Doctor on Demand, Grand Rounds merge to create multibillion-dollar digital health company

Dive Brief:

  • Virtual care company Doctor on Demand and clinical navigator Grand Rounds have announced plans to merge, creating a multibillion-dollar digital health firm.
  • The goal of combining the two venture-backed companies, which will continue to operate under their existing brands for the time being, is to integrate medical and behavioral healthcare with patient navigation and advocacy to try to better coordinate care in the fragmented U.S. medical system.
  • Financial terms of the deal, which is expected to close in the first half of this year, were not disclosed, but it is an all-stock deal with no capital from outside investors, company spokespeople told Healthcare Dive.

Dive Insight:

The digital health boom stemming from the coronavirus pandemic resulted in a flurry of high-profile deals last year, including the biggest U.S. digital health acquisition of all time: Teladoc Health’s $18.5 billion buy of chronic care management company Livongo. Such tie-ups in the virtual care space come as a slew of growing companies race to build out end-to-end offerings, making them more attractive to potential payer and employer clients and helping them snap up valuable market share.

Ten-year-old Grand Rounds peddles a clinical navigation platform and patient advocacy tools to businesses to help their workers navigate the complex and disjointed healthcare system, while nine-year-old Doctor on Demand is one of the major virtual care providers in the U.S.

Merging is meant to ameliorate the problem of uncoordinated care while accelerating telehealth utilization in previously niche areas like primary care, specialty care, behavioral health and chronic condition management, the two companies said in a Tuesday release.

Grand Rounds and Doctor on Demand first started discussing a potential deal in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, as both companies saw surging demand for their offerings. COVID-19 completely overhauled how healthcare is delivered as consumers sought safe digital access to doctors, resulting in massive tailwinds for digital health companies and unprecedented investor interest in the sector.

Equity funding in digital health globally hit an all-time high of $26.5 billion in 2020, according to CB Insights, with mental and women’s health services seeing particularly fast growth in investor interest.

Both companies reported strong funding rounds in the middle of last year, catapulting Grand Rounds and Doctor on Demand to enterprise valuations of $1.34 billion and $821 million respectively, according to private equity marketplace SharesPost. Doctor on Demand says its current valuation is $875 million.

The combined entity will operate in an increasingly competitive space against such market giants as Teladoc, which currently sits at a market cap of $31.3 billion, and Amwell, which went public in September last year and has a market cap of $5.1 billion.

​Grand Rounds CEO Owen Tripp will serve as CEO of the combined business, while Doctor on Demand’s current CEO Hill Ferguson will continue to lead the Doctor on Demand business as the two companies integrate and will join the combined company’s board.

Amazon Care goes nationwide with telehealth, courts outside employers

Dive Brief:

  • Amazon is expanding its virtual care pilot program, Amazon Care, to employees and outside companies nationwide beginning this summer in a major evolution of its telehealth initiative, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to drive unprecedented demand for virtual care.
  • Amazon will also offer its on-demand primary care service to other Washington state-based companies and plans to expand its in-person service to Washington, D.C., Baltimore and other cities in the following months, the e-commercebehemoth announced Wednesday.
  • Amazon Care launched 18 months ago as a pilot program in Washington state offering free telehealth consults and in-home visits for a fee for its employees and their families.

Dive Insight:

The nationwide expansion, and the potential of the e-retailer’s heft and technological know-how leveraged in the medical delivery space, threatens existing telehealth providers and retail giants like CVS Health and Walgreens that maintain their own networks of community health clinics.

Amazon Care has two main components: urgent and primary care telehealth with a nurse or doctor via an app, and in-person care, along with prescription delivery, to the home. The Seattle-based company says it will offer the gamut from preventative care like annual vaccinations, to on-demand urgent care including COVID-19 testing, to services like family planning.

Amazon plans to roll out the virtual care offering for its employees and third party companies nationwide this year, but in-person services will only be available shortly after in Washington state and near its second headquarters in Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, a spokesperson said.

