Private equity turns to ophthalmology with billion-dollar deals 

Private equity firms are seeing increasing opportunity in ophthalmology firms, reflected in the increase in multimillion-dollar investments in the industry in recent years, Kaiser Health News reported Sept. 19. 

Ophthalmology Consultants, for example, is a part of St. Louis-based EyeCare Partners, a private equity-backed eye group that boasts a portfolio of 300 ophthalmologists and 700 optometrists in 19 states. 

The group was acquired by private equity firm Partners Group in 2019, one of the many PE firms looking to ophthalmology groups. Retina Consultants of America, another eye group, was formed in 2020 with a $350 million investment from Webster Equity Partners. 

"Acquisitions have escalated so much that private equity firms now are routinely selling practices to one another," the report reads. 

As the population ages, private equity groups are seeing opportunities in eye care. While private equity groups can provide investments for physicians to expand their practice and negotiate better drug and supply contracts, some studies suggest their focus on profitability could affect patient care. 

A Kaiser Health News analysis of the top 30 prescribers of macular degeneration eye drugs Lucentis and Avastin found that PE companies invested in 23 percent of the top Avastin prescribers and 43 percent of the top Lucentis prescribers. This could mean PE firms are investing more in the offices of physicians who are seeing high volumes of patients and thus are more profitable, rather than selecting processes randomly. 

Additionally, the analysis found PE-backed Retina Consultants of America invested in the practices of four of the top Avastin prescribers, and nine of the top Lucentis prescribers. Retina Consultants of America did not respond to Kaiser Health News' requests for comment.

This private equity interest is expected to continue, particularly as increasing margins make it more difficult for independent groups to break even.

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