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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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’

Clover Health takes another pass at Nasdaq delisting. Once again, Clover’s Class A shares (CLOV) have been trading with an average closing price of below $1.00 over a consecutive 30 trading-day period, which violates Nasdaq’s continued listing minimum price criteria for the Nasdaq Global Select Market. This was announced in their most recent 8-K filed with the SEC 2 April. Clover has until 30 September to remedy the situation. An additional 180-day period may be elected if Clover transfers to the Nasdaq Capital Market. FierceHealthcare, Becker’s

The delisting is a rerun of their situation last year at this time. Clover considered a reverse stock split to be approved by shareholders but the share price improved on its own and the action was not necessary. This year, it may be. Clover is currently trading at $0.7365. Last August, it hit a high of $1.55 before sliding to below $1.00. An example of a SPAC through Social Capital Hedosophia Holdings, it hit a high of over $15 on 8 January 2021 before cracking that year based on revelations that Clover did not reveal a Department of Justice investigation starting the prior year, which prompted an SEC investigation [TTA 9 Feb 2021], triggering seven shareholder lawsuits that were not settled until December 2023. Clover Health exited the advanced value-based primary care program, ACO REACH, at the end of the 2023 performance year after two years to focus on their Medicare Advantage and Clover Assistant businesses [TTA 6 Dec 2023]. Financially, Clover closed 2023 with revenue of $2.033 billion (down from 2022’s $3.5 billion), net loss of $213.4 million, and an adjusted EBITDA loss of $44.7 million, with the losses improved over 2022. Clover release 

As predicted, 4TB of Change Healthcare data is up for sale. In a typical ransomwareiste move, the affiliate making nasty comments about BlackCat/ALPHV and claiming it had 4TB of data now has put the specs out on a dark web site called Ransomhub. The post first accuses ALPHV of stealing the $22 million ransom paid by UnitedHealth Group and not sharing it with the affiliate. It then claims it has highly sensitive data from multiple Change customers including active military PII (from Tricare), patient PII, payment and claims data, and much more. If Change/UHG isn’t interested, it will be up for sale to the highest bidder. Readers will recall the claims of ‘notchy’ early in the Change Healthcare attack [TTA 7 Mar] though UHG has not confirmed any payment to ALPHV. The demand for payment for the 4TB of data that ‘notchy’ claimed to possess was hardly unexpected. DataBreaches.net

A non-invasive “smallest ever” transdermal biosensor in development may turn the CGM business upside down. Biolinq’s latest round of $58 million will fund a pivotal clinical trial and FDA submission of its intradermal glucose sensor. The funding was led by Alpha Wave Ventures, with participation from Niterra’s corporate venture capital fund jointly operated with Pegasus Tech Ventures and existing investors RiverVest Venture Partners, AXA IM Alts, Global Health Investment Corporation, and four others, for a total since 2014 of $254 million. Crunchbase Current blood glucose sensors penetrate the skin with tiny needles. The Biolinq biosensor uses electrochemical sensors to measure glucose levels from the intradermal space just beneath the surface of the skin, on top of the capillary layer avoiding scarring. To access the intradermal layer, the sensors must be “200 times smaller than a human hair filament” according to Biolinq CEO Rich Yang. It also can combine blood glucose information with relative levels of activity in one device to eventually measure other analytes. The device as currently designed displays key information directly on the sensor–yellow light for high blood glucose, blue for normal. Release, MedCityNews

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

It’s a relatively quiet week before the Easter holiday, with a few fundings, more drama at the VA around Oracle Cerner, updating Change Healthcare’s comeback, and the continuing scrutiny around UnitedHealth’s acquisitions:

PocketHealth garners a US$33 million Series B. The Toronto-based company markets an AI-assisted platform to health systems and providers that allows patients to access their medical imaging and reports as well as for providers to easily share imaging information. The funding was an all-equity round by Round13 Capital with participation from Deloitte Ventures, Samsung Next, and existing investors Questa Capital and Radical Ventures to bring total funding since 2020 to $55.5 million. The fresh funding will be used to grow further within the US and Canada and develop new platform functions. Patients have access to three platforms:  Report Reader to explain medical terms in the patient’s report, Follow-Up Navigator for follow-up imaging recommendations, and MyCare Navigator to equip patients with relevant, personalized questions to ask their doctor. The platform is available in 775 hospitals and imaging centers across North America and is used by more than 1.5 million patients.  PocketHealth release, Mobihealthnews

Brightside Health moves to a Series C of $33 million. This round for the telemental health company was led by S32, along with Kennedy Lewis, Time BioVentures, and Anne Wojcicki (Redwood Pacific) with existing investors ACME, Mousse Partners, and Triventures. Total funding since 2018 is $114 million. Brightside provides telemental health through payers in 50 states such as CareOregon, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas, and Centene. The new funding will be used to expand into the usual new markets and offerings. Trip Hofer, who was former CEO of Optum Behavioral Health Solutions and now with .406 Ventures, will join the Brightside board of directors. Their most recent moves are expansion into Medicare and Medicaid programs for psychiatry, therapy, and their Crisis Care program for individuals with elevated suicide risk. Release

The Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General (OIG) released three reports last Thursday (20-21 March) that were sharply critical of the new Oracle Cerner EHR. While Oracle Cerner Millenium operates in only five VA locations, not including the joint MHS/Genesis Lovell FHCC, each one has been problematic from training to implementation–and are on hold. The OIG reports available here on the Electronic Health Records Modernization (EHRM) are scathing on the EHR’s scheduling and pharmacy features leading to patient safety and staff usability issues.

  • At VA Central Ohio Healthcare System (facility) in Columbus and elsewhere, this led to inaccurate medication and allergy information transmission from new EHR sites to legacy EHR sites that staff and pharmacists had to work around to provide adequate safety checks.
  • Also at VA Central Ohio, the Cerner EHR system error in 2022 led to a patient’s missed appointment since it was not routed to a queue to prompt rescheduling efforts. Subsequently, a nurse practitioner never evaluated the medication refill request, nor did a psychologist evaluate mental status and critical clinical information. The veteran patient died by accidental overdose approximately seven weeks after that missed appointment.
  • Regarding future implementations, the OIG was specific on what had to be fixed on both: “These concerns include the need for additional staffing and overtime to meet or exceed pre-deployment appointment levels, displaced appointment queue functionality, challenges related to providers and schedulers sharing information, inaccurate patient information, difficulties changing appointment type, and the inability to automatically mail appointment reminder letters. At facilities currently relying on the EHR, these issues have resulted in inconsistent workarounds and additional work, increasing the risk for scheduling errors.” 

