Just days before CVS Health Corp. said it closed its $69 billion acquisition of Aetna Inc., reports emerged that another retail pharmacy giant and health insurer— Walgreen Co. and Humana Inc. — are in preliminary talks to take equity stakes in each other.
Walgreens and Humana are already collaborating on a pilot project in which the insurer opened senior- focused primary care clinics in two Walgreens stores in the Kansas City, Mo., region. Now the companies are in “wide-ranging” talks about either expanding that venture or taking stakes in each other, according to The Wall Street Journal.
If Humana and Walgreens do decide to establish cross-holdings in each other, it would be "a very interesting and shrewd play," Rita Numerof, Ph.D., president and founder of Numerof & Associates, tells AIS Health.
"We know that a lot of outright M&A doesn't deliver value at the end of the day," she says. But taking equity stakes in each other isn’t a true acquisition, "so you don't have all of the risks and costs associated with bringing [a] business under the umbrella of one that's very, very different."
In an note to investors, Leerink analyst Ana Gupte pointed to the upside for Humana. "Equity stakes are a way for the two companies to share economics across the different economic pools across clinical, MA distribution and associated retail pharmacy fills and front store sales, which can drive several hundred million dollars of value for [Humana] annually in EBIT [earnings before interest and taxes]."
But Jefferies analysts wondered if perhaps Walgreens might be the bigger winner, since the pharmacy business model "is under more direct attack from disruptive players than are health plans" and “partnering with [Humana] helps [Walgreens] drive market share."
Jay Godla, a partner at PwC's Strategy&, says that there could certainly be synergies produced by Humana and Walgreens buying stakes in each other. But any arrangements that are less than a full merger or acquisition can include issues around commitment, agility, not-so-well aligned goals and objectives, and inability to make quick decisions, he notes.
The talks reportedly going on between Humana and Walgreens "could be a starting point for a long-term future merger," Godla adds.