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PRIMARY CARE | HOW MEGA-MERGERS ARE CHANGING THE BUSINESS OF MEDICAL CARE (THE NEW YORK TIMES)

There's little doubt that the front line of medicine - the traditional family or primary care doctor - has been under siege for years. Long hours and low pay have transformed pediatric or family practices into unattractive options for many aspiring physicians. Office visits to primary care doctors declined 18 percent from 2012 to 2016, even as visits to specialists increased, insurance data analyzed by the Health Care Cost Institute shows.

Instead, people are flocking to retail clinics and urgent care centers in strip malls or shopping centers, where simple health needs can usually be tended to by health professionals like nurse practitioners or physician assistants much more cheaply than in a doctor’s office. That's one reason big players like CVS Health, the drugstore chain, and most recently Walmart, the giant retailer, are eyeing deals with Aetna and Humana, respectively, to use their stores to deliver medical care.

Still, while the retail clinics over all charge less, particularly compared with emergency rooms, they may increase overall health care spending. Consumers who not long ago would have taken a cough drop or gargled with saltwater to soothe a sore throat now pop into their nearby retail clinic for a strep test.

"There is huge consolidation in the market right now," said Dr. Jeffrey Le Benger, the chief executive of Summit Medical Group, a large independent physician group in New Jersey. "Everyone is fighting for the primary care patient."

A link to the original article can be found here.

ECONOMY | AMAZON EXPANDS INTO MEDICAID MARKET (HEALTHCARE FINANCE)

Amazon has expanded into the Medicaid market by announcing that it will offer beneficiaries a Prime membership of $ 5.99 a month, a discount of 54 percent. "What Amazon is doing, they are trying to position themselves for a different market," said Lyndean Brick, CEO of The Advis Group. "They are disrupting healthcare at all levels. They're trying to be competitive with Walmart."

Amazon has been studying the healthcare market for at least a year and began a competitive focus on Walmart last year with the start of Amazon Cash, which is a way to add money to an account to make quick ordering easier - even for people who may not have a bank account, credit or debit cards. Taking that a step forward, Brick said she envisions Medicaid consumers talking to a physician via their smartphone for a $ 5, or even free, telehealth visit.

Brick agreed that Amazon could also be considering a move into primary care. "Perhaps they'll get into retail clinics or owning providers," Brick said. "This was a very significant move - we don't know how it's all going to end up yet."

A link to the original article can be found here.

M&A | WALMART IN EARLY-STAGE ACQUISITION TALKS WITH HUMANA (THE WALL STREET JOURNAL)

Walmart is in preliminary talks to buy insurer Humana, a deal that would mark a dramatic shift for the retail behavior and the latest in a recent flurry of big deals in healthcare services. It wasn't clear what terms the companies may be discussing, and there is no guarantee they will strike a deal. Should they, it would be big: Humana currently has a market value of about $ 37 billion.

It would be Walmart’s largest deal by far, eclipsing its 1999 acquisition of the U.K.’s Asda Group PLC for $ 10.8 billion. Walmart, which in addition to being the world's biggest retailer is also a big drugstore operator, has a market value of about $ 260 billion.

A link to the original article can be found here.