The industry is buzzing about a potential Walmart-Humana merger.
Though no official announcement has been made by either company, industry leaders say the impact the deal would have on healthcare data, and how it is used, could have big industry implications.
“The combination of the payer data that Humana possesses and understands, and the retail data sophistication of Walmart can unlock opportunities in healthcare if the right teams can preside over working out the right insights,” says Arik Anderson, CEO of Aderium, a medication adherence tech company. “There is general consolidation in the industry, facilitated by technology, for improved care and lower costs. Humana and Walmart, CVS, and Aetna all come into play on this point, as well as the advances in telemedicine demand and remote patient monitoring that you can find animating each deal.”
Katelijn Vleugels, CEO and cofounder of Klue, a software company focused on behavior tracking, agrees that one of the most interesting aspects of the potential Walmart-Humana deal, and other deals like it, is the question of data. “Too often the discussion around data gravitates toward advertising and targeting products and marketing. It is often discussed in terms of who can centralize the most data,” Vleugels says. “What is too often missing is understanding how we can push computing out to where the data is part of our lives, and how it can enable positive behaviors that benefit us and in turn our communities—say by fitness and wellness. If this or other mergers enable better solutions that live out among individuals in their daily lives and unlocks their potential, that will create bigger more important change than a sort of land grab for data to better push sales.”
Walmart is looking to combine its massive scale with Humana's PBM, data, and Medicare Advantage presence to create an integrated solution for low-income seniors, according to Tom Wicka, CEO and co-founder of NovuHealth.
"With a strong foothold in this critical and growing market, Walmart can develop new healthcare and retail solutions, tailored to its most loyal customers," Wicka says.
In addition, consumers trust their credit information with quality retailers, and are willing to take shopping advice from retailers like Walmart, Amazon, Walmart and CVS, according to Mark Nathan, CEO of health insurance tech company Zipari, so the next step is to facilitate trust with their health information—a major challenge for payers.
“Yet if payers had more consumer engagement and intelligence, they would be able to make more meaningful recommendations directly with their members that will improve health and drive down cost,” Nathan says. “If we follow the trajectory of this trend, you could imagine well-liked brands with huge retail footprints, such as Amazon and Costco, following the lead of the others. If we specifically look at integrating more pharmacy into retail, there are many smaller general and specialty PBMs that could be acquired. When it comes to integrating payers into retail, there likely has to be some component of clinic involved in the buildout. Overall, increasing access to high-quality, low-cost clinics is a good step forward for the healthcare industry.”
Sheila Talton, president and CEO of Gray Matter Analytics, a healthcare data analytics company, offers some words of caution: “Technology businesses that think they can—through a merger—hop into the pilot’s seat and fly the health provider plane may want to reconsider and opt for more of a partnership where they better support the clinical experts, giving them the best options, but don’t get so far out of their core competency that they make tragic mistakes,” she says.