CMS proposes 2% pay bump for rehab, psychiatric facilities

The Biden administration has proposed giving rehabilitation facilities a 2.2% payment increase for the 2022 federal fiscal year that starts in October.

The payment rate outlined in a proposed rule released late Thursday is slightly below the 2.4% that CMS gave rehab facilities for the 2021 federal fiscal year. CMS proposed in a separate rule a 2.3% increase for payments to inpatient psychiatric facilities as well.

Both payment rules also give updates on outlier payments, which help facilities deal with the costs of treating extremely costly beneficiaries.

For rehab facilities, CMS proposes to maintain outlier payments to 3% of the total facility payments for fiscal 2022, which begins on Oct. 1.

CMS also aims to keep the outlier payments for psychiatric facilities at 2% for 2022.

A major change for both rules is a new addition aimed to track coverage of COVID-19 vaccinations among healthcare personnel.

CMS also wants to add vaccination coverage among healthcare personnel as a measure to the quality reporting program for psychiatric facilities. The program outlines quality metrics that facilities need to meet.

“This measure would be reported using the COVID-19 modules on the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s] National Healthcare Safety Network web portal,” a fact sheet on the psychiatric payment rule said.

The agency also is proposing a similar measure for rehab facilities to report any vaccinations of healthcare personnel for COVID-19.

“This proposed measure is designed to assess whether [IRFs] are taking steps to limit the spread of COVID-19 among their [healthcare personnel], reduce the risk of transmission within their facilities and help sustain the ability of [rehabilitation facilities] to continue serving their communities through the public health emergency and beyond,” a fact sheet on the rehab rule said.

In the rehab facility rule, CMS also asked for comments on how to improve health equity for all patients.

CMS is seeking comments on whether to add more measures that address patient equity in standardized patient assessment data elements, which must be collected by facilities after post-acute care.

The agency also wants comments on ways to attain health equity for psychiatric facilities as well.

“CMS is committed to addressing the significant and persistent inequities in health outcomes in the United States through improving data collection to better measure and analyze disparities across programs and policies,” the agency said in a fact sheet.

Comments for both rules are due by June 7.

CMS: Many value-based payment models under review after several already delayed, withdrawn

Many of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation’s value-based care payment models are undergoing a review, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).

The statement to Fierce Healthcare comes after CMS quietly updated and delayed several payment models, including pulling a controversial model that ties payments to geographic health outcomes.

“CMS remains steadfast in its commitment to transforming the healthcare system into one that rewards value and care coordination,” the agency said. “The CMS Innovation Center and its alternative payment models help execute that commitment.”

The agency added it hopes to design models that support the adoption of value-based care.

“Many of the CMS Innovation Center’s models are currently under review, and we look forward to providing updates when available,” CMS said.

CMS did not return a request for comment on how many models are under review or which ones are being scrutinized.

The statement comes after CMS has quietly updated the webpages for two payment models to note major changes. The agency made an update to the webpage for the Geographic Direct Contracting Model that said it was currently under review.

A request for applications for the model was posted Jan. 1, and the first performance period was expected to start in 2022 and run through 2024.

The model was intended to improve quality and lower costs for Medicare beneficiaries across a region, and providers in that region can enter into value-based payment arrangements.

Providers can build integrated relationships and invest in population health to better coordinate care, the agency said when the model was released last December.

But the model has gotten pushback from some provider groups. The National Association of Accountable Care Organizations has criticized the model, saying it could confuse patients who may not know whether they are participating in a direct contracting entity.

CMS also quietly pushed back the first performance period for the Kidney Care Choices model, which aims to improve the quality of dialysis care.

The model had an implementation period for 2020 that enabled participants to create the necessary infrastructure for the model, which aims to bundle care from treatment of chronic kidney disease all the way through kidney transplantation and post-transplant care.

Starting Jan. 1, 2021, providers were supposed to start taking on financial accountability including capitated payments.

But CMS posted an update on the webpage for the model, saying the start of the financial performance period will now be Jan. 1, 2022. The agency did not give a reason for the delay.

