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UPDATE FROM REUTERS>

By Mitchell Young


WOONSOCKET, RI: Aetna [NYSE: AET] CEO Mark Bertolini probably won’t be enjoying the commanding view of the New York City skyline from his New York headquarters, next year.

CVS Health Corp. [NYSE: CVS} wants his company and they are reportedly willing to put up the bucks to take it, $200 per share, more than $66 billion.

Aetna shares rose more than 11%, [$18.48] this morning , to $178.60, on the speculation of the deal and the $200 price tag. Shares of Aetna have traded as low as $104 within the past year.

Aetna has approximately $64 billion in revenues and $2.2 billion in annual profits. CVS generates more than $5.5 billion in profits from $170 billion plus in sales and has a $74 billion market value. Aetna before the speculation had a market value of $65 billion. Reports are, that based on the similarity in market value size, the merger will likely include, stock and cash to fund the payday.

While most of us know CVS, originally Consumer Value Stores from their ubiquitous “drug stores,” the company makes much of its money as one of the nation’s largest Pharmacy Benefits Managers [PBM]. Ironically the profits that PBMs generate and that is providing the "quan" to fuel the takeover, are themselves under scrutiny by insurers, major employers and healthcare regulators as excessive.


CVS’s PBM negotiates drug benefits for health insurance plans and employers, and is seen as taking an aggressive stance in price negotiations with drug makers. Consumer advocates however, have questioned, whether PBMs themselves rather than consumers are seeing the benefit of this market power.

USA Today reported in 2014, that “while all the cutting goes on in health care, one of the biggest and least understood players [PBMS] are getting bigger and richer.”

A merger with Aetna could provide even more leverage in its price negotiations with drug makers, but could underscore as well, that the profits CVS’s PBM make as an intermediary should also be on the chopping block, as industry price pressures continue.

Aetna at 164 years has been based in Hartford for all that time. Apparently, the company is being driven into an early retirement by the Obama administration's scuttling of their merger with competing health plan Humana in 2016.

While the details have emerged about the possible deal, a final agreement is neither assured or likely to come this week.

The discussions have gone on for a few months and are reported to be primarily between CVS Chief Executive Officer Larry Merlo and Aetna's Bertolini. Neither company has commented, but that is likely to change with the pricing information now in the market.

While Obama administration officials probably wouldn’t admit it, several “writers” behind the Affordable Care Act have said they were seeking consolidation of the healthcare industry, as a means to reduce costs. The proposed consolidation of Anthem and Cigna, and Aetna, Humana that resulted however, created a backlash from the public and many healthcare providers and the merger was eventually rejected by the Obama administration.

Connecticut's U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal was among the biggest critics of the Aetna, Humana merger. Three months after the deal was nixed, Bertolini announced his decision to move Aetna’s headquarters to New York.

One thing to watch is whether CVS, with its low-cost retail culture will keep its headquarters in Woonsocket, rather than move to the Big Apple.