JPM22, Day 1: JPMorgan partners with Vera Whole Health; Humana addresses lower MA enrollment outlook and more

Get ready for four days of virtual presentations and Zoom meetings.

This year's virtual J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference has officially kicked off. It marks the second year that the big investor conference, where business leaders often announce major deals and collaborations, has gone completely digital in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of expensive hotels and crowded meeting spaces, conference attendees and reporters will be watching it all from our desks.

We've already kicked off the 2022 conference with a nine-figure funding deal.

Fierce Healthcare will be covering the day's biggest news as it happens. Check back here for updates, and catch Fierce Biotech's coverage here and Fierce Pharma's reporting here.

UPDATED: Monday, Jan. 10 at 5 p.m. ET

JPMorgan Chase is partnering with healthcare startup Vera Health Whole to test the company's services for 38,000 employees.

Vera, which recently announced it was combining with healthcare data company Castlight Health in a $370 million all-cash deal, offers a holistic primary care model with quality outcomes and efficient costs for payers and providers.

During a virtual keynote interview at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference Monday, Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan Chase chairman and chief executive officer, said the bank would be testing Vera's services with its employees based out of a regional hub in Columbus, Ohio.

In August, Morgan Health, the healthcare-focused arm of JPMorgan Chase, invested $50 million into Vera Whole Health, the firm’s first investment in a coordinated care model. JPMorgan launched the new firm after the collapse of Haven, its joint venture with Amazon and Berkshire Hathaway, with the goal of improving the quality and cost of employer healthcare

The partnership aims to improve outcomes for workers and reduce costs for companies by making primary care teams accountable for the health of employees. It's part of the company's effort to reduce healthcare costs—JPMorgan spends roughly $2 billion a year on employee healthcare—and better manage employees' chronic conditions, Dimon said.

"It's what we call accountable care," Dimon said. "It's basically primary care physicians using both physical and digital care to get people the care they need, to get to the doctor they need. If you can fix my blood pressure before it causes damage, if you can take cancer and treat it properly, it will reduce healthcare costs and lead to better outcomes for people."

He added, "The test in Columbus is, if we give you a primary care physician and better digital access and navigation, can we give you better medicine? I’m convinced that we will be able to."

It marks the first time a large corporate employer has partnered with Vera. The company's primary care model aims to address patient overall health, including physical, mental and social health while providing cost efficiency for employers and payers.

Vera operates a network of primary care providers in 10 states—Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Kansas, Missouri, Nevada, Oregon, Texas and Washington—and serves clients like Seattle Children’s and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City.

The company also inked a deal last year with Central Ohio Primary Care, the largest physician-owned primary care group in the country.

During the keynote interview, Dimon said the healthcare industry and policymakers need to take steps to improve the healthcare system, such as eliminating surprise billing and enabling price transparency. Employers also need to be involved to ensure their employees get access to better care at lower cost, he said.

Dimon also seems bullish on the potential for technology to improve the healthcare system.

"I do think telemedicine, digital and big data are going to make a huge difference in the next five to 10 years," he said. — Heather Landi

UPDATED: Monday, Jan. 10 at 4:23 p.m. ET

Humana caused a stir among investors last week after it posted a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that slashed its estimates for new 2022 Medicare Advantage enrollment.

At JPM late Monday, CEO Bruce Broussard and CFO Susan Diamond addressed the disappointing results, which sent their stocks tumbling. Diamond said that once the company has its hands on full figures from the Centers for Medicare and Medicare & Services, which are expected later this month, it will determine where it needs to invest to get back on its growth trajectory.

The company added 130,000 members during the MA enrollment period, cutting its guidance from between 325,000 and 375,000 new members to between 150,000 and 200,000 new members for 2022.

Broussard said that much of the churn was among members who had only been with Humana for one year. StoryPaige Minemyer 

UPDATED: Monday, Jan. 10 at 3:45 p.m. ET

Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) CEO Madeline Bell outlined a handful of investments the pediatric care organization made prior to the pandemic and in the years to come, but it was the provider’s recent push into data, analytics and digital health that has been the “gamechanger” in its COVID-19 response and recovery.

“We really made significant investments—including hiring an executive [and a] large team of people—and that helped us make real-time, data-driven decisions throughout the pandemic on everything from [personal protective equipment] and available labor,” the chief executive said Monday during a virtual presentation at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference.

