Amazon is buying online pharmacy business PillPack

http://www.healthcarefinancenews.com/news/amazon-buying-online-pharmacy-business-pillpack?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiTURRMU5XSTBORFJrWlRobCIsInQiOiJ1MWVYbUtMUVBrenhwcXkrNHlnQmdhZm53M2ozb3BLR0dUa0pUTHdtNjVGVktSbU0zZ0Q2NXdTVjd2blJ3Y0VHKy83cnVaRndsaUE0NGVITTByU0dJKzMzWldwank2SkZLTmxPbk12ZVRKaWI1TUVLVjZhUSsrSGNwQkhrTmdKVSJ9

Image result for pillpack

Customers pay a monthly service fee, which is often covered by insurance companies and Medicare Part D plans.

Amazon announced today it is buying PillPack, giving the online giant the ability to ship prescription drugs around the country.

Walmart was reportedly in talks to buy PillPack, but Amazon stepped in with a $1 billion offer. The deal is expected to close during the second half of 2018.

The deal follows Amazon’s offer of a Prime membership to Medicaid beneficiaries in a move seen as direct competition to Walmart.

Shares of CVS Health, which is going through the regulatory process to merge with Aetna, fell after Thursday’s announcement, as did shares of Walgreens Boots Alliance and Rite Aid, according to CNBC.

PillPack is an online pharmacy that offers pre-sorted doses of medications and home delivery in all states except for Hawaii, according to the company.

It is in-network with all major pharmacy benefit managers, including CVS Caremark, Express Scripts, Optum Rx, Prime Therapeutics, Humana Pharmacy Solutions, Cigna, Aetna, MedImpact, EnvisionRx and CastiaRX.

PillPack is a pharmacy designed for people who take multiple daily prescriptions, delivering them in pre-sorted dose packaging, coordinates refills and renewals.

Originally founded in 2013, the company has raised around $100 million in funding. Customers using the platform pay a monthly service fee, which is often covered by insurance companies including Medicare Part D.

“PillPack’s visionary team has a combination of deep pharmacy experience and a focus on technology,” said Jeff Wilke, Amazon Worldwide Consumer CEO. “PillPack is meaningfully improving its customers’ lives, and we want to help them continue making it easy for people to save time, simplify their lives, and feel healthier. We’re excited to see what we can do together on behalf of customers over time.”

PillPack’s primary pharmacy is located in Manchester, New Hampshire, with its engineering, design, business operations and marketing teams located in in Somerville, Massachusetts and its advisory center and other corporate functions in Salt Lake City, Utah.

INSURANCE CONSOLIDATION MAY SOON INCLUDE HOSPITALS, CREATE POWERHOUSES

https://www.healthleadersmedia.com/finance/insurance-consolidation-may-soon-include-hospitals-create-powerhouses

Image result for healthcare conglomerates

 

Recent moves to consolidate insurance customers under one corporate structure could lead next to carriers acquiring hospital networks.

The continued market consolidation and efforts to create an “all-in-one” approach to healthcare insurance customers may lead to carriers acquiring large hospital networks, particularly if the CVS-Aetna transaction proves to be successful and profitable, one analyst says.

The mergers and acquisitions in the insurance industry over the last year is the preamble for what will happen over the next two years, says CEO of Tom Borzilleri of InteliSys Health, a company aimed at bringing greater transparency to prescription drug prices, and the former founder and CEO of a pharmacy benefit manager (PBM).

The effort will ramp up to include hospitals if health plans start seeing financial rewards from the recent moves, he says.

“We are seeing carriers acquiring PBMs, as with Cigna/Express Scripts, and pharmacy chains/PBMs acquiring carriers, like CVS/Aetna, in search of cost efficiencies to increase earnings,” he says. “One may view these mergers and acquisitions as a favorable strategy to delivering both cost savings and patient convenience, but this strategy also has the potential to produce a serious negative effect on other critical stakeholders like doctors, hospitals, clinics, and others.”

In the past, many carriers managed their pharmacy benefits internally and found that it would be more cost-efficient to outsource that function to third-party PBMs, Borzilleri notes.

