these agencies to determine “whether a merger is unlawfully anticompetitive under the antitrust laws.” 

  1. Mergers should not significantly increase concentration in highly concentrated markets;
  2. Mergers should not eliminate substantial competition between firms;
  3. Mergers should not increase the risk of coordination;
  4. Mergers should not eliminate a potential entrant in a concentrated market;
  5. Mergers should not substantially lessen competition by creating a firm that controls products or services that its rivals may use to compete;
  6. Vertical mergers should not create market structures that foreclose competition;
  7. Mergers should not entrench or extend a dominant position;
  8. Mergers should not further a trend toward concentration;
  9. When a merger is part of a series of multiple acquisitions, the agencies may examine the whole series;
  10. When a merger involves a multi-sided platform, the agencies examine competition between platforms, on a platform, or to displace a platform;
  11. When a merger involves competing buyers, the agencies examine whether it may substantially lessen competition for workers or other sellers;
  12. When an acquisition involves partial ownership or minority interests, the agencies examine its impact on competition; and
  13. Mergers should not otherwise substantially lessen competition or tend to create a monopoly

Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Kanter of the Antitrust Division stated in the DOJ/FTC release, “Today, we are issuing draft guidelines that are faithful to the law, which prevents mergers that threaten competition or tend to create monopolies. As markets and commercial realities change, it is vital that we adapt our law enforcement tools to keep pace so that we can protect competition in a manner that reflects the intricacies of our modern economy. Simply put, competition today looks different than it did 50 — or even 15 — years ago.” Not to be outspoken, FTC Chair Lina M. Khan, got her dibs in: “With these draft Merger Guidelines, we are updating our enforcement manual to reflect the realities of how firms do business in the modern economy.” Here the DOJ Antitrust Division takes the communications lead but the draft is published by FTC. These guidelines require no ratification by Congress as they are administrative in nature.

To this Editor, it is hard to see that any merger or acquisition of like companies or even complimentary organizations could pass. Consider the following scenarios: a leading telehealth or remote patient monitoring company offers to buy a struggling early-stage AI/ML or data analytics company to expand its capabilities, a larger health system buys a failing community hospital, one hotel looks to buy another down the street, VCs or equity investors look to exit just about anything through a sale. Every one of these situations triggers one or more of these guidelines.

Coupled with the proposed changes to the Premerger Notification under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Act (HSR Act) [TTA 29 June] now published in the Federal Register (29 June), open for comment until 28 August, we may be looking at the last few years as the Last Good Time for M&A, even with current restrictions in place.

As your Editor said last month, “For those surprised that FTC is taking the lead on this, this once-sleepy agency woke up late last year in a heckuva bad humor and is now taking a far more activist role in corporate oversight in areas such as privacy.” This was powered by a 2021 executive order by the current president for any and all mergers to be scrutinized. Earlier, FTC and DOJ withdrew antitrust policy statements that they now feel are overly permissive. FierceHealthcare

Already industry machers such as the American Hospital Association, Federation of American Hospitals, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) have asked the FTC mildly and politely for a further 60-day extension of the comment period. This includes non-healthcare organizations such as the American Hotel & Lodging Association and the Consumer Technology Association which runs CES. (Don’t hold your breath) FierceHealthcare

crystal-ballIn the cloudy crystal ball, this Editor sees a rush to complete acquisitions 1) below the HSR threshold ($111 million) and 2) in general before the new antitrust guidelines are adopted–and they will be as they are administrative measures and not laws. To reiterate previous comments, overall it will further depress M&A and investor exits, especially in healthcare and with mid-size private and public companies, funding beyond Series A/B, and valuations.  If you start a business, inherit one, or are trying to turn around one that has lost its markets or unprofitable–but can’t sell it in the future, what you have is a ton of frozen value and uninterested lenders. Will a thousand flowers bloom, like they did in airline deregulation 1980-1995–drive businesses to friendlier countries like Ireland or Poland–then lead to stagnation? Perhaps a new era of conglomerates of unrelated businesses a lá LTV and Gulf+Western in the 1960s? Tell your Editor and fellow Readers below.

FTC, DOJ float enhanced information requirements for HSR premerger notification filing process–what will be M&A effects?