Healthcare IT News, Healthcare Dive, EHR Intelligence, TTA 22 Feb

Change Healthcare’s systems are gradually returning. Since our last update on 14 March, UnitedHealth Group confirmed that 99% of pharmacy network services were up and running–and that they have fronted $2 billion to providers. Separately, they launched workaround software for medical claims preparation.

  • On 15 March, the electronic payments platform was restored.
  • On 20 March, UHG restored Amazon Web Services. It was backed up from Assurance, a claims and remittance management program, and claims clearinghouse Relay Exchange.
  • Relay Exchange went back online by 24 March to begin processing $14 billion in medical claims.

But on the legal and Federal fronts, UHG will be keeping its legal department busy. Starting the week of 11 March, the first class action lawsuit was filed by a women’s health practice in Albany, MS–Advanced Obstetrics & Gynecology PC. Another class action suit was filed on 18 March by Gibbs Law Group on behalf of providers to be named. Patients who have had compromised PII and PHI will be next from the 4 or 6 terabytes of payer information held by ‘notchy’ and other affiliates from the BlackCat/ALPHV masterminded attack as this is confirmed. Expect these to multiply like weeds in May. HIPAA Journal  And the American Hospital Association, Senators and House Representatives are jumping all over Health and Human Services (HHS) to ensure that payments are made to Medicare, Medicaid, and Medicare Advantage plans–as well as calls for investigating UnitedHealth. Becker’s, FierceHealthcare

As expected, UHG’s acquisition of Amedisys home health is running into more opposition at the state level. In this case, it’s the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) that will be conducting a full review. The Department of Justice (DOJ) has been investigating the acquisition on antitrust grounds almost since it was announced in June 2023. Shareholders approved the $3.3 billion buy the following September, but it has not closed. UHG’s plan is to merge it into Optum’s home health providers Contessa Health and LHG Group, creating a home health juggernaut. As noted earlier this month when DOJ announced a further antitrust probe of UHG around the UnitedHealth plan relationships with Optum services, “DOJ has a long memory, a Paul Bunyan-sized ax to grind, and doesn’t like losing. One wonders if now UHG has buyer’s remorse after fighting for two years to buy Change.” (And winning versus DOJ!) Fierce Healthcare

Yet UHG goes on buying providers, DOJ scrutiny or not. Optum is bidding for Steward Health Care’s Stewardship Health practices over nine states. For-profit Steward, headquartered in Dallas, needs to raise funds as it is in debt overall and facing major problems in Massachusetts, with several hospitals at risk of closure. In any case, the company wants to exit the state. A purchase price was not announced. The transaction is under review by Massachusetts’ Health Policy Commission (HPC) over the next 30 days. The Stewardship transaction would add to OptumCare’s total of 90,000 physicians–10% of US physicians, a number that is raising red flags on the state and Federal levels. FierceHealthcare, WBUR

Updates on Change cyberattack: UHG’s timeline for system restorations, key updates around claims and payments in next weeks (updated)

As of 8 March-updated 14 March

UnitedHealth Group released a timeline on restoring Change Healthcare systems.

Prescribing is currently back online, with payments not up until next Friday and the claims network starting testing and brought up through the week of 18 March. Highlights below are from the release. Details in 7 March press release.

  • Electronic prescribing is now fully functional with claim submission and payment transmission available as of 7 March. At the end of the release, there is additional information applicable to pharmacy claims and payments, as well as Optum Rx PBM.
    • Update: UHG announced on 13 March that the pharmacy network and payment systems were operational and 99% of pre-incident claim volume is restored. There are some pharmacies remaining offline. Reuters
  • Electronic payment functionality will be available for connection beginning 15 March (next Friday)
  • Testing and reestablishing connectivity to the claims network and software on Monday 18 March restoring service through that week.

Bottom line: the two critical functions of payments and claims will not be fully restored for a month (the cyberattack began on 21 February. Testing of the claims network is not full functionality. Reading between the lines, don’t bet on the week of 18 March for a complete restoration.

Editor’s note: Claims drive payments. There is a massive backlog. Providers could be out of pocket for months or working through reconciliations with UHG, if they participate in temporary funding.

Buried in the release: “we strongly recommend our provider and payer clients use the applicable workarounds we have established—in particular, using our new iEDI claim submission system in the interest of system redundancy given the current environment.”

The rest of the release recaps UHG’s temporary funding proposal, which the American Hospital Association had previously criticized as having ‘shockingly onerous’ terms that were “not even a band-aid on the payment problems” [TTA 5 March]. It has been improved with UHG advancing payments weekly and removing fees and interest. Repayment also seems sensible if the reconciliations are done correctly; “providers will receive an invoice once standard payment operations resume and will have 30 days to return the funds.” Registration is of course required.

UHG is also urging other payers to follow their lead in addressing payments with their providers.

At this point, you can’t expect UHG to disclose why Change Healthcare’s hundreds of systems were so vulnerable–nor whether they paid ransom to BlackCat, as reported. This Editor also wonders how much information on claims and payments, going back before 21 February, was lost. 

Other funding updates:

UHG will suspend until 31 March:

  • Prior authorizations for most outpatient services except for Durable Medical Equipment, cosmetic procedures, and Part B step therapies. This applies to Medicare Advantage (MA), including Dual Special Needs Plans (D-SNP).
  • Drug formulary exception review processes for Medicare Part D pharmacy benefits

UHG will work with state Medicaid agencies on actions they wish to implement.

Becker’s, Healthcare Dive

Reality Bites Again: UHG being probed by DOJ on antitrust, One Medical layoffs “not related” to Amazon, the psychological effects of cyberattacks

When It Rains, It Really Pours for UnitedHealth Group. On the heels of their Optum/Change Healthcare ransomware disaster are recent reports that the US Department of Justice is investigating UHG over multiple antitrust concerns. According to the Wall Street Journal, DOJ is examining certain relationships between the company’s UnitedHealthcare insurance unit and its Optum services unit, specifically around Optum’s ownership of physician groups. UHG has been aggressively buying and buying interests in practice groups for several years, announcing quite publicly that their goal was to own or control 5% of US physicians. In 2022 and 2023, they bought CareMount, Kelsey-Seybold, Atrius Health, Healthcare Associates of Texas, and Crystal Run Healthcare (Becker’s). Local reporting by the Examiner News in Westchester, NY, brought much of this history to light. In that area, it started with local practice group CareMount and their 25% layoff after being folded into Optum Tri-State with ProHealth in Long Island and NYC and Riverside Health–a layoff pattern that accelerated in the practice groups in 2023.