“As the PBM industry grew significantly over the last decade, allowing PBMs to gain market share and buying power for the millions of lives they managed, it opened the door for PBMs to methodically profiteer at the expense of both the carriers and their insured through the vague and complicated contracts for services the carriers were forced to sign,” he says.

Borzilleri continues, “In essence, the carriers really didn’t know what they were paying for at the end of the day for these services. As the market began to change with the onset of a movement and demand within the industry for more price transparency, carriers began to realize that they would be better served to bring the PBM function back in-house to reduce costs and increase earnings.”

CREATING A CLOSED LOOP

Borzilleri explains that a merger like the CVS-Aetna acquisition provides the insurer the ability to:

  • Control drug costs by eliminating the profits that the PBM formerly enjoyed
  • Realize cost efficiencies to dispense medications at the pharmacy level
  • Directly employ the providers that can treat their members at a cost much lower than the reimbursement rates they currently pay their network doctors
  • Create a brand-new revenue stream from the retail products sold in these stores

That brings a ton of reward to CVS-Aetna, but not to anyone else, Borzilleri says.

“This type of closed-loop network will limit patient options to everything from who will be treating them, where they will be treated, and how much they will be forced to pay for services and their prescriptions,” he says.

“Based on the millions of patient lives that both CVS-Caremark and Aetna manage, patients will be herded into their own locations to be treated by their own doctors/providers and the independent physician or practice will be significantly impacted. So in essence, both the patients and doctors who treat them will lose,” Borzilleri says.

RETURNING TO CLASSIC DESIGN

Hospital acquisition also could be driven by consumers, says Bill Shea, vice president  of Cognizant, a company providing digital, consulting, and other services to healthcare providers. As consumers select health services on demand, they will create their own systems of care instead of relying on a third party to do so, he says.

“The impact of these changes likely means integrated delivery systems must focus on providing on-demand healthcare and do so on a large scale. These systems can point to the proven value of offering a vetted and curated set of cost-effective providers and coordinating care to deliver better cost and quality outcomes,” Shea says.

Health plans also may consider returning to their pre-managed care origins to purse a classic insurance model of benefit design, risk management, and underwriting, he says. Some organizations could become a one-stop shop for every insurance need.

“These diversified insurance players will have the economies of scale to better manage profit and loss across multiple lines of business and to take creative approaches to health-related insurance, such as offering personalized policies targeted to specific market segments,” Shea says.

MORE STATE, REGIONAL MOVES

Consolidation is likely to increase at the state and regional level, says Suzanne Delbanco, PhD, executive director of Catalyst for Payment Reform.

“As providers with market dominance command higher prices, insurers will need to amass greater market power to push back. This means fewer choices of insurers for employers, other healthcare purchasers and consumers,” Delbanco says.

She says, “Fewer choices means less competition and less pressure to innovate. It’s possible we’ll see more of the integrated delivery systems and accountable care organizations beginning to offer insurance products where state laws and regulations allow them to as new entrants into the market.”

Those changes will make it more and more difficult to thrive as a small insurer or a small provider, she says.

Also, while rising prices and a continuation of uneven quality will motivate employers and other healthcare purchasers to demand greater transparency into provider performance and prices, larger players may more easily resist that call, she says.

“Increasingly it will be a seller’s game, not a buyer’s,” Delbanco says. “While quality measurement, provider payment reforms, and healthcare delivery reforms increasingly move toward putting the patient at the center, this may be more lip service than reality. Even if consumers end up with more information to make smarter decisions, their options may have dwindled to ones that are largely unaffordable.”

 

Walmart reportedly in negotiations to buy Humana

http://www.healthcarefinancenews.com/news/walmart-reportedly-negotiations-buy-humana?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiWkRKaVpHRTBPRFZtWXpobSIsInQiOiJMQWJiXC85cGw1S2hcL3N0VlIzS2I2S3BqamJoRGFJeUxwbzgrUjVmYk5OZ2I5aDAzTmkyMXptQlpONCtsb3oyZVlqV2tZQ3haOVZWeko0cDhFbVVLbTJtU3F6ZGJUNWNNRGpMRHI4R3hBdzVYU0tLUVFpcjhpSlwvRXpmcXFtVUpVbyJ9

Credit: Google Street View

 

Deal has been long speculated since announced $69 billion merger between CVS Health and Aetna.

