TTA’s April Showers 2: Teladoc, Amwell’s future, VillageMD’s new COO, Change data on sale, digital health funding limps along, pending delistings, innovations sprout, more!



This packed week is about righting listing ships. Teladoc’s CEO suddenly departs, Amwell at risk of a NYSE delisting–we look at What Happened and what needs to be done. VillageMD gets new COO to manage the shrinkage. And Change Healthcare data on sale from disgruntled ALPHV affiliate. Digital health funding continues to limp along. Clover looks at another delisting, Walmart Health applies the brakes. And we highlight innovations from Novosound, Biolinq, Eko, Universal Brain. 

Digital health’s Q1 according to Rock Health: the New Reality is a flat spin back to 2019 (Limping, but alive)
VillageMD names new president and COO as it shrinks to 620 locations (Ex Centene, Humana exec comes out of short retirement to clean up)
News roundup: Now Clover Health faces delisting; BlackCat/ALPHV affiliate with 4TB of data puts it up for sale; $58M for Biolinq’s ‘smallest blood glucose biosensor’ (Will UHG pay more ransom?)
Opinion: Further thoughts on Teladoc, Amwell, and the future of telehealth–what happens next? (A hard look at the follies, mistakes, and saving ships)
News roundup: Amwell faces NYSE delisting; Walmart Health slows Health Centers, except Texas; Novosound’s ultrasound patent; Eko’s Low EF AI; Universal Brain; Elizabeth Holmes in ‘Dropout’ + update
Teladoc CEO Jason Gorevic steps down immediately in shock announcement (Now what?)

A damp start to April leads with puzzling news. NeueHealth loses plans and big money in ’23–but gives a big bonus to its CEO. Cano Health reorganizing or selling by June. ATA kicks DOJ about expediting controlled substance telehealth regs. Apple keeps kicking around the ‘Davids’, but Davids won’t stop slinging either. And if you work with a PR or marketing agency, our Perspectives has some advice for you.

More New Reality: NeueHealth (Bright Health) CEO’s $1.9M bonus, 2023 financials–and does Cano Health have a future? (Two stories gone way sideways)
ATA requests expediting of revised proposed rule on controlled substance telehealth prescribing; announces Nexus 2024 meeting 5-7 May (DEA needs to get moving now, not later)
Davids (AliveCor, Masimo) v. Goliath (Apple): the patent infringement game *not* over; Masimo’s messy proxy fight with Politan (updated) (Seeing value in Masimo?)
Perspectives: Working with a PR Agency–How to Make the Most of the Partnership (Expert advice if you manage communications)

It was a pre-Easter week that started as quiet and got VERY LOUD at the end. Walgreens took the hard road, writing down VillageMD even before the closures were final and lowering forecasts. An important metastudy+ casts doubt on the efficacy of present digital health diabetes solutions but provides solid direction forward. And it’s definitely an early sunny spring for funding, but there’s continued bad weather forecast for UnitedHealth Group and Oracle Cerner’s VA implementation.

Facing Future 2: Walgreens writes down $5.8B for VillageMD in Q2, lowers 2024 earnings on ‘challenging’ retail outlook (Biting bullet early and hard)
Short takes: PocketHealth, Brightside fundings; VA OIG reports hit Oracle Cerner; Change cyberattack/legal updates; UHG-Amedisys reviewed in Oregon; Optum to buy Steward Health practices (UHG carries on as does company funding)
Can digital health RPM achieve meaningful change with type 2 diabetics? New metastudy expresses doubt. (Major digital health findings from PHTI)

This week’s Big Quake was DOJ’s antitrust suit against Apple for smartphone monopoly and control over apps. Another quake: 2023 data breaches were up 187%–when a medical record is worth $60, it’s logical. Early-stage funding and partnerships are back with a roar when AI’s in your portfolio. And Walgreens shrinks both VillageMD and distribution.

2023 US data breaches topped 171M records, up 187% versus 2022: Protenus Breach Barometer (And that was LAST year!)
Why is the US DOJ filing an antitrust lawsuit against Apple–on monopolizing the smartphone market? (One wonders)
Mid-week roundup: UK startup Anima gains $12M, Hippocratic AI $53M, Assort Health $3.5M; Abridge partners with NVIDIA; VillageMD sells 11 Rhode Island clinics; $60 for that medical record on the dark web (Funding’s back and AI’s got it)
Walgreens’ latest cuts affect 646 at Florida, Connecticut distribution centers (More in next week’s financial call)

A lighter week with the Change hacking starting to recede (pharmacy back up on Wed 13 March) and most industry types at HIMSS, we caught up with the first VA go-live in a year, Dexcom’s cleared OTC CGM, WebMD doubles down on health ed with Healthwise buy, Centene may sell abandoned HQ building. And Friday’s news is on a big cyberattack of an NHS Scotland region.

Weekend roundup: NHS Dumfries (Scotland) cyberattacked; delisted Veradigm’s strong financials; One Medical NY patients’ coverage clash; Suki voice AI integrates with Amwell; Legrand and Possum extended; Zephyr AI’s $111M Series A

News roundup: Cerner goes live at VA, DOD Lovell Center; WebMD expands education with Healthwise buy; Dexcom has FDA OK for OTC glucose sensor; Centene may have buyer for abandoned Charlotte HQ (Back to normal news!)
Updates on Change cyberattack: UHG’s timeline for system restorations, key updates around claims and payments in next weeks (updated) (Saving the analysis for later)

The Change Healthcare/Optum cyberattack entered a second week with no restoration of services in sight; how providers and pharmacies are coping without their primary means of processing patient claims and furnishing care–and the psychological toll; and the uncertain future of Walgreens, WBA, and the rapid downsizing of their provider arm, VillageMD. To add further insult to UHG, now DOJ is putting them under antitrust scrutiny.

Is BlackCat/ALPHV faking its own ‘death’? (updated) HHS and CMS come to Change affected providers’ assistance with ‘flexibilities’
Update: VillageMD lays off 49 in first two of six Village Medical closures in Illinois
Reality Bites Again: UHG being probed by DOJ on antitrust, One Medical layoffs “not related” to Amazon, the psychological effects of cyberattacks
Facing Future: Walgreens CEO moves company into strategic review–will he get WBA board alignment? (‘Go big’ now in reverse)
Week 2: Change Healthcare’s BlackCat hack may last “for the next couple of weeks”, UHG provides temp funding to providers, AHA slams it as a ‘band aid”–but did Optum already pay BlackCat a $22M ransom? (updated) (When will it end? Providers. staff, and patients are hurting)

Three major stories lead this packed week. Change Healthcare’s and Optum’s week-long struggle to get 100 or so BlackCat hacked systems up and running again for pharmacies and hospitals–no end in sight. Walgreens keeps closing Village MD locations–up to 85. But the funding freeze seems to be thawing, with M&A and lettered funding rounds suddenly poking through like daffodils–though the structure of one (Dario-Twill) is puzzling and another may be contested (R1 RCM). And Veradigm finally delists–while buying ScienceIO.