CMS’ review comes on the heels of a separate analysis conducted under the Trump administration on the value generated by the payment models. The analysis found bundled payment models that gave providers an amount of money for an entire episode of care had mixed results, while global budget models, which give providers a fixed amount for the total number of services given over a certain period of time, were given a more positive review.

It remains unclear whether that analysis is playing any role into the review undertaken by the Biden administration.

Rural MA Enrollees Have Substantial Rates Of Switching To Traditional Medicare

Brent Langellier (@blangellier) | Twitter

In their recent Health Affairs paper, Sungchul Park and coauthors examine rates of switching from Medicare Advantage (MA) to traditional Medicare by patient characteristics. MA plans are the private insurance alternative to traditional fee-for-service Medicare overseen by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. While enrollment in MA has doubled over the past decade, Park and coauthors find that the needs of certain enrollees are not being met by MA plans.

Park and coauthors report that rural enrollees switch from MA to traditional Medicare at an adjusted annual rate of 10.5 percent, significantly higher than metropolitan residents, who switch at a rate of 5.0 percent

This phenomenon was more pronounced among those who required the use of costly services such as facility stays or hospitalizations, those who had poor self-reported health, and individuals who reported lower satisfaction with their access to care.

A large pay gap exists between independent and hospital-employed doctors

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Physician practices with more female doctors have smallest gender pay gaps  | Healthcare Finance News

The payment gap was $63,000 for primary care doctors, $178,000 for medical specialists and $150,000 for surgeons.

Doctors who work for hospital outpatient facilities get much higher payments for their services from Medicare than doctors who practice independently, according to a new study.

The research, based on Medicare claims data from 2010-2016, found that the program’s payments for doctors’ work were, on average, $114,000 higher per doctor per year when billed by a hospital than when billed by a doctor’s independent practice.

Published in Health Services Research, results found that the amount Medicare would pay for outpatient care at doctors’ offices would have been 80% higher if the services had been billed by a hospital outpatient facility. In 2010, the average set of Medicare services independent doctors performed annually for patients was worth $141,000, but charging for the same group of services would have grossed $240,000 if a hospital outpatient facility billed for them.

The payment difference varied by specialty. The payment gap was $63,000 for primary care doctors, $178,000 for medical specialists and $150,000 for surgeons.

Moreover, the study found the differential grew over time. From 2010-2016, the average difference between hospital outpatient and private practice payments grew from 80% higher to 99% higher.

WHAT’S THE IMPACT?

The main reason for these large payment differences: facility fees. For each service a doctor performs, Medicare pays hospital outpatient facilities both a fee for the doctor’s work and a fee for the facility, whereas private practices receive only doctor fees.

Although the doctor fees are a bit lower in hospital outpatient locations, the facility fees more than make up for the difference, and the total payments to hospitals are reflected in higher doctor salaries and bonuses.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has been trying to correct this imbalance for years with policies that would pay both sites the same amount. In 2015, the Bipartisan Budget Act authorized CMS to impose site-neutral payments but grandfathered existing hospital outpatient facilities. Later, CMS expanded the equal payments to other hospital outpatient facilities, but the American Hospital Association sued to overturn this regulation.

In July 2020, the Appeals Court sided with HHS. The American Hospital Association and the Association of American Medical Colleges said they would seek to have the ruling overturned.

The groups filed for a petition for a rehearing, which was denied.

In February, the Supreme Court acknowledged the AHA’s request for judicial review. The government response was due by March 15, but on March 3, Norris Cochran, acting Secretary of Health and Human Service asked for an extension until April 14 to file the government’s response, according to court documents.

The significant difference between Medicare payments to hospital outpatient facilities and independent offices has encouraged hospitals and health systems to buy doctor practices, but the study noted that good research about this has been lacking up to now.

It found little evidence of a direct relationship linking the size of the pay gap between hospital outpatient facilities and independent offices, with hospitals buying doctor practices, in particular medical specialties. But it did find that doctors whose services had larger pay gaps were more likely to have a hospital buy their practice than doctors whose services had a smaller pay gap.

In an accompanying commentary, Dr. Michael Chernew of Harvard Medical School in Boston said the study had found that the ability of hospitals and employed doctors to earn more from Medicare had resulted in a greater amount of integration.

