TTA’s ‘winter dog days’ 4: Amazon, Walgreens, NeueHealth, Invitae, others Face The Music; Apple wins one v. AliveCor; Amwell loses $670M; DeepScribe AI, Essence, Atrium innovate; more!

 

 

This week has a lot of Facing The Music, as the snow and chill continue as we’re ready for spring, already. Four payers scuttle mergers, Walgreens and Amazon are reorganizing big time, and the losses (Amwell especially) and layoffs continue. Apple wins a round in its patent fight with AliveCor. It’s the New Reality and let’s hope we get to a Newer, Better Reality soon. Maybe it’s time to focus on designing tech that is older adult (and not so older adult) friendly–and yes, there are some ‘green shoots’.

Weekend reading: why the tech experience for older adults needs a reboot (a boot in the….?), health tech takeaways from CES (Must reads)
Mid-week news roundup: Elevance-BCBSLA, SCAN-CareOregon mergers scuttled; Amwell’s $679M loss, layoffs; Invitae genetics files Ch. 11; innovations released from DeepScribe, Essence SmartCare (DE), fall detection at Atrium Health (SC)
Further confirmation of the New Reality for digital health–lower valuations, more exits, fewer startups, tech buyers not seeing ROI (The cleanout continues)
AliveCor v. Apple latest: Federal court tosses AliveCor suit on heart rate app data monopolization (This David v. Goliath round goes to Goliath)
Facing the Music of the New Reality: Amazon Pharmacy & One Medical restructure; Walgreens shakes up health exec suites again, cashes out $992M in Cencora; new takes on NeueHealth; Cue Health, Nomad Health layoffs

AI: how much of it is hype, how much harm can it do, and call in the lawyers. Rock Health sotto voce issued its downbeat 2023 roundup, with 2024 predictions familiar to our Readers. Ireland’s HealthBeacon sold to a new healthcare player–Hamilton Beach. Cano Health faces the Chapter 11 music, veterans at VA will Mynd, and mass outsourcing to Optum.

2023 was buying time, 2024 is face the music time: Rock Health (Blood out of a Rock?)
Another icy bucket: who is liable when a healthcare AI system fails? (More AI caveats)
First healthcare IPO: BrightSpring debuted at less than projected, but holding value (Nice to see)
Mid-week short takes: Ireland’s HealthBeacon bought by Hamilton Beach (!), Ambience AI raises $70M, VA to develop VR mental health app with Mynd Immersive (VA tries out digital therapeutics)
Two Must Reads: Is AI the next hype bubble replacing crypto–and capable of great harm? (Get set to be apprehensive)
News roundup: Cano Health files Ch. 11 bankruptcy, delisted (updated), Walgreens lays off more, Allina Health outsources 2,000 RCM jobs to Optum (The inevitable for Cano and Walgreens, along with speculation)

This week pinged between overstatement and underreporting. The press around the Blair and Hague recommendations around selling NHS medical data–exaggerated. Underreported? Who was targeted in 23andMe’s 6.9M record data breach–and their future. The upward trajectory of cyberattacks confirmed, Musk gets his brain implant going, Cigna sells MA but Amazon calls it off with iRobot, and a former CMS head to helm Oracle Health.

Sell NHS medical records to fund AI, biotech? Not quite what’s in the Blair-Hague report. (They didn’t read the National Purpose report)
23andMe data breach may have targeted those of Jewish and Chinese heritage; company valuation crashes (Is there a bottom?)
Short takes: Orion digital pain therapeutic to be commercialized by Newel Health; Verma to head Oracle Health; CVS to shut 25 LA-area MinuteClinics 
2023’s global cyberattack disaster: healthcare #3 in weekly attacks, 10% of organizations ransomwared–report (Beware)
News roundup: Musk’s Neuralink implants first human BCI; Cigna’s $3.7B MA sale to HCSC; no Amazon deal for iRobot; DispatchHealth-Instacart food Rx; 5 India health tech fundings 

A newsy week…a bit of catchup on JPM which has caught up to the New Reality explored in our ’24 forecast. Humana loses on MA, Walgreens now officially labeled ‘troubled’, but Bright Health survives and rebrands. Cybersecurity beat out AI this week with HHS performance goals (more work, fewer IT people) while breached patient records doubled last year. Fundings and more this ‘n’ that.

Short takes: Humana’s big MA loss; Medicare telemental care bill back in Senate; HHS releases cybersecurity performance goals; Texas Healthcare Challenge hackathon 23-24 February (HHS asking for cybersec upgrades while IT departments are laid off)
Midweek updates: Walgreens may sell Shields Health after 2 years; Ventric Health’s home cardiac RPM; Singapore military medical corps upgrades PACES 3 EMR (Walgreens now labeled as ‘troubled’)
Peering through the cloudy crystal ball into 2024 healthcare investment and company health (2024 a funhouse mirror image of 2023?)
News roundup: Bright Health now NeueHealth; breached patient records double, RCM as vector for hacking; Amazon’s CCM marketplace; JPM reflects the new reality; fundings for Vita Health, Turquoise, CardioSignal (Settling into the new normal)
Published: NHS guidance on integrating TEC providers into urgent community response (UCR) (UK) (Less stress on ambulance services and EDs)

In the ‘dog days’ of winter, Apple gets a comeuppance in its patent fights with Masimo and disables pulse oximetry in two Watch models. AliveCor moves forward against Apple in Federal court. We sort out a lot of new product introductions, a sale of a company we thought was sold, a possible Really Big EHR Sale, General Catalyst buys a provider…and 23andMe turns the tables on their massive data breach by Blaming the Victims. 

Got a data breach? Blame the victims like 23andMe did! (This is a first)
News roundup #2: Bright.md sells remaining customers to 98point6; Netsmart EHR up for $5B possible sale; Caregility intros two new telehealth systems (Maybe a big sale coming?)
Breaking: appeals court continues ITC ban on Apple Watches with working pulse oximetry (Masimo wins a round)
News roundup: Owlet’s Dream Sock, BabySat go to market; General Catalyst’s HATco agrees to buy Summa; Cigna’s contrasting provider strategy; new ElliQ robot assistant debuts at CES (HATCo’s first step into health transformation?)
Apple removes pulse oximetry from Watches to dodge ban; AliveCor advances patent review v. Apple (two big updates!)

Reality bites as we recap the 2023 hangover at several major companies with cutbacks from the suites to the streets and C-suite changes that you may have missed.

Wrapping up many changes at Walgreens, VillageMD, CVS Health, Oracle Health (A lot of musical chairs!)

Happy 2024! Breaking out of the January gate, Apple gets stay in the Masimo patent fight and Watch sales resume. The continuing soap operas of Cano Health and Veradigm resume. Bright Health’s cash from Molina gains some breathing room, and rival Devoted scores a tidy Series E. In the UK, telecare issues rise as the digital voice switchover nears–learn more next Friday.

A timely webinar Fri 12 Jan: Protecting a lifeline – preparing for the digital voice switchover (UK) (Trying to protect vulnerable elderly and disabled)
News roundup: Cano Health gets 2nd NYSE delisting warning; Veradigm acquires Koha Health RCM, faces class-action lawsuit; Bright Health-Molina sale closes; Devoted Health’s $175M Series E (updated) (Some funding ‘light’ and Bright sees some daylight)
Breaking: ban on sale of Apple Watches 9 and Ultra 2 stayed by federal appeals court Wed 27 December (Until mid-January for now)


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Telehealth & Telecare Aware: covering the news on latest developments in telecare, telehealth, telemedicine, and health tech, worldwide–thoughtfully and from the view of fellow professionals

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Facing the Music of the New Reality: Amazon Pharmacy & One Medical restructure; Walgreens shakes up health exec suites again, cashes out $992M in Cencora; new takes on NeueHealth; Cue Health, Nomad Health layoffs

Amazon delivers a Dose of Reality in shrinking Pharmacy, One Medical. Using the “realigning some resources to help accelerate our efforts” meme, there are about 115 to 400 staff who will be ‘transitioned’ out of their present jobs, according to sources (Business Insider, Seeking Alpha). Areas affected were not disclosed. However, the Amazon division likely taking the hardest hit is One Medical, according to these sources.