FTC, DOJ are now coming after M&A–and you thought they were tough before? New information disclosure requirements proposed by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) Antitrust Division for mergers and acquisitions that fall under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Act (HSR) may put a damper on an already stagnant business area. On Tuesday 27 June, FTC, notably taking the lead with the concurrence of DOJ, released multiple proposed changes to the premerger notification filing process, the most extensive since they were first published in 1978 after HSR was passed in 1976. HSR premerger notification is required for transactions that exceed the threshold currently set at $111.4 million.

These changes will be formally submitted for the standard 60-day public review and comment later this week in the Federal Register. Changes are typically made after that time before final rules are published, a process that may take months.

From FTC’s release, the proposed changes fall under these areas.

  • Provision of details about transaction rationale and details surrounding investment vehicles or corporate relationships.
  • Provision of information related to products or services in both horizontal products and services, and non-horizontal business relationships such as supply agreements.
  • Provision of projected revenue streams, transactional analyses and internal documents describing market conditions, and structure of entities involved such as private equity investments.
  • Provision of details regarding previous acquisitions.
  • Disclosure of information that screens for labor market issues by classifying employees based on current Standard Occupational Classification system categories.
  • These proposed changes also address Congressional concerns that subsidies from foreign entities of concern [North Korea, China, Russia, and Iran–Ed.] can distort the competitive process or otherwise change the business strategies of a subsidized firm in ways that undermine competition following an acquisition.

The National Law Review goes into far more detail on exactly what additional information will be required. This includes disclosure of what foreign jurisdictions are reviewing the deal. The rationale for the changes is that transactions have become far more complex since the original requirements were set and that the additional information will “more effectively and efficiently screen transactions for potential competition issues within the initial waiting period, which is typically 30 days.” According to FierceHealthcare, the FTC said it expects the proposed changes will take merging entities 144 hours per filing, up from the current 37-hour average. It’s clear that the mountain of information already needed to file a pre-merger notification and the time needed to gather such information will be much higher, perhaps to months and reveal far more than perhaps some companies want to disclose.

For those surprised that FTC is taking the lead on this, this once-sleepy agency woke up late last year in a heckuva bad humor and is now (more…)

US/EU 2021 healthcare VC funding soared 65%, but health tech performance slumped 28%–and 2022 surprises

This isn’t the usual Rock Health report of puppies and unicorns. Silicon Valley Bank is a source new to this Editor, but even in topline, the report is pretty bracing. Their coverage is broad and detailed–biopharma, health tech, dx (diagnostic)/tools, and device–on US and European venture capital (VC) funding from 2019 to 2021. There are some warning flags for the health tech sector through their report (summary page; report available for free download here).

What you’d expect: total health care soared in 2021 to over $86 billion–a 65% increase over 2020 (not 30%!). This was led by biopharma at $36.3 billion, then health tech at $28.2 billion. Dx/tools and devices had far more modest funding gains. 

For health tech: 

  • Funding was up 157% versus 2020–42 new ‘unicorns’, four times 2020
  • Provider operations companies comprised a record 35% of total seed/series A funding, up from 20% in 2020. The other hot areas were clinical trial enablement and alternative care. Surprisingly, healthcare navigation was next to last, perhaps indicating that these companies are further along in maturity.
  • Investors were numerous, but high frequency investors were Tiger Global, Andreesen Horowitz, General Catalyst, Casdin, and Gaingels.
  • SPACs slowed in 2021, trying to find the right match before their two-year window to complete a merger and reflecting greater SEC scrutiny of blank checks. Of those who ‘de-SPAC’ed in 2021, Talkspace and Owlet led in market losses, 80% and 73% respectively.
  • Post-IPO performance dropped 28%, led by insurtechs Oscar, Bright Health, and Alignment Health
  • There were 122 M&A deals. The $63 million median value was down 25% from 2020. marking a shift to vertical integrations in care continuums or horizontal to capture consumer bases.

2022 The Year of M&A and Acquire-to-Hire? The end of the report sounds a cautionary note to health tech ‘bulls’. Expect “massive” consolidation. Healthy investment will continue, but the opportunities will be for companies seeking expand product offerings, expand to other markets, or acquire to hire talent (!)–the latter something quite new.

Also FierceHealthcare

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.

