It’s the Week After the Amazon/Berkshire Hathaway/JPMorgan Chase announcement of their partnership in a non-profit joint venture to lower healthcare costs for their 1.1 million employees, and there’s a bit of a hangover. Other than a few articles, there’s been relative quiet on this front. This could be attributed to the financial markets’ roller coaster over the past few days, at least in part due to this as healthcare stocks were hardest hit. In the US, healthcare is estimated to be 18 percent of the economy based on Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) actuarial statistics for 2015…and growing.
Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMC, had some ‘splainin’ to do with some of the bank’s healthcare clients, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal (paywalled) summarized on MarketWatch. He assured them that the JV would be to serve only the employees of the three companies. JPMC bankers handling the healthcare sector also needed some reassuring as they are “paid handsomely to help clients with mergers and other deals and worry the move could cost them business.”
Speculation on Amazon’s doings in healthcare remains feverish. A more sober look is provided by the Harvard Business Review which extrapolates how healthcare fits into Amazon’s established strength in delivery systems. Amazon could deliver routine healthcare via retail locations (Whole Foods, Amazon Go), same day prescription delivery, passive data capture developed for Amazon Go sold as a service to healthcare providers (on the model of Web Services), and data analytics.
Headlines may have trumpeted that the three-way partnership would ‘disrupt healthcare’, but our Readers in the business have heard this song before. While agreeing with their intent, this Editor differed almost immediately with the initial media cheering [TTA 31 Jan]. The Twitterverse Healthcare FlashMob in short order took it down and apart. STAT racks up some select tweets: in the ACO model, savings come when providers avoid low-value care; the contradiction of profitable companies avoiding profit; that the removal of healthy employees from existing plans will increase inequity and the actuarial burden upon the less insurable; the huge regulatory hurdle; and the dim view of investment advisory firm Piper Jaffray that it will not be a ‘meaningful disruptor’.
In this Editor’s view, there will be considerable internal politicking, more unease from JPMC customers, and a long time before we find out what these three will be doing.
Updated–click to see full page. Amazon is the Scary Monster of the healthcare space, a veritable Godzilla unleashed in Tokyo, if one listens to the many rumors, placed and otherwise, picked up in mainstream media which then are seized on by our healthcare compatriots.
According to CNBC’s breathless reporting, they have set up a skunk works HQ’d in Seattle. When they posted job listings, they were under keyword “a1.492” or as “The Amazon Grand Challenge a.k.a. ‘Special Projects’ team.” In late July, these ads for people like a UX Design Manager and a machine learning director with experience in healthcare IT and analytics plus a knowledge of electronic medical records were deleted. Amazon has separate initiatives on selling pharmaceuticals and building health applications to be compatible with Echo/Alexa and other smart home tech. Both have come up in the context of the CVS-Aetna merger, where buying up state pharmacy licenses cannot be kept secret (see end of our 8 Dec article) and that efforts to extend Alexa and Echo’s capabilities aren’t particularly secret.
A quick look at Bezos Expeditions, Amazon supremo’s Jeff Bezos’ personal fund, on Crunchbase reveals several healthcare investments, such as GRAIL (cancer), Unity Biotechnology (aging), Rethink Robotics, and Juno Therapeutics (cancer). Not really things easy to sell on Amazon.
Last week, Amazon reportedly hired Dr. Martin Levine, who ran integrated primary health Iora Health’s Seattle-based clinics, according to CNBC and Becker’s. They met with Iora, Kaiser, and the now-defunct Qliance about a year ago on innovative healthcare models. More breathless reporting: they are hiring a “HIPAA compliance lead.”
What does this all mean? It may be more–or less–than what the speculation is. Here’s what this Editor believes as some options:
- Alexa and Echo are data collectors as well as assistants–information that has monetary value to healthcare providers and pharma. To this Editor, this is the most likely and soonest option–the monetization of this data and the delivery of third-party services as well as monitoring.
- Amazon now employs a lot of people. It is large enough to create its own self-funded health system. It’s already had major problems in the UK, Italy, and even in the US with healthcare and working conditions in its warehouses. Whole Foods’ non-union workers are prime for unionization since the acquisition (and also if, as rumored, robots and automation start replacing people).
- A self-funded health system may also be plausible to sell (more…)
We have scant facts about the reported bid of US drugstore giant CVS to purchase insurance giant Aetna for a tidy sum of $200 per share, or $66 billion plus. This may have been in development for weeks or months, but wisely the sides are keeping mum. According to FOX Business, “an Aetna spokesperson declined to chime in on the reports, saying the company doesn’t “comment on rumors or speculation” and to Drug Store News, a CVS Health spokesperson did the same. Aetna’s current market cap is $53 billion, so it’s a great deal for shareholders if it does happen.
Both parties have sound reasons to consider a merger:
- CVS, like all retailers, is suffering from the Amazon Effect at its retail stores
- Retail mergers are done with the Walgreens Boots Alliance–Rite Aid merger going through considerable difficulties until approved last month
- The US DOJ and Congress has signaled its disapproval of any major payer merger (see the dragged-out drama of Aetna-Humana)
- It has reportedly had problems with its pharmacy benefit management (PBM) arm from insurers like Optum (United HealthCare), and only last week announced that it was forming a PBM with another giant, Anthem, called IngenioRx (which to Forbes is a reason why this merger won’t happen–this Editor calls it ‘hedging one’s bets’ or ‘leverage’)
- Aetna was hard hit by the (un)Affordable Care Act (ACA), and in May announced its complete exit from individual care plans by next year. Losses were $700 million between 2014 and 2016, with over $200 million in 2017 estimated (and this is prior to the Trump Administration’s ending of subsidies).
- It’s a neat redesign of the payer/provider system. This would create an end-to-end system: insurance coverage from Aetna, CVS’ Minute Clinics delivering care onsite, integrated PBM, retail delivery of care, pharmaceuticals, and medical supplies–plus relationships with many hospital providers (see list here)–this Editor is the first to note this CVS relationship with providers.
We will be in for more regulatory drama, of course–and plenty of competitor reaction. Can we look forward to others such as:
- Walgreens Boots with Anthem or Cigna (currently at each others’ throats in Delaware court)
- Other specialized, Medicare Advantage/Medicare/Medicaid networks such as Humana or WellCare?
- Will supermarkets, also big retail pharmacy providers, get into the act? Publix, Wegmans, Shop Rite or Ahold (Stop & Shop, Giant) buying regionals or specialty insurers like the above, a Blue or two, Oscar, Clover, Bright Health….or seeking alliances?
- And then, there’s Amazon and Whole Foods….no pharmacy in-house at Whole Foods, but talk about a delivery system?
Also Chicago Tribune, MedCityNews.
UPDATED. In seeking an update for the Anthem-Cigna ‘Who Shot John’ court action about breakup fees (there isn’t yet), this Editor came across a must-read analysis in Health Affairs