  • Amazon has already announced that One Medical must reduce operating losses by $100 million this year. A large step they are taking is to close One Medical’s corporate offices in New York, Minneapolis, and St. Petersburg, Florida, reducing its San Francisco office space to one floor. They cited to industry publications that most employees are remote workers.
  • Unsurprisingly, Amazon is targeting major cost reductions. Fixed operating costs that are currently at 41% of total revenue will be reduced to 20% by 2028. Cost per patient visit will be reduced from $372 in 2023 to $322 in 2024, from $372 in 2023.
  • Legal, finance, and technology teams will report to Amazon’s healthcare business structure
  • Operating areas will increase from four to seven, reporting to a new head of operations
  • CFO Bjorn Thaler will move to a new position focused on growth initiatives, reporting to VP of Health Services Neil Lindsay

At the time of the acquisition, industry thinkers were wondering what Amazon would do with the money-losing One Medical clinics, for which they paid $3.9 billion but never turned a profit and lost $420 million in 2022, its last year of independent operations. Neither membership nor revenue has been reported since the 2023 closing. In 2022, One Medical had 700,000 patients, 8,000 company clients and 125 physical offices in 12 major US markets including NYC, Los Angeles, Boston, and Atlanta. Amazon has been promoting One Medical online and on TV, most aggressively to its Prime members with promotional membership pricing. 

Amazon has aggressively cut tens of thousands of jobs and costs since 2023 in its Audible, Prime Video, Twitch and Buy with Prime units, and completely shut down Halo, its entry in fitness bands and sleep trackers. It has also been aggressively challenged on patient privacy and cross-using information by the FTC, most recently around Amazon Clinic.

Not mentioned in reporting was the FTC and DOJ scrutiny One Medical’s acquisition received between Amazon’s offer and the closing. The two agencies declined to move at that time [TTA 23 Feb 23], but FTC is continuing to build its case against Amazon–and One Medical may be a factor. For context on Amazon’s situation, Readers may want to review last December’s assessment of Amazon to date, Has Amazon lost its ‘edge’ in healthcare? Or finally seeing reality?   FierceHealthcare, Healthcare Finance, Healthcare Dive

Walgreens’ Reality includes C-suite reshuffles, scaring up cash. The new president of US Healthcare and EVP reporting to CEO Tim Wentworth is Mary Langowski. She is currently CEO of Solera Health. Her prior experience at CVS was as EVP and chief strategy and corporate development officer. Moving to an advisor position is the current president, John Driscoll. US Healthcare includes VillageMD, Summit Health/CityMD and CareCentrix. In addition, Manmohan Mahajan was appointed as permanent CFO, having held the position on an interim basis from July. Elizabeth Burger was named as EVP and chief HR officer from a similar position at industrial Flowserve, replacing Holly May who departed in November and is now with Petco. Crain’s Chicago Business, FierceHealthcare

Slipping under this was a further sale of Walgreens’ position in Cencora, the former AmerisourceBergen, a highly diversified pharmaceutical distributor. The sale of approximately $942 million of Cencora common stock was subject to the completion of the Rule 144 sale, and included a concurrent share repurchase by Cencora of approximately $50 million for a total to WBA of $992 million. WBA’s position is now 13% versus 15%; partnership and board representation remains in place. From the WBA release, “Proceeds to Walgreens Boots Alliance will be used primarily for debt paydown and general corporate purposes, as the company continues to build out a more capital-efficient health services strategy rooted in its retail pharmacy footprint.”

Is NeueHealth creating its own Reality? At the end of January, Bright Health Group faded to black and relit as NeueHealth, its value-based care medical practice division, and moved its HQ from poky, cold, failing Minneapolis to Doral, Florida. It sold or closed all its health plans in a heap of losses, most of which have bills coming due via CMS Repayment Agreements which come due on or before 14 March 2025. Most of the industry is shaking its head in wonder that NeueHealth has made it this far.

The discussion in MedCityNews is worth reading. It includes Ari Gottlieb of A2 Strategy who points out that the company is $1.4 billion in debt to the likes of investors Cigna Ventures, New Enterprise Associates, and CalSTRS. They owe $89 million to Texas to cover risk liabilities for its shuttered ACA plans. Over $100 million remains in escrow from the Molina sale to cover obligations from its Medicare Advantage plans. Mr. Gottlieb predicts that NeueHealth will be drained and go bankrupt before the Feds come calling in March 2025. Another analyst, Tyler Giesting, director of healthcare and life sciences at West Monroe, takes a sunnier view that NeueHealth is in a sector, value-based care, that payers are interested in and will buy into, as long as the practices perform. This Editor will reiterate her wonder at NeueHealth’s management maneuvers. They’ve managed to play multiple ends against the middle and tie masterful Gordian knots (pick your analogy) to stay alive until, they hope, 2025 and better times. 

More Reality delivered in two layoffs in once-hot companies that thought pandemic les bon temps rouler would last forever:

  • San Diego-based Cue Health, a biotech company that produced Covid-19 tests, is laying off another 245 employees. This adds to the 884 workers in primarily San Diego laid off last year. Cue grew to over 1,500 employees when it got the first FDA approval for its 20-minute molecular test kits to supply the US government, the NBA, Google, and other large companies. Cue IPO’d in September 2021 at $200 million and $16/share, with a valuation of $3 billion. Its shares on Nasdaq are today at $0.25. The company also offers a test for mpox (monkeypox) and is seeking FDA approval for its RSV and Flu test kits. San Diego Union-Tribune
  • New York City-based Nomad Health, a healthcare staffing service that took advantage of the pandemic demand for travel nurses but had not fully transitioned into other temporary healthcare workers, released 17% of staff, from 691 to 572 employees. Nomad was reeling not only from lower demand but also correspondingly lower rates. It raised $200 million to date from investors such as Adams Street Partners and Icon Ventures. Forbes

And the final Reality is how healthcare companies, from providers to digital health, are phrasing what seems to be endless layoffs. Euphemisms such as rightsizing, org change, involuntary career events, corporate outplacing, and offboarding are all being used to sweeten for public consumption that a lot of people, hired so eagerly in 2020-22, are losing their jobs. From the Bloomberg article (paywalled), “They somehow seem to believe that if they use language that is more vague and less emotional, that people won’t get as upset,” said Robert Sutton, PhD, professor of management science and organizational behavior with Stanford University School of Engineering. Instead, euphemisms tend to have the opposite effect. Becker’s  This Editor has been both a survivor and a victim of same, being in marketing which is always vulnerable. Contract and consulting work, which anticipate a stronger market, are like the Sahara–few and dry water holes. Expect layoffs and a dead market for experienced talent to be a major factor in this year’s US elections, despite the reported low unemployment numbers (that no one believes anymore).

Has Amazon lost its ‘edge’ in healthcare? Or finally seeing reality?

Amazon’s long and winding road to Healthcare Reality is no surprise to those tracking Amazon’s moves over the past few years. And Bloomberg agrees. In the eyes of many of the industry, Amazon was one of the top companies revolutionizing healthcare in a consumer-focused, tech-driven model. They were making The Big Moves along with giants CVS and Walgreens with an open wallet, with Walmart lagging and tagging behind. But when you turn a Gimlet Eye to the track record, The Big Moves were marked by hubris, uncertainty, lack of focus, lack of healthcare expertise, and just plain bad judgment.

  • First, there was the sinkhole known eventually as Haven, 2018-2021. This partnership with JP Morgan and Berkshire Hathaway (RIP to the legendary Charlie Munger) generated truckloads of 50,000-foot quotes by JPM’s Jamie Dimon and B-H’s Warren Buffett about the ‘hungry tapeworm’ of healthcare costs and the need to simplify it for their million-odd employees. It was clear that Amazon was relegated to the ‘junior partner’. Their reaction was to go their own way well before the shutdown and make its own acquisitions, acquiring PillPack in mid-2019 as the first move towards a PBM, Amazon Pharmacy, then pushing Amazon Care for large employers. TTA 6 Jan 2021
  • Then there was the brief and mysterious life of Amazon Care, 2019-2022. Their mix of virtual care, in-home, and telehealth services signed up large employers such as Hilton and (of course) Amazon with the eventual vision of delivering in-home care of visits and medications via mobile providers. Despite plenty of pivoting behind the scrim but eventually going nationwide with some, not all, of their services, their vision wasn’t attractive to most large employers. Even before One Medical was acquired in July 2022, Amazon decided to ditch Care by end of 2022. TTA 25 Aug 2022
  • And $3.9 billion later, there is One Medical, acquired earlier this year. It has never made money and won’t for at least two fiscal years. It doesn’t resemble an Amazon-style delivery model either. It’s a membership model practice group with individual paying members plus 9,000 corporate service contracts and telehealth. Of course, memberships including telehealth are being offered to the millions of Amazon Prime members at a drastically discounted rate starting earlier this month.
  • Bubbling under this is Amazon Clinic, an asynchronous virtual consult service leaked in November 2022, formally announced in June 2023 but delayed until August on data privacy issues that attracted Senatorial scrutiny on whether information would be passed to other Amazon services for merchandising [TTA 27 June]. Visits cost an average of $50. Amazon is surprisingly mum on Clinic’s status.