US Department of Justice decides additional scrutiny needed of $13bn Optum acquisition of Change Healthcare

Change, so to speak, will not be fast for Optum. On Friday, Change Healthcare filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) a Form 8-K (PDF link) that confirms that the Department of Justice (DOJ) has asked for additional information pertinent to their proposed acquisition by UnitedHealthcare Group and integration into their Optum unit. On 24 March, both received a request from the DOJ for additional information and documentary materials (called a “Second Request”) as part of DOJ’s review of the merger under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Act (HSR). The Second Request extends the waiting period for 30 days after UHG and Change comply with the review, unless either the DOJ shortens it or it is extended by the two companies (para. 3).

The integration of Change Healthcare into Optum already had significant competitive concerns for DOJ to consider. OptumInsight, Optum’s data analytics unit, and Change provide a similar range of services in health IT and revenue cycle management (RCM). However, Change is one of the largest independent companies providing these services to major providers, with access to the data of 1 out of 3 patients. Optum’s parent, UnitedHealthcare, is the largest US payer. These were the factors that made those represented by the American Hospital Association (AHA) very nervous indeed [TTA 25 Mar] regarding pricing of these services–and they expressed their misgivings cogently in a seven-page letter (PDF link) to DOJ on 17 March. In their view, Change integrated into OptumInsight would reduce competition and increase pricing in RCM, claims clearinghouse and payment accuracy services, and clinical decision support services.

Why it’s important. The closing of the $13 bn deal, originally forecast as second half 2021, now has a decent likelihood of being postponed. As CVS and Aetna found between 2017 and 2019, once the objections start in the flashpoint called US Healthcare, they tend to snowball into delays, even if it can be managed to a successful conclusion. (Extreme examples: the doomed to fail Aetna-Humana and Anthem-Cigna mergers) While RCM and data analytics are not as high profile as health plans and retail health, industry groups have a lot of clout in the DC Swamp when the cause is higher cost and DOJ, in this administration, is likely to be more activist. Another reason: if UHG or Change have to divest themselves of too much (UHG set a boundary of $650 million), they may Call The Whole Thing Off. Also Healthcare Dive and FierceHealthcare

Funding, acquisition news roundup, round 2: Lyra Health’s $187M Series E, DarioHealth-Upright, GetWellNetwork-Docent Health, Hillrom-BardyDx (updated)

Our cowgirl has been keeping busy rounding up more news on funding and acquisitions. Significance? Nearly all are major rounds only dreamed of a year ago for these relatively small companies boosting valuations into the stratosphere. The acquisitions also extend these companies into multiple lines of business.

Lyra Health, a mental health therapy benefit company for employers, closed an additional $187 million in a Series E round led by Addition Capital. This adds to a torrid 2020 $185 million Series C and D bringing their total funding to $475 million. The company claims a valuation of $2.3 billion and doubling its customer base in 2020 to 2 million members, with marquee clients such as Genentech, Morgan Stanley, and Zoom. Lyra Health uses cognitive-based therapy (CBT) models using virtual self-care, coaching, and therapists. Also announced was a partnership with ICAS World, an employee-assistance provider. Lyra is one of many companies in an increasingly crowded category using the CBT model to save employers and payers money on employee and member mental health with and without chronic conditions such as diabetes. Earlier this month, the Talkspace app, which focuses on direct to consumer therapy, announced they were going public through a ‘blank check’ SPAC with Hudson Executive Investment Corp, in a deal valued at $1.4 billion, including debt. Release, Mobihealthnews

DarioHealth, an Israeli-US company concentrating on digital diabetes and hypertension management, extended into musculoskeletal (MSK) therapeutics with the $31 million acquisition of Upright Technologies Ltd., another Israeli-US company. Upright uses a $100 sensor that provides biofeedback and vibration reminders to correct posture plus digital coaching. Last year, Upright was heavily advertised on US television. The buy will transfer to Upright $1.5 million in cash and $29.5 million in stock, and is expected to close in about 10 days. Dario also completed a $70 million private placement for 3,278,688 shares of its common stock at a purchase price of $21.35 per share. Dario has about 150,000 users and Upright 90,000 users. Dario is projecting a 2020 revenue of $7.6 million. Release, Mobihealthnews

