Medicare Advantage (MA) focused companies, like Oak Street
Health (14x revenues), Cano Health (11x revenues), and Iora
Health (announced sale to One Medical at 7x revenues), reflect
valuation multiples that appear irrational to many market observers. Multiples may be
exuberant, but they are not necessarily irrational.
One reason for high valuations across the healthcare sector is the large pools of capital
from institutional public investors, retail investors and private equity that are seeking
returns higher than the low single digit bond yields currently available. Private equity
alone has hundreds of billions in investable funds seeking opportunities in healthcare.
As a result of this abundance of capital chasing deals, there is a premium attached to the
scarcity of available companies with proven business models and strong growth
Valuations of companies that rely on Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement have
traditionally been discounted for the risk associated with a change in government
reimbursement policy. This “bop the mole” risk reflects the market’s assessment that
when a particular healthcare sector becomes “too profitable,” the risk increases that CMS
will adjust policy and reimbursement rates in that sector to drive down profitability.
However, there appears to be consensus among both political parties that MA is the right
policy to help manage the rise in overall Medicare costs and, thus, incentives for MA
growth can be expected to continue. This factor combined with strong demographic
growth in the overall senior population means investors apply premiums to companies in
the MA space compared to traditional providers.
Large pools of available capital, scarcity value, lower perceived sector risk and overall
growth in the senior population are all factors that drive higher valuations for the MA
disrupters. However, these factors pale in comparison the underlying economic driver
for these companies. Taking full risk for MA enrollees and dramatically reducing hospital
utilization, while improving health status, is core to their business model. These
companies target and often achieve reduced hospital utilization by 30% or more for their
assigned MA enrollees.
In 2019, the average Medicare days per 1,000 in the U.S. was 1,190. With about
$14,700 per Medicare discharge and a 4.5 ALOS, the average cost per Medicare day is
approximately $3,200. At the U.S. average 1,190 Medicare hospital days per thousand,
if MA hospital utilization is decreased by 25%, the net hospital revenue per 1,000 MA
enrollees is reduced by about $960,000. If one of the MA disrupters has, for example, 50,000 MA lives in a market, the
decrease in hospital revenues for that MA population would be about $48 million. This does not include the associated
physician fees and other costs in the care continuum. That same $48 million + in the coffers of the risk-taking MA
disrupters allows them deliver comprehensive array of supportive services including addressing social determinants of health. These services then further reduce utilization and improves overall health status, creating a virtuous circle. This is very profitable.
MA is only the beginning. When successful MA businesses expand beyond MA, and they will, disruption across the
healthcare economy will be profound and painful for the incumbents. The market is rationally exuberant about that