From the collection of articles linked above, plus TTA’s ongoing chronicle of FTC’s (and DOJ’s) consistent scrutiny (some call it vendetta) re Amazon [TTA 24 Aug, 27 Oct], one cannot conclude that Amazon has lived up to its publicity, dominating coverage earlier this year, that it would be a leading Healthcare Transformer. In that last article, this Editor’s obvious doubts were summarized as “What we view as a juggernaut is facing more than their share of distractions and changing circumstance.”

It is awfully nice to know that Bloomberg has taken our small ball of misgivings and run with it. Their article describes, through interviews with current and former employees, patients, competitors, and industry analysts, a “culture of hubris”, believing that “Silicon Valley-style invention could outsmart industry incumbents” and management not listening to the industry people they did hire. The hubris goes back to the very beginning. Even transitioning a young but deep in the red company like PillPack, bought for a truly ridiculous amount of money but that fit easily into the Amazon model, took an inordinate amount of time–about two years. Amazon Pharmacy, built on the PillPack bones, doesn’t seem to be meeting expectations, running headlong into local retailers such as CVS, Walmart, and Walgreens, discounters such as GoodRx, and deliverers such as Mark Cuban Cost Plus. No surprises there when you waste two years. Wall Street doesn’t like it much either, despite the promises from CEO Andy Jassy that healthcare is their long-term growth area, carrying through the vision of former CEO and now chairman Jeff Bezos.

It also doesn’t help to be the corporate target of the FTC, not mentioned in the Bloomberg article.

This Editor will quote herself from a recent article. While it was in the context of learnings from Olive AI, it applies equally to those with lots of success in other businesses or even other parts of healthcare. Know that healthcare, no matter what the conferences say, is an entrenched, over-regulated, risk-averse, and thus extremely slow-moving business. The risk level is high, the reward may be incremental, at best. And the big guys–the payers, big health systems, and their vendors, will always have it all over you.

Short takes: Oracle Cerner still has major hurdles, says VA, Congress; One Medical adds Hackensack Meridian to specialist network, HTA to employer benefits; NHS trialing AI tracking of home behavioral patterns for at-risk patients

VA’s All Quiet on the EHR Front doesn’t mean nothing is happening. With the House hard at work with a new speaker, negotiating budget extensions, and generally trying to get work done before the Christmas-New Year recess, the work of subcommittees goes on. Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Montana), chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs’ Subcommittee on Technology Modernization, yesterday (15 Nov) in what was titled “Electronic Health Record Modernization Deep Dive: System Uptime” got an update on the status of Oracle Cerner from Kurt DelBene, the VA’s chief information officer. His testimony wasn’t exactly reassuring. “Overall we still think there’s a ways to go. I don’t want to present the system as all set and ready to go.” In a rare show of bipartisanship, ranking member Rep. Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick, D-Florida, said that “[Oracle] training and change management are still woefully inadequate and user satisfaction is still critically low.” And despite being invited by Chairman Rosendale, Oracle’s Mike Sicilia didn’t show up or send regrets, which made Rep. Cherfilus-McCormick a little livid. FedScoop  HISTalk in its recap also pointed out that Rep.Rosendale “cited a report saying that it will take Oracle Health 15 more years to match VistA’s functionality. [VA deputy CIO Laura Prietula] responded that she doesn’t think it will take that long.” Oracle Cerner, in the few VA locations where it is operative, has not had a complete system outage in six months. Hearing and 1 hour 46 min. video (YouTube), hearing documents

Amazon continues to build out One Medical to, perhaps, ubiquity. On the East Coast, Amazon’s One Medical adds a major New Jersey health system relationship, Hackensack Meridian Health. Like its newly inked relationship with CommonSpirit Health, it will add integrated specialty providers to One Medical’s primary care focus. Specific locations based on patient needs are not specified yet nor financials. Implementation timing is unusually long–by the end of 2024. On a faster track may be One Medical’s deal with Health Transformation Alliance (HTA), a consortium of large US employers comprising 67 employers including Coca-Cola, Intel, Boeing, and many others totaling nearly 5 million employees. Timing and financials were not disclosed. This adds to One Medical’s current contracts with 8,500 companies that offer its primary care services as an employee health benefit. Becker’s, FierceHealthcare

NHS experiments with predictive health indicators and AI modeling for at-risk patients to prevent unnecessary admissions. Four GP practices in Somerset will be using an AI system that will flag registered patients who have complex health needs first, and are most at risk of hospital admission or who rarely contact their GP. Monitored in Buckinghamshire, the most interesting part of this is that the AI is linked to electronic sensors on kettles and fridges that spot changes in Somerset patients’ eating and drinking habits, obviously as an indicator of changes in health. (Does this remind anyone of 3rings or QuietCare?) Changes are reported to an Onward Care team of health coaches, nurses, and GPs who speak to patients and ask about any health or living issues. They can provide, based on patient input, deliveries of food parcels, arranging for cleaning or shopping services, home alterations to help to avoid falls, or to link them up with local voluntary groups to reconnect them with community resources or simply to help avoid loneliness. Clinical care can also be scheduled including specialist care. The NHS reports that GP practices can use this system to solve 95% of their issues or escalate anything clinical. Why this is important: hard winter and isolation, even with the holidays, loom after an autumn of wild weather and the persistent shortage of hospital beds and GP capacity/timeliness of appointments.  DigitalHealth.net

Roundup: Virgin Pulse, NextGen close fast; Elucid, Eleos, Vida, Neteera funding; One Medical-CommonSpirit; Indian Health $2.5B EHR to General Dynamics+Oracle; losses, layoffs at Cano Health, 15% digital cuts at Mass General Brigham

No surprise that some big deals in digital health closed at year’s end before we roll out the turkey and the holiday decorations.

  • The Virgin Pulse-HealthComp merger that adds benefits analytics to Virgin’s employee wellness platform closed last Thursday (9 November). It was announced only in late September [TTA 29 Sep]. This creates what they estimate is a $3 billion company. Ownership is also changing to New Mountain Capital, the owner of HealthComp, now as the majority owner of the new company with Marlin Equity Partners in minority ownership with others including Blackstone and Morgan Health. Other than Chris Michalak becoming CEO of Virgin Pulse and HealthComp, there is no confirmation of financing nor management/employee transitions or headquarters (Virgin is in Providence Rhode Island, HealthComp in Fresno California). Virgin release
  • EHR NextGen closed its $1.8 billion taking-private by private equity firm Thoma Bravo after shareholders approved it the previous Tuesday for $23.95/share in cash. This was announced around US Labor Day and closed in record time on Friday 10 November. As previously noted, this ended 41 years of public trading for a company that was one of the pioneers of EHRs and practice management. In its release, Thoma Bravo will “leverage its operational and software expertise” and “adding new products and capabilities, both organically and inorganically, to continue enabling NextGen Healthcare’s customers to deliver exceptional patient outcomes.” Healthcare Dive, FierceHealthcare (also Virgin Pulse)

Are these lights at the end of the dark M&A tunnel for health tech and related? Or avoiding the oncoming train of FTC and DOJ regulations that collide head-on with M&A with the pending imposition of the Draft Merger Guidelines and the Premerger Notification rules under Hart-Scott-Rodino (HSR)?

It seems like top digital health law firm Epstein Becker Green has caught up with Editor Cassandra [TTA 20 July, 20 June]  in this Diagnosing Health Care Podcast of 10 November. Fun estimate: the time in filing a premerger notification may be increased by 289%. The cloudy crystal ball was clear indeed….

Last week was also a busy time for smaller companies’ fundings–even letter rounds! 

  • Elucid scored $80 million in Series C funding led by led by Elevage Medical Technologies, bringing total funding for this AI-assisted cardiovascular imaging company. They have the “only FDA-cleared non-invasive tool able to accurately characterize arterial plaque, simulating what pathologists would see under a microscope and establishing a histologic ground truth. The company is also pursuing an indication for non-invasive measurement of fractional flow reserve (FFRCT), uniquely derived from its PlaqueIQ technology, to measure coronary blockages and the extent of ischemia.” Release
  • In behavioral health, Eleos Health now has $40 million in Series B funding to add to previous funding of $28 million. The Series B was led by Menlo Ventures, with participation from F-Prime Capital, Eight Roads, Arkin Digital Health, SamsungNEXT, and ION. Eleos has developed AI-assisted solutions for group therapy sessions, compliance automation, case management, concurrent documentation, and value-based care support. They will use the additional funding for further development as well as network expansion and EHR partnerships. Release
  • Vida Health, which offers health coaching for chronic conditions, primarily obesity and diabetes management, gained $28.5 million in an unlettered round led by existing investors Ally Bridge, Canvas Ventures, General Atlantic, Hercules Capital, and others. Vida also announced a change of CEOs. Joe Murad succeeds Stephanie Tilenius, who is stepping down after nine years as founder/CEO, transitioning to an advisory capacity. Mr. Murad joins the company’s board. He was previously with WithMe Health, where he was president/CEO for nearly five years and previously headed PokitDoc before its acquisition by Change Healthcare in 2018. Release  Also Mobihealthnews on Elucid, Eleos, and Vida.
  • Israeli RPM company Neteera now has an additional $6.7 million as part of a Series B extension. Their unique RPM uses sub-THZ radar to monitor vital signs through bedding and clothing, then analyzes the data and produces reports on its platform. Neteera partners with Foxconn on their RPM and currently sells to long-term care facilities in the US.  Pulse 2.0

