Marathon Health aims to expand reach in occupational health with Cerner WHS acquisition

Earlier this month, Marathon Health clinched a deal to acquire Cerner Workforce Health Solutions, a move it hopes will enable it to broaden and widen the primary care services that Marathon sells primarily to self-insured companies.

The deal adds about 300 employees, 21 client businesses, 35 health centers and 300,000 members to Marathon and expands the company’s footprint in 15 states and cities, including significant expansion in Chicago, Kansas City and St. Louis, according to a press release. The deal closed Aug. 1.

Jeff Wells, M.D., Marathon Health’s CEO and co-founder, told Fierce Healthcare that “the majority of the employers that we work with are self-insured. Those employers maintain the financial responsibility for their healthcare cost. When they work with Marathon Health, we can make an impact and drive savings that accrue to those employers.”

The contracts allow employees to often access Marathon services for free or for a very low price, and that makes it more attractive to them to engage with the healthcare system for better outcomes, the company said.

Cerner WHS’ assets will be added to those already possessed by Marathon: over 280 health centers in 43 states, more than 1.2 million members and close to 1,000 providers that Marathon officials say helps it maintain a 97% client retention rate.

Marathon aims to fill an ever-widening and worrisome gap in primary care, as more PCPs retire and more medical school students tend to gravitate toward specialties.

“One of the biggest opportunities in healthcare in the U.S. to drive better outcomes and lower cost is to dramatically expand access to independent or advanced primary care,” Wells said, adding that too many PCPs and other primary care providers have been absorbed by large hospital systems, many of which emphasize specialty care.

He added that the shortage in PCPs hasn’t hindered Marathon’s expansion. “We’re able to preferentially recruit some of the top primary care physicians, family physicians, as well as advanced practice providers, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants who are really driven and have really bought into the mission of serving others and making an impact in the lives of the members that they work with.”

This commitment to mission was not lost on Stacie Clum, the general manager and senior director of Cerner WHS, who said in the press release that Cerner “saw in Marathon a like-minded organization that is passionate about its clients and members. I don’t think the fit could be stronger—we have complementary cultures, strategies and capabilities—and I am deeply excited for this next chapter.”

Marathon hopes to build upon Cerner WHS’ capabilities in occupational health and on-site pharmacy.

"The question is, depending on the nature of a given employer group, how can we best provide access?” Wells said.

Certain manufacturers, industrial agribusinesses and professional services companies can provide the space for Marathon to set up a health center right on their properties. Marathon officials say that 69% of its clients have on-site health centers, and 31% utilize a network or hybrid model.

“We do that for companies all over the U.S.,” Wells said. “And it’s a great way to provide access. At the same time, we work with more distributed workforces, labor unions, professional services companies with hybrid work environments, the retail public sector where we can open a network or multiple physician locations in communities and provide access close to where members live.”

In addition, Wells said Marathon is licensed to provide virtual care in all 50 states.

“We see one of the most important opportunities to make healthcare work better in this country is to increase both the investment and adoption of advanced and value-based primary care,” Wells said. “And I think this partnership is helping us tremendously accelerate our ability to do that for employers across the country.”