Making Amazon Care available to outside companies puts Amazon in direct competition with virtual care giants like Teladoc, Amwell and Doctor on Demand, which bring in a sizable chuck of their revenue through deals with employer and payer clients.

Amazon is in discussions with a number of outside companies on supplying Amazon Care, the spokesperson said.

It’s unclear what differentiates the virtual care offering alone from other vendors. Most telehealth platforms are available to consumers right now at little to no cost and offer relatively short wait times, though Amazon contends it provides free access to a medical professional in 60 seconds or less and will eventually link telehealth with in-home care across the U.S.

The timing for the broader U.S. rollout couldn’t be better for Amazon, as telehealth has seen exponential growth during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result of historic consumer demand and investor interest, virtual care giants have spent billions to gobble up market share and build out their suite of services.

The race to offer end-to-end telehealth offerings has resulted in a flurry of recent M&A, the most notable deal being Teladoc’s $18.5 billion acquisition of chronic care manager Livongo last year. In February, Cigna’s health services arm Evernorth also bought vendor MDLive for undisclosed amount. The insurer plans to sell MDLive’s telehealth offerings to third-party clients and offer it to beneficiaries. And just on Tuesday, telemedicine company Doctor on Demand announced plans to merge with clinical navigator Grand Rounds to try and better coordinate virtual care.

Shares in publicly traded telehealth vendors dove following Amazon Care’s announcement Wednesday. As of late morning, Teladoc’s stock had dropped 7.4%, while Amwell was down 6.7%.

But heft doesn’t necessarily translate to disruption in healthcare. Earlier this year, Amazon, J.P. Morgan and Berkshire Hathaway disbanded their venture to lower healthcare costs after three years of stagnancy. One reason was a failure for its initiatives to take precedence at its three separate parent companies, all pursuing their own avenues to cut costs.

Now going at it alone, Amazon has a slew of independent initiatives to reshape the U.S. healthcare industry. The $386 billion company bought and launched its own online pharmacy, PillPack, a few years ago, and also partnered last year with employer health provider Crossover Health to offer employee primary care clinics. Currently, Amazon and Crossover operate clinics in 17 locations across Arizona, California, Kentucky, Michigan and Texas.

However, though Amazon Care does give patients the option to fill prescriptions through Amazon Pharmacy, it operates independently of the other services. It remains to be seen how Amazon Care could tie in with these other businesses, but the answer to that question could have major ramifications for current market leaders.

Jefferson Health and Einstein Healthcare merger moves forward after FTC withdraws challenge

https://www.healthcarefinancenews.com/news/jefferson-health-and-einstein-healthcare-network-merger-moves-forward-after-ftc-withdraws-0

Jefferson Health and Einstein Healthcare Network merger clear final hurdle after  FTC will no longer challenge - 6abc Philadelphia

Jefferson’s hospital network will grow to 18 locations with Einstein’s three general acute care hospitals and an inpatient rehabilitation hospital.

The merger between Pennsylvania-based Jefferson Health and Einstein Healthcare Network can now close after the Federal Trade Commission voted to withdraw its opposition to the deal, Jefferson Health announced this week.

The deal is now expected to be finalized within the next six months.

Earlier this year, the FTC voted 4-0 to voluntarily dismiss its appeal to the Third Circuit of the district court, according to the commission’s case summary.

Once the deal is complete, Jefferson’s network of hospitals will grow to 18 with the addition of Einstein’s three general acute care hospitals and an inpatient rehabilitation hospital.

WHY IT MATTERS

Merger plans were first announced in 2018 in a deal estimated to be worth $599 million.

The FTC initially blocked the merger because it believed it would reduce competition in the Philadelphia and Montgomery counties.

It alleged the deal would give the two health systems control of at least 60% of the inpatient general acute care hospital services market in North Philadelphia, at least 45% of that market in Montgomery County, and at least 70% of the inpatient acute rehabilitation services market in the Philadelphia area.

