$5.4B acquisition dramatically expands Optum’s home healthcare footprint

UnitedHealth Group’s Optum announced plans to acquire publicly traded, postacute care behemoth LHC Group for $5.4B. The Lafayette, LA-based company, which had $2.2B in revenue last year, operates more than 550 home health locations, 170 hospice sites, and 12 long-term acute care hospitals across 37 states, reaching 60 percent of the country’s Medicare-eligible seniors. LHC also has more than 430 hospital joint venture partners.  

The Gist: This deal will greatly expand Optum’s ability to provide home-based and long-term care, with the goal of moving more care for the insurer’s Medicare Advantage enrollees to lower-cost settings. The acquisition puts Optum’s home healthcare portfolio on par with competitor Humana, which has been the leader in amassing home-based and postacute care assets, and recently moved to take full control of home health provider Kindred at Home. LHC will be part of a growing portfolio of care assets managed by Optum Health, which also includes the company’s owned physician assets. 

Success in lowering cost of care will require Optum to integrate referrals and care management across a rapidly expanding portfolio—and ensure its physician base has confidence in these new models of care. 

Facing a “new normal” of higher labor costs

https://mailchi.mp/161df0ae5149/the-weekly-gist-december-10-2021?e=d1e747d2d8

The price of higher labor costs in the consumer discretionary sector -  AlphaSense

Attending a recent executive retreat with one of our member health systems, we heard the CEO make a statement that really resonated with us. Referring to the current workforce crisis—pervasive shortages, pressure to increase compensation, outsized reliance on contract labor to fill critical gaps—the CEO made the assertion that this situation isn’t temporary. Rather, it’s the “new normal”, at least for the next several years.

The Great Resignation that’s swept across the American economy in the wake of COVID has not spared healthcare; every system we talk to is facing alarmingly high vacancy rates as nurses, technicians, and other staff head for the exits. The CEO made a compelling case that the labor cost structure of the system has reset at a level between 20 and 30 percent more expensive than before the pandemic, and executives should begin to turn attention away from stop-gap measures (retention bonuses and the like) to more permanent solutions (rethinking care models, adjusting staffing ratios upward, implementing process automation).

That seemed like an important insight to us. It’s increasingly clear as we approach a third year of the pandemic: there is no “post-COVID world” in which things will go back to normal. Rather, we’ll have to learn to live in the “new normal,” revisiting basic assumptions about how, where, and by whom care is delivered.

If hospital labor costs have indeed permanently reset at a higher level, that implies the need for a radical restructuring of the fundamental economic model of the health systemrazor-thin margins won’t allow for business to continue as usual. Long overdue, perhaps, and a painful evolution for sure—but one that could bring the industry closer to the vision of “right care, right place, right time” promised by population health advocates for over a decade.

COVID care as a model for care redesign

https://mailchi.mp/9075526b5806/the-weekly-gist-july-24-2020?e=d1e747d2d8

We got an update from the chief medical information officer of one of our member systems about their ongoing progress in expanding telemedicine. Their rate of virtual visits peaked in late April, accounting for over half of all physician encounters. But like most systems, they’ve seen telemedicine visits drop to less than 20 percent of all appointments as physician offices have reopened.

In thinking about how the system will move telemedicine forward, she said, “We’re trying to be intentional and really design a top-notch consumer experience, with quality as the foundation.” They are going specialty-by-specialty, condition-by-condition, to redesign care pathways to optimally blend virtual and in-person care. It’s daunting, but she believes COVID-19 provided a model for how to do this quickly and effectively.

In just a few weeks, many systems stood up COVID management programs in the following way: algorithm-driven, online symptom triage triggers a virtual visit with a doctor. Testing is conducted at new, dedicated locations, to keep doctors’ offices as COVID-free as possible. Patients with concerning symptoms are monitored at home with pulse oximetry and regular check-ins; the same resources are used to ensure discharged patients are recovering well.

It’s the perfect example of how to design a safe, consumer-centered care pathway, using the whole of a health system’s resources. Now the challenge facing doctors and hospitals is: can this process be scaled across the hundreds of conditions that could benefit from a blend of virtual and traditional care?