“We’re now investing in advanced analytics that will help us not only predict future outcomes for patients but future utilization. So pretty exciting tools that are on the horizon for our data and analytics investments,” she said.

Similarly, virtual and digital health capabilities have become a core component of today and tomorrow’s care experience, Bell continued.

CHOP, like other providers, accelerated its telehealth reach during the early days of the pandemic and has seen an uptick in utilization of these virtual services during the heavy-hitting omicron wave, she said.

However, the system wants to go further and scale an end-to-end digital experience where patients and families will use digital technologies “from the accessing and pre-visiting all the way through wayfinding navigation and, ultimately, ongoing communication with us.”

“This is most important for children’s hospitals because our patients and many of their parents are digital natives. And [so it’s] a really important area of investment for us,” she said. — Dave Muoio

UPDATED: Monday, Jan. 10 at 3:15 p.m. ET

After Oak Street Health announced in November that they faced an investigation by the Department of Justice, the tech-enabled primary care group offered more information about the purpose of the civil investigative demand.

The DOJ previously stated the inquiry would consider whether Oak Street Health had violated the False Claims Act. CEO and co-founder Mike Pykosz said Monday the agency is looking into Oak Street’s relationship with insurance agents and advisors, according to statements he made during a virtual presentation at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference.

“We compensate some agents to help educate older adults about Oak Street, and when it is requested by the older adult, they will connect the older adult to our teams if they’re interested in learning more about Oak Street Health,” he said.

The program is less than a year old, he said, and less than 10% of new patients come to Oak Street this way. Still, Pykosz said the program, like the company’s partnership with the AARP, set out to build trust since “we don’t have a well-known brand,” he said.

Oak Street faced many pressures in 2021, but expects its 2021 revenue to reach $1.42 billion, at the upper end of its previous guidance.

The company also bought RubiconMD in October for $130 million, an addition that it hopes will help it drive down medical costs in the long term, though the acquisition isn’t expected to significantly impact revenue. 

The primary care network opened 50 new health centers last year, now boasting 129 centers in 19 markets. Pykosz said the company expects to open 70 new centers in 2022Rebecca Torrence

UPDATED: Monday, Jan. 10 at 12:05 p.m. ET 

Intermountain Healthcare came to J.P. Morgan touting its acquisition-fueled shift away from fee-for-service care and outlining its plans to grow across new geographies in the coming years.

“We did not slow down, we did not hunker down. We accelerated. We grew and continue to grow, and we are doing well,” Chief Financial Officer Bert Zimmerli said during a Monday virtual presentation.

Zimmerli highlighted the nonprofit system’s upward EBITDA growth over the past half decade and the impact of three recent acquisitions—HealthCare Partners Nevada (now Intermountain Nevada), Saltzer Health and air transport company Classic Air Medical.

Those purchases have helped push the system into new markets, he said, and in the case of HealthCare Partners Nevada taught Intermountain how to responsibly pivot a greater share of its business into value-based care arrangements.

“Expect us, by the way, to put some of that cash to use over the next year or two to continue to grow the Intermountain way,” he said.

A key component of that future growth is the system’s ongoing merger with SCL Health.

Intermountain President and CEO Marc Harrison, M.D., said that the partners are already integrating the non-competitive areas of their respective businesses in the run-up to an April 1 close. The organizations have agreed to a single new board and a leadership team, he said, and announcements regarding those decisions “will be forthcoming.”

Harrison said that Intermountain is pleased with the current operations that both organizations are bringing to the table and so far have no plans to trim any fat.

“We will be an operating company from day 1 and will have as much harmonization as possible,” Harrison said. “This is not one of those back-office plays where we’re magically going to take out a ton of cost. We’re going to responsibly join the teas and we think hopefully we can do that without losing any people, because our people are precious to us.” Story — Dave Muoio

UPDATED: Monday, Jan. 10 at 11:45 a.m. ET 

Ascension is ready to take more risk when it comes to value-based payment models and wants to grow its offerings in the value-based care space.

However, given how government payers are structured and how difficult it has been to receive risk-based payment methodologies, Ascension CFO Liz Foshage said, the system still expects to see 90% or more of its revenue from fee-for-service over the next three years. The system has prioritized quarterly rolling forecasts, as opposed to long-term projections, to be most flexible to any adoptions of new financial strategies.

Given the rising demand for ambulatory and at-home care services, Ascension is investing heavily in those areas, Foshage noted. Outpatient physical therapy has also been identified as a key area of growth, one where Ascension expects to double its footprint in the coming years. 