But late last year, a federal judge blocked the FTC’s attempt to stop the merger. Judge Gerald Pappert of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania wrote that the FTC failed to demonstrate that there’s a credible threat of harm to competition. He pointed to other competitors in the region, such as Penn Medicine, Temple Health and Trinity Health Mid-Atlantic.

The FTC and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania attempted to appeal the court’s decision, but after Jefferson and Einstein filed a motion to withdraw the case, the commission unanimously voted to drop its appeal.

THE LARGER TREND

The FTC is taking a closer look at healthcare mergers and acquisitions to better understand how physician practice and healthcare facility mergers affect competition. Earlier this year, it sent orders to Aetna, Anthem, Florida Blue, Cigna, Health Care Service Corporation and United Healthcare to share patient-level claims data for inpatient, outpatient and physician services across 15 states from 2015 through 2020.

Although M&A activity was down in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Kaufman Hall called the 79 transactions that did take place “remarkable” for falling within the range of the 92 deals from the year before.

The analysts expect activity to ramp up moving forward, however. They predict that as health systems evaluate their business strategies post-pandemic, those in strong positions will take advantage of other systems’ divestitures to grow their capabilities and expand into new markets.

ON THE RECORD

“We are excited to have Einstein and Jefferson come together, as our shared vision will enable us to improve the lives of patients, the health of our communities and enhance our health education and research capabilities,” said Ken Levitan, the interim president and CEO of Einstein Healthcare Network.

“By bringing our resources together, we can offer those we care for – particularly the historically underserved populations in Philadelphia and Montgomery County – even greater access to high-quality care.”

Georgia health systems discard merger plans, averting FTC challenge

Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Definition

Dive Brief:

  • The Federal Trade Commission has closed its investigation of the merger between Atrium Health Navicent and Houston Healthcare System following news the two have abandoned their plans for a deal.
  • FTC staff had recommended commissioners challenge the merger on grounds that it would have led to “significant harm” for area residents and businesses in the form of higher healthcare costs, the FTC alleged. 
  • The tie-up between two of the largest systems in central Georgia would also hamper investment in facilities, technologies and expanded access to services, according to a statement released Wednesday.

Dive Insight:

FTC Acting Chairwoman Rebecca Kelly Slaughter said in the statement, “This is great news for patients in central Georgia.”

When the deal was originally announced, Atrium Health Navicent promised to spend $150 million on Houston over a decade, earmarking the money for routine capital expenditures and strategic growth initiatives, according to a previous review of the transaction by the state attorney general’s office.

After engaging with consultants at Kaufman Hall in 2017, leaders at Houston, an independent system, decided they needed to find a strategic partner to weather long-term challenges and ultimately picked Navicent.

Navicent recently merged with North Carolina-based Atrium Health, formerly known as Carolinas HealthCare System. At the time, the deal gave Atrium a foothold in the state of Georgia.

Healthcare consolidation has continued at a steady clip despite the pandemic, and the FTC will be closely investigating any deal involving close competitors. The agency is seeking to expand its arsenal to block future mergers by researching new theories of harm.

The FTC attempted to block a hospital deal in Philadelphia last year but has since abandoned its challenge after a series of setbacks in court. The judge was not swayed that the consolidation of providers would lead to an increase in prices given the plethora of healthcare options in the area.

Justice Department welcomes passage of the Competitive Health Insurance Reform Act of 2020

https://www.healthcarefinancenews.com/news/justice-department-welcomes-passage-competitive-health-insurance-reform-act-2020

Competitive Health Insurance Reform Act of 2020 (2021; 116th Congress H.R.  1418) - GovTrack.us

Health insurers are no longer immune from federal antitrust scrutiny for conduct considered the business of insurance.

The Competitive Health insurance Reform Act of 2020 became law on January 13, a move praised by the Department of Justice but opposed by health insurers.

Health insurers are no longer immune from federal antitrust scrutiny for conduct considered the business of insurance and regulated by state law.

With enactment of the Competitive Health Insurance Reform Act, the DOJ and Federal Trade Commission have expanded authority to prosecute alleged anticompetitive behavior, including data sharing between insurers. 