BlackCat is back, claims theft of 6TB of Change Healthcare data (Latest breaking news)

Breaking: VillageMD exiting Illinois clinics–in its home state–as closures top 80 locations (Something not good in the Village)
Short takes on a springlike ‘defrosting’: Redi Health’s $14M Series B, Dario Health buys Twill for ~$30M (About time for a Spring thaw)
Roundup: Walgreens’ new chief legal officer; Digital Health Collaborative launched; fundings/M&A defrosting for b.well, R1 RCM, Abridge, Reveleer; Veradigm likely delists, buys ScienceIO–mystery? (updated)
Change Healthcare cyberattack persists–is the BlackCat gang back and using LockBit malware? BlackCat taking credit. (update 28 Feb #2) (100 systems down, BlackCat’s back)

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Opinion: Further thoughts on Teladoc, Amwell, and the future of telehealth–what happens next?

The end of last week marked an Apocalypse Light in telehealth, but it was coming in this Editor’s opinion. And Pepper the Robot has nothing to do with it, other than representing telehealth’s state, and perhaps this Editor’s.

Two events–the forced exit of 15-year CEO Jason Gorevic from Teladoc and both Teladoc’s and Amwell’s continued market weakness and long roads to breakeven, if ever–have caused many in the field to think hard about our direction and where telehealth is going.

Both Teladoc and Amwell are the pioneers in provider-to-patient telehealth, going back over 20 years. While Amwell is no longer the #2 to Teladoc’s #1, both were in the forefront of how remote consults have transformed healthcare. The ability to remotely diagnose and provide care at distance is now a ‘given’ that has shifted the baseline for providers, patients, and payers. Nearly every entrant has or has acquired a remote in-person or app feature, whether care management, diagnostics, health education, or telemental health.

Because Teladoc’s struggles are writ large in the industry, we might benefit from a closer look at What Happened–and what in this Editor’s opinion might happen next.

What Happened?

The pandemic. Yes, it provided a major boost to any telehealth provider’s business whether corporate or provider-based. It mainstreamed telehealth. Smaller players like MDLive and Included Health snatched market share. But it also introduced ‘silly money’ that led companies to think that all they had to do was hold out the buckets, fill them with cash, and buy business. By late 2020, practices had reopened–and telehealth usage nosedived quickly, stabilizing to around 5% of medical claims, over 60% of which is mental health according to the FAIR Health end of 2023 telehealth tracker. 

The integration of telehealth into multiple platforms is now commonplace. This Editor observed in her work with her then-employer in early 2020 that the population health platform they had introduced already had integrated HIPAA-compliant telehealth platforms as a module–all that was needed to get the practices up and running on it–and coding correctly. Health systems now integrate telehealth into their patient portals. EHRs even for the small practice market now have integrated telehealth. As mentioned, specialized telehealth such as telemental health took off during the pandemic and, after a cleanout period, have largely stayed with us. Asynchronous telehealth has also become acceptable to consumers. (Interestingly, the leading asynchronous diagnoses are for hypertension and respiratory diseases that benefit companies like Amazon Clinic and triage-type systems.)

People use it when needed, but the enterprise payment model is subscriber-based. Teladoc has long claimed its subscriber base is 90 million people–but user data from HHS (ASPE 3/2023) indicates that only one of four use it. For an enterprise, paying for subscribers, this is a big fat line item ready to cut. Payers have also integrated telehealth into their coverage. Teladoc has, to its credit, created payer partnerships such as with Aetna, but so have others.

Bottom line: there’s no more ‘blue water’ market left for a big player like Teladoc with a model dependent on growth and on enterprise sales that are inherently price-driven. It’s a hard and painful change to realize that your technology is no longer the future, and that you have to slug it out in the mud with everyone else. 

A closer look at Teladoc. 

After 20 years, why wasn’t it profitable? A look back on our Teladoc coverage prior to the pandemic indicated growth was created by buying up smaller competitors, domestic and international, at premium prices. InTouch Health was a notable one, acquired January 2020 for $600 million. But Teladoc was way overdue on turning a profit before 2020, at which point it should have firmly moved into the black. And then reality hit by early 2022.

Where was the board in all this? This Editor does not pretend to know the minds of those far more experienced in the financial aspect of business than she. But after 15 years of CEO Jason Gorevic and the 2022 $6.6 billion write-down of Livongo which precipitated the long 90%+ loss in market value slide, why was he given walking papers only last Friday? Boards are supposed to be wise heads, looking out for the business and the shareholders. Did they get caught in the hype or hope that BetterHelp would save the company? Did something else happen? (Fun fact: Mr. Gorevic remains on the board.)

A track record of flawed judgment and recovery. In December 2018, their COO/CFO was dismissed after charges of insider trading and sexual misconduct. There have been two COOs since then, the first, David Sides, moving to CEO of NextGen Healthcare in 2021. In May 2019, Teladoc’s NCQA accreditation, first won in 2013, was placed under an unusual “corrective action” by NCQA which was termed by the CEO ‘much ado about nothing’. Au contraire, it was a black eye at the time and the industry never quite knew what happened. And then there was Livongo….

The Livongo deal killed Teladoc; saying the quiet part out loud. As this Editor stated at the time, the $18.5 billion purchase price of Livongo was dangerous for Teladoc (see ‘Gimlet Eyes’ from August 2020 here and here). It was a too-fast too-much too-soon deal that closed in three months at the summer peak of the pandemic and lockdowns looking like forever. The very notion that Livongo would open doors in hospitals and cross-selling to enterprises was suspect even at the time. The deal that Gorevic and 7WireVentures’ Glen Tullman and Livongo CEO Zane Burke concocted was ‘Grand Theft Auto’–for Livongo and their leadership, especially if they sold their Teladoc shares. It was never a merger of equals nor was it additive in value. Teladoc then made multiple, continuing transitioning and management errors, including not retaining Livongo executives, which have been well documented. And again–where was the board on this?

Where are the analysts? They seem to accept a storyline that ‘all is OK’ for 2024 now that Gorevic is gone. But standing pat on the Q1 and 2024 guidance as nearly all have done is suspect. Unlike Amwell, Teladoc has not forecast when it will achieve breakeven, much less profitability.

What’s Next? Given all the above, when will the aftershocks hit? Sooner or later?

If one looks to Walgreens as an example, where disaster hit quickly and hard last summer, a board member, Ginger Graham, took the acting CEO position. She took front and center on investor calls and executing reorganizations, which for an interim is unusual. Almost immediately, the cleanout began at the CIO and CFO levels and moved downward. Tim Wentworth joined as CEO in mid-October 2023 seven weeks after Roz Brewer was separated. VillageMD was identified quickly as a large part of the problem. He took the writedown even before locations were fully closed and made multiple moves to cut costs starting at the corporate level before moving into the field. This is not to make light of the human damage and the jury remains out on the wisdom of some of the moves. But Wentworth has moved quickly, decisively, and positioned it realistically in saying ‘this is not a 12-month turnaround’ and wisely caveating that board alignment around the strategic review was essential. Timid he is not.

Teladoc needs to move quickly, and intelligently–now, not later. While acting CEO Mala Murthy, backed by the board, makes decisive moves, Teladoc must find and appoint a Tim Wentworth-type at the helm for the turnaround. Quickly. It’s important not only for Teladoc but also for the telehealth industry.  But neither Mr. Market, judging on share price, nor this Editor, based on their track record, are hopeful.

Can digital health RPM achieve meaningful change with type 2 diabetics? New metastudy expresses doubt.

