Merger News: P&G Gains Approval for Merck Germany

The formal merger announcement came as no surprise that Procter and Gamble received approval from the E.U. regulatory boards to obtain the Consumer Health business unit of Merck Germany. The acquisition has been in the works and approval was being rumored for about a month leading up to the official approval.

This is the largest acquisition for Procter & Gamble (P&G) since they obtained personal care giant, Gillette, in 2005. The consolidation of this business unit from Merck Germany will expand the reach of P&G into new markets in the European Union, Latin America, and Asia.

In accordance with this announcement today, P&G also formalized the end of their strategic joint venture with TEVA Pharmaceuticals in which they had worked for a number of years together on synergies in the Over The Counter (OTC) products space.
The growth of the OTC area is a core strategic direction for P&G within that industry. This move will allow them to grow that business and expand their existing product lines as well as determining new potential growth pathways within the OTC area.

Merck Germany is not affiliated with the U.S. based pharmaceutical company of the same name, it was essentially spun-off several years ago. The company is a big player in the industry with 900 products distributed in 44 countries. The estimates are for 3,000 employees to transfer from Merck Germany to become P&G employees should the merger gain approval.

The financial experts and Wall Street investment types view this move in a positive way for the retail channels it will impact, but have a more cautious view overall because the merged unit does not have synergy. The deal is not expected to close until the summer of 2019. The ramifications for monopolies in certain industry segments will most certainly be scrutinized by regulators in the European Union.

The potential impact on pricing for consumers on personal care products will be an area of significant concern for the anti-trust regulatory boards in the E.U. relative to this proposed merger. The combined entity will have a larger presence in muscle, joint, and back pain relief which will be a certain area of growth within the demographics of a population that is living longer overall.

Some analysts have speculated that P&G could use the technologies acquired in this transaction to bolster their existing product lines in the U.S. and North America. This is to meet increasingly sophisticated consumer demand for products that deliver more efficacy with no major side effects.

The proposal between P&G and Merck Germany also triggered the news that P&G will end their joint partnership with TEVA Pharmaceuticals. The statement from P&G called the partnership “highly successful” and it did last for seven years.

However, the partnership has always been focused on growing OTC business areas outside of the United States. The bid for Merck Germany creates a redundancy in this regard. The other official statement reads that the goals of the two companies are “no longer closely aligned”. Each side will retain their brands and will look to recalibrate their marketing strategies around those brands on an individual basis.

The merger will have more impact in other regions of the world, especially in Europe and Asia, but the North American consumer impact will be most noticeable in the potential for new or enhanced products in the respiratory, sleep, and cough/cold relief.

The other potential impact of this merger in the U.S. is the potential response by the competitors of P&G in the consumer health industry. How will Unilever, Colgate, or Johnson & Johnson respond to this merger? Pfizer is already moving through the early stages of a complete reorganization to be able to compete more effectively in a few key strategic business areas.

Then, the next area to watch is for the new competitors such as Amazon and Kroger and how they will respond to this move by P&G in the coming months. It is essentially like a big domino that could trigger a whole set of other M&A activity within consumer health.

The potential for P&G to grow in geographic areas where they have limited to no presence currently is an intriguing aspect of this proposed deal. The regulatory decision in the E.U. bears watching and the response by the competitors will shape consumer health/personal care products for the foreseeable future.

(Some background information and statistical info courtesy of Forbes, www.bizjournals.com, Pharmacy Times, and CNBC)

Amazon Targeting Expansion Into Healthcare

Amazon announced a partnership with Berkshire Hathaway and JP Morgan to provide better healthcare for the employees of the three respective American corporate giants. The details of the exact parameters of the newly formed joint venture are unclear. It appears that the partnership will not be to form a healthcare company to compete with major health insurers.

However, the announcement certainly shook up the industry: from Wall Street to Main Street, everyone was talking about this news on Tuesday. The prospect of these three companies getting involved in the evaluation of costs is a daunting set of circumstances for the healthcare industry.

In addition, Amazon is rumored to be targeting expansion into the pharmaceutical area. The online retail giant filed for pharmaceutical licenses in a handful of states back before the holidays, but it is unclear whether they were related to the medical devices which they already sell on their site.

The strategy and route for Amazon into this space is through this partnership with Berkshire Hathaway and JP Morgan. The stakes for certain retailers or interested parties in the pharmaceutical industry could be very significant. The other side of the situation is the protection of patient records should Amazon start peddling prescription drug delivery services.