Walmart is in preliminary negotiations to buy Humana, The Wall Street Journal has reported.

There are few details in the potential deal that has not been announced publicly by either the retailer or the insurer.

But speculation has existed among industry analysts for months after the announced $69 billion merger between CVS Health and Aetna.

Two years ago, Aetna was in a proposed $34 billion deal to buy Humana.

Walmart is facing increased competition from such an integrated pharmacy business and is currently in an arms race against Amazon as the online giant has made strides into the Medicaid market by offering those beneficiaries a discounted Prime membership.

Humana specializes in Medicare Advantage plans for seniors, a fast-growing demographic as baby boomers enter retirement age.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has shown support for MA plans, said David Friend, MD, chief transformation officer of The BDO Center for Healthcare Excellence & Innovation.

Friend predicts that due to the partnerships and mergers between healthcare companies, retailers and insurers, the traditional pharmacy benefit model could become extinct.

“The CVS-Aetna merger was a watershed moment in healthcare. But Walmart-Humana signifies the beginning of the avalanche that will cause the entire healthcare system to converge,” Friend said by statement. “And as this deal signifies, the healthcare organization that accurately captures and analyzes the data of the fast-growing U.S. demographic — seniors — stands to lead the industry of the future.”

 

Why DOJ must block the Cigna-Express Scripts merger

http://thehill.com/opinion/healthcare/380522-why-doj-must-block-the-cigna-express-scripts-merger

Why DOJ must block the Cigna-Express Scripts merger

If one message is becoming clear, it’s that increased concentration is harming consumers and leading to less competition, decreased choice and higher cost. The need for corporations to compete is dampened when markets are dominated by a small number of firms. Worse, when consumers don’t have the ability to discipline markets there is a lack of transparency or accountability.

Nowhere is that more true than in the market for Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs) — the unregulated entities that control the reimbursement of drugs. These little known, unregulated middlemen are able to ramp up the cost of drugs by demanding rebates and other payments from drug manufacturersand because of a lack of transparency and choice they are able to pocket much of these rebates, escalating the cost of drugs.

The Council of Economic Advisors, after a comprehensive review of rising drug costs, identified the lack of PBM competition as a major culprit. It found that only three PBMs controlled more than 85 percent of the market, “which allows them to exercise undue market power against manufacturers and against the health plans and beneficiaries they are supposed to be representing, thus generating outsized profits for themselves.”

The effect of market power on rebates and other payments to PBMs is clear. As one study found pharmaceutical manufacturer rebates skyrocketed 108 percent from 2011 to 2016 — rising from $66 billion to $127 billion in those five years.

Do skyrocketing rebates benefit consumers? Not much. As Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar has observed, “this thicket of negotiated discounts makes it impossible to recognize and reward value, and too often generates profits for middlemen rather than savings for patients.” Consumers pay more because their copays are based on list prices that are inflated by the rebates and other payments secured by the PBMs.

You do not need a Ph.D. in economics to figure out that the market is not competitive and that consumers are paying more than they otherwise would. FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb observed, “Kabuki drug-pricing constructs — constructs that obscure profit taking across the supply chain that drives up costs; that expose consumers to high out of pocket spending; and that actively discourage competition.”

Gottlieb identifies the lack of PBM competition and transparency as the real culprit. “The consolidation and market concentration make the rebating and contracting schemes all that more pernicious. And the very complexity and opacity of these schemes help to conceal their corrosion on our system — and their impact on patients.”

Now the two largest PBMs seek to merge with two insurance giants — CVS Caremark’s proposed acquisition of Aetna and Cigna’s proposed acquisition of Express Scripts. I have already observed how the CVS deal will harm competition and consumers. Adding another deal is like fighting a fire with gasoline.