Amazon’s One Medical announced a partnership with CommonSpirit Health’s Virginia Mason Franciscan Health (VMFH) in the Seattle Puget Sound metro. This will add integrated specialty care in that area to One Medical’s primary care focus. VMFH has 2,000 providers in an integrated network of providers, outpatient facilities, and hospitals. Financials weren’t disclosed, but according to Becker’s, in another One Medical partnership, a health system disclosed that it “reimburses One Medical for providing care on its behalf and collects the fee-for-service revenue from the patient visits. One Medical previously collaborated with Seattle-based Swedish (part of Renton, Wash.-based Providence) in the region.” VMFH release, FierceHealthcare

The federal Indian Health System (IHS) is modernizing its EHR and moving to a General Dynamics IT-managed Oracle Cerner system. Its current system is the 40+-year-old Resource and Patient Management System–based on (surprise!) VistA. What is most interesting in the release is that General Dynamics Information Technology (IT) is listed as the primary contractor that will “build, configure, and maintain a new IHS enterprise Electronic Health Record system utilizing Oracle Cerner technology.” One very interesting bit of verbiage! The IHS used an “Indefinite Delivery, Indefinite Quantity” contract structure for this requirement which is explained as “the IHS will issue specific task orders for technical support and services. This gives the IHS the ability to adjust what it purchases, incorporate lessons learned, user input, and availability of new technology.” Reports indicate its ultimate value to General Dynamics IT in the 10-year contract to be close to $2.5 billion. IHS provides healthcare services for 2.8 million American Indians and Native Alaskans belonging to over 570 tribes. IHS release, Healthcare IT News

Cano Health continues its hemorrhage. Q3 loss was $497.1 million in Q3, with a cut of 21% of its workforce, or approximately 842 staff. Their loss was 4x times the year-prior Q3 on revenue of $788.1 million. Adding to operating losses, they were hit with a $354 million impairment charge and poor operating results from higher third-party medical costs. 52% of the staff cuts reflect the sales of operating units such as in Texas and Nevada to Humana CenterWell and exits in California, New Mexico, and Illinois. The remaining 48% is from restructuring. Now a Florida-only operation except for Puerto Rico (ending early 2024), they are concentrating on ACO REACH and Medicare Advantage there. Their clinics are now 126, down from 169 at the end of June. Cano is still looking for a buyer, which indicates that they anticipate further rough going. Healthcare Dive, Cano Health Q3 Financial Powerpoint

And winding up the bad news, Mass General Brigham, which is partnering with Best Buy for their Healthcare at Home programs, will be doing it with at least 15% fewer digital staff. They are offering voluntary separation packages to those employees in the hope of finding enough takers. The offer is a not especially generous two weeks of severance for every year of service. If the magic number of 15% is not reached, layoffs will start after Thanksgiving. Reportedly a state agency, the Massachusetts Health Policy Commission, has deemed that MGB’s cost growth is too much. MGB is the largest private employer in Massachusetts with 80,000 workers. The offers were floated starting from 1 November and will close on 15 November, with layoffs if needed to be announced on 4 December. The targeting of digital is claimed to be for modernization. The area is responsible for multiple areas of IT and maintaining patients’ electronic health records. Boston Herald, Healthcare Dive

Short takes: Owlet Dream Sock FDA clearance; Best Buy-Mass General partner for at-home care; Amazon offers Prime members deeper One Medical discount

Some really good news for Owlet. The Dream Sock finally got to the mountain top and received de novo FDA clearance for pulse oximetry. To date, it is the only over-the-counter medical pulse oximetry device for the baby market. This adds to the device’s Baby’s Live Health Readings, including pulse rate and oxygen saturation level. The platform also provides Health Notifications, which send alerts to a smartphone with lights and alarm sounds if baby’s readings fall outside of preset ranges. Existing and new Dream Sock buyers will be upgraded to the new features by end of 2023. The Dream Sock is for use with infants 1-18 months and 6 to 30 pounds. Pricing observed for the current Dream Sock is in the $300 range. Owlet release

This follows FDA clearance for the prescription BabySat in June [TTA 21 June]. That is scheduled to be introduced later this year in the US only. The non-prescription Dream Duo, which combines the Dream Sock with a baby cam, will continue to be sold. 

Financially, things have improved a lot since last year. The stock as of 11 July was restored to NYSE listing, but it required a reverse split and an 18 month compliance plan, Currently, it’s trading at about $4.80 which is NYSE compliant, up from well below $1 in June. Also in July, they hired a new president and chief revenue officer, Jonathan Harris, from recently acquired air purification system Molekule. In August, they reported a Q2 adjusted EBITDA loss of $4.3 million, narrowed substantially from prior year Q2’s $16.7 million. This was achieved on lower revenue of $13.1 million versus last year’s $18.3 million. Q1 revenue was $10.7 million. Q3 will be reported on 13 November. Release  Having followed them since the ‘telehealth for the bassinet set’ days of 2012-2013, their continued independence, and their focus on baby health, this Editor continues to wish them bonne chance.

Mass General Brigham’s hospital-to-home and home care programs get a Best Buy boost. Mass General plans to integrate Best Buy’s delivery capabilities for their Healthcare at Home program in several areas. For Home Hospital acute care, Best Buy will supply the Current Health remote patient monitoring program to build out a technology-enabled clinical delivery model that connects patients to nurses, paramedics, advanced practitioners, and physicians. For Home Care, Best Buy will supply Lively Mobile Plus personal emergency response system (PERS) and leverage out capabilities such as Geek Squad to supply Mass General Brigham (MGB) patients with delivery of home-based care and logistics management for the care team. MGB plans to introduce Best Buy as part of Home Hospital in five Boston-area acute care hospitals. The program is for patients with heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and infections. While their Home Care operation is stated by MGB to be the largest certified provider in New England, the Home Hospital program can presently cover only 33 patients at a time. MGB’s goal is to shift 10% of inpatient care to patients’ homes over the next five years, so expanding capacity and capabilities are critical. FierceHealthcare, Mobihealthnews, MGB release

Get your One Medical now, just $99 per year or $9 a month! It’s an offer hard to refuse for Amazon Prime members. It’s half off the annual membership of $199, with additional members up to five for only $6 a month or $66 annually. What Prime members get is 24/7 virtual care access without further charge through their app that includes video chats with licensed providers plus their “Treat Me Now” service, fast care for common issues like cold and flu, skin issues, allergies, and urinary tract infections. It does not include any One Medical in-office services, if available in the member’s area. The 200 million+ Prime members were briefly offered in February a $144 membership but apparently this new incentive is not only at a deeper discount, but also longer term or permanent.

Time to make that $3.9 billion acquisition pay off. This push is clearly to build up One Medical membership, which stood at only 836,000 members at end of 2022, and build up cash flow. Amazon is not reporting on the success of the earlier discount offer. A question this Editor has–if 1 million Prime members signed up–that’s only a 0.5% rate–does One Medical have the telehealth capacity to serve these patients, especially at peak usage such as cold and flu season?

Prime members are also able to access Amazon Care, which is virtual only, cash-only by medical event asynchronous telehealth services. If a Prime member goes in person to a One Medical practice, they do take insurance. FierceHealthcare, Healthcare Dive, Amazon Prime offer page

Amazon Clinic delays 50-state telehealth rollout due to Federal data privacy, HIPAA concerns on user registration, PHI–is it a warning?

Amazon delaying Amazon Clinic national rollout from today (27 June) to 19 July. Amazon Clinic, which debuted last November as an asynchronous, message-based telehealth consult or prescription renewal referral platform [TTA 16 Nov 2022], has run once again into Federal scrutiny. This time, it’s two Senators from New England–the well-known Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and the little-known Peter Welch (D-VT)–who are poking Amazon with the stick of whether sensitive health and personal data are flowing into Amazon’s other databases.

Their letter to CEO Andy Jassy was fair warning that, as this Editor predicted last February (see the list of open issues) after the One Medical buy closed to high-fives all around, the government is nowhere near finished with scrutinizing Amazon and how personal data, including health data, flows between their units and is monetized. 

In a two-page letter dated 16 June based on reporting in the Washington Post (100% owned by Amazon’s 12.6% shareholder and controller, Jeff Bezos–the irony runs deep here), the two senators believe that they have caught Amazon but good–and with some of the goods. 