A metastudy from the Peterson Health Technology Institute (PHTI) has reservations about the efficacy of digital diabetes management tools. Over $50 billion has been invested in the sector between development, investments, mergers, and acquisitions. Generally, the claim around digital management tools for diabetes to aid self-management and prevent poor outcomes, particularly for those at high risk, has been that they can 1) deliver meaningful and lasting clinical benefits in reduction of HbA1c (glycemic control) and 2) reduce long-term costs of poor control, benefiting patients. In the US, diabetes affects 11% of the population and is an expensive chronic condition. It also disproportionately affects people of color and those with lower income, especially as they age.

The systematic literature review of 1,100-plus studies was augmented by interviews with physicians, patients, digital health experts, along with companies. They included 120 clinical references from DarioHealth, Omada, and Virta. The PHTI grouped digital tools into three types of solutions for Type 2 diabetes in adults. All used standard glucometers, not continuous glucose monitors/CGM as well as apps to provide real time feedback to a virtual or actual coach or care team:

  1. Remote patient monitoring (glucometer plus feedback): Glooko
  2. Behavior/Lifestyle modification (glycemic feedback plus coaching features): DarioHealth, Omada Health, Perry Health, Teladoc (Livongo), Verily (Onduo), and Vida
  3. Nutritional ketosis (dietary guidance that restricts carbohydrates and monitors the patient’s glycemic and ketone levels): Virta Health

The findings did not meet their expectations in demonstrating “clear, substantial, and durable progress toward glycemic control in people with type 2 diabetes, resulting in a lower prevalence of uncontrolled type 2 diabetes across the population.”

  • They did not deliver clinically meaningful benefits compared to ‘usual care’. Only three out of 10 comparative HbA1C studies achieved a meaningful difference of 0.5 percentage points (Minimal Clinically Important Difference or MCID) in patients. Their range was 0.23 to 0.60 percentage points compared to usual care.  The nutritional ketosis program had greater benefits as long as patients maintained the rigorous requirements of the therapeutic regimen.
  • The average price impact of the solution exceeds the savings achieved from the clinical benefits. The PHTI analysis looked at commercial insurance, Medicare, and Medicaid over three years. Provider reimbursement and pricing exceed cost savings from avoided care.

So where is the worth? The PHTI study recommended that:

  • Payers use these solutions for the highest risk and diverse/underserved populations
  • Regularly analyzing outcomes and tie contracts to clinical performance
  • Focus on patients with higher starting HbA1c newly starting insulin
  • Payers could also recommend nutritional ketosis as the Virta program had greater benefits.
  • Solutions could also evolve to include GLP-1 drugs, CGMs, and nutritional ketosis.

PHTI study (free download of full report, four sections, and appendices). PHTI press release.

PHTI is also offering a free webinar on Thursday 28 March at 2pm US Eastern Time on assessing digital diabetes management tools–registration here.

Teladoc closes 2023 with improved $220M loss, but weak forecast for 2024 leads to stock skid

A falling tide sinks most boats. If you were riding the telehealth pandemic tide, as Amwell [TTA 15 Feb] and Teladoc did, these last two years were the worst kind of shock. Teladoc’s 2022 was an annus horribilis–the Livongo acquisition went $6.6 billion worth of sideways [TTA 3 Feb 23], wiping out their 2022 with writedowns culminating in a $13.7 billion annual loss. Their 2023 was a lot better, beating analysts’ estimates, but forecast growth is slowing to a crawl.

  • Q4 revenue was up 4% to $661 million, powered by a 15% gain in international revenue of $96 million and a 2% increase in US revenue to $565 million. Hopes for the heavily promoted mental health business BetterHelp fell flat too at a flat $277 million. Their integrated care segment providing telehealth services to health plans, employers, and health systems brought in $384 million, up 8%. Net loss was $29 million versus $3.8 billion in 2022.
  • 2023 notched an 8% increase from $2.4 billion to $2.6 billion, with integrated care accounting for $1.5 billion, up 7%, with BetterHelp revenue reaching $1.1 billion. But losses continued at $220.4 million–versus $13.7 billion in 2022.
  • Adjusted EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, amortization) increased in Q4 22% to $114 million, with 2023 up 33% to $328 million. BetterHelp’s Q4 increased 11% to $58 million, 19% to $136 million for the year.

This cheerful picture was negated by Teladoc’s downbeat forecast for 2024. Q1 is projected between $630 and $645 million, lower than the analyst take of $673 million. 2024 full year is forecast between $2.635 billion and $2.735 billion, with the analyst take at $2.77 billion. The analysts forecast a 6.8% increase versus Teladoc’s forecast of 5.2%, but the difference was enough to drop their share price by 25%. According to CEO Jason Gorevic, the forecast will be for growth at best in low single digits, which is not what Wall Street wanted to hear. This could be sandbagging–or reality. Telehealth visits dropped 45% in 2022 from 2020 (Trilliant Health), with more recent CMS Medicare data on visits falling 73% in Q2 2023 from Q2 2020. Other factors: telehealth modules in EMRs and population health platforms, many more competitors like Included Health (Grand Rounds/Doctor on Demand) and MDLive.

Teladoc post-Livongo writedown has assiduously focused on cutting costs, higher margins, and getting on that ‘path to profitability’, cutting jobs in data science and engineering, third-party (supplier?) costs, and more. Yet on the Q4/2023/2024 earnings call, the CEO talked up making technology deals for differentiating technologies such as machine learning and (of course) AI, as well as ‘tuck in’ M&A deals. After the Livongo embarrassment, perhaps Mr. Gorevic could give it a rest until notching a few more solid quarters. Quartz, FierceHealthcare, Healthcare Dive, Teladoc release

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teladoc narrows loss in Q3 and YTD, grows revenue, adjusted profits…but stock sinks?

Teladoc seemingly can’t get any respect from Mr. Market. 2023 seems to be a waypoint in the company’s recovery after their disastrous 2022 (TTA 4 May 22, 23 Feb). Focusing on operational efficiencies since then, Teladoc posted some decent numbers compared to 2022 in their Q3 report:

  • Q3 revenue increased 8% to $660.2 million; nine-month revenue increased 10% to $1,941.9 million
  • Q3 net loss went down 10 cents per share to a total of $57.1 million, or $0.35 per share. Nine-month net loss was $191.5 million, or $1.17 per share (2022’s was $61.09)
  • Adjusted EBITDA in Q3 increased 73% to $88.8 million; nine-month EBITDA increased 40% to $213.7 million
  • Finally, cash flow from operations was $105.6 million in Q3, a 68% increase. For the nine months, $219.9 million, up 77%.

Yet the share price has taken a tumble from July’s end above $29, closing today at $16.09.