The McCarran-Ferguson Act previously afforded immunity by exempting from federal antitrust laws certain conduct considered the “business of insurance.” This exemption has sometimes been interpreted by courts to allow a range of what the Justice Department considered “harmful” anticompetitive conduct in health insurance markets.

The new law aims to promote more competition in health insurance markets by limiting the scope of conduct that’s exempt from antitrust laws. This move was praised by the Trump Justice Department shortly before the former president left office.

WHAT’S THE IMPACT?

The antitrust scrutiny is coming at a time when insurers are under a deadline to meet interoperability standards to share information with patients that meet Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources, or FHIR, standards.

Eliminating the exemption undermines the goal of affordable coverage by adding administrative red tape and reducing market competition, according to Matt Eyles, president and CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans

“The McCarran-Ferguson Act recognized that all healthcare is local, and that states should be able to govern their own health insurance markets,” Eyles said in December. “Removal of this exemption adds tremendous administrative costs while delivering absolutely no value for patients and consumers. It will unnecessarily add layers of bureaucracy, destabilize markets, create conflicting federal and state oversight requirements, and lead to costly litigation.” 

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners sent a letter to Senate leaders on December 2 voicing its concern for the bill’s passage.

“The premise of the Competitive Health Insurance Reform Act is that collusion among health insurance companies is permitted under state law and that the McCarran-Ferguson Act somehow currently protects these practices. This is not true. The McCarran-Ferguson antitrust exemption for health insurance does not allow or encourage conspiratorial behavior but simply leaves oversight of insurance, including health insurance, to the states – and state laws do not allow collusion,” commissioners said.

“The potential for bid rigging, price-fixing and market allocation is of great concern to state insurance regulators and we share your view that such practices would be harmful to consumers and should not be tolerated. However, we want to assure you that these activities are not permitted under state law,” commissioners wrote.

While insurers have not been thrilled with the move, Consumer Reports said the legislation is good for providers who have felt pressured into contract terms that benefit insurers.

THE LARGER TREND

The Justice Department has a track record of successfully enforcing the antitrust laws against health insurers. Over the past five years, the department has enforced the antitrust laws against health insurers involved in transactions valued at over $160 billion.

The Act will help the department build on those successes by requiring health insurers to play by the same rules as competitors in other industries. It will clarify when health insurers qualify for the McCarran-Ferguson exemption, and it will enable the Antitrust Division to spend resources more efficiently to achieve desired results, the Justice Department said.

On January 13, Trump signed into law the Competitive Health Insurance Reform Act of 2020, which limits the antitrust exemption available to health insurance companies under the McCarran-Ferguson Act. The act, sponsored by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore), passed the House of Representatives on Sept. 21, 2020 and passed the Senate on Dec. 22.

‘Really difficult nut to crack’: MedPAC torn over telehealth regs post-COVID-19

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/really-difficult-nut-to-crack-medpac-torn-over-telehealth-regs-post-covi/593466/

Dive Brief:

  • Members of an influential congressional advisory committee on Medicare are torn on how best to regulate telehealth after the COVID-19 public health emergency, hinting at the difficulty Washington faces as it looks to impose guardrails on virtual care without restricting its use after the pandemic ends.
  • During a Thursday virtual meeting, the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission expressed its support of telehealth broadly, but many members noted snowballing use of the new modality could create more fraud and abuse in the system down the line.
  • Key questions of how much Medicare reimburses for telehealth visits and what type of visits are paid for won’t be easily answered, MedPAC commissioners noted. “This is a really, really difficult nut to crack,” Michael Chernew, MedPAC chairman and a healthcare policy professor at Harvard Medical School, said.

Dive Insight:

Virtual care has kept much of the industry running during the coronavirus pandemic, allowing patients to receive needed care at home. Much of this was possible due to the declaration of a public health emergency early 2020, allowing Medicare to reimburse for a greater swath of telehealth services and nixing other restrictions on virtual care.