  • Users of the Amazon Clinic service are asked, in the registration form, to authorize the “use and disclosure of protected health information.” They are told that agreement to this gives Amazon access to the “complete patient file” and that this information “may be re-disclosed,” after which it will “no longer be protected by HIPAA”. By agreeing to this, users waive any HIPAA personal health information protections.
  • If the user declines to agree, they are redirected and unable to complete Amazon Clinic registration and denied care. HIPAA regulations specifically prohibit conditioning care on agreement to disclose patient information. (This is known by anyone who has taken required training or certification on HIPAA when working for health plans or other regulated healthcare providers including RPM and telehealth vendors.)

The letter raises the sensible, usual questions on why personal data is being collected and what Amazon is doing with it. For instance, it requests responses on how patient data is used by Amazon, what data is shared with third-party entities, and what data is used in any analytics or algorithms. It cites as a non-compliance example the $1.5 million that GoodRx paid in an FTC penalty on their past Meta Pixel usage for ad tracking. (Interestingly avoiding the $7.5 million Teladoc paid for similar ad tracker misuse by BetterHelp.)

The $30/visit service has been available in 33 states since last year and currently through asynchronous messaging, provides care for minor conditions such as UTIs, herpes, and skin infections. The expansion will cover all 50 states and add synchronous video telehealth.

One would think that with billions on the line with One Medical, Amazon would be more cautious about poking the Antitrust Bear. They have already been put on notice by the Federal Trade Commission, the Department of Justice (DOJ), Congress, and multiple states. For Amazon Clinic, requiring individuals to waive their right to protect their PHI in registering for the service is downright brazen. How this got past their legal and compliance departments boggles the mind. Why Amazon is not ‘hiving off’ PHI collected through this small service is another question. Doing so would show to FTC and DOJ that Amazon can play by the rules. Instead, it confirms the widely held belief of those in healthcare that Amazon culturally cannot deal with the restrictions that come with the territory. Are they deliberately ‘playing chicken’ with the Feds? Pollo loco? This up-to-the-line behavior tends not to end well, as the telemental health providers that over-prescribed controlled substances found out.  POLITICO, The Hill, mHealth Intelligence

FTC takes off the gloves: $7.8M fine for Teladoc’s BetterHelp, warns Amazon (and everyone else) on One Medical patient privacy

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) goes to ‘bare knucks’. BetterHelp, Teladoc’s promising telemental business, settled a complaint brought by the FTC in a 4-0 vote over ad trackers and sharing consumer health data with third parties. The ad trackers shared data with  Facebook, Criteo, Pinterest, and Snapchat for ad retargeting to these customers, knowing their situation. While the $7.8 million fine has to be approved by a Federal judge (as does GoodRx’s), the $7.8 million will be returned to consumers whose data was shared. How this will be done is a question mark to this Editor, but the tracking was done from 2013 (prior to Teladoc’s buy in 2015) to 2021, so quite a few will be eligible. According to the complaint, BetterHelp made false and deceptive statements to users about the disclosure of their information and formally “disseminated, or caused to be disseminated, misleading and deceptive representations regarding its compliance with federal health privacy laws.”

BetterHelp did not disclose to users that it was sharing personal information with third parties and never obtained consent. In fact, they assured users on intake that their information would be private, between them and their therapist. BetterHelp did not offer disclosure of information sharing and an opt-out form until October 2021. The information shared was extensive:

  • Intake questionnaire answers, such as whether the user was experiencing suicidal thoughts, and if they belonged to a group such as LGBTQ, teens, or Christians
  • Prescriptions
  • Prior therapy history if any
  • Email addresses and IP addresses
  • Financial status

The decisions on sharing information were delegated to a junior marketing analyst without training in PHI and protecting privacy from 2017. There was no formal compliance review or employee training in HIPAA practices. BetterHelp also displayed various logos, including HIPAA, to assure users that their information adhered to governmental standards and practices for health, when it clearly did not. (Editor’s note: as a marketer, both are shocking with Teladoc as a parent company well aware of these issues.)

Why this is important: Ad tracking is a form of revenue for companies, which now will be effectively shut off. This presents a decline in revenue hopes for Teladoc, which in January positioned BetterHelp as a bright spot of ‘balanced growth’. Expect that BetterHelp will be only the first of these companies in telemental health counseling to receive a working over from a newly-aggressive FTC–and with a return to in-person visits required for Schedule 2 meds, further depressing the entire category.  Complaint, Healthcare Dive, Mobihealthnews

FTC’s shot across the bow to Amazon and everyone in DTC digital health. With Amazon closing the buy of One Medical, the FTC issued a 1 1/2 page public statement warning both companies that because of privacy representations they have made prior to and after the acquisition, any failure to maintain consumer privacy will be in violation of Section 5 of the FTC Act. FTC will be looking at ‘false net impressions’ and “make clear not only how they will use protected health information as defined by HIPAA but also how the integrated entity will use any One Medical patient data for purposes beyond the provision of health care. ” And in closing, a broader warning:

The Commission has long taken the position that personal health information is sensitive data and has reaffirmed this position through recent enforcement actions. Further, companies that fail to have adequate safeguards or controls in place to protect sensitive data or fail to obtain consumers’ express affirmative consent for marketing based on sensitive data such as health data may be in violation of the law.

The law requires companies to treat sensitive data with great care. Accordingly, the parties and the market more broadly should be on notice that the Commission will continue to monitor this space and bring enforcement actions whenever the facts warrant.

Hat tip to HISTalk 3 March   TTA on FTC issues with Amazon post-closing 23 Feb

More gimlety views on CVS-Oak Street Health, Amazon-One Medical acquisitions

Perhaps this Editor is not that much of an Outlier in thinking that these deals don’t beat, say, sliced bread. Oak Street Health (OSH) disclosed its financials in an SEC 10-K filed on Tuesday. One must wonder what CVS is seeing in the company other than bulking up its primary care profile. Their loss grew to $510 million from 2021’s $415 million. While OSH grew impressively in 2022 with a 51% increase in revenue to $2.2 billion, driven by 40 new centers ending with a total of 169 facilities in 21 states, expenses grew exponentially for the new patients: medical claims expenses grew 48%, cost of care went up 49%, and sales and marketing up 38%. Scalable, so they claim; profitable, not till 2025 at earliest.

Other problems were revealed in the 10-K. OSH has substantial business from other payers, which may not be pleased that CVS owns a small payer called Aetna, though has pledged to keep OSH payer-neutral. OSH leases or licenses most of its care centers from Humana. That payer also accounted for 32% of its 2022 capitated revenue. Centene’s plans and HealthSpring made up an additional 23%. Other, more routine concerns are regulatory review, attrition of physicians and clinician staff, and last but not least, breakup fees ($500 million if CVS walks away, $300 million if it’s OSH). When you add these to other factors as outlined in our earlier article, such as the Medicare Advantage and high-need populations, CVS is cutting off a hefty slice of loaf, especially considering that the more complex Signify Health buy is due to close this quarter. Earlier opinions on the buy [TTA 16 Feb], Healthcare Dive

Now to Amazon and One Medical. This Editor received her invitation to buy a One Medical membership earlier this week (left). Countering this Editor’s analysis from last week, which maintains that Amazon is already under a broad antitrust microscope viewed by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Department of Justice (DOJ), Healthcare Dive counters, quite logically and in the view of their experts, that if either agency was going to object, they would have done so before the closing, and the grounds were likely too novel. The article concedes that the FTC could take action further down the road, for instance if Amazon violates HIPAA or consumer privacy with ad trackers. Instead, the focus is on objections by consumer groups, Amazon leveraging health data, privacy violations, and a general consumer unease around Amazon dealing with their health issues.

  • Consumer protection group Public Citizen urged regulators to block the deal in a letter to regulatory groups after it was announced last summer. For instance, it could bundle One Medical and Prime membership (a no-brainer). By tying the two together, Amazon could gain consent for using patient data from health records. Amazon could also serve ads for products related to medical conditions without that access (that old Pixel/ad tracker business again). These concerns are publicly shared by two FTC commissioners.
  • Analysts said that data acquisition was likely a big driving factor for the deal. After linking One Medical’s data with that from its other products and services, Amazon can analyze petabytes of healthcare data in the cloud and use the findings to better manage the health of One Medical’s Medicare population, build new products and pinpoint people with rare diseases to solicit participation in clinical trials, according to (market research firm) Forrester’s (Natalie) Schibell.” [Editor] That would, of course, require patient consent. 
  • Forrester noted that the consumer unease around Amazon in healthcare is substantial. 34% of surveyed adults weren’t at all comfortable with Amazon for healthcare needs with an additional 17% only somewhat more comfortable (tier 2). Trust levels are low, and it would take only one or two incidents, such as a security breach or HIPAA violations, to destroy it. This Editor would add that if One Medical practices were not managed impeccably, that would go viral among individual and corporate members, in a way that Amazon Care did not.

