Late on Monday afternoon, Mayor Greg Fischer and Gov. Steve Beshear held a meeting at Metro Hall with Mark Bertolini, CEO of Aetna, and Bruce Broussard, his counterpart at Humana.
The meeting came hours after the two corporate heads participated in a conference call with investors and reporters, during which they discussed a variety of issues pertinent to Connecticut-based Aetna’s $37 billion deal to buy Humana, among them the state of the Louisville workforce. Since the deal was announced last Friday, the mayor has insisted it will result in net positive economic growth and possibly more jobs in the city — a claim so radical in the context of a major corporate acquisition it draws suspicion.
But he has support. Bertolini said Monday that because Louisville will be home to Aetna’s government business — Medicare, Medicaid and TRICARE — post-acquisition, he expects to “at least maintain employment, if not increase it.” Humana currently has 12,500 employees in Louisville. The government business will account for 56 percent of Aetna’s revenues if federal regulators approve the transaction. That sector is projected to continue growing. So, do the math: Key business equals more executives, and additional revenue means more employees.
Beshear has been a bit more measured. Speaking to 84-WHAS host Terry Meiners earlier this week, he said he is “cautiously optimistic that this is going to be a net positive for us.”
“I see no intentional misleading of us at all,” Beshear continued, discussing his conversations with Bertolini. “As a matter of fact, they’re saying they see a great future in Louisville for this business and this company, and I think they’re speculating very positively on the growth in jobs you’ll see here.”
Can that be?
When Aetna acquired Coventry Health Care, a deal that closed in 2013, that company’s leadership insisted it would not immediately affect its workforce of 14,400. According to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission from both companies, the overall workforce once Aetna acquired Coventry jumped from 35,000 at the close of 2012 to 48,600 by the same time the following year, meaning there was a net loss of 800 employees post-acquisition.
The following year, Aetna grew by 200 jobs. Today, the company has roughly 48,450 employees, meaning the net employment loss after the Coventry deal has been 950, or about 2 percent.
Aetna is much leaner in its hometown of Hartford — where it has 6,100 workers — than Humana is here, and it takes in more revenue per employee than Humana does. The latter has 50,000 workers in total (down 7,000 after closing the Concentra sale last month). Behind Louisville, the second-largest Humana workforce is in Green Bay, Wisc., where the company employs 2,400. Tampa, Miami, Cincinnati, and San Antonio all have more than 1,000 Humana employees each, according to a company spokesman.
A spokeswoman for Aetna vehemently denied any comparison between the Coventry acquisition and Humana, saying it is premature to discuss jobs in any location — something Bertolini did openly on the Monday conference call. And nobody from either company has commented publicly on workforce changes in Connecticut.
There is no question that the Aetna workforce would shrink post-acquisition. On the Monday conference call, Aetna Chief Financial Officer Shawn Guertin all but confirmed it, saying $1 billion of the projected $1.25 billion in synergies — or savings as a result of merged operations — would come from reduced operating costs. Bertolini said Aetna only considers SG&A (Selling, General and Administrative) costs and medical costs when calculating synergies. SG&A includes employment costs and, of course, layoffs.
On Monday, Bertolini told investors the Coventry deal — in which Aetna projected $400 million in synergies, about a third of those offered in the Humana deal — actually had less SG&A and more medical cost savings in the end, “which works out well relative to this transaction.”
For Humana’s workforce, then, it’s a matter of where and how much.
“Just as with the Aetna-Coventry merger, there will be fewer workers in the new Aetna (the new combined entity) than in the sum of Aetna’s current workforce and Humana’s current workforce,” said David Dubofsky, a finance professor at the University of Louisville. “Some of those jobs will be lost in Connecticut, some in Louisville, and many elsewhere in the country.”
Dubofsky said to make the deal pay off, Aetna would look to reduce its workforce wherever possible.
The companies don’t expect the deal to close until the second half of 2016, and that’s if it makes it past federal regulators in its current form. Meanwhile, public officials here are maintaining their optimism, and Monday’s meeting with both CEOs suggests at least a recognition that Louisville will have to fight for its Humana jobs, if not the acknowledgement of a potential new longer-term opportunity.
The Hartford Courant recently slammed Mayor Pedro Segarra for his “tepid” response to the deal. The mayor failed to issue a response to the announcement until 8:45 p.m. that Friday, the first day of a holiday weekend and some 18 hours after the news broke, and even then released a single sentence of boilerplate. And after Aetna’s public threats that it would leave the state because of a recent tax increase, Gov. Dannel Malloy reduced the percentage and has reportedly been in close contact with Bertolini.
Spokespeople for both Segarra and Malloy did not respond to a request from IL asking whether they had met with Aetna and Humana officials since the deal was announced.
After their meeting on Monday, Fischer spokesman Chris Poynter told IL “there are many reasons for Louisville to be optimistic about the future of Aetna-Humana.” He declined to provide further details on what they discussed, as did a spokesman for Beshear. Other economic development officials in Kentucky would only talk off the record, and even then, declined to share any details.
Perhaps that’s because despite the optimism, it’s at least a year too early to know how any of this will shake out. More certain, judging by the company the mayor and governor were keeping earlier this week, is that a city-defining change is now visible on the horizon.