This Editor is no stock picker, but informed heads think that CEO Jason Gorevic has emphasized operational efficiencies over sales and profitable revenue growth. Yet EBITDA is booming with a 2023 guidance of $320-330 million. Amazon’s aggressiveness in taking over virtual care is much on the minds of these ‘informed heads’. In this context, too much pullback on sales and growth is not a positive sign of Teladoc’s long-term future, an indication that Mr. Gorevic, now trimmed, needs to trim his sails to the now-prevailing winds to increase share value. The much-touted BetterHelp in telemental health is not quite panning out with flat revenue and wobbly EBITDA. There’s such a thing as depending on one part of the business, with the rest going too lean and not having capacity, walking away from growth while the competition picks off your business. Seeking Alpha

Is Amazon a chimera of blue smoke and mirrors? The comparison with Amazon is despite their being a target of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on monopoly and anticompetitive charges (see the FTC release and the Vox discussion on why the US government wants to break up Amazon). More pain points are AWS’ slowing growth and emerging difficulties (ahem) in implementing their healthcare strategy with One Medical and Amazon Clinic, which this Editor has previously noted. What we view as a juggernaut is facing more than their share of distractions and changing circumstance. Even Jeff Bezos is pulling back his support of the Washington Post. (Need we remind our Readers that 2024 is a general election, and Amazon Hater Senator Elizabeth Warren is up for reelection?)

Mid-week news roundup: $105M senior debt to Headspace; Nextech bought for $1.4B; Teladoc’s Better(Help) Q2 boosts 10%; Peppermint’s online ‘clubhouse’ for seniors, PathAI lays off 87

Mostly good news this midweek…

Headspace gained some needed cash–a $105M senior debt facility–from Oxford Finance. The company can use it. Their more recent headlines were for layoffs (15% earlier this month) and the telemental health space, which boomed during the pandemic, now can best be described as challenged. Headspace expanded to the UK in January. As noted with the layoffs, Headspace never SPAC’d but after acquiring Ginger for a $3 billion valuation back in the crazy days of 2021, hasn’t had an easy time of it. Their financing will be used for expansion and for opportunities. The problem is that telemental health has too many lookalike/soundalike competitors including the 9,000 lb. elephants (see Teladoc) all going after the same targets–direct to consumer, enterprise, and health plan markets. It’s a rocky road to that cliché, a path to profitability. Business Wire, FierceHealthcare

Nextech was bought by TPG for a tidy $1.4 billion. Nextech is a healthcare IT company with cloud-based specialty EHRs, analytics, and practice management systems. Specialties they cover are dermatology, ophthalmology, orthopedics, plastic surgery, and med spa. TPG is investing in Nextech through TPG Capital, its US and European late-stage private equity platform. The exit was made by Thomas H. Lee Partners. TPG has previously invested in Lyric (formerly known as ClaimsXten), WellSky, and IQVIA. TPG release, FierceHealthcare

Teladoc had good Q2 news for investors, with a 10% boost aided by BetterHelp’s performance.  TDOC beat The Street ever so slightly with a 10% quarterly revenue boost to $652 million. They also narrowed net loss to $65 million, or a loss of 40 cents per share. BetterHelp’s performance was up 18% in revenue, with $292 million in Q2, hardly dented by their $7.8 million FTC settlement in March. Integrated care was up 5% for $360 million in revenue. In Q2 2022, Teladoc took a $3 billion impairment charge as the second part of writing off its Livongo buy [TTA 30 July 2022]  and their Q1 wasn’t much better with a $6.6 billion writeoff [TTA 4 May 2022]. It showed in TDOC’s share price which has been up about $5 since the announcement on 25 July.  On the investor call, CEO Jason Gorevic is betting on BetterHelp and weight management [TTA 21 April] being introduced this quarter, though for the latter recent health concerns on Ozempic as a weight loss drug, insurers increasingly refusing to pay for it (Medicare does not, and it costs upwards of $1,000/month), and substantial competition from other weight loss players may cloud the outlook. FierceHealthcare, Q2 earnings

Peppermint appealing to older adults with online ‘clubhouses’. Out of NYC-based VC/developer Redesign Health , Peppermint’s purpose is to address senior loneliness through virtual clubs. Older adults can practice hobbies or contribute their knowledge as ‘experts’. Peppermint is kicking off with $8 million in seed funding partly out of Primetime Partners and partnering with senior centers affiliated with the Massachusetts Council on Aging (MCOA). This Editor wonders if $9.99 per month (nearly $120/year) with a 30-day free trial is a sustainable model for those minding their dollars in this inflationary time. Release, MedCityNews

AI pathology company PathAI is releasing 87 employees, according to a Massachusetts-filed WARN notice. Of the 87, 51 live in the Bay State with 36 mainly remote workers outside it. It’s considered to be one of Massachusetts’ largest health tech companies with an estimated 600 employees. The layoffs are effective 31 July. The company has had over $255 million in funding through a 2021 Series C including General Atlantic and Labcorp. (Crunchbase) One month ago, they added a new president of biopharma and chief business officer, Matt Grow (release).  BostInno (paywalled), Becker’s

Legal roundup: Teladoc class-action suit dismissed; NextGen EHR $31M Federal settlement; significant AliveCor-Apple antitrust ‘spoiliation’ update; class action suits filed against HCA, Johns Hopkins

The latest legal activity in digital health and cybersecurity:

Teladoc’s pending class action lawsuit by shareholders was tossed. This was originally filed in June 2022 after the crash of Teladoc’s shares after The Big Livongo Writeoff in May 2022. Shareholder Jeremy Schneider, represented at the time by Jeremy Alan Lieberman of Pomerantz LLP, filed a lawsuit in the US Federal Court for the Southern District, located in downtown Manhattan, representing shareholders who purchased Teladoc shares between 28 October 2021 and 27 April 2022. The lawsuit cited materially false statements that Teladoc made on its business, operations, competition, and prospects that were overly positive and inflated share value. Judge Denise Cote agreed with Teladoc’s 20 January motion to dismiss based on specific disclosures that Teladoc made in multiple SEC filings in that period from the 2020 10-K on that countered claims made in the class action lawsuit.

Reading Judge Cote’s decision, Teladoc used specific limiting and warning language (what marketers call ‘downside’ language) on the risks around the merger. Their executives in public statements indicated that operations and competition were challenging.  The class action suit failed to prove conclusively that the statements it identified were ‘materially misleading’ and would mislead a reasonable investor. Other statements made by executives were “largely non-actionable statements of opinion and/or expressions of corporate optimism”, a/k/a “puffery”. Class action suits of this type that go to Federal courts (versus state courts) rarely succeed due to the high bar of proof and volumes of case law at the Federal level.

This Editor noted that this particular class action did not include Mr. Schneider nor Pomerantz LLP. Different plaintiffs were represented by Labaton Sucharow LLP and The Schall Law Firm. Teladoc reportedly had no comment.  Judge Cote’s opinion (Casetext), Mobihealthnews, Healthcare Dive

Easier to settle for $31 million than fight the Feds. Charged with violating the False Claims Act (FCA) and providing illegal incentives for referrals (the Anti-Kickback Statute that applies to Federally funded healthcare), NextGen Healthcare decided to settle with the Department of Justice (DOJ) for a whopping $31 million. The settlement does not admit wrongdoing by NextGen, which in its defense told Healthcare Dive that the claims made were over a decade old–and they were. At the time, their EHR used an auxiliary software that was designed only to perform the certification test scripts, thereby gaining 2014 Edition certification criteria published by HHS’s Office of the National Coordinator (ONC). In this Ur-time of EHRs, fixes like this weren’t (ahem) unusual. Compounding it was that the EHR then lacked certain additional required functionalities, including the ability to record vital sign data, translate data into required medical vocabularies, and create complete clinical summaries. Making NextGen’s decision the proverbial ‘no-brainer’ was that the controversial US Supreme Court ruling in June ruled that under the FCA, defendants are now liable for claims they suspect or knowingly believe are false, versus the previous objective standard. The Anti-Kickback Statute violation was blatant.  NextGen was giving credits often worth as much as $10,000 to current healthcare customers whose recommendation of NextGen’s EHR software led to a new sale, along with incentives such as tickets to sports and entertainment events. Anti-Kickback is one of those ‘biggies’ that the average healthcare employee is trained on within their first 60 days. DOJ release

The AliveCor-Apple Federal antitrust case had a small but important split decision regarding ‘spoiliation’ in the discovery process that could impact the case’s outcome–and future litigation. This June US District Court for the Northern District of California order went against AliveCor in part of what it sought–that Apple’s deleted emails to and from Apple’s then Director of Health Strategy should be considered adverse by a jury. But Apple was then found at fault for deleting them despite their relevance to the case with a ‘duty to preserve’ that started on 25 May 2021 with the antitrust litigation. In general, emails such as these to and from relevant people are subject to a litigation hold.