“In the early months of the pandemic, we proved that by working together, that we were well equipped to handle the current challenges,” Foshage said. But Ascension wanted to be better prepared for a “new future,” so the system developed a mission statement that commits to improving health outcomes with a particular focus on the poor and vulnerable.

Part of that commitment is eliminating disparities in care by addressing things like social determinants of health, and also creating a diverse and inclusive culture among employees. — Anastassia Gliadkovskaya

UPDATED: Monday, Jan. 10 at 11:00 a.m. ET

Teladoc expects its full-year 2021 revenue to hit $2.03 billion, nearly doubling its 2020 revenue and exceeding its previous guidance.

The telehealth giant announced Monday that it delivered over 14.7 million virtual visits in 2021, at the top end of its projections. The company also expects between $260 and $265 million in adjusted EBITDA, and is now projecting full-year revenue for 2022 at around $2.6 billion.

Despite the company's strong financial performance, Teladoc's shares plummeted 54% last year. CEO Jason Gorevic said investors should look to the company's increasing revenue per member, now at $68 per member per month on average, and multi-product penetration metrics for the provider's demonstrated growth.

Gorevic also reaffirmed the company's plan to take on financial risk with its virtual primary care offerings, which the company has said gives it more opportunities to increase per-member revenue.

Teladoc will expand its primary care pilot, Primary 360, to commercial health plans, employers, and other payers, starting with Aetna and Centene in 2022. While other telehealth players are picking up steam, Teladoc's whole-person service model puts it ahead of the competition, Gorevic said.

“We’ve been at this a long time. We think that we’re uniquely positioned to take advantage of that opportunity, and quite frankly, we welcome more entrants because it really highlights our differentiation,” he said. Story Rebecca Torrence

UPDATED: Monday, Jan. 10 at 10:45 a.m. ET

Revenue cycle management company R1 RCM on Monday announced it plans to acquire Cloudmed in an all-stock transaction that values the software company at roughly $4.1 billion.

Cloudmed serves more than 400 of the largest health systems in the U.S., including 47 of the top 50 hospital systems. The company uses artificial intelligence and automation to analyze large volumes of medical records, payment data and complex medical insurance models to identify opportunities to deliver additional revenue for healthcare providers. The company partners with more than 3,100 healthcare providers and says it has recovered more than $1.5 billion of underpaid or unidentified revenue for its clients annually. 

R1 has made several acquisitions in the past two years to build its capabilities and technology in the RCM market. Last year, the company picked up patient financial engagement company VisitPay for $300 million in cash.

In 2020, R1 bought health IT giant Cerner's revenue cycle business for $30 million. Story — Heather Landi

UPDATED: Monday, Jan. 10 at 10:20 a.m. ET

Advocate Aurora in addition to being a non-profit hospital system is moving to become a health-related company and gave a rundown of its latest moves to do so.

The system is continuing its investments this year to “become more evolved in healthcare and beyond just hospitals and doctors,” CEO Jim Skogsbergh said during the chain’s presentation Monday.

Advocate Aurora detailed how it is buying stakes in innovative consumer health tools. This includes a 20% stake in the telenutrition business FoodSmart and the full acquisition of the home care and wellness company Senior Helpers. The system also bought a 17% stake in the digital and analytics platform Xealth.

Skogsbergh added that the chain is also hoping to increase its integration with Medicare Advantage plans and take on more financial risk.

“We have been big believers in assuming risk. We have had some success and its clearly a big part of our future,” he said. — Robert King

UPDATED: Monday, Jan. 10 at 9:55 a.m. ET

Leaders from Detroit-based Henry Ford Health System warned that elevated costs, labor constraints, inflation and an unexpectedly sustained fourth wave of COVID-19 will likely lead to service constraints and higher downstream prices in the months to come.

The nonprofit integrated system saw its costs increase 9% over the last 12 months, placing strain on its financials despite increased productivity and the heavy implementation of novel technologies intended to lighten the load, executives said.

At the same time, pockets within the state of Michigan with exceptionally low vaccine and booster coverage have placed more strain on Henry Ford’s team during this COVID-19 surge than prior waves, President and CEO Wright Lassiter said. The “unexpected” impact and duration of this wave will have a negative impact on the system’s financial performance for the coming quarters, he said.  

Chief Financial Officer Robin Damschroder noted that the system saw more new hires than it did resignations or departures during November and December, but that the workforce situation remains an area of concern for the provider.