The potential for misdirected prescription abuse is also at stake here should Amazon enter the prescription drug space. This is all transpiring amid the backdrop of a prescription painkiller abuse epidemic in America.

Those are just some of the ethical issues presented in this situation. The business implications are also significant with the “Big Pharma” companies falling somewhere in between the distributors and the retail drug chains. The sentiment within the pharmaceutical manufacturers is that the potential entry of Amazon into the industry would be a welcome turn of events because it would provide greater competition.

The translation there is that the pharma companies have been at odds with the PBMs (Pharmacy Benefit Managers) for years. The PBMs handle mail order prescriptions and they negotiate prices for the large insurance companies and for large corporations that have a bigger “say” in the benefits for their employees.

The insertion of Amazon into the equation is problematic for the PBMs such as Express Scripts, CVS Caremark, and United Health/Optum. They will have diminished leverage in negotiating pricing and other terms with the pharmaceutical companies because Amazon will essentially disrupt the way that game has been played. This is why the pharmaceutical companies have no problem with Amazon entering the space, the online retail behemoth is going to look to undercut the other players in the mix.

The potential entry of Amazon into prescription drugs will also hinder the prescription drug distributors, particularly the top three: McKesson, Amerisource Bergen, and Cardinal Health. Amazon is going to push back on them on price and that is going to squeeze their margins. The massive consumer base that Amazon will bring to the table and could command with greater potential for consumers to join Amazon Prime membership just for the prescription drug services will put these distributors in a tough position.

The entry of Amazon would shift the distribution paradigm as well. Their presence would shape the cost structures for that component of the industry. The benefits would definitely be reaped by the consumer because it will have a domino effect on the prescription drug pricing across the board.

The final area is the retail prescription drug channel, which if Amazon does indeed enter this part of the industry it could have a profound impact on the entire industry. The biggest players that would be at risk in that scenario are: CVS, Walgreens, and Rite Aid.

Those three companies have existed for decades by servicing customers through predominately brick and mortar operations where the customer or patient will pick up their prescription products. These companies have delivery services available in some markets as well.

However, Amazon would turn that part of the industry on its head, so to speak, and reinvent the way that patients would get their prescriptions. The concept of ordering a prescription online, or through a voice- controlled device such as the Amazon Echo, one would think would be a compelling option for consumers.

There is a definite argument for the convenience that Amazon would provide to someone who was feeling too ill to drive to the pharmacy to get a prescription. It is appealing to people with busy lives as well, who need maintenance meds for a given medical condition to eliminate having to run over to the pharmacy from their routine thereby saving that time.

The retail pharmacy chains mentioned earlier would certainly have to adapt in the advent of Amazon potentially entering that sector. The strategy to combat Amazon would be two-pronged, in my opinion, in order to create resistance to Amazon grabbing too much market share.

First, the retail pharmacy chains can tout that they can fill prescriptions in one hour or less. The order of a prescription through Amazon will take more time to fill, so if you are sick (and the fact remains that being sick is when most people see a doctor and need prescriptions filled) the traditional retail route is still the most effective method.

Next, is an adaptation of the retail pharmacy operation into a true omnichannel approach. This approach is key to the survival of essentially every traditional retailer with a brick and mortar presence moving forward. The CVS, Walgreens, and Rite Aid chains and others in a regional presence have to consider developing delivery in most every market they serve. They also have to develop some type of website portal that can handle prescription orders for delivery to the consumer. This would allow for a truly omnichannel approach.

The patient prescription history and personal data are already in their database so these chains can tout the security and trust they have established with the patient over a period of time. This could become their pathway to remaining relevant with Amazon actively competing in the channel.

The patient confidentiality issues which were raised earlier in this piece still have significance as Amazon weighs whether to enter the pharmaceutical space or not. The potential for prescriptions to fall into the wrong hands is an aspect of this situation that should be careful considered by the government with respect to Amazon.

Conversely, that argument can be made for the major retailers and PBMs that are currently active in the retail pharmacy channel currently. The way the systems function today certainly provides some openings for the potential for prescription drugs to be misused or used by someone other than the patient it was intended to help. The mail order supply could easily get into the possession of someone who has the propensity to abuse prescription pain medications, anti-depressants, or some other type of pharmaceutical product.

The “Big Pharma” companies seem at this point, from their public statements, to be largely unconcerned with Amazon entering the market. I can understand how some people might be confused by this position. However, when you consider how the industry functions, and through my professional experience in different roles within the pharmaceutical industry, I can attest that the “Big Pharma” guys only care about making money. Amazon will allow them to do that especially with the PBMs.

