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Brainstorm Health: Race and Cancer Treatment, Streaming Workouts, UnitedHealth-DaVita Deal

December 6, 2017, 8:21 PM UTC

Hello, readers! This is Sy.

UnitedHealth Group, America’s largest health insurer, will buy DaVita Medical Group and its nearly 300 doctor’s clinics across the country for $4.9 billion, the companies announced Wednesday. The deal comes mere days after retail pharmacy giant CVS announced its own deal to purchase Aetna, another one of the biggest health insurance companies in the country, highlighting an ongoing trend of cross-sector consolidation in health care.

UnitedHealth Group stock rose less than 1% in Wednesday trading while DaVita stock shot up more than 10% on the news.

UnitedHealth’s Optum unit, which manages pharmacy benefits and provides health services, is the specific UnitedHealth arm purchasing DaVita if cleared by regulators. The firm already has about 30,000 associated doctors in its network.

“Combining DaVita Medical Group and Optum advances our shared goal of supporting physicians in delivering exceptional patient care in innovative and efficient ways,” said Optum chief Larry C. Renfro in a statement.

Renfro’s characterization underscores how the business of providing health care has been transforming in recent years, as I mentioned earlier this week when the CVS-Aetna agreement was made public. Companies have been looking to other parts of the health care supply chain for M&As as the industry is experiencing shifting reimbursement models and political uncertainty over the future of major national health programs. Medicare may face reimbursement cuts under the proposed GOP tax plan. The CVS-Aetna deal, for example, combines a pharmacy, benefits manager, insurer, and retailer with health clinics into one entity where patients could go receive day-to-day care at a local store.

Critics say that while such deals are more diversified than horizontal mergers between two insurers or two hospital chains, diminishing choices could also prove risky for consumers. But the specter of untraditional players like Amazon into the health care space may also be driving these kinds of M&As as companies seek to pool their resources across the broader medical market.

Sy Mukherjee


ClassPass joins the livestream trend. ClassPass, a service which allows health nuts to sign up for a variety of fitness classes across more than 30 U.S. cities, is taking its digital platform to the next logical level by incorporating livestreams. "The new option will be called ClassPass Live and will cost an additional $10 per month for existing users, or $15 per session as a standalone product," my colleague Valentina Zarya reports. (Fortune)


Transparency in drug trials: Who gets it right? Drug companies don't always nail the whole "transparency" thing. Sometimes, clinical trials for experimental medications can go unreported (for instance, for portions of studies limited to a certain population of patients). According to the second Good Pharma Scorecard, Johnson & Johnson and Sanofi have solid records on clinical trial transparency while Valeant and Allergan could do with some improvement. The good news, according to Bioethics International, is that the general trend toward trial transparency appears to be improving. (FiercePharma)


Cancer care has a race problem. A trio of studies published in the journal Cancer underscore just how significantly medical treatment quality—and access to health care—can diverge based on race. Black Americans continue to lag behind their fellow white Americans when it comes to surviving common cancers like colon, breast, and ovarian cancers. "Overall, the proportion of patients still alive five years after diagnosis improved slightly between those two periods, from 63.7 percent to 64.6 percent. But five-year survival was lower among blacks (54.7 percent for 2001-2003 and 56.6 percent for 2004-2009) than among whites (64.5 percent and 65.4 percent, respectively)," Reuters reports. (Reuters)


Former Aetna CEO: Here's What the CVS-Aetna Deal Really Meansby John W. Rowe

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How to Succeed in Chinaby Alan Murray

Produced by Sy Mukherjee

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