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This is only the latest development in an unreasonably lucrative "merger wave" that's pairing health insurance companies and providers with retailers.
We've seen Aetna Inc. (NYSE: AET) and CVS Health Corp. (NYSE: CVS) announce a pairing, and CIGNA Corp. (NYSE: CI) is buying Express Scripts Holding Co. (Nasdaq: ESRX), the nation's largest pharmacy benefits manager.
In part, all of this is because of Amazon.com Inc.'s (Nasdaq: AMZN) attempts to enter the healthcare and pharmacy business and to try and gain some market share from UnitedHealth Group Inc. (NYSE: UNH). That's certainly true.
But… as I pointed out back in December, when the CVS-Aetna deal was announced, and again in early February, when Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffett, and Jamie Dimon announced what amounts to an all-out assault on expensive healthcare delivery as we know it, there's much more at work in this trend than CEOs rushing to keep up with the Joneses.
The face of healthcare is changing, and it could be the best thing that has happened to us, as consumers, since canned beer.
The entry of the federal government into the healthcare business hasn't gone well, to put it mildly.
But it's created the chance to remake healthcare, and, in the 242 years since Adam Smith got the ball rolling with "The Wealth of Nations," capitalism has rarely missed an opportunity.
Healthcare Reform Is a Fiasco Turned Massive Opportunity
Of course, there are some who are already bemoaning the possibility that capitalists could play a bigger role in the healthcare arena. They dread the idea that anyone could make a profit from healthcare.
Let 'em keep dreading it.
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The reality is that they will make it better, faster, and cheaper, just as the capitalists and disruptors have done in every business they have assaulted over the decades.
Most of the major biotech breakthroughs were accomplished by folks who were in it for the money; same with all the diagnostic tools and medical devices we have seen in the past 20 years.
The capitalists are already in healthcare, and they have made our lives much better as a result. They are now beginning to do the same with healthcare delivery, and I, for one, think it is fantastic – and not just because I love making money, either.
You see, I'm grappling with that whole "Americans are getting older" thing that we talk so much about today.
After years of doing my best to avoid doctors, dentists, and other needle-bearing, body-poking types in white smocks, I find that things break a little more often of late. I have had to start having things like checkups, tests, vaccinations, and office visits.
This Is Much Worse Than Any Needle or Horse Pill
As much as I hate doctor's visits, needles, and pretty much all things healthcare-related… the insurance racket is much, much, much worse.
Filling out paperwork, tracking deductibles, and healthcare spending account (HSA) balances is a waking nightmare. I have to consider not just a doctor's proficiency and skill, but I must also take into consideration his network status with my insurance company.
But imagine a world where you can get the vast majority of your healthcare provided at the local pharmacy or Wal-Mart.
Some hospital companies have imagined just that, and it scares the living daylights out of them.
Baltimore, Md., sports around 17 main hospitals – I'm not including satellite campuses. By American standards, it's stuffed to the gills with hospitals. It's home to some of the best in the world, like Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland's R. Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Hospital.
There are more than 100 Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. (Nasdaq: WBA) locations within a 30-minute drive of downtown Baltimore – some of more than 8,100 nationwide.
Wal-Mart has over 5,300 retail locations, CVS has more than 9,600.
If they start providing clinical services, in addition to filling prescriptions, it will be disruptive to the traditional doctor's office- and hospital-based delivery system.
Best of all, it will be competitive, so the costs will be lower, and the service will be better. If it's not, they will quickly lose market share to competitors who execute better.
Is this investable? It is, but perhaps not at this exact moment in time.
None of the deals have closed yet, and the traditional medical industry is fighting them to some degree, and of course, federal regulators will do their best to make sure no one profits no matter how much good they may do for consumers.
Of course, being nine years into a bull market does not make for the best big-cap investing environment, either. Patience will pay big here; I'll let you know what to buy when I see the capitalists riding over the hill to the rescue.
Remember: These deals are going to change the face of healthcare over time, and a lot of money will be made as a result.
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