When ‘the centre cannot hold’: three board members exit at Cano Health, failure looms at Bright Health Group

Surely some revelation is at hand? The first: the high-profile board troubles at primary care provider Cano Health. Last Friday, three directors resigned loudly from the board: Barry Sternlicht, Elliot Cooperstone, and Lewis Gold. Sternlicht, the chairman of Starwood Capital Group and for some years the CEO of Starwood Hotels in the 1990s, is a ‘name’ real estate and private investor. The other two are hardly slouches: Cooperstone is founder and managing partner of private equity firm InTandem Capital Partners; Gold is co-founder and board chairman of behavioral health company Advanced Recovery Systems. They resigned as a group due to differences with the CEO and management. 

The trio filed a 13-D with the Securities and Exchange Commission as a partnership to change things, “including, but not limited to, the replacement of the CEO, sale of non-core assets and enhancement of shareholder value.” Sternlicht’s release detailed their grievances with CEO Marlow Hernandez, including dubious transactions with a Miami medical claims recovery company, MSP Recovery (also known as LifeWallet), but mainly around the burn-through of the $800 million PIPE raised along with the June 2021 SPAC via Sternlicht’s JAWS Acquisition Corp.–an eye-watering total of $1.4 billion for a valuation at that time of $4.4 billion. From his release, Sternlicht apparently could not get the time of day from Hernandez. “I have never witnessed such poor corporate governance at any company, let alone a public company, and I have been involved in at least nine and served as chairman or CEO of six.”

Certainly, there is a case around shareholder value. The stock has cracked by over 90% from the initial price of $15. Sternlicht also had $50 million reasons to be mad as an investor of that amount in the PIPE. Cano Health called his “method of resignation particularly reckless.” But one wonders what Cano’s physicians are thinking, as well as the health plans with which they work, when three high-profile board members bolt the company, one of them with a stellar track record and some fame, with prejudice. Yet the majority of the board members were seemingly fine with how the company was run.

Last October, Cano, a 4,000 employee value-based primary care provider to mainly underserved markets, had its tires kicked by CVS Health [TTA 21 Oct 22] but the deal never got beyond discussions, and Humana, which has a right-of-first-refusal, made no moves. Share price fell from that time from just above $8 to today’s close of $1.25 on the NYSE. The time may be right for a payer or a provider group to make a cheap pickup, but not if the company has intractable troubles–and now there is a deep-pocketed rival. MedCityNews, New Times (Miami)  The New Times article digs deeper into the MSP Recovery relationship and CEO John Ruiz. MSP Recovery specializes in collecting from primary insurers that don’t pay and put the burden on commercial or public plans like Medicare or Medicaid. As of December 2022, the company owed Cano roughly $60 million in receivables, not a drop in their bucket.

Now to Bright Health Group, an insurtech which may well be on the brink of utter failure and the dubious distinction of being one of the largest failures of a Minnesota business, if their local media (Star-Tribune, unfortunately tightly paywalled) is accurate. Reports one month ago were dire: investors were told that Bright was facing credit insolvency, having run through $350 million in revolving credit. It also violated a liquidity covenant and desperately needed $300 million to cover it by end of April.  This did not stop the company from paying out about $4 million in bonuses to its management team–outrageously at 100%. Two of the bonuses are to ex-company members. Meanwhile, hundreds of their once 2,800+ employee group are being discharged.

18 months ago, Bright Health seemed to be the most promising insurtech out there, with a healthy Medicare Advantage (MA) plan base, family and individual plans, substantial growth, acquisitions of Zipnosis (‘white label’ telehealth triage for health systems), development of the NeueHealth value-based care provider management network, and a blue-chip management group. But it also lost $1.5 billion in 2022 on top of $1.2 billion in 2021 and has $1.2 billion in debt. Bright exited individual and family plans in six states plus cut back MA expansion plans and will no longer offer individual, family, or Medicare Advantage plans outside of California.

With Bright Health shares down to $0.20 and delisting looming, Bright asked shareholders to attend a 4 May meeting to approve a reverse stock switch “at a ratio of not less than 1-for-15 and not greater than 1-for-80.” It’s just a small problem of the share price….

Far more disastrously for Bright, state departments of banking and insurance are taking action. Tennessee and Florida placed the company under supervision; reportedly Illinois is considering the same. Texas may precipitate matters. According to strategic analyst Ari Gottlieb, the Texas Department of Insurance is preparing to place Bright Health’s Texas subsidiary into receivership. Such an action will constitute an immediate Event of Default under Bright’s Credit Agreement. Bright can then choose default–or seek bankruptcy protection.

Shockingly, over a million Americans have had to find a new health plan due to what is happening at Bright. Now, where’s the Barry Sternlicht they need on the board to take action? Are the directors from investors like Bessemer and New Enterprise Associates in cloud-cuckoo land with management?

FierceHealthcare. Both Fierce’s and this article quote liberally from Ari Gottlieb’s posts on LinkedIn, the most incisive coverage this Editor has seen so far: Since Bright Health’s executive compensation approach is best described as pay-for-failure from one month ago, Bright Health’s $4 million pay-for-failure cash bonuses… from two weeks ago, and from earlier this week, The Texas Department of Insurance is preparing for anticipated litigation…  Others are listed in his feed here

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