These mergers rightly face tough scrutiny before the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice. As the American Antitrust Institute’s recent comprehensive white paper documents in detail, these mergers significantly threaten competition in health insurance, pharmacy and PBM markets and must be blocked.

And as Rep. Rick Crawford’s (R-Ariz.) recent letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions opposing the CVS/Aetna merger nicely emphasizes, such “vertical integration does not encourage competition or lower prices, but rather, could limit the choices and access for patients, driving out competitors while driving up prices and reimbursements for themselves.”

The reasons are straightforward and compelling. Many insurance companies want the service of an independent PBM — one not aligned with a rival insurance company. PBM services and the ability to control pharmaceutical costs are a crucial input for any insurance company, especially since the costs of drugs is an increasing part of the costs that need to be controlled.

Such reforms would include meaningful transparency and disclosure of rebates to payers, eliminating pharmacy gag clauses that prevent pharmacists from disclosing lower priced drugs, preventing PBMs from egregious reimbursement practices that force pharmacists to dispense below cost, and proper disclosure of pricing to pharmacists. As a basic first step both Express Scripts and Cigna must commit to pass through rebates to lower consumer costs as UnitedHealthcare has done.

But even these commitments are probably not enough. History tells a dismal story — past mergers have harmed consumers through less choice and higher costs as PBM profits have soared. No promises of good conduct can overcome the excessive concentration in the PBM market. The CEA recommended, “policies to decrease concentration in the PBM market … can increase competition and further reduce the price of drugs.” DOJ can begin this process by preventing the market from getting worse and simply blocking these mergers.

 

 

Why Your Pharmacist Can’t Tell You That $20 Prescription Could Cost Only $8

As consumers face rapidly rising drug costs, states across the country are moving to block “gag clauses” that prohibit pharmacists from telling customers that they could save money by paying cash for prescription drugs rather than using their health insurance.

Many pharmacists have expressed frustration about such provisions in their contracts with the powerful companies that manage drug benefits for insurers and employers. The clauses force the pharmacists to remain silent as, for example, a consumer pays $125 under her insurance plan for an influenza drug that would have cost $100 if purchased with cash.

Much of the difference often goes to the drug benefit managers.

Federal and state officials say they share the pharmacists’ concerns, and they have started taking action. At least five states have adopted laws to make sure pharmacists can inform patients about less costly ways to obtain their medicines, and at least a dozen others are considering legislation to prohibit gag clauses, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, said that after meeting recently with a group of pharmacists in her state, she was “outraged” to learn about the gag orders.

“I can’t tell you how frustrated these pharmacists were that they were unable to give that information to their customers, who they knew were struggling to pay a high co-pay,” Ms. Collins said.

Alex M. Azar II, the new secretary of health and human services, who was a top executive at the drugmaker Eli Lilly for nearly 10 years, echoed that concern. “That shouldn’t be happening,” he said.

Pharmacy benefit managers say they hold down costs for consumers by negotiating prices with drug manufacturers and retail drugstores, but their practices have come under intense scrutiny.

The White House Council of Economic Advisers said in a report this month that large pharmacy benefit managers “exercise undue market power” and generate “outsized profits for themselves.”

Steven F. Moore, whose family owns Condo Pharmacy in Plattsburgh, N.Y., said the restrictions on pharmacists’ ability to discuss prices with patients were “incredibly frustrating.”

Mr. Moore offered this example of how the pricing works: A consumer filling a prescription for a drug to treat diabetes or high blood pressure may owe $20 if he uses insurance coverage. By contrast, a consumer paying cash might have to pay $8 to $15.

Mark Merritt, the president and chief executive of the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association, which represents benefit managers, said he agreed that consumers should pay the lower amount.

As for the use of gag clauses, he said: “It’s not condoned by the industry. We don’t defend it. It has occurred on rare occasions, but it’s an outlier practice that we oppose.”