The PBMs must be concerned about retaining profitability should Amazon enter that area of the industry. The joint venture announced on Tuesday with Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JP Morgan has the healthcare industry shaken up already.

In full disclosure, some reports have also speculated whether Amazon is announcing this partnership to “save face” because of reports that they make their employees who work there for a certain length of time and then leave the company pay back the amount that Amazon paid for the healthcare coverage for that particular employee.

This new partnership could integrate new technology into the sector with rumors that the three companies in the venture will have an employee web portal that will provide healthcare planning information to help reduce the cost of tests and other services for those on their payrolls. The other rumor is that they are going to launch a smartphone app that streamlines healthcare choices and explains the protocols for different procedures very simply.

It is clear though that Amazon wants to get into the healthcare and potentially the pharmaceutical space and that has put everyone from the major health insurers, to PBMs, to those involved in the pharmaceutical retail drugstore segments on notice that changes are coming whether they are ready for them or not.

Follow Up: Anthem Merger Bid For Cigna Is Scuttled

A federal appeals court upheld the earlier decision of a lower court regarding the proposed merger of two of the largest healthcare insurance providers: Anthem and Cigna. The court opinion cited concerns about cost impacts to the consumer and the lack of competition in the healthcare insurance marketplace as the main issues with the proposed deal.

The backlash against this proposed marriage of two of the top three largest insurance providers had reached a critical mass in recent days. The pressure came from a variety of interested parties within the healthcare industry as well as from consumer interest groups.

The situation is further complicated because Anthem and Cigna are currently in a lawsuit against one another regarding that “breakup fee” clause that I detailed in my earlier coverage of this proposed mega-deal. The clause entails that Anthem pays Cigna $1.85 billion if this merger was to be derailed and not come to fruition.

Cigna is suing Anthem demanding payment of the fee. Anthem is counter-suing trying to force Cigna to stay in the merger deal. The resistance from several states and the federal government caused Cigna to look for ways to exit the deal. This situation has grown ugly very quickly, and the legal team for Anthem seems undeterred by this ruling. They are insisting they are going to find a way to gain approval for this merger.

Anthem and their legal team can spin this any way they would like, and they have 1.8 billion reasons why they are looking to pursue this merger. The reality is that the proposal is all but scuttled. The appeals court decision today affirms that and should be viewed as an indication that this proposal should be abandoned.
The lawsuits are another whole matter that is entirely separate and could take several different routes throughout that convoluted process. The regulatory reviews from the different government agencies ultimately had concerns about pricing and the monopolistic impact that the merger would have on consumer choice.

The combined Anthem/Cigna also would have been a major player in the provision of healthcare insurance to the business community. The potential influence on pricing and the subsequent effect that would have on the employee/employer splits on cost sharing for company provided healthcare coverage was a huge issue for certain states as well as the U.S. Court of Appeals.

This development comes just a few months after the Aetna – Humana proposed merger also collapsed during the review process. These mergers are the direct result of the consolidation route to optimize efficiency and maintain profitability during healthcare market changes due to the Affordable Care Act.

It should be noted that the proposed new healthcare plan changes are not fully known at this time, so the exact impact on the market is also unclear. The relentless pursuit of greed by these corporations in the healthcare industry is at the center of this particular situation.

The future of the Anthem/ Cigna proposed merger from the judicial perspective is either a “challenge” ruling on this verdict, which means that they can re-appeal this decision from the federal court. The other option is to attempt to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court and see if they are granted a writ of certiorari to move that proceeding forward.

Some industry analysts and media types feel that a writ of certiorari is unlikely in this situation. The component that makes a Supreme Court review possible is the money involved with two companies of this size and the high powered legal representation that is involved in this case. It should be interesting to see how Anthem plans to move forward because they have the most at stake with the breakup clause taken under consideration.

The merger, for all intents and purposes, is opposed by about a dozen states and the federal court system as well as the regulatory bodies involved. This creates conditions where it is unlikely that it moves forward. The court ruling today cited this decision under the framework that it is a victory for the consumer because of the potential impact on pricing the combined entity could have exerted.

In my view, from covering mergers, I am not a proponent of monopolies. I also have learned that the bigger the merger in size, the more combustible it is when it becomes unraveled. This proposal is setback significantly, but it is not over yet. Anthem will not go quietly into the night paying a fee to Cigna, and Cigna is going to want the money from Anthem based on the agreement they had in place. It is going to get ugly in the weeks ahead, but most likely these two companies will be going toe-to-toe and not on their way to a monopoly styled merger.