  • The director departed Apple only one week prior, 14 May 2021. His emails were auto-deleted at some point in accordance with company policy. In the discovery process, through other documents, AliveCor determined over a year later that the director was, indeed, relevant to the case.
  • The order states that Apple should have preserved his emails from the start as he was an individual with potentially relevant information. From the order, “[the director] worked on strategic health initiatives, and the record shows that he regularly corresponded about the Apple Watch and AliveCor with individuals Apple did identify as relevant.” “Apple did not take reasonable steps to preserve electronically stored information that should have been preserved in the anticipation or conduct of litigation…” While it may have been “irresponsible and careless”, it wasn’t purposeful which then would have been considered for sanctions, but there is considerable strong language in the order that Apple’s counsel didn’t disclose the loss of this information even while under oath in a deposition. 
  • In the ‘adverse’ consideration, AliveCor did not gain what it wanted, which was an assumption that the lost emails were prejudicial–that they contained relevant material to AliveCor and Apple’s strategy of eliminating competition. “To the extent they existed, additional emails relevant to these topics may have been useful to enhance AliveCor’s case, but AliveCor has not shown that the absence of these emails will prevent it from proving its antitrust claims.”

AliveCor provided this Editor with a statement on the order:

“The Northern District of California judge’s description of Apple’s actions as ‘irresponsible and careless, and perhaps even grossly negligent’ in their handling of emails belonging to its former Director of Health Strategy that supported our pending antitrust case speaks to Apple’s usual playbook of shamelessly using legal tactics to steamroll innovative companies like AliveCor. Even though the judge stopped short of granting our motion to instruct the jury that they should assume the deleted emails were negative for Apple’s case, we are confident in the outcomes of our antitrust case and grateful for the outpouring of support we have received as we continue to hold Apple accountable.”

Editor’s note: she thanks an AliveCor representative for sharing this information along with the redacted court order. Apple is free to contact this Editor with its own statement.

Recent AliveCor versus Apple coverage on patents: ITC presidential review, ITC vs. PTAB, PTAB decision

Last but certainly not least, a class action lawsuit against HCA. To no one’s surprise, it was filed last week (12 July) in the US District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, as HCA is headquartered in Nashville. The plaintiffs are named Gary Silvers and Richard Marous, two HCA patients living in Florida, and was filed by two law firms, Shamis & Gentile and Kopelowitz Ostrow Ferguson Wieselberg Gilbert. The suit claims that HCA failed in their duty of confidentiality to protect sensitive information– personally identifiable information (PII) and protected health information (PHI)–that was contained in the hacked records. While HCA has released that the records did not include the most sensitive clinical information as it was used for email communications, the volume of 27 million rows of data that was apparently unencrypted potentially affects 11 million individuals [TTA 12 July]. The suit charges HCA with failure to safeguard ‘Private Information’ as a reasonable expectation using reasonable security procedures in light of current regulations (HIPAA, FTC), plus the susceptibility of healthcare organizations to cyberattacks which is well known. It seeks monetary damages plus injunctive and declaratory relief. This lawsuit is likely the first of many. Healthcare DiveHealthcare IT News, HIPAA Journal

These lawsuits based on hacking and cybersecurity responsibility are becoming routine. On 7 and 10 July, Johns Hopkins was sued twice. This was for a May ransomware data breach on a software vulnerability called MOVEit that was exploited by a Russian ransomware group called CLOP. This may have compromised, according to the first suit, tens to hundreds of thousands of records, including sensitive PHI. Both suits allege negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, breach of confidence, invasion of privacy, breach of implied contract, and unjust enrichment. They seek monetary damages and injunctive relief. Both were filed in US District Court for the District of Maryland.  Becker’s, Healthcare Dive, HIPAA Journal

Week-end roundup: Is ChatGPT *really* more empathetic than real doctors? Amwell’s $400M loss, Avaya emerges from Ch. 11, Centene sells Apixio, more on Bright Health’s MA sale, layoffs at Brightline, Cue Health,

Gimlet EyeA Gimlety Short Take (not generated by ChatGPT). This Editor has observed developments around AI tool ChatGPT with double vision–one view, as an amazing tool with huge potential for healthcare support, and the other as with huge potential for fakery and fraud. (If “The Woz” Steve Wozniak can say that AI can misuse data and trick humans, Tesla’s AI-powered Autopilot can kill you, plus quit Google over AI, it should give you pause.)

The latest healthcare ‘rave’ about ChatGPT is a study published 28 April in JAMA Network that pulled 195 questions and answers from Reddit’s r/AskDocs, a social media forum where members ask medical questions and real healthcare professionals answer them. The study authors then submitted the same questions to ChatGPT and evaluated the answers on subjective measures such as “better”, “quality”, and “empathy”. Of course, the ChatGPT 3.5 answers were rated more highly–78%–than the answers from human health care professionals who answer these mostly ‘should I see a doctor?’ questions. HIStalk noted that forum volunteers might be a little short in answering the questions. Another point was that “they did not assess ChatGPT’s responses for accuracy. The “which response is better” evaluation is subjective.” The prospective patients on the forum were also not asked how they felt about the AI-generated answers. Their analysis of the study’s shortcomings is short and to the point. Another view on compassion in communication as dependent on context and relationships was debated in Kellogg Insight, the publication of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, in Healthcare IT News.

Amwell posted a disappointing and sizable $398.5 million net loss in Q1. This was over five times larger than the Q1 2022 loss of $70.3 million and Q4 2022’s $61.6 million. The loss was due to a noncash goodwill impairment charge related to a lasting decline in the company’s share price. Current versus prior year Q1 revenue remained flat at $64 million, $15 million lower than Q4 2022 due to a decline in professional services revenue. Visits were 1.7 million visits in Q1, with 36% through the new platform Converge. Guidance for the year remains at $275-$285 million with an adjusted EBITDA loss between $150-$160 million. Mobihealthnews This contrasts with rival Teladoc’s optimistic forecast released last week, though remaining in the loss column [TTA 4 May]. 

Avaya emerged from Chapter 11 on Monday. According to the release, the company has financially restructured and now has $650 million in liquidity and a net leverage ratio of less than 1x. This was a lightning-fast bankruptcy and reorganization, usually referred to as ‘pre-packaged’, as it was announced in February with the company emerging from it in 60 to 90 days. Avaya provides virtual care and collaboration tools (and has contributed to our Perspectives series). 