However, Thomas E. Menighan, the chief executive of the American Pharmacists Association, said that such clauses were “not an outlier,” but instead a relatively common practice. Under many contracts, he said, “the pharmacist cannot volunteer the fact that a medicine is less expensive if you pay the cash price and we don’t run it through your health plan.”

A bipartisan measure that took effect in Connecticut this year prohibits the gag clauses. It was introduced by the top Democrat in the Connecticut Senate, Martin M. Looney, and the top Republican, Len Fasano.

“This is information that consumers should have,” Mr. Looney said in an interview, “but that they were denied under the somewhat arbitrary and capricious contracts that pharmacists were required to abide by.”

Mr. Fasano said that consumers were sometimes paying three or four times as much when they used their insurance as they would have paid without it. “That’s price gouging,” he said in an interview.

The legislation, Mr. Fasano said, encountered “a lot of resistance” from large pharmacy benefit managers and some insurance companies.

In North Carolina, a new law says that pharmacists “shall have the right” to provide insured customers with information about their insurance co-payments and less costly alternatives.

A new Georgia law says that a pharmacist may not be penalized for disclosing such information to a customer. Maine has adopted a similar law.

In North Dakota, a new law explicitly bans gag orders. It says that a pharmacy or pharmacist may provide information that “may include the cost and clinical efficacy of a more affordable alternative drug if one is available.”

The North Dakota law also says that a pharmacy benefit manager or insurer may not charge a co-payment that exceeds the actual cost of a medication.

The lobby for drug benefit companies, the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association, has filed suit in federal court to block the North Dakota law, saying it imposes “onerous new restrictions on pharmacy benefit managers.”

Specifically, it says, the North Dakota law could require the disclosure of “proprietary trade secrets,” including information about how drug prices are set. “P.B.M.–pharmacy contracts typically preclude a pharmacy from disclosing to the patient the amount of a reimbursement,” the lawsuit says.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, a Republican, said this past week that he would call a special session of the State Legislature to authorize the regulation of pharmacy benefit managers by the state’s Insurance Department.

He said he feared that some independent pharmacists receiving “inadequate reimbursement” from the benefit managers might go out of business, reducing patients’ access to care, especially in rural areas.

 

 

Expert Advice For The Corporate Titans Taking On Health Care

Expert Advice For The Corporate Titans Taking On Health Care

An announcement Tuesday by three of the nation’s corporate titans — Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase & Co. — that they are joining forces to address the high costs of employee health care has stirred the health policy pot. It immediately sent shock waves through the health sector of the stock market and reinvigorated talk about health care technology, value and quality.

Though details regarding the undertaking are thin, the companies said in a release that their partnership’s intent is to improve employee satisfaction and hold down costs by bringing “their scale and complementary expertise to this long-term effort.”

They plan to create an independent company, “free from profit-making incentives and constraints,” to focus on “technology solutions.”

Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett described health care costs as “a hungry tapeworm on the American economy,” and Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos said the partnership was “open-eyed about the degree of difficulty” ahead. Jamie Dimon, chairman and CEO of JPMorgan, said the results could benefit the employees of these companies and possibly all Americans

But what does all of this mean and how can it be successful when so many other initiatives have fallen short? KHN asked a variety of health policy experts their thoughts on this venture, and what advice they would offer these CEOs as they go forward. Some of the advice has been edited for clarity and length.


Tom Miller, resident fellow, American Enterprise Institute (Courtesy of Tom Miller)

Tom Miller, resident fellow, American Enterprise Institute:

“It’s great that someone theoretically with resources would try to build a better mousetrap. But it’s been difficult to do, and part of it is regulatory and competitive barriers are well-constructed in the health care sphere, which tend to make it less receptive or subject to competitive pressures.

“I welcome any new capital trying to disrupt health care. … The incumbents are comfortable and could use disruption. If Amazon has an idea, and is willing to put some money behind it, that’s wonderful. What they are willing to do other than fly low-cost providers for home visits in drones — I don’t know. They’d probably have to miniaturize them, wouldn’t they?”