However, much of that freedom is only in place for the duration of the public health emergency, leaving regulators and legislators scrambling to figure which new flexibilities they should codify, and which perhaps are best left in the past along with COVID-19.

It’s a tricky debate as Washington looks to strike a balance between keeping access open and costs low.

In a Thursday meeting, MedPAC debated a handful of policy proposals to try and navigate this tightrope. Analysts floated ideas like making some expansions permanent for all fee-for-service clinicians; covering certain telehealth services for all beneficiaries that can be received in their homes; and covering telehealth services if they meet CMS’ criteria for an allowable service.

But many MedPAC members were wary of making any concrete near-term policy changes, suggesting instead the industry should be allowed to test drive new telehealth regulations after COVID-19 without baking them in permanently. 

I don’t think what we’ve done with the pandemic can be considered pilot testing. I think a lot of this is likely to go forward no matter what we do because the gate has been opened, and it’s going to be really hard to close it,” Marjorie Ginsburg, founder of the Center for Healthcare Decisions, said. But “I see this just exploding into more fraud and abuse than we can even begin imagining.”

Paul Ginsburg, health policy chair at the Brookings Institution, suggested a two-year pilot of any changes after the public health emergency ends.

However, it would be “regressive” to roll back all the gains virtual care has made over the past year, according to Jonathan Perlin, CMO of health system HCA.

“These technologies are such a part of the environment that at this point, I fear [it] would be anachronistic not to accept that reality,” Perlin said.

Among other questions, commissioners were split on how much Medicare should pay for telehealth after the pandemic ends. 

That parity debate is perhaps the biggest question mark hanging over the future of the industry. Detractors argue virtual care services involve lower practice costs, as remote physicians not in an office don’t need to shell out for supplies and staff. Paying at parity could distort prices, and cause fee-for-service physicians to prioritize delivering telehealth services over in-person ones, some commissioners warned.

Other MedPAC members pointed out a lower payment rate could stifle technological innovation at a pivotal time for the healthcare industry.

MedPAC analysts suggested paying lower rates for virtual care services than in-person ones, and paying less for audio-only services than video.

Commissioners agreed audio-only services should be allowed, but that a lower rate was fair. Commissioner Dana Gelb Safran, SVP at Well Health, suggested CMS should consider outlining certain services where video must be used out of clinical necessity.

Previously, telehealth services needed a video component to be reimbursed. Proponents argue expanded access to audio-only services will improve care access, especially for low-income populations that might not have the broadband access or technology to facilitate a video visit.

Another major concern for commissioners is how permanently expanding telehealth access would affect direct-to-consumer telehealth giants like Teladoc and Amwell. If all telehealth services delivered at home are covered, that could allow the private companies to “really take over the industry,” Larry Casalino, health policy chief in the Weill Cornell Department of Healthcare Policy and Research, said.

Because of the lower back-end costs for virtual care than in-office services, paying vendors the same rate as in-office physicians could drive a lot of brick-and-mortar doctors out of business, commissioners warned.

Drug Prices: We’ve Seen This Movie Before

As happened with cars in the 1960s, price competition among brand-name drugs is hard to find.

Before 1973, when the Arab oil embargo upended the U.S. auto industry, Americans witnessed an annual ritual by carmakers. In the late summer, the Big Three — Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors — would release sticker prices for their products, always showing increases, of course.

Almost always, the increases from each company for similar models were nearly identical. If one company’s was out of line — substantially bigger or smaller than its erstwhile competitors’ — it quickly made an adjustment. Explicit collusion to fix prices was never proven, but the effect for consumers was the same.

Now, researchers report that something very similar seems to be occurring for big-market brand-name drugs, including anti-diabetic medications and blood thinners.

Average wholesale prices for products in five classes — direct-acting oral anticoagulants (DOACs), P2Y12 inhibitors, glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) agonists, dipeptidyl dipeptidase-4 (DPP-4) inhibitors, and sodium-glucose transport protein-2 (SGLT-2) inhibitors — increased in “lock-step” each year from 2015 to 2020, according to Joseph Ross, MD, of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, and colleagues writing in JAMA Network Open.