Breaking: Amazon closes One Medical $3.9B buy, despite loose ends–and is the Antitrust Bear being poked?

The Big Deal closes, but loose ends and larger issues remain. Today’s news of Amazon closing its purchase of the One Medical primary care group is being received in the press, especially the healthcare press, enthusiastically. This Editor cannot blame her counterparts, as since last year there’s not been much in the way of good news, compared to 2020-21’s bubble bath. Her bet as of a couple of weeks ago was that the deal would not go through due to Amazon’s financial losses in 2022 and/or that the FTC would further hold it up, both of which I was wrong, wrong, wrong on. (Cue the fresh egg on the face.)

Wiping off said egg, here is what Amazon is buying and their first marketing move. (Information on size and more from the 1 Life 2022 year end 10-K):

  • Amazon acquired 1Life Healthcare Inc. for $3.9 billion, or $18 per share in cash.
  • The practices are primarily branded as One Medical, closing out 2022 with 836,000 members and 220 medical offices in 27 markets
  • It is a value-based primary care model with direct consumer enrollment and third-party sponsorship across commercially insured and Medicare populations. Their Net Promoter Score (NPS) is an extremely high 90. (NPS is a proprietary research metric that indicates customer loyalty and satisfaction.)
  • They also have at-risk members from the $2.1 billion Iora Medical acquisition in seven states, in Medicare Advantage (MA) and Medicare shared savings value-based care (VBC) arrangements [TTA 27 July 22].
  • One Medical has contracts with over 9,000 companies, establishing Amazon at long last in the desirable corporate market.
  • One Medical also provides a 24/7 telehealth service exclusively to employees of enterprise customers where there are no clinics.
  • Amazon will be offering a discounted individual membership of $144 versus $199 for the first year, without an Amazon Prime subscription.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which had additional questions about the buy as part of a Second Request in the Hart-Scott-Rodino Act reporting process, did not act in time to prevent the closing. Nor did the SEC or DOJ. This is CEO Andy Jassy’s first Big Deal at Amazon and certainly, the champagne and kvelling are flowing at HQ plus One Medical’s investors and shareholders for a successful exit. But should Amazon be looking over their shoulder? 

What are the open issues? Is a large, hungry Bear called Antitrust being poked, or lying in wait for its prey?

  • The FTC has the right to probe into the transaction despite the closing and a deadline passing for antitrust review. In FierceHealthcare and STAT, FTC spokesman Douglas Farrar is quoted as telling the WSJ (paywalled) in a statement that “The FTC’s investigation of Amazon’s acquisition of One Medical continues. The commission will continue to look at possible harms to competition created by this merger as well as possible harms to consumers that may result from Amazon’s control and use of sensitive consumer health information held by One Medical.”
  • As previously reported here, only in December did the FTC send out subpoenas to current and former One Medical current and former customers as part of its investigation. That’s late to stop a buy–unless FTC had something else larger in mind.
  • Early February reports in Bloomberg and the WSJ indicated that this may be part of a larger FTC action in developing a wide-ranging antitrust lawsuit against Amazon on multiple anticompetitive business practices. Their chair, Lina Khan, is highly critical of Amazon’s business practices. Amazon’s buy of iRobot, maker of Roomba, which at $1.7 billion was a comparative snack, is still not closed and has received a lot of negative attention for possible misuse of consumer information. 
  • Sidebar: This FTC is ‘feeling its oats’ on antitrust. GoodRx found itself making history as FTC’s first culprit of the 2009 Health Breach Notification Rule, used to prosecute companies for misuse of consumer health information. This was for their past use of Meta Pixel, discontinued 2019, to send information to third-party advertisers. One Medical is a HIPAA-covered entity which puts it at a far higher risk level. 
  • The Department of Justice (DOJ) has not publicly moved to approve or disapprove–yet. 
  • The change of ownership has not been reported as passing muster by regulators in multiple states. Example: Oregon approved it, but with multiple stipulations [TTA 6 Jan]–and there are only five One Medical clinics in Oregon. States like New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and California are not exactly pushovers for approval, with California alone having two approval entities.
  • Congress is increasingly feisty on data privacy–consumer health information and its misuse in telehealth [TTA 9 Feb]. 

Will this be ‘buy now, regret later’, a lá Teladoc’s expensive acquisition of Livongo, or Babylon Health going public with a SPAC? Is this a clever trap laid for Amazon?

  • Amazon is already under a Federal and state microscope on data privacy. Information crossing over from One Medical to their ecommerce operations such as Pharmacy and Prime will just add to the picture. 
  • Accepting Medicare/Medicare Advantage increases scrutiny on quality metrics and billing, to name only two areas. At-risk patients in Medicare and other VBC models, especially Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP) fall under CMS scrutiny. Amazon may take a look at that and spin-off/sell off the former Iora Health practices/patients.
  • Amazon has failed in healthcare previously, as a partner in the misbegotten Haven and in its own Amazon Care ‘home delivery’/telehealth model selling to companies, now closed. Its asynchronous virtual care service, Amazon Clinic, is too new to judge its success. 
  • Office-based, brick-and-mortar healthcare provided by doctors, nurses, and allied health professionals is an entirely new area for Amazon. Will they be satisfied with their new masters–and new metrics? It is also expensive. One Medical has never been profitable and did not project breakeven for years. (If one asks how this is different than CVS acquiring Oak Street Health, or Walgreens acquiring VillageMD and Summit Health, CVS and Walgreens have experience for decades in multiple aspects of providing healthcare–profitably and in compliance.)
  • One wonders how heavy of a hand Amazon will place on One Medical’s operations. How their management, doctors, and other professionals will feel after a year or two of Amazon ownership is anyone’s guess. This Editor doubts they will remain in place or silent if unhappy.
  • Selling to enterprises–and account retention–is a vastly different relationship-building process and buyer journey than 1:many consumer transactions. One Medical made a go of it with 9,000 companies and enrolling employees at about a 40% rate, so they did something right. By contrast, Amazon failed to sell Amazon Care well to companies. Humility and service, for starters, are required.
  • Last but certainly not least, is how Amazon will deal with regulation and compliance at multiple levels.

Expect that the FTC and DOJ will not be done with Amazon any time soon in what looks like a wider antitrust pursuit that may take some time, which they have. Amazon has tens of millions in government business (AWS) at stake and shareholders expecting a reversal of losses. Pro tip to Amazon: run One Medical as a separate operation with minimal integration and no information sharing until past this. And then some.  Healthcare Dive, Becker’s

Is CVS’ Oak Street Health deal genius? Or a waste of time and $10B?

A sample of the split opinion. In the buccaneering between CVS and Walgreens, plus Walmart and Amazon, to add primary care, CVS definitely buckled the swash with three deals: Signify Health (being questioned by DOJ and FTC) [TTA 21 Oct 22 latest], a $100 million investment in Carbon Health [TTA 11 Jan], and Oak Street Health [TTA 9 Feb]. These are in line with their strategy of acquiring companies to expand their capabilities in primary care, provider enablement, and home health. The wisdom of the first–primary care–is being questioned by a few in healthcare. 

The basic argument is that primary care is money-losing, ‘unless you have significant ancillary revenue and downstream referral income’ according to Randy Davis, vice president and CIO of CGH Medical Center, based in Sterling, Illinois. Oak Street’s Medicare Advantage business is also money-losing because of its dependence on increasing severity scores (risk adjustment) and is generally an ‘uphill battle’. This Editor will add that as previously noted–and lauded in CVS’ release–Oak Street is notable for serving underserved patient populations–50 percent of Oak Street Health’s patients have a housing, food, or isolation risk factor. That equates to greater expenses that may or may not be reimbursable. Oak Street certainly has proven the money-losing part, forecasting a loss of $200 million for 2023 and not projecting a profit until 2025. Mr. Davis was blunt, calling it a deal that made no sense and “CVS better have a plan they implement in 18 months or they’ll get slaughtered.”

Another rap on the deal is that it is not big enough. Given the size of Oak Street at about 169 offices and the national figure is quoted as 600,000 ambulatory sites, it’s tiny. However, what isn’t considered is Aetna’s existing relationships with primary care physicians through ACOs formed as joint arrangements, and if Signify Health goes through, the Signify/Caravan ACOs. In fact, this may be a factor in the DOJ/FTC consideration of antitrust.

Others see opportunity in integrating primary care into CVS’ retail locations (Carbon Health) and serving historically underserved communities–much the same tack that Walgreens is taking with VillageMD (acquiring Summit Health) and Walmart with Walmart Health clinics. Becker’s Hospital Review

And as to Amazon, this Editor’s prediction is that Amazon will strike its Jolly Roger and sail away from the One Medical buy.