Stan Dorn, senior fellow, Families USA (Courtesy of Stan Dorn)

Stan Dorn, senior fellow, Families USA:

“Number one, look at prices. America doesn’t use more health care than European countries, but we pay a lot more and that’s because of prices more than anything else. Look at hospital prices and prescription drug prices. I would also say, look to eliminate middlemen operating in darkness. I’m thinking in particular of pharmacy benefit managers. Often, the supply chain is hidden and complex and every step along the way the middlemen are taking their share, and it winds up costing a huge amount of money.”


Bob Kocher, partner, Venrock (Courtesy of Bob Kocher)

Bob Kocher, partner, Venrock:

“It has been said that health care is complicated. One thing that is not complicated is that the way to save money is to focus on the sickest patients. And that’s the only thing that has proven to work in great primary care. I hope Amazon realizes this early and does not think that [its smart digital assistant] Alexa and apps are going to make us healthier and save any money.

“It would sure be nice if they invest in a ‘post-CPT-ICD-10-and-many-bills-per-visit’ world where we know prices, can easily know what is known about quality and experience, and have same-day service.”


Tracy Watts, senior partner, Mercer (Courtesy of Tracy Watts)

Tracy Watts, senior partner, Mercer:

“Everyone thinks millennials want to do everything on their phones. But that’s not necessarily the case.

“[There was a recent] survey about this — specifically, millennials are the most interested in new health care offerings, but it wasn’t as much high-tech as it is convenience they are interested in — same-day appointments with a family doctor, guaranteed appointments with specialists, home visits, a wider array of services available at retail clinics. That was kind of an ‘aha’ — this kind of convenience and high-touch experience is what they’re looking for. And when you think of ‘health care of the future,’ that’s not what comes to mind.”


John Rother, president and CEO, National Coalition on Health Care (Courtesy of John Rother)

John Rother, president and CEO, National Coalition on Health Care:

“Health care is complex and expensive, so the aim should always be simplicity and affordability. Three keys to success: manage chronic conditions recognizing the life context of the patient, emphasize primary care-based medical homes and aggressively negotiate prescription drug costs.”


Suzanne Delbanco, executive director, Catalyst for Payment Reform (Courtesy of Suzanne Delbanco)

Suzanne Delbanco, executive director, Catalyst for Payment Reform:

“The biggest driver of health care costs is prices. Those are being driven up by health care providers who have consolidated and will continue to consolidate and amass more market power.

“It sounds like they [the companies] are limiting the use of health plans, but if they’re going to get into that business, they’re going to come up with the same challenges health plans face. What would be really innovative would be to build some provider systems from the ground up where they can truly get a handle on the actual costs and eliminate the market power that drives the prices up, and they can have control over their prices.”


Brian Marcotte, president and CEO, National Business Group on Health (Courtesy of Brian Marcotte)

Brian Marcotte, president and CEO, National Business Group on Health:

“They recognize this is [a] long-term play to get involved in this. I’d have to say, this industry is ripe for disruption.

“I think we know technology will continue to play an increasing role in how consumers access and receive health care. We’ve also learned most consumers do not touch the health care delivery system with enough frequency to ever be a sophisticated consumer. What’s intriguing about this partnership is Amazon for many consumers has become part of their day-to-day world, part of their routine. It’s intriguing to consider the possibilities of integrating health care into consumer routine.

“And I think that therein lies the opportunity. Employers offer a lot of resources to their employees to help them maximize their experience, and their No. 1 challenge is engagement.”


Joseph Antos, health economist, American Enterprise Institute (Courtesy of Joseph Antos)

Joseph Antos, health economist, American Enterprise Institute:

“My first suggestion is to look at what other employers have done (some unsuccessfully) and consider how to adapt those ideas for the three companies and more broadly. Change incentives for providers. Change incentives for consumers. Work on ways to reduce the effects of market consolidation. The bottom line: Don’t keep doing what we are doing now. I don’t see that these three companies have enough presence in health markets to pull this off anytime soon, but perhaps this should be viewed as the private-sector version of the Affordable Care Act’s Innovation Center— except, this time, there may be some new ideas to test.”