Alongside greater adoption of novel technologies, she said the system is looking into “aggressive short and long-term strategies” such as working with nearby universities, deepening “longstanding” nurse recruitment efforts from Canada and welcoming its first group of 50 to 100 Filipino nurses in the next couple of months, Damschroder said.

Not all of the nonprofit system’s news was dire, Damschroner noted. Enhanced reimbursement, some “very modest” Provider Relief Funds received in late 2021 and roughly $100 million in yet-to-be-recognized FEMA relief all offer “a little bit of silver lining” to the system’s bottom line.

However, “it’s not going to be enough” to offset the other financial and capacity pressures, she said.

“In a market like Michigan with already substantially lower payment rates than the rest of the country, we expect these costs will indeed need to turn into increases in consumer premiums and provider rate increases,” she said. — Dave Muoio

UPDATED: Monday, Jan. 10 at 8:55 a.m. ET

Non-profit hospital chain AdventHealth shared that labor disruptions such as early retirements led to an additional $440 million in operating costs for 2021. 

“The healthcare workforce has seen significant disruption, this includes early retirements, a surge in remote work, the mobility of nursing labor and the resetting of wage rates across numerous job categories,” said Terry Shaw, president and CEO of AdventHealth, during the virtual conference.

The system has also worked to implement stronger recruitment and retention plans and new care models intended to support the medical team.

“There are digital-based nursing tools … that can do specific tasks that a nurse or others would have to do at the bedside,” Shaw said. “We are exploring and have implemented multiple models for team-based care and digital-based nursing to help alleviate the pressure on [registered nurses].” Story Robert King

UPDATED: Monday, Jan. 10 at 8:30 a.m. ET

Centene Corporation kicked the JPM festivities off for major insurers early Monday, and executives told investors that they're feeling confident in their results coming out of the enrollment period for Medicare Advantage as well as the waning open enrollment period on the Affordable Care Act's exchanges.

Chief financial officer Drew Asher said that the results reflect ongoing work at the company to harness the strengths of its WellCare acquisition, which closed in January 2020. Over 2020 and 2021, Centene's MA business has grown by nearly 50%, which is a significant baseline to continue expanding on, he said.

"Every year that goes by, you further hone that and get the benefits of that merger," Asher said. Story — Paige Minemyer

UPDATED: Monday, Jan. 10 at 8 a.m. ET

Biotech company EQRx ink is teaming up with retail pharmacy giant CVS Health to accelerate the commercial availability of lower-cost specialty therapeutics. EQRx entered into a memorandum of understanding with CVS to explore a long-term, strategic partnership and the companies initially plan to work together to support access to and adoption of EQRx’s two lead oncology products, contingent upon FDA approval.

CVS Health is looking to create cost savings for its clients, patients and members through the adoption of EQRx medicines granted approval by the FDA, the company said in an announcement.

The partnership includes CVS Caremark, the leading pharmacy benefit manager in the U.S., covering nearly 110 million lives.

EQRx launched two years ago and went public in December in a $1.8 billion deal with a special purpose acquisition company.

The biotech company and CVS Health will also explore opportunities for collaboration in support of their mutually aligned goal of bringing other innovative, lower-cost specialty medications to market in order to significantly reduce overall drug spend.

Alan Lotvin, president of CVS Caremark, said in a statement that EQRx brings a "novel approach to drug discovery and commercialization and if successful, will bring us another tool to lower specialty drugs costs, which remains the largest area of concern for our clients.”

The news follows last week's announcement of EQRx's MOU with Geisinger, which has the potential to provide access to affordable treatments in areas of high-cost burden for more than 1 million people within Geisinger health systems. —Heather Landi

 UPDATED: Monday, Jan. 10 at 12:01 a.m. ET

At-home acute care company Medically Home has picked up another $110 million in a funding round headlined by new strategic investors Baxter International and Global Medical Response.

Prior backers Mayo Clinic, Kaiser Permanente and healthcare logistics firm Cardinal Health also participated in the funding round, which brings the company’s lifetime haul up to roughly $275 million.

Baxter, a medtech company, Cardinal Health and Mayo Clinic are all presenting at the conference this week.

The investments from Baxter and medical transportation and mobile medic company GMR provide Medically Home with several new strategic inroads that will help scale its decentralized care capabilities nationwide, according to CEO Rami Karjian. Dave Muoio's story