DOJ lost out on their challenge to the Change Healthcare acquisition in November 2022, deciding not to appeal the Federal District Court decision in 2023 [TTA 23 Mar 2023]. But DOJ never sleeps; they are examining with a microscope UHG’s $3.3 billion bid for home health provider Amedisys that started in August 2023 and has not moved forward. DOJ has a long memory, a Paul Bunyan-sized ax to grind, and doesn’t like losing. One wonders if now UHG has buyer’s remorse after fighting for two years to buy Change.

In the Alternate Reality Department, One Medical CEO Trent Green insisted that their reorganization and layoffs were unrelated to their acquisition by Amazon. Those of us who are a little less credulous know that with 98% of acquisitions, staff are laid off. Overlapping areas wind up being pinkslipped, no matter their individuals’ quality or even difference in business: finance, HR, legal, marketing, IT, operations, compliance, sales, account managers…the list is almost endless. According to the Washington Post article (also Becker’s), One Medical cuts, estimated at up to 400, also included front desk staff, office managers, health coaches, behavioral health specialists and a pediatrician–people who aren’t employed by other Amazon units. One Medical’s corporate offices in New York, Minneapolis, and St. Petersburg, Florida are closing, and its San Francisco office space is reduced to one floor. TTA 14 Feb

One Medical has never been profitable, as this Editor noted when the acquisition was announced as part of the “race to transform healthcare models”. This wasn’t going to last long with Amazon, which has been aggressively been cutting and dumping in other units such as Audible, Prime, and Halo. Marketing Amazon-style with deeply discounted memberships to Prime members also has its limitations. One Medical has a scant 200 mostly urban offices, which means that members outside those areas only have access to virtual visits. It had previously cultivated a patient population of young, mostly healthy and lower-cost urbanites, who as they grow older and have families might stick with the practice–or find it not compatible with or targeted to their needs in middle age. Management has changed: Green replaced Amir Dan Rubin, MD, as CEO last September. CFO Bjorn Thaler will move to a new position focused on growth initiatives. A layer of regional general managers will report to an Amazon head of operations, and legal, finance, and technology teams will report to Amazon’s healthcare business structure. Inbound calls now go to Mission Control, a central call center, and even those humans will be in future supplemented by an AI-enabled chatbot.

Iora Health, One Medical’s specialized (acquired) unit in Medicare Advantage and Medicare Shared Savings Programs including the advanced ACO REACH model, in October was rebranded as One Medical Senior, with an intention for all One Medical offices to serve age 65+–but with current patients, many with multiple chronic conditions, now reporting cutbacks in callbacks, appointment length, physician load, and services provided such as transportation. One clinic had 20 staff cut back to five with patients pushed out to virtual visits–hardly appropriate for a high needs, older, less technologically savvy patient population in value-based care, quality-measured models. Editor’s note: having had some experience in ACO and VBC World, Amazon may as well get out of ACOs because practices in these primary care models require specialized and dedicated management, reporting, and population nurturing. They don’t mainstream well.  I have also read that ironically, Iora was profitable for OneMedical, which is 1) why they bought it and 2) ran it separately.

In this Editor’s view, human costs are a factor shown to be absent from Amazon’s business calculations for success–which doesn’t quite square with the mission of healthcare for healthier patients and better outcomes.

Speaking of the reality of human cost, let’s spare a thought for those dealing with the effects of a cyberattack or data breach. They are the IT staff, pharmacists, software specialists, front line clinicians, billing specialists, doctors, therapists, business managers, coders…the list goes on. They share their feelings of frustration, helplessness, distress, aloneness, and financial fear on Reddit, Twitter/X and other forums. Few think of them taking the brunt of patient frustration and their state of mind day after day as Change/Optum’s disaster goes on and on. Writer Molly Gamble of Becker’s has the final and most sympathetically descriptive say in her brief but important article about When ransomware strikes, who to call?  A full read is recommended.

Helplessness or loss of control, especially at a collective level, can be psychologically and emotionally taxing. Recognizing a threat but not knowing what to do about it can increase one’s stress, anxiety and fear. The lack of a known end point of a cyberattack like Change is experiencing can intensify psychological distress. Some independent therapists, for instance, have noted they have halted their insurance billing for a week due to the downtime and expressed fear about going longer without income. 

These mental effects, while lesser-discussed, are exactly what cyberthreats intend to bring on. Cyberterrorists want to create mental and physical harm, and research has found that the psychological effects of cyber threats can rival those of traditional terrorism.

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)

The BlackCat/ALPHV ransomware attack on Change Healthcare’s systems continues. At this point, the Optum systems website doesn’t show anything other than a chronological trail of updates and a long list in very small gray type of Change Healthcare systems affected–no more individual checks on working systems and red Xs on the ones that weren’t. 

  • UnitedHealth Group is setting up a program to loan funds, the “Temporary Funding Assistance Program,” to providers who cannot receive payments while Change systems are down. While without fees or interest, the loans will have to be repaid.
  • In a Tuesday 27 Feb conference call with hospital cybersecurity officers reported by STAT, UHG Chief Operating Officer Dirk McMahon said that the program will continue “for the next couple of weeks as this continues to go on.” This is more of a timeline than UHG has otherwise disclosed.
  • The American Hospital Association (AHA) on Monday slammed the “Temporary Funding Assistance Program” as “not even a band-aid on the payment problems” that hospitals are experiencing. The program is, in their view 1) “available to an exceedingly small number of hospitals and health systems” and with “shockingly onerous” and “one-sided contractual terms” and conditions for payback and verification through access to claims payment data. For their members, “their financial future becomes more unpredictable the longer Change Healthcare is unavailable. UnitedHealth Group, which is a Fortune 5 company that brought in more than $370 billion in revenue and $22 billion in profit in 2023, can — and should — be doing more to address the far-reaching consequences that result from Change Healthcare’s inability to provide these essential hospital revenue cycle functions nearly two weeks after the attack.” 4 March letter to UHG   AHA maintains an update page for members and other providers.
  • US Senator Chuck Schumer wrote 1 March to the Center for Medicare and Medicare Services (CMS) requesting that CMS accelerate payments to hospitals, pharmacies and other providers. Also Becker’s
  • AHA wrote 4 March to all four Congressional leaders detailing the effect on providers, UHG’s assistance program’s inadequacies, and requesting assistance from HHS including requesting “Medicare Administrative Contractors to prioritize and expedite review and approval of hospital requests for Medicare advanced payments.”  

