The recent developments with the Federal court system and Judge Richard Leon have the potential to rollback the $70 billion merger of CVS with Aetna. In other posts on this site, this merger has been detailed from the beginning.
The renewed scrutiny from Judge Leon centers on the condition of the sale went it was originally approved which states that Aetna would be required to sell Medicare prescription drug plans that they currently administer. That was the deal made with the anti-trust regulatory bodies involved in this blockbuster merger.
The hearing is set for Thursday, when Judge Leon plans to hear testimony from various entities including representatives of the American Medical Association (AMA), who are opposed to the merger. Judge Leon is attempting to determine whether the sale of Aetna to CVS is within the public interest.
CVS is a large retail pharmacy chain and healthcare provider that also manufactures their own product lines. Aetna is a huge health insurance company with a Pharmacy Benefit Manager (PBM) arm as well. The deal from the beginning has struck some in the general public as a conflict of interest.
Earlier this week, another prominent judge called the potential for the CVS-Aetna deal to be reversed “catastrophic” to the industry. The merger is seen as lifeline of sorts for both companies amid a changing healthcare landscape that Amazon has shifted already and is looking to tilt completely in the coming years.
The move is seen as necessary to bring a stream of steady foot traffic through the CVS retail stores which they will need to compete with Amazon. This will be achieved by funneling those with Aetna health insurance coverage to have their prescriptions filled by CVS.
In an earlier piece, I detailed the potential pitfalls to that approach and I maintain that it is unfair to limit the choice of a consumer especially with healthcare related products that might put them into a scenario that is very inconvenient for them or a family member that is covered under their policy.
The proponents of this deal moving ahead will point to the recent struggles of Walgreens and their revised earnings adjustments as well as their recent adjustments to their overall annual forecast, which was revised down due to a decrease in customer traffic through the brick and mortar locations primarily. The industry media folks and the financial analyst types were speculating that Walgreens has to do something, they have to make a move to essentially “lock in” a customer base for prescriptions similar to the Aetna – CVS agreement.
The detractors will state that the insurance providers for healthcare should not be mingled with the retail pharmacy giants because of the changes it will bring to consumer choice, potentially to pricing of medications, and a host of other concerns. They would also maintain that Walgreens would be met with resistance if they tried a similar path to CVS.
It also should be noted that Walgreens expended time, energy, and money on a long-term pursuit of merging with Rite Aid, which met with so much push back that it was eventually disbanded by Walgreens. Then, Walgreens spent money to obtain many Rite Aid locations and transition them to the Walgreens brand in order to strategically grow their presence in certain markets.
The speculation will continue around United Health Care (UHC) being one of the last major health insurance players left that could become a partner for Walgreens, though it is difficult to see that they would sink money into a merger proposal until they have the precedent of the CVS-Aetna deal to utilize to their advantage.
The implications for this hearing today and the decision that rests with Judge Leon will have far-reaching consequences in either way he decides to proceed. The approval of the merger with the conditions would set CVS up to grow their customer base and could give Walgreens the proof it needs to move forward in a new direction of their own, given their current situation.
The deal could be scuttled which would send shockwaves through the industry and potentially give Amazon an advantage for entry into the market. It will be fascinating, so stay tuned.
(some background information courtesy of Reuters, Barron’s, and Fox Business)