The Wall Street Journal reports that Walmart is in the early stages of talks to buy Humana, one of the nation’s five largest health insurers.
Humana currently has a market value of around $37 billion. The company has around 14 million subscribers and its net revenues last year were $53.7 billion.
If it happens, this would be a dramatic acquisition. It’s hard to speculate precisely what impact this might have on the health insurance market. Worth remembering: Among many other things, Walmart has one of the nation’s largest chains of pharmacies. It has more than 3,600 pharmacies at its stores and employs more than 6,000 pharmacists (only Walgreens and CVS employ more pharmacists; only those two along with Rite Aid have more pharmacies).
Walmart also offers low-cost care clinics at some locations.
The rumored deal could be similar to the proposed $69 billion acquisition of Aetna by CVS, which has been approved by shareholders but still needs approval from the Department of Justice. The companies argue that the unusual combination of a health insurer and a retail store with pharmacies and walk-in clinics could rein in health care costs.
The elephant in the room that probably influenced these potential moves: Walmart and CVS likely both have fears that competitor Amazon could attempt to move into the pharmacy space.
One other possible factor: Walmart employs 1.5 million people, and offers health coverage to those working more than 30 hours per week. Owning a health insurance company could streamline coverage costs.
The health insurance giants have been looking for alternative merger options after their attempts to merge with each other received scrutiny from the Department of Justice over antitrust concerns last year, and were blocked by federal judges. An attempted $34 billion merger between Aetna and Humana, as well as an attempted $54 billion deal between Cigna and Anthem, were called off last year.