CVS works their plan in Oak Street Health buy talks, Carbon Health $100M investment + clinic pilot; VillageMD-Summit finalizes (updated)

CVS, Walgreens, Amazon, Walmart all chasing the same type of companies to expand their service continuum. During their Q2 2022 earnings call, CVS Health announced that they were determined to enhance their services in three categories: primary care, provider enablement, and home health. And CVS’ CEO Karen Lynch was pretty blunt about it: “We can’t be in the primary care without M&A” (sic). So CVS’ latest moves should come as no surprise.

Oak Street Health: CVS is in talks with this value-based care primary care provider for primarily older adults in Medicare and Medicare Advantage plans. With 100 offices nationally, it’s not too small, not too large to combine with other operations. As a public company traded on the NYSE but puttering along in the $13-$22 per share range since the fall from a high of $30 in August, the news of CVS’ interest has boosted them above $28 and a market cap of just under $7 billion. Although Oak Street has previously maintained that they have no interest in a sale, it has never been profitable and is on track to lose $200 million this year. That is not a good look for CVS but they are working a strategy. Previously, CVS walked away from primary care group Cano Health [TTA 21 Oct 22]. Bloomberg News (paywalled) reported that CVS could pay $10 billion which would be over $40 a share. Healthcare Dive, Reuters

Carbon Health: CVS leads their Series D with a $100 million investment plus piloting Carbon Health operations in primary and urgent care clinics in their retail stores. However, the deal came at a price. Last week, prior to the investment announcement, Carbon announced that it would wind down lines of business in public health, remote patient monitoring, hardware, and chronic care programs, cutting 200 jobs in addition to a June cut of 250, at the time about 8% of their workforce. Carbon will now concentrate on their clinic core business. 100 are presently located across Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, Kansas, Florida, Massachusetts, and California (San Francisco, Bay Area, and San Jose).

In the last two years, Carbon raised $350 million and grew by acquiring four clinic chains. It diversified by buying Steady Health (chronic care management in diabetes) and Alertive Health (remote patient management)–both businesses they are departing. Reportedly last month they bought Inofab Health, an Istanbul-based digital health platform for patients with asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, and cystic fibrosis. Crunchbase, FierceHealthcare, Mobihealthnews, SF BizJournal,

CVS is still working its Signify Health acquisition past the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). It went into a Second Request for information in late October under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act of 1976 (HSR), which adds 30 days to the review timetable after the Second Request has been complied with. There is some competitive overlap between CVS and Signify in home health management and accountable care organization (ACO) operations, and some divestitures may be necessary. A closing in Q1 as planned seems optimistic. Acquiring Oak Street may complicate matters since their clinics operate as a Direct Contracting Entity (DCE, now ACO REACH). This present administration is not friendly towards healthcare consolidation of any type, especially with entities participating in Federal programs. (See UHG’s acquisition of Change Healthcare, with court approval being appealed by DOJ.) Reaching (so to speak) deep into CMS programs could be a red flag.

Walgreens’ VillageMD finalized their Summit Health acquisition for $8.9 billion yesterday (9 Jan) (updated). Now with 680 provider locations in 26 markets and 20,000 employees, the group adds to VillageMD’s primary care practices specialty practices in neurology, chiropractic, cardiology, orthopedics, and dermatology plus 150 City MD urgent care locations. 200 VillageMD locations are already adjacent to Walgreens locations. Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA) and Evernorth, the health services business of Cigna, were the two investors. WBA raised full-year sales guidance from $133.5 billion to $137.5 billion. The current chair and former chief executive officer of Summit Health, Jeffrey Le Benger, MD, will be the interim president until VillageMD finds a permanent president reporting to VillageMD CEO Tim Barry. Release, RevCycleIntelligence, Forbes  At this point, Walgreens hasn’t moved forward with the rumored acquisition of ACO management services organization Evolent Health [TTA 1 Oct 22], which would be far more complex. 

Amazon is still awaiting Federal approval for One Medical as well as in multiple states (Oregon only the first; expect scrutiny). It is also closing Amazon Care and opening asynchronous non-face-to-face telehealth service Amazon ClinicWalmart continues on an internal strategy of opening Walmart Health clinics in underserved areas. Earlier in 2022, they announced the opening of more health ‘superstores’ in Florida, having established 20 in Arkansas, Illinois, and Georgia starting in 2019. Walmart’s approach to retailing health services and products, since getting serious about it in 2018, has wavered with multiple changes of strategy and executive departures [TTA 22 Nov 22]

News briefs, catchup edition: UnitedHealth/Change decision October?, CVS wins $8B Signify Health auction, Walgreens majority buy of CareCentrix, FTC requests more info on Amazon-One Medical

Your Editor is semi-returned from Almost Two Weeks in Another Town, with a few more days to close out September (and summer into autumn) coming up. A lot of big news broke despite the usually slow Labor Day holiday week.

UnitedHealthcare Group/Change Healthcare Federal lawsuit to be decided in October–reports. The bench trial in the US District Court in Washington DC pitted the Department of Justice and state plaintiffs against UHG’s massive $13 billion acquisition of claims and EDI/data processing giant Change. It concluded 16 August with closing arguments presented 8 September. Dealreporter via Seeking Alpha reported that UHG and Change effectively countered DOJ’s antitrust objections to the acquisition. Change Healthcare had previously sold their claims editing business to TPG Capital to ease antitrust concerns.  Whether that will be enough in the current environment with greater sensitivities around healthcare consolidation remains to be seen. If approved, Change will be folded into OptumInsight. For a deeper dive into the issues, see TTA’s earlier reporting 3 August and 23 March.

CVS Health beat out other contenders with an $8 billion cash bid for Signify Health. It was a busy Labor Day for CVS as Signify’s board met and decided that day on CVS’ cash offer of $30.50 per share in their unusual auction. Amazon, UnitedHealth Group, and little-known Option Care Health were the other bidders. Signify is a strategic boost for CVS in becoming a major player in primary care, provider enablement, and home health as we’ve summarized here from CVS’ Q2 earnings call. Signify’s capabilities in in-home health delivery and provider services were cheaper to buy than to develop. Based on the weight given to it in the CVS release, Signify’s Caravan Health and their Medicare ACOs furnishing value-based care management services to 170 providers was a significant factor in the top price paid.

New Mountain Capital and their investors own 60% of Signify and will be exiting. Signify had in July announced their own exit from the costly and problematic Episodes of Care/BPCI business acquired with Remedy Partners back in 2019. This led to most of the over 480 staff layoffs announced last month. The sale is, as usual, pending regulatory approvals and isn’t expected to close until first half 2023. Kyle Armbrester, Signify’s CEO Kyle Armbrester will continue to lead the company as part of CVS Health. Healthcare Finance, FierceHealthcare

Rival Walgreens Boots Alliance completed their acquisition of a majority share of home care coordination platform CareCentrix. Walgreens’ final payment was $330 million for 55% of the company at an $800 million valuation. As noted previously, Walgreens ‘go big or go home’ strategy in primary care kicked off in 2020 with growing investments in VillageMD, culminating in last year’s $5.2 billion for 63% of the company. The plan is to co-locate Village Medical offices with 600 Walgreens locations by 2025 [TTA 14 Oct 2021]. CVS’ recent actions can be seen as a reaction to Walgreens’ aggressive moves. Healthcare Finance

Amazon now under FTC scrutiny for One Medical acquisition. If shutting down the much-publicized Amazon Care wasn’t quite enough last month, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) will be reviewing Amazon’s $3.9 billion buy of One Medical. This was announced in a 1Life Healthcare (parent of One Medical) 8-K filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Both 1Life and Amazon received requests for additional information on 2 September, above and beyond the usual required Hart-Scott-Rodino Act (HSR) reports that will be reviewed by the FTC and DOJ. Effectively it extends the HSR waiting period by 30 days after One Medical and Amazon have substantially complied with the additional information ‘second request’.

The FTC isn’t winning popularity contests with Amazon’s legal department, as the agency is reviewing their acquisition of iRobot, maker of robot vacuum cleaners. Mobihealthnews

Breaking: Amazon Care shutting down after three years–what’s next? (updated)

Amazon Care to cease operations after 31 December. Amazon Health Services is throwing in the towel on its primary care service for enterprise customers, after failing to make much headway with its mix of virtual care, in-home, and telehealth services. An internal email from Neil Lindsay, Amazon Health Services senior vice president, sent today (24 Aug) to employees but leaked to the press, stated that “This decision wasn’t made lightly and only became clear after many months of careful consideration. Although our enrolled members have loved many aspects of Amazon Care, it is not a complete enough offering for the large enterprise customers we have been targeting, and wasn’t going to work long-term.”