These increases ranged from annual averages of 6.6% for DDP4 inhibitors to 13.5% for P2Y12 inhibitors — far outpacing not only inflation in general, but even the 2.1% average for all prescription drugs.

Within each class, Kendall τb correlation coefficients for average wholesale prices were as follows:

  • DOACs: 0.98
  • SGLT-2 inhibitors: 0.98
  • DPP-4 inhibitors: 0.96
  • GLP-1 agonists: 0.92
  • P2Y12 inhibitors: 0.75

“These results suggest there was little price competition among the sponsors of these products,” Ross and colleagues wrote.

Although the analysis came with significant limitations — it didn’t account for rebates or other discounts, for example — the researchers said some patients must suffer from these increases.

“Rebates, list prices, and net prices have been growing for brand-name medications, and rebate growth has been shown to positively correlate with list price growth, thereby impacting costs faced by patients paying a percentage of (or the full) list price, the group noted. “Therefore, the lock-step price increases of brand-name medications, without evidence of price competition, raise concerns and would be expected to adversely affect patient adherence to medications and thus clinical outcomes.”

For the car buyers, the solution to lock-step price increases was imposed from outside: soaring gas prices in the mid-1970s prompted demand for vehicles with better fuel economy than domestic makers were prepared to sell. That opened the market to Japanese cars that not only got better mileage, but were also more reliable and (in many cases) cheaper than Big Three products. Thus ended Detroit’s ability to set prices.

How to rein in Big Pharma is less clear. For their part, Ross and colleagues suggested policies to limit such lock-step price hikes, shortened patent exclusivity periods, and faster introduction of generic equivalents.

Hospital buy-ups of physician practices under fresh FTC scrutiny

FTC takes tech scrutiny to heart of Silicon Valley

Dive Brief:

  • The Federal Trade Commission sent orders to six health insurance companies to obtain patient-level claims data for inpatient, outpatient, and physician services from 2015 to 2020, the agency said Thursday.
  • The FTC wants to figure out how hospitals’ acquisitions of physician practices has affected competition.  
  • The agency sent orders to some of the nation’s largest insurance companies, including UnitedHealthcare, Anthem, Aetna, Cigna, Florida Blue and Health Care Service Corporation.

Dive Insight:

This action is part of a larger effort underway at the agency to consider new questions and areas of study to help it understand the ultimate impact of mergers. The hope is that those studies will yield evidence to better equip the agency to legally challenge mergers in the future. 

Health economists cheered the news online following the FTC’s Thursday’s announcement about studying physician practice buy-ups. 

Martin Gaynor, former director of FTC’s Bureau of Economics, tweeted: “This is a big deal – a huge # of physician practices are now owned by hospitals.” Gaynor is a health economist at Carnegie Mellon.

“Important step to advance FTC’s understanding of the market and could improve their ability to win cases,” Emily Gee, a health economist at the Center for American Progress, tweeted.

In the orders, the FTC asks the insurers for data such as the total billed charges of all health providers, total deductibles, copays and coinsurance paid by the patient. It also asks for data tied to each inpatient admission and outpatient and physician episodes during the time period in question, which will likely result in a barrage of data for the agency to review.   

“The study results should aid the FTC’s enforcement mission by providing much more detailed information than is currently available about how physician practice mergers and healthcare facility mergers affect competition,” the agency said in a statement. 

This area of study expands the agency’s current work. One area already of interest within this broader retrospective merger review program is the scrutiny of labor markets. 

The agency has traditionally focused on how healthcare tie-ups affect prices. But the agency has signaled that it is increasingly interested in how mergers and acquisitions ultimately affect workers’ wages, including nurses.

One area of concern for the FTC is states’ willingness to greenlight COPAs, or certificates of public advantage (COPAs), which essentially shield mergers from federal antitrust regulators in exchange for prolonged state oversight.

In 2019, the agency sent orders to five insurance companies seeking data to study the impact of COPAs.