Update: According to First Health Advisory, a cybersecurity firm in healthcare, some large providers are losing $100 million daily because of the interruptions to Change/Optum’s payer systems. CNN, Becker’s

And BlackCat went All Quiet on the Ransomware Front. Bleeping Computer confirmed that BlackCat turned off their servers and took their negotiation website offline over the weekend. “The Tox messaging platform used by the BlackCat ransomware operator contained a message that does does not provide any details about what the gang plans next: “Все выключено, решаем,” which translates to “Everything is off, we decide.”” It has now been changed to “GG”.

This may or may not be related to another development–an affiliate of BlackCat/ALPHV claiming that they were scammed of a $22 million ransomware payment from Optum. These affiliates actually carry out the attacks on cybervictims using encryptors from the main entity. Dmitry Smilyanets of threat intelligence company Recorded Future picked up a message posted by “notchy” that said Change/Optum paid $22 million on 1 March to “prevent leakage and decryption key.” ALPHV suspended their account after receiving the payment and never paid them. This affiliate also claims they still have 4 terabytes of data from Change that goes deep into Tricare, Medicare, MetLife, CVS, and many other payers. As proof on the ransom, “notchy” provided a cryptocurrency payment address with a total of nine transactions. In the ultimate irony, “notchy” warned other affiliates to stop dealing with ALPHV. Cutting off affiliate ties and walking away with the cash, preliminary to another rebrand of BlackCat/ALPHV, formerly DarkSide and Black Matter? Also The Registerand DataBreaches.net–which commented that while Optum may have gotten a decryptor, what about All That Data?

Change Healthcare cyberattack persists–is the BlackCat gang back and using LockBit malware? BlackCat taking credit. (update 28 Feb #2)

On Day 7, reports, like recollections, may differ. Today’s Reuters report (26 Feb) attributes the attack on Change Healthcare, which has snarled pharmacies and hospitals since Wednesday [TTA 23 Feb], to a revived BlackCat (a/k/a ALPHV) ransomware operation. Readers will recall that the FBI busted BlackCat right before Christmas last year, seizing their operational darknet websites and putting up a most showy home screen. They worked their way into the BlackCat operation via their affiliate operation. However, BlackCat rebooted a few days later, made an appearance, and went back underground. As Bleeping Computer predicted then, BlackCat is apparently back and, adding insult, not even under a new name. 

Bleeping Computer today reported that BlackCat’s hack went through a critical ConnectWise ScreenConnect auth bypass flaw (CVE-2024-1708 and 1709) which was actively exploited in attacks to deploy ransomware on unpatched servers. This was confirmed by Reuters and Health-ISAC, a healthcare-focused organization engaged in cyber best practices and threat intelligence, via the American Hospital Association’s AHA Cybersecurity Advisory today (26 Feb). AHA is advising healthcare organizations to actively reevaluate their connection or disconnection status of Change Healthcare systems which have been deemed safe by Optum.

As of today, BlackCat did not claim credit for taking down Change’s systems nor is there any report of a ransom demand. It is perhaps too early to determine if there has been any data theft. Nor are there reports of other healthcare or other organizations being attacked through the ScreenConnect flaw.

Optum has a page detailing the status of Change Healthcare’s individual systems here. Optum has a statement that has remained nearly the same on issues with connectivity since last Wednesday.* This Editor’s experience of the page is that it needs refreshing to view the full version. Regarding the systems, they are a long list to scroll through and your Editor lost count after 100. Most have red Xs by them. Some systems are checked green. Change is also holding Zoom calls to update partners. Reuters reported that Alphabet’s cybersecurity unit Mandiant is in charge of investigating the attack.

Change Healthcare processes 15 billion healthcare claims annually. This attack seems to have hit their pharmacy software the hardest. These software tools are used to verify patient eligibility for specific medication and also their insurance coverage. The outage not only covers the big chains like CVS and Walgreens, but also Tricare and the Military Health System (MHS) globally. TTA 22 Feb, updated 23 Feb.

A Friday report in SC Magazine indicated that the malware used by BlackCat was a strain of LockBit malware going through the ConnectWise ScreenConnect bypass flaw. Their source, Toby Goucker, chief security officer at First Health Advisory, stated that their firm found the ScreenConnect flaws and sent out a notification on 19 February. Goucker noted that bad actors prey on the gap between when these vulnerabilities are uncovered and announced, but before when patches are applied. However, Goucker was not able to confirm that Change uses ScreenConnect.

Ironically, the LockBit ransomwareistes were busted only last week by a combined UK NCA and US DOJ/FBI effort. Like weeds, they never go away entirely.

Oddly, Change Healthcare’s website home page does not have a notice about their problem or direct to a page on their or UHG’s site about it for assistance. We know you’re busy, guys, but from this Editor’s marketing perspective not having an information banner and redirect to the Optum page is a basic communication failure.

**This is a developing story and will be updated.**

*Update 27 Feb 9am Eastern Time.

A repeat of Optum’s boilerplate statement on their page today indicates this cyberattack is still unresolved for most of Change Healthcare–and will remain unresolved at least through today:

Update – Change Healthcare is experiencing a cyber security issue, and our experts are working to address the matter. Once we became aware of the outside threat, and in the interest of protecting our partners and patients, we took immediate action to disconnect Change Healthcare’s systems to prevent further impact. This action was taken so our customers and partners do not need to. We have a high-level of confidence that Optum, UnitedHealthcare and UnitedHealth Group systems have not been affected by this issue.

We are working on multiple approaches to restore the impacted environment and will not take any shortcuts or take any additional risk as we bring our systems back online. We will continue to be proactive and aggressive with all our systems and if we suspect any issue with the system, we will immediately take action and disconnect. The disruption is expected to last at least through the day. We will provide updates as more information becomes available.
Feb 272024 – 09:03 EST

Identical message 28 Feb 10:48am ET indicating that the effects of this attack are now one week old.