GetWellNetwork, a relatively small player in patient engagement and communications in the inpatient care journey, announced it has acquired patient-messaging company Docent Health for an undisclosed sum, beefing up capabilities in data analytics and directing patients to additional services. According to Crunchbase, GetWellNetwork has funding to date of $19 million.  Release, Mobihealthnews

Wrapping it up is cardiac monitoring giant Hillrom’s acquisition of Bardy Diagnostics for $375 million plus future potential payments based on the achievement of certain commercial milestones. Hillrom is also acquiring net operating losses valued at more than $20 million and 230 employees. The BardyDx Carnation Ambulatory Monitor (CAM) is a lightweight cardiac patch monitor for heart rhythm diagnostics using P-wave-centric ECG detection. The irony here is that BardyDx positioned itself squarely against Hillrom’s Holter monitors. Nothing like buying out the competition! Release, MedCityNews

$6.8 bn in digital health funding through Q3 blows the doors off 2017: Rock Health

And the money rolls in. All Rock Health had to do was wait a quarter to get breathless [TTA 4 July], because digital health funding through Q3 is now exceeding the full year 2017 by $1.1 bn. The average deal size has accelerated substantially–$23.6 million versus last year’s $16.4 million. The deals are bigger but fewer–290 so far versus 357 last year–and the length of time between funding rounds has consistently grown shorter. 

Another proportional shift is the growth of Series B and C startups, at long last, and a more than doubling of D+ deals.

A big shift in this quarter were that the stars lined up, perhaps for the first time, with at-home and on demand health. American Well of course at $291 M loaded these dice, but also benefiting from the throw were the similar Doctor on Demand, Honor (home care), and NowRx med delivery service. Faster meds at lower cost have become a major area of action (Amazon with PillPack, TelePharm, others). Digital therapeutics that help to monitor health at home followed from Pear Therapeutics, Click Therapeutics, Akili Interactive, Virta Health, Propeller Health, and Hinge Health. 

And where the money comes from? Independent venture funds still account for 63 percent, and corporate VCs for 15 percent.  Some of those CVCs are major names such as GSK, Abbott, and Cigna. Big tech is also moving into healthcare, with Amazon’s $1bn acquisition of PillPack, the Apple Watch 4, Google’s Nest.

Rock Health’s trend prediction is continued consolidation in digital health, with companies continuing to acquire each other. “With available capital and a desire to build out product lines, talent, and client bases, it’s not surprising to see a great deal of M&A activity within digital health.” One example given is Welltok, which plays in the consumer health ‘activation’ area, and their acquisitions from corporate health management programs to Wellpass, which has created such as Text4Baby, Text2Quit and Care4Life and whose largest customer is state Medicaid plans.

Keep in mind that Rock Health tracks deals over $2 million in value from venture capital, excluding government and grant funding. They omit non-US deals, even if heavily US funded.

Rock Health’s report. Healthcare Dive.  Mobilhealthnews‘ own top 17 M&As, which include Best Buy-GreatCall and Logisticare-Circulation in the burgeoning area of non-emergency medical transport (NEMT).

2015 digital health VC funding flat, consolidations nearly double: Rock Health

Rock Health published yesterday their 2015 annual Digital Health Funding report, and perhaps it is good news that 2015 activity maintained the blazing 2014 total at $4.3 bn. Still, it represents a compound annual growth (CAGR) from 2011-2015 of 30 percent.

Consumer digital health is thriving, with healthcare consumer engagement, personal health tools and tracking accounting for 23 percent of overall funding. Two of the six largest deals were won by consumer-driven genetic companies, 23andMe and Helix.

The one new record was that there were 278 deals across 248 companies, with an record-breaking average deal size of $15.6m. What continued is that the vast majority of funding deals (70 percent) were Series B and below, but C and C+ deals increased slightly.  It was also a big year for exits. M&A activity nearly doubled in volume with 180 deals and $6B in disclosed activity. Their index comprising shares of publicly traded digital health companies was off over 5 percent with two of this year’s IPOs trading lower than their opening prices.

According to the Rock Health newsletter, early-funded companies had a few zombies among them. Rock Health looked at companies up to five years ago, and found that 11 percent they classified as either dead or “zombies” (which have not raised a round in 3+ years). “Most likely to die? A disproportionate number of these zombie companies are in the care coordination, EHR, or clinical workflow space.”

The web page with a link to the full study is here. Unfortunately, the download is not free, but $99.