Humana's Brian Kane leaves door open for Walmart partnership in investor conference

Humana's Bruce Broussard speaking
Bruce Broussard, president and CEO of Humana, speaking at an AHIP conference last year, will no longer have a written employment contract after Dec. 31, suggesting another merger could be on the horizon. (Leslie Small/FierceHealthcare)

With speculation mounting that Walmart is eyeing an acquisition of Humana, the topic was bound to come up when the insurer presented at the Morgan Stanley Healthcare Conference on Friday.

And when it did, CFO Brian Kane did nothing to quell the rumors. Instead, he emphasized what a "great partner" Walmart was while evading specifics.

"I think it's too early to tell. We have a very good relationship with Walmart, we really—at the senior levels down to the operating teams—I think it's a very productive relationship that we have with them," Kane said at the conference, noting they work together on prescription drug plans and Medicare Part D.

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"We continue to explore opportunities with them, we'll do that," Kane said. "I genuinely don't know the answer to that question yet, I think we're going to learn more in relatively short order."

RELATED: Report: Humana in talks to buy part of home-health and hospice giant Kindred Healthcare

The conversation on Friday also provided plenty of details about Humana's emerging partnership with Walgreens, where it plans to add providers and "health advisers" in pilot stores in Kansas City.

These providers—employed by Partners in Primary Care, which is Humana's wholly owned clinic brand—will be set up in a risk-based relationship with Humana's members so they can seek care directly at the pharmacy.

"We know that when members are in these setting and are engaged with their providers and engaged with us, there's a material difference in outcomes. So what we want to see is an uptake and a faster ramp into these clinics," Kane said.

RELATED: The Walmart-Humana deal could be bad news for hospitals

It was easy for attendees at the conference to see the outlines of a similar partnership with Walmart. After all, if clinics could be set up in Walgreens stores, why not Walmart locations? Again, Kane left the door open for speculation. But he did note that Walmart locations aren't healthcare-first enterprises in the same way Walgreens is.

"The Walgreens stores are different than the Walmart stores, and, you know, the focus of the Walgreens store format is more health—you know, as a percentage of overall footage, it's obviously more healthcare-focused," Kane added. "But Walmart obviously is a wonderful brand and a great partner to work with, so we haven't made any decisions in that regard, we've gotta see how it unfolds."

Last month, Humana announced that Bruce Broussard, its CEO, will continue without a written contract after his current one expires at the end of the year. This change also affected how Broussard would be compensated should he leave the company under a number of different circumstances.