Written by Judith Riess, MTM editor-in-chief


It was my privilege to attend HLTH, (pronounced health) held October 26th to 30th, 2019. This, their second conference, had 6200 attendees, almost 400 exhibitors, five tracks covering everything from bold new entrants and technologies in the healthcare field to communities at the crossroads of health. Presentations covered how cannabis is helping improve the lives of those with epilepsy, Alzheimer’s and autism to innovative solutions to cope with the mental health crisis.

There were 25 General Sessions that brought together C Level health executives, CEO’s and Founders of innovative solutions in genome therapy, telehealth and new technologies to improve the quality of healthcare as well as improve delivery of healthcare by providing coverage where people live.

HLTH is an industry created event designed to bring together senior leaders to address the most pressing issues facing health care and provide the opportunity and impetus to bring about revolutionary change which is desperately needed in health care today. There were diverse groups of participants from the heads of major corporations to government executives, to start ups with innovative problem solutions.

Leaders all discussed needed changes to disrupt the current healthcare and provide care where it can do the most good – in communities where people live. The projection was that telehealth, healthcare centers within communities and grocery stores, drugstores and your local Walmart super store will be providing healthcare to the general public in their communities. There is also a huge move to provide better and more home care and how it benefits the public served.

The $3.5 trillion dollar healthcare industry has caught the attention of industry and as cost continue to rise Americans are looking for alternatives to long waits and high prices. With retail pharmacies like CVS Health acquiring insurers (Aetna), and tech companies like Amazon getting into the pharmacy business (Pill Pack), and Kroger investing more in keeping its shoppers healthy with the help of food and Kaiser Permanente aiding older adults and homeless to find homes,  healthcare is definitely in a state of flux and retailers are aware of the opportunities.

Larry Merlo, CEO and President of CVS talked about the change brought about with their 2018 purchase of Aetna which combined nearly 10,000 pharmacies, a drug-benefits business, and one of the biggest US health insurers. The result is a healthcare company that has a tremendous amount of power over how healthcare gets paid for and provided to people. The $70 billion acquisition accelerated a repurposing of its drug stores, which they are calling Health Hubs.

Marcus Osborne, VP Health Tranformation Walmart gave s a tour of Walmart’s healthcare clinic in Dallas, Georgia.  Walmart’s new centers come equipped with primary care, counseling, home care, eye and hearing exams, and dentistry. The center is staffed in partnership with local healthcare professionals so that patients can get everything from health insurance help to an X-Ray within the clinic.

The goal is to do for healthcare what Walmart's supercenter stores did for retail: offer a breadth of services conveniently and at a much cheaper price point than rivals, for example, a primary care visit costs $40, while a dental visit costs $25. Osborne explained that the top cost was $60 and people could pay with insurance or cash.

Dan Trigub, Uber and Megan Callhan, Lyft, explained their companies involvement with getting people to and from doctor visits, labs, etc. and the cost savings from providing transportation to those who needed to avoid missed appointments.

In Mark Cuban’s interview he talked about the unfair cost of drugs in the United States which are three times that of other countries and he is going to provide drugs to patient by having a pharmacy club like Costco or Sam’s where you pay a $100 membership for the year and you get whatever prescription you need for $1. He wanted to just give the prescriptions to those that needed but found that was against the law so came up with the club membership as an alternative. He has already received FDA approval, talked to both sides of Congress and numbers of others to understand the problem and has decided that is the solution he can provide.  He expressed gratitude for what he had been given and wants to give back and help to keep the US the “greatest country”.

Seema Verma, Administrator for Medicare and Medicaid Services explained to the audience why Medicare for All was not feasible and the trillions of dollars it would cost which as a country the US could not sustain. She went chapter and versus discussing the Affordable Care Act and why it had raised cost and left a number of Americans without health care and therefore vulnerable and also discussed changes and rules that have been put in place by her office to aid patients and providers.  She also said they are having a series of round table discussions with the media and others to discuss changes being made so the public and healthcare providers better understand services and rules.

There were many other excellent presentations covering gene therapy, genomics, telehealth, rules an regulations and new technologies that aid the public and make healthcare more accessible.