Another restructuring continues at Centene. Their latest sale is Apixio, a healthcare analytics platform for value-based care. The buyer is private equity investor New Mountain Capital. New Mountain has $37 billion in assets under management. Centene acquired Apixio in December 2020 in the last full year of CEO Michael Neidorff’s leadership. Since 2022, Centene has been selling off many of their more recent acquisitions such as two specialty pharmacy divisions, its Spanish and Central European businesses, and Magellan Specialty Health. Transaction cost and management transitions were not disclosed. Based on the wording of the release, Centene will continue as an Apixio customer as well as other health plans. Given the profile of the 10 largest health plans, which includes Centene, and their diversification, Centene’s divestments coupled with the involvement of activist investor Politan Capital Management have led to speculation.

Another take on Bright Health’s projected divestiture of its California Medicare Advantage health plans is from analyst Ari Gottlieb on LinkedIn. If Bright sells the MA plans for what they paid for them–$500 million–according to Mr. Gottlieb they can pay off their outstanding JP Morgan credit facility as well as negative capital levels in many of the states where they had plans and are now defending lawsuits. It still leaves them $925 million in debt.

Unfortunately, we close with yet another round of layoffs.

  • Covid-19 test kit/home diagnostics Cue Health will be surplusing about 26% of its current workforce, or 325 employees. Most will be in the San Diego manufacturing plants. This is on top of 170 employees released last summer. The current value of the Nasdaq-traded company is estimated at $105 million, down from $3 billion at their 2021 IPO. Current share price is $0.68. HIStalk, San Diego Business Journal.
  • Another telemental health company is shrinking–Brightline–reducing their current workforce by another 20%. This affects corporate staff and is in addition to the 20% let go last November. Brightline’s focus is on mental health for children and teens, and has investment to date of $212 million. Becker’s 
  •, which offers in-home urinalysis and wound care, plus a new app for kidney care, laid off 70 staff while enjoying a fresh Series D raise of $50 million from Schusterman Family Investments.  Becker’s

Mid-week roundup: CVS-Oak Street closes, DEA extends controlled substance telehealth waiver, Bright Health selling CA MA plans, Talkspace, Teladoc turnarounds? (updated)

CVS closed its $10.6 billion deal for Oak Street Health, well before the anticipated end of 2023. It picks up 169 primary care offices in 21 states–and an unprofitable operation that clocked a loss last year of $510 million without much of a change till 2025. The quick closing was likely spurred by both the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) letting their antitrust challenge period expire at the end of March with nary a whimper. DOJ and FTC, the latter which has been remarkably ‘pixelated’ of late on privacy issues with GoodRx and Teladoc’s BetterHelp, evidently passed on ‘egg on the face’ and let the ovoid land squarely on Elizabeth Warren’s Senate desk. She had asked FTC to ‘carefully scrutinize’ the deal. Shareholders received a tidy $39 per share. OSH will remain a multi-payer practice and now-former CEO Mike Pykosz will lead the company under CVS’ new healthcare delivery arm. This follows on CVS’ closing of Signify Health [TTA 30 March].  CVS release, FierceHealthcare Our prior gimlety coverage of CVS/OSH: 16 Feb, 2 March, Unlike OSH, CVS had a strong Q1 with $2.1 billion in profit, slightly down from 2022’s $2.4 billion, and an 11% boost in revenue. FierceHealthcare

DEA in-person prescribing requirements on Schedule II and higher controlled substances postponed indefinitely. The proposed rule would have added back in-person requirements for telehealth prescribing of controlled substances after the official end of the Public Health Emergency and its in-person waivers on 11 May. On 25 April, the DEA filed a draft temporary rule with the Office of Management and Budget for the extension. The Ryan Haight Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act of 2008 requires that Schedule II medications and narcotics (including Adderall and Ritalin) require an in-person prescription, while Schedule III or higher medications, including buprenorphine, Ambien, Valium, Xanax and ketamine can be prescribed for 30 days via telehealth but would require an in-person visit before a refill. The DEA was deluged with 38,000 comments and advocacy pressure from ATA. The change has also thrown a wrench in the works of online mental health companies which prescribe many of these drugs. FierceHealthcare  Updated–The ATA has weighed in favorably about the DEA postponement. Kyle Zebley, executive director of ATA Action, stated in their release that “Our hope is that the DEA will use the time of an extension to be responsive to the concerns of telehealth advocates, patients, and the American people to create rules that ensure access to clinical care that is not inappropriately restricted.”

Bright Health put its California Medicare Advantage plans up for sale. The company, staring down at bankruptcy [TTA 7 Apr, 20 Apr] does not yet have a buyer for the MA plans. When they are sold, it will be Bright’s exit as a health insurer, as it has exited MA plans in Florida and exchange plans everywhere else–in a flurry of state investigations ranging from Tennessee to Texas. Bright plans to focus on its provider arm, NeueHealth. Healthcare Dive

Talkspace narrowed its loss, increased revenue. The telemental health provider narrowed its Q1 net loss to $8.8 million compared to 2022’s $18.3 million in Q4 2022 and $20.4 million in Q1. Revenue increased to $33.3 million versus last year’s Q1 of $30.2 million. Their source of business has shifted to B2B with a 71% increase, a sharp departure from their formerly dominant consumer segment which has declined 40%.  Their 2023 forecast revenue is $130-135 million. It is still facing a Nasdaq delisting as trading below $1.00 per share and a class action lawsuit on subscription renewals. Mobihealthnews

Teladoc also waxed positive, ‘beating the Street’ with Q1 revenue growth of 11% to $629 million. This was powered as expected by BetterHelp, Teladoc’s direct-to-consumer mental health business. Their revenue grew to $279 million, a 21% increase. Teladoc’s enterprise business also had a 5% boost to almost $350 million. Their weight loss business is expected to be another net positive income generator, but not affecting results until 2024 as it won’t be introduced until Q3 [TTA 21 April]. The road to profitability will be a long one, as losses this quarter were $69.2 million, but compared to last year’s $6.7 billion writedown of Livongo, it’s positively smooth. Healthcare Dive

News roundup: Cano Health board fight, board shakeup; Memora Health’s $30M raise; Teladoc enters weight management race

The continuing drama at Florida-based primary care provider Cano Health focuses on the board and CEO. The three board members who resigned in late March [TTA 7 April]–Barry Sternlicht, Elliot Cooperstone, and Lewis Gold (who we’ll dub the Cano 3)–are now demanding that the company board reopen the window for director nominations at the 2023 Annual Meeting of Stockholders. In a letter/press release targeted to fellow shareholders released on Monday, the group cited “drastically changed circumstances”, exclusion of the three from decision-making prior to their resignation, and “the emergence and disclosure of additional self-dealing and concerning related-party transactions that were not previously disclosed – have cast serious doubt on the credibility and fitness of the current Board and CEO Marlow Hernandez.” The letter/release also focuses on the company’s negative (-83%!) performance over the past year. The three own 36% of the common stock of Cano Health, which means they have a very loud voice.