Updated 28 Feb: DataBreaches.net (“The Office of Inadequate Security”) reports that BlackCat is taking credit for it.

“BlackCat informed DataBreaches that yes, they are responsible for the attack. DataBreaches has asked them if they are willing to share any additional details and will update this post if any are received.”

This Editor is also following coverage in the usually reliable The Register which added a reply they obtained from Optum: “Since identifying the cyber incident, we have worked closely with customers and clients to ensure people have access to the medications and the care they need. We also continue to work closely with law enforcement and a number of third parties, including Mandiant and Palo Alto Networks, on this attack against Change Healthcare’s systems.” They are not confirming the perpetrators. 

#2 update from DataBreaches may point to Change Healthcare as well as healthcare in general. Here is part of a Cybersecurity Advisory (CSA) that is an ongoing #StopRansomware effort by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). CISA was joined by the FBI and interestingly, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). They “are releasing this joint CSA to disseminate known IOCs and TTPs associated with the ALPHV Blackcat ransomware as a service (RaaS) identified through FBI investigations as recently as February 2024.” The addition of HHS as well as February 2024 should be noted. “FBI, CISA, and HHS encourage critical infrastructure organizations to implement the recommendations in the Mitigations section of this CSA to reduce the likelihood and impact of ALPHV Blackcat ransomware and data extortion incidents.” Could this be behind what is going on at Change Healthcare–a BlackCat full-court press versus US healthcare?

And at least one major hospital CEO wants answers now. Tampa General Hospital CEO John Couris went up to Optum’s CEO Amar Desai in the speaker room at the ViVE conference in Los Angeles on Monday, and the answer was far less than satisfactory. “And his answer to me was, ‘We’ll have an update in two days.’ So I don’t think he knows.” Mr. Couris’ speculates that Change Healthcare will 1) not pay ransom and 2) will rebuild its systems in maybe four weeks–and how that puts hospitals like his that use Change as a clearing house for claims in, to put it mildly, a pickle. MedCityNews

Cigna-Humana deal fizzles after two weeks after term discussion fails, shareholders nix

That was mercifully fast. After all the speculation and rumors [TTA 2 Dec], Cigna and Humana called off their talks on 10 December after not coming anywhere near terms on the financials. According to the Wall Street Journal, it was also evident that shareholders disliked it nearly immediately by driving down the share prices of both companies by 10%.

Their sources indicated that it would be a share and cash deal by Cigna for Humana, which added to shareholder displeasure. Cigna will be instead buying back up to $10 billion in stock to drive up their valuation. Reportedly, the repurchasing of least $5 billion of stock will take place between now and H1 2024. Cigna will also concentrate on smaller ‘bolt-on’ acquisitions and the sale of its Medicare Advantage business as previously announced. In the past five days, Cigna shares plumped by nearly $50 and Humana’s by about $10.

The WSJ‘s sources stated that Cigna continues to believe in a combination with Humana, something that the two companies have danced around for years, dating back even before the proposed payer megamergers of 2015 which saw Humana’s acquisition by Aetna (and Cigna’s by Anthem, now Elevance) disapproved both by states and at the Federal antitrust level. The two would, at least on paper, be a good fit, with Cigna’s strength in commercial plans plus Evernorth’s services added to Humana’s in Medicare Advantage, Medicaid, and home health services under CenterWell. It would have created a strong rival to UnitedHealth Group and CVS Health at $300 billion in revenue. What may have proved to be the antitrust stumbling block were their respective strengths in pharmacy benefit management (PBM) though with different focuses.

Even more than the increasingly hostile Federal antitrust environment between DOJ and FTC, it also points to the paucity of funding for mergers and acquisitions–M&A down 14% so far this year to about $1.2 trillion according to Dealogic.

In about three years, healthcare funding has gone from money thrown by VC and PE investors at what we recognize now as shaky propositions (Cerebral, Babylon Health, Olive AI, Pear) to no interest (or funds available) in what would be quality matchups. The pendulum swings–and swings back. We hope. Healthcare Dive

Short takes: a rumor of merger/buy with Cigna and Humana–what are the odds? (updated) And what’s up with the low number of HIMSS 24 exhibitors?

crystal-ballCigna and Humana, perfect together? Only if they can get the deal through the Feds and the states. Late this week, the Wall Street Journal revealed that Cigna and Humana were exploring either a merger or, as some theorize, a buy of Humana ($93 billion in revenue, $60 billion valuation) by much-larger Cigna ($181 billion in revenue, $78 billion valuation). Between them, it is estimated that they would have 35 million members. No transaction cost has been estimated, but the WSJ sources indicate it will be a stock-and-cash deal that could be finalized by the end of the year if all goes well.

On paper, industry observers like it but point out the overlap in one significant area.

  • Cigna earlier announced that it wants to sell its relatively small Medicare Advantage business, concentrating on its leadership in the commercial business and with its service businesses under the Evernorth umbrella.
  • Humana is exiting its commercial health plans to focus on MA and Medicaid, as well as its large footprint in the home health business with CenterWell.
  • Humana’s CEO Bruce Broussard is retiring next year, with newcomer to Humana Jim Rechtin joining as COO in January 2024 as his replacement. Cigna’s CEO David Cordani is a sprightly 57 and likely not to go anywhere.
  • The overlap area that could be problematic is pharmacy benefit management (PBM) with each having about 17-18 million in Express Scripts (Cigna), the second largest in the US, and Humana Pharmacy Solutions. 

Liking it on paper is one thing–FTC, DOJ, and 50 states may not feel so enthusiastic. It’s established through their actions that both Federal agencies are reining in M&A with new and restrictive merger guidelines scheduled to go into effect next year [TTA 20 July]. Healthcare is a major political hot button for this administration for cost–especially drug costs. That is where the reportedly equally sized in revenue PBM operations present the most major conflict to a merger or a buy, both in service and valuation. Both serve their own plan members as well as others, notably Express Scripts with 24% of claims, whereas Humana’s serves primarily its own plan members with 8% of claims. Neither are easy to divest without creating antitrust questions for acquirers and a major dent in Humana’s services. The final factor: Lina Khan, chair of the FTC, has never seen a merger that she’s liked based on her own statements [TTA 24 Aug].