Ceci Connolly, president and CEO, Alliance of Community Health Plans (Courtesy of Ceci Connolly)

Ceci Connolly, president and CEO, Alliance of Community Health Plans:

“We know that 5 percent of any population consumes 50 percent of the health care dollar. I would encourage this group to focus on how to better serve those individuals who need help managing multiple chronic conditions.”


David Lansky, CEO, Pacific Business Group on Health (Courtesy of David Lansky)

David Lansky, CEO, Pacific Business Group on Health:

“The incumbent providers of services to our members are not doing as much as we need done for affordability and quality. So, we are pleased to see them go down this path. We don’t know what piece of the puzzle they will tackle.

“We know well-intended efforts over the years haven’t added up to material impact on cost and quality. I would suspect they are looking at doing something broader, more disruptive than initiatives we have tried before.

“I think across the board they have the opportunity to set high standards for the health system in whatever platform they use. These companies have a history of raising the bar. Potentially, it could be a help to all of us.”

After Another Merger Monday In Health Care, CVS Is Still The Company To Watch In 2018

https://www.forbes.com/sites/leahbinder/2018/01/23/after-another-merger-monday-in-health-care-cvs-is-still-the-company-to-watch-in-2018/#2dbe116f4d7c

The health care sector rallied yesterday on another “Merger Monday” with the announcement of Sanofi’s (SNY) purchase of Bioverativ (BIVV) for $11.6 billion, and Celgene’s (CELG) $9 billion purchase of 90 percent of Juno Therapeutics (JUNO). But there’s still one transformative merger that will define and reshape the U.S. health care market in 2018: the CVS/AETNA $69 billion deal announced last December.

CVS is best known for its 9,700 retail pharmacies and 1,100 walk-in clinics, but its most significant profit driver is its pharmacy benefits manager (PBM) enterprise—a middleman between pharmaceutical manufacturers and dispensers like drugstores. The company generated $177.5 billion in net revenue in 2016.

With its purchase of Aetna, another bold company and the nation’s third largest health plan, CVS upended uncomfortable business incentives built into its business model. In theory at least, the CVS PBM has new incentive to bring down drug prices and push for the most efficacious—not necessarily the most expensive—treatment choices, to achieve more competitive insurance premiums. They can also favor common sense preventive and primary care through convenience clinics.

This is what makes the CVS/Aetna deal different. It crosses sectors and realigns previously competing business incentives to better target consumer demand. Most of the merger proliferation we have seen over the past few years involves companies in similar categories within the health care industry. Providers merge with other providers, health plans with other health plans, and pharmaceutical companies with others in pharma.

Realigning incentives is the central problem in the health care marketplace, which is built on thorny knots of unintended consequences and senseless rules that resist untangling. The most famous of those knots are fee-for-service payment rules, still largely dominant, whereby payors reimburse for any and all services, regardless of quality. Among its hazards, fee-for-service incentivizes infections because it results in more care and thus pay better. Nobody thinks that is a good idea, but the business model is extremely difficult to unravel. CVS seems up to the challenge.

CVS Chief Executive, Larry J. Merlo, is the man for the job. His signature style is a laser-focus on the company’s core mission of “helping people on their path to better health,” which he is determined to accomplish even when short-term profit incentives nudge in a different direction. That was why Merlo led CVS to discontinue tobacco sales in 2014, and why CVS recently banned digitally altered photos on cosmetic products sold in their stores. Maybe it sounds logical that a health enterprise shouldn’t sell cigarettes or promote eating disorders and depression, but it takes unusual courage to turn away lucrative business.

Many greeted the news of the CVS/Aetna merger as a play to head off new ventures coming from Amazon or other new players. But what makes me optimistic about this particular deal is the new company’s combination of health industry and retail savvy. Many companies have one but not the other. Enterprising outsiders often enter the health care industry with good backing and an idea that would definitely help patients, only to end up six feet under the health care lobbyists, special interests, regulatory twists, and perverse incentives that have dogged the health care system over decades. There are large graveyards full of great companies that naively believed that normal business models work in health care. CVS is not naïve.