Cano management responded on Monday with a very long letter/press release of its own rebutting the “destructive actions” of the Cano 3  with a lengthy but somewhat anodyne six-point action plan to move the company toward profitability, improve performance, and increase liquidity. Point 6 was quite the kicker: appointing a non-executive chairman of the board, Solomon (Sol) Trujillo. This separated the chairman and CEO roles, with the highly controversial founder Dr. Marlow Hernandez remaining as CEO. Not addressed were the issues around Dr. Hernandez. He has been accused of self-dealing in two instances: $23 million to the CEO’s father for general contracting work, and $8.5 million to a dental care company owned by Mrs. Hernandez. Earlier coverage included dubious transactions with Miami medical claims recovery company MSP Recovery (also known as LifeWallet).

What’s interesting about this is that it may turn into a battle royal between two major figures: chairman Sol Trujillo against Barry Sternlicht. Mr. Trujillo is highly experienced in board/CEO roles in high-stress turnaround situations, such as at Orange SA and most recently Australia’s Telstra Communications. Mr. Sternlicht is well known as the CEO of Starwood Hotels and is a major real estate and private investor.

Cano Health was founded in 2009 and went public via a SPAC in 2021. It lost $426 million in 2022. The shareholder meeting date hasn’t been released yet, but in 2022 it was in May. Stay tuned. Healthcare Dive, MarketWatch

Memora Health raises $30 million. This venture round was led by General Catalyst and joined by several health systems including Northwell plus existing investors Andreessen Horowitz, Transformation Capital, and Frist Cressey Ventures. Memora has AI-based technology for complex care management and digitizes clinical and administrative workflows. FierceHealthcare, Crunchbase

Teladoc to premier weight management program using GLP-1 agonist drugs. This will be part of their physician-based care product for employers, and will target patients needing additional assistance in weight loss and diabetes prevention. The program provides access to a Teladoc-employed doctor for a personalized care plan, along with daily coaching with digital tools. Debut is projected during Q3. GLP-1 drugs such as the widely advertised (in US) Ozempic injectable were originally designed for diabetes management but have found a different market in weight loss. Companies such as Calibrate, Ro, and Sequence (acquired recently by Weight Watchers) are competitors. Healthcare Dive

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some blue side up news: 

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

News roundup: GoodRx pays $1.5M to FTC on Meta Pixel use, ATA concerns on Covid PHE end, defending Livongo sale to Teladoc, Philips lays off 18K, Amazon health layoffs–and big ’22 loss, Ireland HSE digital head quits, Matt Hancock assaulted on Tube

Rounding up the week–and it’s not over. 

Prescription discounter GoodRx settled with the FTC for $1.5 million for the unauthorized sharing of user health data with Facebook, Google, Criteo, and other advertising sites. GoodRx used the Meta Pixel and other Javascript trackers in software development kits (SDK) for sharing user data with third-party advertisers. They would then be capable of serving personalized health and medication-specific ads to GoodRx users. This differs from the earlier Meta Pixel incidents which involved hospitals using the tracker on their website appointment schedulers and patient portals which exposed personal health information (PHI) under HIPAA regulations. GoodRx is not a covered entity, thus does not fall under HIPAA violations of PHI.

For the first time, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) used the Health Breach Notification Rule, created in 2009, in charging GoodRx in a Federal court with misuse of consumer health information. The action was taken in US District Court for the Northern District of California, which has yet to approve the FTC order and the settlement.

GoodRx responded to the charges in their release that they stopped using pixel trackers in 2019 to protect user privacy. The trackers transmitted no PHI but primarily IP addresses and web page URL information. GoodRx maintains that this is a “novel application” of the Health Breach rule. But they settled with the FTC to avoid ‘the time and expense of protracted litigation’ on privacy issues they’ve already updated. HISTalk, The Markup, FierceHealthcare  TTA’s Meta Pixel articles

The good news for most of us is that the Public Health Emergency for Covid-19 will be ending 11 May. Not such good news, according to ATA and ATA Action, for mental health patients. While the omnibus budget passed at the end of the 117th Congress last year extended many telehealth provisions for two years [TTA 4 Jan], it did not extend the remote prescribing of controlled substances as part of the Ryan Haight Act. They are urging the Drug Enforcement Administration to release its rules for special registration for telemedicine as a first step. Release

With Teladoc’s $6.6 billion writeoff of the costs of acquiring Livongo in Q1 2022 [TTA 4 May 22], did Teladoc pick up an $18 Billion Bunch of Lemons in Livongo? Or did Teladoc mess up the expensive buy? You have to hand it to MedCityNews’ Arundhati Parmar for asking that burning question of Zane Burke, who was Livongo’s CEO at the time and the engineer of the sale, now CEO of Quantum Health. Not surprisingly, he said that “When we left the business, it was a freaking good business”, had just turned a big funding, was EBITDA positive, and wasn’t seeking a buyer. The massive difference was in the cultures, a ‘chasm’ that wasn’t bridged. One indicator: none of the top 16 Livongo executives stayed with Teladoc–and they were not required to as a condition of the sale. Teladoc considered it a ‘roll up’. 

This Editor was skeptical about it from the start–see TTA analyses 6 August and 11 August, as it happened in 2020. And while many smart observers were enthusiastic, others were not–the synergies (forgive me) they saw and the bottom line boosts were not there as predicted. In retrospect, which is always 20/20, it’s now proven to be a terrible buy. Teladoc has rebooted Livongo as of last month. More than the writeoff cost for Teladoc, it cost the industry, and affected lives.  It’s an important read in today’s situation.

Philips will be laying off 6,000 globally over the next two years, in addition to 4,000 booted this past October. Reasons why are the 2021 recall of Respironics ventilators, BiPAP machines, and CPAP machines because of the potential health risks of deteriorating polyester-based polyurethane (PE-PUR) foam, supply-chain challenges, lower sales in China, and the fallout from the Russia-Ukraine war. Their new focus will be on R&D and fewer ‘more impactful’ projects. Dataquest India, Mobihealthnews

Amazon’s layoffs of 18,000–and huge 2022 loss–also affected their developing healthcare areas. The shutdown of Amazon Care affected 159 jobs. But surprisingly, growth areas that had just rolled out new programs also lost staff. Amazon Pharmacy, which just rolled out RxPass, a $5 per month medication prescription service, laid off some of its program managers, risk compliance managers, and billing managers. Employees working on Halo health and fitness trackers were also laid off.  Becker’s Hospital Review  Yet many health executives see Amazon as the #1 threat to health systems’ core business. In a survey by Health Tech Nerds (sic), these execs predicted that Amazon might buy Color, Walgreens, and Smile Digital Health–in addition to a health plan! At this point, their One Medical buy is under scrutiny by both the DOJ and FTC [TTA 15 Sept 22] and on 2 February they reported a $2.7 billion net loss for 2022, the first since 2014 (The Verge) so those predictions on aggressive healthcare moves might be very blue side up.  Becker’s Hospital Review

In Ireland, Prof. Martin Curley, who headed digital innovation for the Health Services Executive (HSE), resigned in an unusual fashion. On LinkedIn announcing his resignation effective immediately, he said he has “called off this particular ascent on Everest”. In the post, he expressed frustration with supply chain and funding blockages, but later interviewed by the Irish Times cited poor IT infrastructure creating patient adverse outcomes, even death–and that senior administrators blocked new technology solutions. He is now a visiting professor at the University of Bath and a professor of innovation at Maynooth University. Irish Times 16 Jan, 25 Jan

And former Health Secretary Matt Hancock cannot catch a break. First, he was suspended from the Conservative Party in November, having decided that traveling to Australia for several weeks to appear in a reality show was more important–while he was Conservative Whip and Commons was still sitting. Now as an independent representing West Suffolk, in December he announced he will not stand for re-election next year. The insult upon injury was being assaulted last month by a 61-year-old man on the London Underground, following Mr. Hancock through Westminster station and onto a train, and earlier by the same man on Parliament Street. The Lancashire man was arrested. Lately quite in the BBC News.