Doomed to repeat history? In 2015, two payer mega-mergers involving these same companies were concocted: Cigna with Anthem and Humana with Aetna. They hit the buzzsaws of DOJ and before that, state approvals. The DOJ pursued them on antitrust in the Federal courts which derailed both by January 2017. Running up to that, every state got an approval vote through review by each state’s Department of Banking and Insurance or equivalent. Many did not approve or with conditions. The other factor is corporate. In the runup to the merger, Anthem-Cigna was marked by escalating animosity from the management suites to the worker cubes. After the deals were scuppered in the Federal District Court, Anthem and Cigna bitterly fought over damages and cancellation fees in Delaware Chancery Court. Aetna and Humana took their lumps and breakup fees, and went on. Aetna went on to merge with CVS, a deal that avoided most of the antitrust flak. Humana went on to acquisitions in other areas.

Our betting line. Both insurers will look at the financials in this hard-to-get-arrested year. Both will feel out the Feds before going forward. Both will calculate whether it’s best to start now or wait till next year and a possible change in administration. Neither company wants to be a political target in an election year. Defensively, Cigna may make noises about other combinations–Centene and Molina have been mentioned–which present their own difficulties and troubles, to strategically try to force the issue. Stay tuned! MedCityNews, Axios

Update: Other analysts suddenly are on board with this Editor’s gimlety view of the matchup, citing antitrust and how Federal regulators are primed to challenge major deals. The FTC is specifically probing the PBM business. The fact that the deal, according to JP Morgan, could take 12 to 24 months is no surprise as par for the course, but Mr. Market didn’t like it, dragging down both companies’ share prices every day since the rumor broke. (Hmmmm….do they read TTA?)  But a small lamp was lit by one analyst: a Cigna-Humana combo could present real competition to the 9,000 lb. elephant of healthcare, UnitedHealth Group, and that might help to put it over. FierceHealthcare

Another concern that occurred to your Editor: Cigna’s international footprint could mean additional approvals by UK and EU regulators.

According to Healthcare Dive’s analysis, the combined entity would have a PBM market share of 32%, right up against CVS Health-Caremark at 33% and UHG’s OptumRx way behind at 22%. It’s a small group with big barriers to entry which makes it a slam-dunk to antitrust regulators.  A whistle in the dark might be UHG’s long-drawn-out buy of Change Healthcare, but there were divestitures of business before closing and both parties managed to prove to the satisfaction of a US District Court that the separation to Optum Insight would not affect business relationships with other health plans. But here, both are health plans, and both have PBMs.

HIMSS 24 exhibitors, where are you? An item in today’s HIStalk on the ‘interesting’ choice as closing keynoter of football coach Nick Saban (U of Alabama Crimson Tide) at a healthcare IT conference went on to compare the number of booked HIMSS exhibitors to date with HIMSS 23’s floor total. This Editor, who for a few years booked the least expensive HIMSS space for the company she worked for back then well in advance, could not believe the low number of exhibitors three months from show time in March. Checking the HIMSS show website, there are 501 exhibitors listed. In 2023, according to HIStalk, there were 1,216. Many of these exhibitors have multiple booths in the Orange County (Orlando) Convention Center, but it still indicates the uncertain state of healthcare, pullbacks in marketing budgets, the rise of real competition in HLTH and ViVE, and perhaps some concerns about the show management transition from HIMSS itself to Informa. Are industry and IT influentials skipping HIMSS next year? Stay tuned or comment below!

CMA clears £1.2B EMIS acquisition by UnitedHealth Group’s Optum (UK)

It took a year, but it’s approved. The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), the UK agency tasked with approving acquisitions, approved the acquisition of UK healthcare tech systems developer EMIS by UnitedHealth Group (UHG)’s Optum. The actual acquisition will be made by Bordeaux UK Holdings II, a UK Optum unit. 

The £1.2 billion bid for the private company was made in June 2022. In March 2023, CMA moved its review to an independent group for a Phase 2 review due to EMIS’ engagement with the NHS. The Phase 2 review determined that the acquisition by Optum did not raise competitive concerns. Optum is currently a supplier to NHS and GP practices in pharmacy prescription, advisory services, and data analytics. The acquisition of the EMIS system was found to not effectively restrict other entities’ access to data or population health services, and that any restriction could be regulated by the NHS to prevent its use by Optum as a business strategy. Further discussion is presented in the CMA release.

EMIS is the leading EHR system used by NHS GPs throughout the UK. EMIS also has systems for business intelligence, pharmacy, EDs and urgent care, and to identify patients for clinical trials. 

This final approval indicates that the acquisition will close before the end of this year.  Becker’s Payer, CMA release, Medical Buyer (India), Reuters

Mid-week roundup: DocGo in NY migrant service trouble, more DOJ scrutiny of UHG-Amedisys buy, Exor now $2.8B lead investor in Philips

DocGo catching flak over their services to migrants housed in New York State. Officials in Albany County and in the state capital of Albany have criticized DocGo’s health and food services to migrants being given temporary housing in that area. DocGo’s primary contracts for health services are with New York City including a $432 million no-bid contract with NYC. Since the migrants come through NYC and are being housed upstate, DocGo has been put in charge of about 700 migrants temporarily located in the Albany area with housing and services such as medical care, food, transportation, security, and case management. According to county officials, DocGo failed to provide these services. According to the Albany County officials, food was either not delivered or spoiled, and DocGo did not communicate with them since the program started in May. DocGo has denied these allegations and their CEO Anthony Capone has stated that DocGo is working to provide food via local food pantries and ‘culturally sensitive’ meal choices. In addition, they have provided to date over 25,500 meals to Albany area migrants, plus transportation shuttles for both medical treatment and to public transportation. DocGo said it has provided medical care and other services to more than 19,000 migrants in NY since beginning its work in September. Albany Times-Union, Mobihealthnews, WNYT.com  

As we noted only last week, DocGo upped its 2023 financials, buoyed by their large NYC contract. Their latest New York partnership is with EmblemHealth, a NYC and Tri-State area health plan that serves about 3 million members. DocGo will provide in-home services in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Release

The UnitedHealth Group acquisition of Amedisys has run into extra scrutiny from the Department of Justice. Under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Act (HSR Act), a premerger notification has to be filed by both parties with the DOJ and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). That was done on 5 July. DOJ and FTC responded with a second request for additional information on 4 August (page 16 of their SEC Schedule 14 A filing). What this will do is delay UHG and Amedisys moving forward with the deal until 30 days after they have complied with the second request. Amedisys is proceeding with a shareholder meeting on 8 September for approval of the acquisition.