Follow Up: Aetna Merger With Humana Is Scuttled

The proposed $34 billion merger between two healthcare giants: Aetna and Humana, has been scrapped by the order of the court system over concerns related to higher prices and less competition in the marketplace. Both companies considered an appeal of the court decision, but announced on Wednesday that they were going to accept the decision and dismantle the merger proposal.

The deal seemed doomed to fail from the start because of the enormous impact that it would have over the healthcare of millions of Americans. It would have condensed the number of companies which provide healthcare on a nationwide basis from five to just three. The combined entity would have held a sizeable portion of the Medicare Advantage market, which is a type of medical insurance product which replaces traditional Medicare with a plan that has lower monthly premiums but higher deductibles for most services.

The combined company would have held enormous influence at the negotiating table with other healthcare entities and would have been able to essentially set prices; which could have had drastic consequences to the consumer.

It ended up being these anti-trust concerns which ultimately spelled the demise of this proposed merger. This goes against the trend in recent years of these proposed mega-mergers eventually moving ahead and beyond the anti-trust issues. The uncertainty involving the national healthcare policy with the change in the U.S. Presidency to Donald Trump most definitely played a role in the eventual scuttling of this merger proposal by the senior level executives at both companies.

I have covered mergers and acquisitions for a few years now for many different news outlets. This proposed deal had a clause called a “breakup clause” which I have seen associated with other mergers in the past, where one party agrees to pay the other an agreed upon sum of money if the deal were to not come to fruition. In this situation the Aetna side agreed to pay a breakup fee to Humana.

The breakup fee is reportedly $1 billion that Aetna will pay to Humana, which after taxes is around $630 million. The two sides spent over a year and a half preparing this merger proposal, and all of that work, effort, and resources are now out the window. The shareholders of both entities will most assuredly have some strong feelings about the lost time and energy on this merger. The Aetna shareholders have the added grievance of the breakup fee or termination fee that is being paid out which will eat into profitably totals as well.

The recent negative news speculation regarding some of the Medicare Advantage products also likely played a role in the eventual breakup of this merger. The uncertainty in Washington right now over the future of the federal government decision making regarding a potentially new national health plan also certainly had to have been factored into this situation as well.

This merger was originally proposed during the previous administration in Washington and it was designed to offset some of the conditions in the marketplace that were created by the Affordable Care Act. Those conditions pushed both Aetna and Humana to pursue a merger to synergize their operational capabilities and to streamline their costs in order to maximize profitability.

The court system and regulatory bodies had scrutinized this deal pretty harshly from the onset. The emphasis of any proposed merger in an area as crucial to the public domain as healthcare is going to be treated differently than if two companies wanted to merge to bake bread and cookies in a more efficient manner.

The backdrop to this situation is an American public that has a general distrust of health insurance carriers and is paying more out of their budget for healthcare related services than ever before. The American public also has seen wage stagnation and increased costs for other goods and services and senior citizens feel the budget squeeze; which all of these factors contributed to the opinion of the court that the merger would have had a significant impact on the price and competition in the marketplace.

Furthermore, another factor that makes this merger different than other proposed M&A activity that I have covered in the past is that the path forward is unclear. I can usually speculate in other proposals that may have gone sideways about the next move for the companies involved. The fact that the landscape in the healthcare industry is already so limited on the national level, it leaves both Aetna and Humana with very limited options.

The path for Aetna may be to look at some regional acquisition targets to improve their presence further in certain regions of the country, but that is an incremental move for sure, as they already have a pretty significant overall national profile.

The path for Humana may be to diversify some of their operational capabilities by reviewing some options to expand into other insurance products beyond Medicare Advantage. I am not sure how successful that path will be based upon the potential scrutiny some of those potential activities may be met with from the court system.

The potential changes to the national healthcare policy will eventually guide the decision making of both companies as they navigate the new terrain of the industry at that point.

In the end analysis, the scuttling of this merger, at least at first glance, seems to be the appropriate decision by both the court system and the corporations involved. It would have limited competition in the marketplace and had a negative impact on price increases for a consumer base that has grown very weary of that narrative.

The potential consequences of this ultimately unsuccessful deal could present overarching implications for future M&A activity in the healthcare industry and other industries in the months and years ahead.