Teladoc laying off 6%, reducing real estate, in move to “balanced growth” and profitability

Following on Teladoc’s mildly upbeat announcement of improved Q4 2022 revenue, now the layoffs. Today, employees were informed that 300 positions, about 6% of Teladoc’s workforce, will be departing. Timing was not disclosed. Based on the employee memo and disclosure in their Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) 8-K filing, the cuts will affect only non-clinical staff and eliminate ‘redundant’ positions acquired in their 2020 merger with Livongo. CEO Jason Gorevic’s statement to employees cited the “challenged economic environment”, transitioning to “balanced growth of revenue and profitability,” and bottom-line growth. Gorevic cited a path to profitability via refocusing on commercial business under the ‘whole person care’ concept covering Primary 360, chronic care management, and mental health, as well as the BetterHelp consumer behavioral health business. 

Released employees will receive severance including payouts based on years of service and grade level, 2022 bonuses, subsidized healthcare benefits under COBRA, BetterHelp therapy access, and job search assistance. Their office space footprint is also being reduced in select markets.  These and other Q4 actions will not have a material impact on 2022 financial operating results.

This Editor, who as a marketer been made redundant a few times due to company acquisitions and once in a business closure, is puzzled that Teladoc carried overlapping Livongo staff for two years after the August 2020 acquisition. The typical non-senior executive in the acquired company usually gets anywhere from ‘depart close of business’ to six months depending on their function or project assignment. Rarely, one finds a berth and even that can be temporary until the next reorg. Perhaps Livongo staff were needed for enterprise customers or Teladoc staff didn’t have the app expertise. The Livongo integration was reportedly an exceptionally bumpy one as well. This Editor also recalls Mr. Gorevic’s statements last May at the time of their Q1 2022 $6.6 billion writeoff of the Livongo acquisition: the competition in telemental health, the rising cost of paid search advertising, expensive keywords driving towards direct-to-consumer telehealth driving up the cost of acquisition, and the long cycle of closing B2B deals [TTA 4 May 22]. Amazing how these costly factors were not cited. In fact, Teladoc has launched TV advertising for Livongo, and for enterprise customers has created a new app that debuted at CES earlier this month that integrates primary care, mental health, and chronic condition management.

In any case, talking about profitability is now fashionable, based on the memes at JPM around partnerships and robust ecosystems. Even if profitability remains way off there on the distant horizon. Also Healthcare Dive, Mobihealthnews

Mid-week roundup: Teladoc gets BetterHelp to boost Q4 ’22 revenue; fundings for Array, Paytient, Telesair, three others; layoffs hit at Alphabet’s Verily, Cue Health

Teladoc may finish 2022 better than expected, at least in revenue. At the JPMorgan (JPM) annual healthcare conference, CEO Jason Gorevic shared a revised but still preliminary projection that Q4 would finish up a tick higher than expected–between $633 million and $640 million in revenue, versus their projection during Q3 that the low side would be $625 million. FY2022 revenue was updated to be the $2.403 billion to $2.41 billion range. The big contributor? Their mental health app BetterHelp. Their growth, according to Mr. Gorevic, is “staggering’. Silicon Valley Bank (SVP) analyst Stephanie Davis calculated a growth rate of 43% for the business, up from previous management targets. Teladoc’s optimism is tempered by the no/slow growth economy projected for this year, both direct to consumer and corporate. To help boost the latter, it is launching a new app for health plan members and company employees access to all of Teladoc’s clinical programs. Healthcare Dive, Becker’s

Despite the uncertain economy, funding continues in various rounds, especially in still-hot areas such as remote/virtual behavioral therapy and payments, but nowhere near the bubbly level of 2021:

CVS Health’s open piggybank helped to fund NJ-based Array Behavioral Care’s $25 million Series C. Other investors included HLM Venture Partners, OSF Healthcare System, Wells Fargo, and three others. Array will use the funds to scale its virtual behavioral therapy platform.  Mobihealthnews, Crunchbase

In that interesting area called healthcare fintech, the cleverly-named Paytient now has an additional $40.5 million in Series B funding, bringing their total to $63 million. Paytient provides corporate employees, health plan members, and health system patients with a card-based Health Payment Account (HPA) that includes a line of credit. Release, Mobihealthnews 

In hospital-to-home respiratory care, still in stealth Telesair raised $22 million in Series A funding, led by Pasaca Capital with participation from existing and new investors such as Honeywell Investors, ZhenCheng Capital, Shangbay Capital plus three others. According to the release, funding will be used for the commercialization of the Bonhawa Respiratory Humidifier for use in the ICU and the development of a second-generation, revolutionary product for hospital-to-home. Mobihealthnews   

Also highlighted in Mobihealthnews‘ article is a $10 million Series B for ModifyHealth, which delivers prepared, medically tailored meals and provides advice from dieticians. ModifyHealth provides certified low FODMAP meals for those with irritable bowel syndrome or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), as well as Mediterranean, low-sodium, and gluten-free (celiac disease) diet meals. Censinet, a developer of healthcare cybersecurity software, also landed $9 million in a funding round led by MemorialCare Innovation Fund, Rex Health Ventures, and Ballad Ventures plus five others for a total of over $22 million.  Release  CARI Health, a San Diego startup developing a wearable sensor for medication management, gained $2.3 million in seed funding from the San Diego Angel Conference plus four other funds. Release

The pace of layoffs may have slowed, but the numbers have not.

Alphabet’s Verily health tech development unit is discharging 15% of current staff, estimated at 240 people.  This is part of a reorganization designed to move to financial independence from Alphabet/Google. It’s categorized among Google units as ‘Other Bets’ which is appropriate given that so far, their bets haven’t hit any jackpots. An example we covered back in 2015-16 was a glucose monitoring contact lens developed with Alcon, an on-the-face of it Preposterous Idea that died about that time. Current discontinued areas include remote patient monitoring for heart failure and micro needles for drug delivery. Employees were told to leave the office for the remainder of the week; further information including separation would be sent to them via email. Since 2017, it has raised over $2 billion. You wonder where it went. CNBC

Cue Health, a home diagnostics company, is cutting 388 employees, about 26% of its workforce, effective March. This is in addition to an 170-person manufacturing worker layoff during the summer. Cue bet heavily on growth of its at-home molecular Covid testing packs sold direct on a membership plan [TTA 12 Nov 2021], plus to pharmacies and to businesses. It expanded from about 100 workers in 2020 to more than 1,500. That growth has cratered along with the entire testing market for a pandemic that is no longer there. According to Mobihealthnews, they have submitted to the FDA for new test such as an EUA for a combination flu and COVID-19 diagnostic as well as de novo clearances for its flu and COVID-19 standalone tests.