HEALTHCARE NEWS

By Benjamin Sauge

 

AMAZON AND APPLE

 

Few days ago, Amazon declared that its device Alexa would now comply with the American rules that state the protection of the privacy about healthcare data, which could be interpreted as a step into the health services. For instance, Alexa will now be able to check the blood sugar level of its users, but also to communicate directly with hospitals and reorder prescriptions. Amazon has therefore announced some partnerships with Cigna (US health insurer), Atrium Health (US healthcare provider) or Express Scripts (pharmacy home delivery service). The US company also announced, through Rachel Jiang (senior manager at Amazon Alexa), that it will expand soon to other developers. For instance, Amazon bought last year PillPack (an online pharmacy) for $1bn. Even if Amazon starts competing with Apple and Google on healthcare, these companies will have to prove they can manage responsibly the sensitive data of its customers.

 

Indeed, Apple starts showing its interest towards the healthcare sector. According to a recent survey, the healthcare market opportunity could range between $15bn and $313bn in 2027. Apple started few years ago the expansion of an ecosystem that puts its users at the center, therefore it makes sense that the California-based company tries to expand its healthcare services. Even though Amazon and Google have greater artificial intelligence capabilities, Apple’s user base has to be taken into account. The first step of this expansion is certainly the features the new Apple Watch and AirPods have, in particular sleep monitoring or blood pressure.

 

CENTENE AND WELLCARE

 

At the end of March, the US health insurer Centene has agreed to acquire WellCare for $17.3bn, creating one of the largest managed care group in the US. The two companies will turn into the key managers of Medicare and Medicaid (two US healthcare plans) for more than 22 million people. The CEO of Centene, Michael Neidorff, publicly said that he was confident about the survival of the Affordable Care Act (i.e. Obamacare), even if the US Department of Justice backed a court to declare Obamacare as “unconstitutional”. This transaction follows several mergers, involving drugmarkers, pharmacies and healthcare insurers. According to Refinitiv data, the number of transactions about healthcare have declined by a third last year, however, a record of $181bn has been spent in 2018 in the US.  The two companies expect to complete the deal in the first half of 2020, after obtaining regulatory approvals.

 

VENEZUELA HEALTHCARE CRISIS

 

Multiple international organizations recognized recently the existence of a humanitarian emergency in Venezuela. The country is currently facing a major political and economic crisis, notably due to the collapse of its oil-rich economy in 2014 (since then, the country struggles to raise a hard currency). The IMF recently predicted that inflation could reach 10 million percent in 2019, leading to a decrease of the Venezuelan economy by at least 18%. Indeed, the Pharmaceutical Federation of Venezuela estimated that the country was suffering from a 85% shortage of medicine, showing that the whole system was on the verge to collapse. More than 13,000 doctors have left the country since 2015, and medicine on the black market is increasing. President Nicolás Maduro refuses humanitarian aid and donations from other countries, prohibits shipments of medicine and first aid.

 

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