Employees who have been part of Amazon Care may have the opportunity to transfer to other parts of Health Services, according to the memo, or will be ‘supported’ in finding other roles within or outside the company. The total number of employees was not disclosed, but this Editor expects layoffs to be announced by the fall as Amazon Care winds down.

Amazon has been moving in a different direction with enterprises for some months. Reportedly the decision was made to ditch Amazon Care prior to agreeing to acquire One Medical, which was announced late in July. However, recently revealed negotiations actually started last February, with One Medical pitting Amazon against CVS until CVS dropped its bid effort [TTA 19 August]. 

As this Editor noted last month with the One Medical acquisition, “…for this Editor it is clear that Amazon with One Medical is buying itself into in-person and virtual primary care for the employer market, where it had limited success with its present largely virtual offering, and entreé with commercial plans and MA.” With One Medical, they will be acquiring an operation with 790,000 patients (including 40,000 at-risk, presumably Iora’s), 8,000 company clients, 125 physical offices in 21 US metros (including projected), and an established telehealth/telemedicine protocol. In other words, a ready-made provider and enterprise base to build on and sell into, for instance Amazon products like Pharmacy and PillPack.

Not addressed is what will be done, if anything, to transition current employer agreements for Amazon Care to One Medical.

It’s now a matter of whether HHS, DOJ, and FTC will agree to the buy or ask for additional divestitures. One conflict–Amazon Care–has just been removed. And this may clear the deck for other acquisitions, such as Signify Health [TTA 24 Aug], if Amazon wins the auction against CVS, UnitedHealth Group, and Option Care Health, though for a newcomer to healthcare Signify may very well be A Bridge Too Far.

What’s in play?

  • One Medical’s Iora Health and its high needs/high costs Medicare patient base. This has very much been held in the background, leading this Editor to think it will be sold to another health plan.
  • The status of the previous agreement with Crossover Health for 115,000 Amazon employees and dependents, delivered through their employer-based onsite clinics in 11 states in addition to concierge care [TTA 17 May]
  • Another previous agreement with Ginger for telemental health, only announced last week.

Amazon was touting Amazon Care as recently as earlier this year to shareholders. They had acquired employers outside Amazon such as Hilton, but not quickly enough. Expansion talk and the usual touting within the industry weren’t happening. There was an ‘air of mystery’ about what Amazon Care was doing, going back to the beginning.

Perhaps a major ‘tell’ was that Kristen Helton, general manager in charge of Amazon Care, was reported two weeks ago by Bloomberg News to be taking an “extended break to spend the summer with her family.” She had been in the GM position for three years after joining Amazon in 2015.

Count Amazon Care as one expensive learning course in the insanely costly University of Healthcare Delivery. This won’t be the first lesson, but Amazon can afford the tuition.

Geek Wire, FierceHealthcare

Friday short takes: was there a bidding war for One Medical? A concussion risk wearable tested. Get Well’s monkeypox digital care plan

Amazon’s scoop-up of One Medical apparently was not all Skittles, Rainbows, and Unicorns. Large companies like Amazon, Walmart, Allscripts, and CVS are on the hunt to fill gaps in their portfolio and technologies, but only “healthy health tech companies at the right (discounted) price that fill in their tech gaps.” Of course, some of these companies have more chips on the table and in the safe than others.

We know from earlier reporting [TTA 7 July] that One Medical and CVS had some talks, but that One Medical spurned the offer. It did establish that One Medical was in play. Some digging by Heather Landi at FierceHealthcare, taking a walk through SEC documents according to a regulatory disclosure with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filed 10 August, found that CVS (identified as Party A) and 1Life Healthcare, the parent of One Medical, started their acquisition talks in October 2021. 1Life was short on cash, getting shorter, needing to expand, and was having trouble raising the $300 million they estimated they needed. Starting this past February, 1Life management started to negotiate with Amazon. On 1 June, CVS offered $17 per share, boosting it by $1 the following day, but were informed by 1Life that there was another suitor. By 2 July, Amazon put $18 in an all-cash deal on the table. When news leaked via Bloomberg on 5 July that CVS was in discussions, CVS bowed out. By the end of July, 1Life and Amazon closed on the deal [TTA 27 July].

It came down to this–Amazon needed One Medical more than CVS. Watch for CVS and Walmart to make more provider/primary care moves by the time the snow flies this year. We’ve already noted that CVS inked a deal with Amwell a few days ago as their provider for Virtual Primary Care and that Walmart outright owns a telehealth provider, MeMD, though their overall strategy remains a bit murky.. CVS also has resources through Aetna that are integratable, such as provider networks.

And speaking of Amazon, they just inked a deal with Ginger to add telemental health as an option for Amazon Care. Healthcare Dive

In the US, we are very close to football–and concussion–season. Multiple concussions lead to CTE, which took a long time to recognize as a cause of premature dementia. A mHealth wearable has been tested to measure head kinematics–head movement–and detect sudden neck strain, such as whiplash. Current systems are embedded in helmets or the X-Patch, which uses accelerometers.  According to the report in AAAS’ EurekAlert!, Nelson Sepúlveda of Michigan State University and colleagues developed a novel patch sensor using a film layer of thermoplastic material, a ferroelectret nanogenerator or FENG. “This produces electrical energy when physically touched or pressure is applied. The electrical signal produced is proportional to the physical strain on the neck and can be used to estimate the acceleration and velocity of sudden neck movement, two important markers for predicting concussion.” For this test, a dummy was used. Nature Scientific Reports, mHealth Intelligence

Monkeypox, its transmissibility, and treatment have also percolated this summer.  Get Well Network, which we noted last month in a JAMA study used its GetWellLoop RPM and monitoring in a Covid-19 home treatment study, released a new monkeypox digital care management plan. It will permit monitoring of symptoms from home using RPM, help direct patients to higher levels of care if and when needed, and aids hospitals in managing mandatory regulatory requirements for reporting and tracking infectious diseases. LifeBridge Health in the Baltimore area began offering Get Well’s monkeypox symptom monitoring tool last month. Release

Week-end wrapup: CVS plans to expand primary care, home health; Cera Care raises £264M; Linus Health’s AI enabled dementia screener, Cognito’s cognitive therapy slows brain atrophy

The sandal (it’s summer) drops at CVS Health in primary care–and maybe more. On their Q2 earnings call, CVS discussed that they are determined to enhance their services in three categories: primary care, provider enablement, and home health. The footwear that dropped was from CEO Karen Lynch: “We can’t be in the primary care without M&A” (sic). It was inevitable, given that rival Walgreens has a $5 billion deal with VillageMD for freestanding Village Medical clinics, Amazon with the pending One Medical buy–which it passed on only weeks prior [TTA 7 July], and Walmart picking along the edges with in-store clinics and telehealth. CVS’ criteria: strong management team, strong tech stack, strong scale, strong ability to build a pathway to profitability. (Certainly not an easy set of hurdles) CVS’ urgent care and in-store MinuteClinics have been doing well, with business up 12% to 2.8 million patient visits year to date. HISTalk, FierceHealthcare, Motley Fool transcript of earnings call

London-based Cera Care Ltd. raised £263.6 million ($320 million) in an equally split debt/equity round. Equity funding came from existing investor Kairos HQ, then the Vanderbilt University Endowment, Schroders Capital, Jane Street Capital, Yabeo Capital, Squarepoint Capital, Guinness Asset Management, Oltre Impact, 8090 Partners, and technology investor Robin Klein. Debt was not disclosed. The fresh financing will go towards expanding patient capacity in the UK plus Germany from the current 15,000 to 100,000.  Cera delivers in-home care, nursing, telehealth, and prescription delivery services using a digital platform and AI algorithms that use the data gathered to predict changes in patient status. TechCrunch, UKTechNews

Two developments from separate companies in the vital areas of improving dementia and Alzheimer’s diagnosis–and outcomes:

  • Linus Health has debuted its cognitive assessment and patient questionnaire platform for clinical use by primary care providers. The assessment tests for subtle changes in cognitive function, which in the preclinical phase will often go undetected. The concept is to push forward diagnosis and therapies to slow disease progression. It is based on an iPad and includes their DCTclock, an AI-enhanced version of the traditional paper-based Clock Drawing Test using a digital stylus or pen that can also spot symptoms of early-stage Parkinson’s. The evaluation including the DCTclock takes about 10 minutes. Release, FierceBiotech
  • Cognito Therapeutics is still in the investigational stage with its GammaSense headset which delivers sound and light therapy to cognitively impaired patients. The sensory stimulation evokes gamma oscillations in the brain that reduces neurodegeneration and brain atrophy. Their paper delivered last week at the Alzheimers Association conference tracked subjects who used the headset one hour per day for six months. The therapy reduced white matter shrinkage to about 0.4%, compared to a historical tracking of about 2%. An earlier study also showed slowdowns in the decline of memory and cognitive function. FierceBiotech