The second request fits with recent changes to information disclosure requirements proposed by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) Antitrust Division in June. These are currently in 60-day public review open to 28 August. Both FTC and DOJ with premerger notification and Draft Merger Guidelines [TTA 20 July] are proposing significant additional information requirements and substantial tightening of what will be acceptable in mergers and acquisitions under new anti-competitive and antitrust guidelines. An educated guess is that DOJ and FTC will be looking at Amedisys’ fit and home health market share effect with UHG’s earlier acquisitions LHC Group and Contessa Health, now in Optum. A preview of coming attractions in M&A?

The buy was announced in June as an all-cash deal for $3.3 billion (over $100 per share). Healthcare Dive, FierceHealthcare

Exor taking a 15% share in Philips with a $2.8 billion stake. Exor is an Italian investment company controlled by the Agnelli (Fiat) family that also has shares in Ferrari, Stellantis, the Economist, and football club Juventus in an overall strategy of investments in healthcare and luxury companies. Exor bought the shares in the open market with the option to buy another 5%. Exor will take a seat on Philips’ board. The Respironics recall affected Philips’ overall business and cut share price by about 70% compared to pre-recall.  Reuters. Hat tip to HIStalk.

Mid-week roundup: Optum buying Amedisys home care for $3.3B; Clover Health settles 7 shareholder lawsuits around SPAC non-disclosures; Walgreens cuts 2023 outlook, stock plummets 11%

UnitedHealth Group expands home health again, aces out Option Care Health in all-cash deal. Amedisys had previously accepted Option Care’s all-stock deal in May valued at $97.38 per share. Optum’s offer is at $101 per share in cash, a dollar higher than its previous offer, creating a valuation for the company at $3.7 billion. Amedisys will add to UHG’s $5.4 billion acquisition of the LHC Group in February, including the hospital-at-home market from its acquisition of Contessa Health for $250 million in 2021. 

Option Care is a public (Nasdaq: OPCH) post-acute and home infusion care company for which Amedisys in-home care delivery would have been an exceptional fit. It was last heard from in August making a run at Signify Health for home health and ACO providers. At that time, the not-well-known company was discovered to have some impressive backing from Goldman Sachs. Walgreens Boots Alliance also backed the company but cut its stake in March and sold the rest for $330 million earlier this month. Option Care will receive a termination fee of $106 million. Healthcare Dive, FierceHealthcare

Insurtech Clover Health settles seven lawsuits around its 2021 SPAC. Clover, with Medicare Advantage plans in eight states, went public in January 2021 at the very peak of ‘blank check’-dom. Almost immediately, after an explosive report by Hindenburg Research that revealed that the Department of Justice (DOJ) had been investigating the company on investor relationships and business practices starting in fall 2020 [TTA 9 Feb 2021], there were multiple lawsuits filed by shareholders (derivative litigation) over not revealing this material fact. Shares took the expected dive from their intro of $15.90 to today’s $0.85. The seven derivative lawsuits were in Delaware, New York, and Tennessee courts and are being settled without payment. According to Clover’s release, “the defendants in the derivative lawsuits will receive customary releases and the Company will implement a suite of corporate governance enhancements. The settlement does not involve any monetary payment, other than payment of an award of fees and expenses to plaintiffs’ counsel, which has not yet been set. The defendants have denied all wrongdoing and have entered into this settlement to avoid the burden, expense, and distraction of ongoing litigation.” In April, Clover settled a securities class action in which the class will receive $22 million, $19.5 million paid by the company’s insurance. Mobihealthnews

Walgreens Boots Alliance missed Wall Street expectations and lowered its outlook for the year. In their Q3, net earnings fell 59% to $118 million, mostly due to lower operating income. Their topline was healthy–$35.4 billion, up 9% year over year–driven by the US health provider segment (VillageMD, Summit Health, and CityMD plus at-home care provider CareCentrix and specialty pharmacy Shields Health Solutions) which was up 22%. However, both retail consumer sales and CityMD underperformed due to the absence of COVID and a mild respiratory illness winter. Together with VillageMD’s clinic expansions, this led to an adjusted operating loss of $172 million for US Healthcare. WBA cut its earnings guidance for the year to $4.00 to $4.05 per share from its previous outlook of $4.45 to $4.65. Walgreens has been selling off businesses or investments that are peripheral to providing healthcare services, such as its investment in Option Care (above). FierceHealthcare, Healthcare Dive

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)

Optum Labs creates and funds digital health research hub at Cornell Tech NYC

Optum Labs, the research and development arm of Optum/UnitedHealth Care, is allying with Cornell University to create a collaborative health research hub at the university’s NYC-Roosevelt Island campus, Cornell Tech. The initiative, funded by Optum Labs, is targeted to develop precision behavioral health and advance equity. According to the release, it will drive innovative research in precision behavioral health, extended reality for aging in place, and equitable human and algorithmic decision-making. A large part of this is incorporating new types of health data from wearables and IoT devices, Also this joint venture will seek to create new types of remote intervention and care delivery using augmented reality and virtual reality actuation technologies with computational techniques. (Whew!)

The digital health hub will be led by Deborah Estrin, an Associate Dean and a Robert V. Tishman ’37 Professor at Cornell University, and Tanzeem Choudhury, Ph.D., Senior Vice President at Optum Labs, and a Roger and Joelle Burnell Professor in Integrated Health and Technology at Cornell University. The funding amount is not disclosed. To this Editor, this seems like an effort to restore the New York area as a digital health hub and regain momentum lost since 2020. Cornell release

Optum has been reaching out on multiple fronts. The RVO Health joint venture brought over media and Healthgrades doctor ratings [TTA 14 July], UHG inking a 10-year deal with Walmart Health starting with Florida locations, and of course the Change Healthcare wrap into OptumInsight [TTA 20 Sept, 4 Oct] though still being contested by DOJ post-closing. All a part of Keeping Up With the CVS Health/Aetnas, Walgreens/VillageMDs, Amazons, and fellow payers like Cigna and Elevance. HealthcareFinanceNews

News roundup: Babylon Health Q3 revenue up 3.9x; surprise–DOJ to appeal UHG-Change buy approval; Walmart loses senior health exec Pegus to JPM

Earlier this month, Babylon Health announced its Q3 financials. Both revenue and value-based care membership grew. Losses also grew but the margins narrowed considerably. Highlights of their release:

Comparing Q3 2022 to Q3 2021

  • Revenue increased by $288.9 million versus $74.5 million, an increase of $214.4 million or 3.9x. This was largely driven by a 285% increase in Medicare membership.
  • Losses were there but margins improved due to aggressive cost reductions. Q3 loss was $89.9 million, or a 31.1% loss for the Period Margin (percent of revenue). Last year’s loss was $66 million, or 88.6% Period Margin. This represented an improvement of 57 points. When looking at EBITDA, Adjusted EBITDA totaled $(54.3) million, an (18.8)% Adjusted EBITDA Margin. This compared to last year’s $(47.5) million Adjusted EBITDA, or (63.7)% Adjusted EBITDA Margin, an improvement of 45 points.
  • Value-based care membership grew 2.7x to approximately 271,000
  • They acquired Medicare Advantage members in New Mexico, and commercial members via a digital-first product for Centene’s Ambetter plans in six states
  • In the UK, their Bupa partnership was extended for three years. Bupa has 2.3 million health insurance customers.

For year 2022, Babylon is updating its revenue guidance from $1.0 billion or greater to $1.05 billion to $1.1 billion.

Babylon is selling Meritage Medical Network, an independent physician association (IPA) based in Northern and Central California with 1,800 providers in six counties serving 90,000 patients, advised by  a major investment bank. They will also comply with SEC reporting requirements for a domestic issuer versus previously as a foreign private issue. Babylon will report its Q4 and 2022 yearend results under U.S. GAAP. They are also proceeding with a 25-to-1 reverse stock split to boost share price and prevent a NYSE delisting [TTA 13 Oct]. Mobihealthnews

The Department of Justice (DOJ) wiped egg off its face Friday, appealing the District Court of the District of Columbia approval in late September of UnitedHealth Group’s acquisition of Change Healthcare. The two companies closed on the buy in early October. DOJ was joined in the appeal by New York and Minnesota. The surprising appeal, after six weeks and the closing, is unusual but not unprecedented. At the time, the DOJ statement was written so that industry observers expected an appeal.

While the merger is closed, an appealed decision, if favorable to the DOJ, would force a separation of the businesses. Of course, UHG believes that “the appeal is without merit.” Stay tuned to see if this goes anywhere. Becker’s, Healthcare Dive

Walmart loses another healthcare exec. Cheryl Pegus, MD, will be departing Walmart as EVP of health and wellness and joining Morgan Health as a managing director. At Morgan, she will be focusing on population-based health initiatives and bringing clinical expertise to mental health, diabetes, and other chronic diseases. She is also joining Atria, a physician-owned organization of heart specialists.

During two years at Walmart, Dr. Pegus helmed development of a low-cost private brand analog insulin, expanded Walmart’s retail health center network across major markets, and the company’s pandemic response. Morgan Health was set up in 2021 to improve the quality, affordability, and equity of employer-sponsored healthcare. It has opened advanced primary care centers in Ohio. JPM a few weeks ago opened a Life Sciences Private Capital group [TTA 2 Nov]. Becker’s, Healthcare Dive

Walmart, despite their size, has had a certain wobbliness in their strategy. Aggressively starting out of the gate in 2018 with high-profile exec Sean Slovenski leading and plans to open up 1,000 clinics, he departed in 2020 and that put the brakes on the clinic strategy for awhile. In 2021, they bought privately held telehealth provider MeMD. Earlier this year, they announced the opening of more health ‘superstores’ in Florida, having established 20 in Arkansas, Illinois, and Georgia starting in 2019. Meanwhile, Walgreens is going big with VillageMD and its acquisition of Summit Health, and CVS Health is snapping up Signify Health to expand into value-based care and home health.

Catchup News Roundup: UHG-Change buy final; Theranos’ Holmes sentencing delayed, ‘limited hearing’ agreed to

Note: your Editor is on the mend after returning from vacation with a nasty bug that’s laid her low for the better part of a week.

UnitedHealth Group’s Optum unit completed its acquisition of Change Healthcare, after the 10-day agreed waiting period post-decision. As planned, Change will be folded into the OptumInsight unit. The all-cash deal was either $7.8 billion or $13 billion, depending on what source you go with [TTA 20 Sept].

The Department of Justice has a generous quantity of Grade A, Extra Large Egg on its metaphorical face. The District Court decision found that the DOJ did not conclusively prove its allegations of antitrust and loss of competition in services. Statements from UHG’s competitors such as Cigna, Aetna, and Elevance (Anthem) that the acquisition would not lead them to ‘stifle innovation’ also weakened the DOJ’s case. The major conflict, ClaimsXtend, was already in progress of divestiture to TPG.

Challenging acquisitions post-closing is difficult but has happened. Readers may recall the 2019 nine-month long District Court Tunney Act review drama over the final approval of the CVS buy of Aetna, dragging on long after the buy was final and reorganization was underway. If the Tunney Act applies, and this goes to a certain Judge Richard Leon, watch out!  Optum’s release did not disclose reorganization plans or management changes. Healthcare Dive, FierceHealthcare 

Elizabeth Holmes’ sentencing delayed to allow a ‘limited hearing’ on The Mysterious Visit of Adam Rosendorff.  The ‘crafty strategy’ [TTA 16 Sept] scored a win today (3 October). Judge Edward Davila accepted the defense’s request for a limited hearing on whether there was any prosecutorial misconduct in Dr. Rosendorff’s testimony and delayed Holmes’ sentencing originally scheduled for 17 October.

In August, according to Holmes’ partner Billy Evans, in a scene lifted out of TV’s Perry Mason, Dr. Rosendorff arrived at Holmes’ home doorstep disheveled and apologetic, allegedly telling Evans that the prosecution “made things sound worse than they were.” Yet Dr. Rosendorff swore a declaration to the prosecution after the Mysterious Visit that he testified “completely, accurately and truthfully” and stood by his testimony, while expressing “compassion” for her and her family. Rosendorff’s testimony was more about the Theranos labs and how they defrauded patients based on specious PR and inflated claims, not the investor fraud of which she was convicted. 

The limited hearing has been scheduled for 17 October (the original sentencing date). Judge Davila has already stated that the hearing will not last the full day. He also offered to both the prosecution and defense options for new sentencing dates: mid-November, early December, or mid-January. How this will affect Sunny Balwani’s upcoming sentencing on 12 counts is not known. Mercury News