Telehealth was a trend before the coronavirus pandemic, but now that people feel it's safer to talk to a doctor on the phone or online than to visit one in person, it's a seismic shift for the business -- and not just in the short term.
Federal rules have recently shifted, and several states have loosened regulations to make it easier for medical providers to practice across state lines during the pandemic. That's been out of necessity, but many of those new changes will stay after COVID-19 is just a memory.
All of this has had a big effect. Look no further than the growth of Teladoc (TDOC 4.58%).
On Wednesday, a day when the Dow fell 500 points, Teladoc was holding steady at about $188 per share. Over the past year, it has risen by almost 220%.
Investors going long on the future of remote medical help are right about a lot of things -- but they may be wrong to bet on Teladoc. Despite a cavalcade of recent good news, the company lost $98 million last year. There has been some positive news -- Q1 revenue was up 41% -- but it continues to lose money, with a first-quarter net loss of $29.6 million.
Again, right race, wrong horse. Here are three other telehealth-related companies that I like better.
Humana likes telehealth because it brings costs down
Humana (HUM 2.13%), the Louisville, Ky., health insurance company with more than 41,000 employees, has invested heavily in telehealth initiatives. The reason is obvious: Even before COVID-19, telehealth was seen as a way to bring the cost of doctor visits down. Despite the overall market slowdown, the company saw its most recent quarterly revenue rise by 18% year over year, while net income dropped 16.4% . On top of all that, it pays an annual dividend of $2.50 a share, a payout it's raised for the past nine years.
CVS keeps growing, and telehealth is part of that
People think of CVS Health (CVS 0.78%) for its pharmacies and its generic drugs, but it too has been an early advocate of telehealth. It's a huge company with enough different segments that it can take a hit like the COVID-19 pandemic and shrug it off: The company posted revenue of $66.8 billion last quarter, a rise of 8.3% over the same quarter in 2019. On top of that, like Humana, it's making money, with $2.1 billion in net income last quarter, a rise of 40.9% year over year.
CVS also has a solid dividend of $2 per share a year annually, and it looks very safe, with an 11% payout ratio.
Most of the profit at CVS is coming from its pharmacy and retail segments, not from remote medical services. But that's fine. The company is big enough to keep growing its telehealth segment while keeping smaller companies, such as Teladoc, from making inroads. It's not as if CVS is forgetting about telehealth, something president and CEO Larry J. Merlo alluded to in a company release. "When facing any health crisis, including this pandemic, we're uniquely positioned to understand consumer and patient needs and how to address them," Merlo said. "This includes increasing access to medicine and virtual care."
Anthem makes the most of opportunity
Anthem (ELV 0.76%) like Humana, sees cost benefits to telehealth because it is a healthcare insurer. The company's research says average costs for a telehealth session are $100 less than for a typical visit to the doctor's office.
During the pandemic, the company has opened access to virtual care and waived cost-sharing for telehealth and phone visits, including those for mental health. Anthem is hoping that consumers will become comfortable with working with a medical practitioner remotely.
Anthem, like CVS and Humana, has a healthy balance sheet. In the first quarter, operating revenue was $29.4 billion, a 20.7% increase over the same quarter year-over-year. Net income of $1.5 billion was slightly down year over year. It also has the best dividend of the three -- $3.80 annually per share -- with a trailing-12-month payout ratio of 19.6%.
There's no question telehealth will grow, but ...
Humana, CVS, and Anthem all have the capital to play the long game and be positioned to benefit from a turn toward telehealth. In the meantime, they all have solid balance sheets with good growth and dividends to wait out what may be a slow road to recovery for the economy.