THE LARGER TREND

However, the authors pointed out that the Medicare payment difference is only one of many factors that have contributed to the huge increase in the share of doctors employed at hospitals over the past decade. For example, they found a higher probability of a doctor going to work for a hospital in highly concentrated hospital markets and rural areas.

Other studies, they said, have established that some health systems use integration with doctors’ offices as a bargaining chip with commercial health insurance plans. Also, some doctors may find that independent practice is less viable than it used to be for a variety of reasons.

It has also been suggested that many younger doctors prefer hospital employment to private practice because they crave economic security and work-life balance.

It’s been estimated that even the payments to hospitals vs. doctors could save CMS $11 billion over 10 years. But the paper illustrates that the payment disparities can also create broader market distortions because consolidation of hospitals and doctors’ offices has been shown to lead to higher prices overall.

RemoteICU sues HHS for not reimbursing for telehealth provided by physicians outside of the country

https://www.healthcarefinancenews.com/news/remoteicu-sues-hhs-not-reimbursing-telehealth-provided-physicians-outside-country

Tele ICU - What It Is, How It Works & Its Advantages

The Medicare Act “prohibits Medicare payment for services that are not furnished within the United States,” according to the filing.

RemoteICU, a telemedicine provider group, is suing the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for not reimbursing telehealth services provided by physicians who are located outside the United States, according to a federal lawsuit filed last week in Washington.

RICU wants reimbursement for telehealth services provided within the U.S., but not necessarily by a physician who lives within its borders.

The company employs physicians who live outside the country, but are U.S. board-certified critical-care specialists and licensed in one or more U.S. jurisdictions. With RICU’s telecommunications system, these physicians can provide critical-care services in U.S. hospital ICUs, the lawsuit said.

“Although RICU’s physicians live abroad, they serve as full-time, permanent staff members of the U.S. hospitals at which they serve patients,” the company said in the court filing.

“By employing U.S.-licensed intensivists who live overseas, RICU has enabled the American healthcare system to recapture talent that would otherwise be lost to it – and this has helped to alleviate the ongoing shortage of intensivists in American hospitals.

When CMS expanded the list of telehealth services for which it reimbursed in December 2020 to include critical care services, RICU began offering its physicians to hospitals that couldn’t afford ICU telehealth without Medicare reimbursement, the court filing said.

However, after the company reached out to several officials from HHS and CMS, it was notified that Medicare could not reimburse the client hospitals for RICU’s services, because the Medicare Act “prohibits Medicare payment for services that are not furnished within the United States,” according to the filing.

The company is seeking a preliminary injunction to stop HHS and CMS from denying Medicare reimbursement for telehealth services on the basis of a provider’s physical location outside of the United States at the time of service.

WHAT’S THE IMPACT?

RICU claims that, by failing to reimburse for the critical care telehealth services provided by its physicians, HHS and CMS are causing “immediate harm both to RICU and to the public.”

It argues that it’s filling a gap in critical care that has been exacerbated by the pandemic.

“There remains [a] significant unmet need for critical care services, as desperately sick patients have overwhelmed ICU resources across the country,” RICU said in the court filing.

“In some cases, lack of adequate care can mean the difference between life or death. And one of the groups most at risk from death and serious illness due to COVID-19 is the elderly – the very same population that relies upon Medicare.”

Without reimbursement, RICU says that some of its current clients, as well as potential customers, will not be able to offer its services.

The company argues that this causes “significant, unrecoverable monetary damages” because tele-ICU providers that use physicians located within the U.S. are eligible for reimbursement and therefore have a competitive edge over RICU.

Further, it says that it has already begun losing business because of hospitals’ inability to receive Medicare reimbursement.

THE LARGER TREND

CMS has widely expanded the list of telehealth services it will reimburse for during the pandemic to include services such as emergency department visits, initial inpatient and nursing facility visits, and discharge-day management.

While only 14 states currently have true “payment parity” for telehealth, 43 states and D.C. have implemented a telemedicine coverage law, according to Foley & Lardner report.

That report, among others, claims telehealth will continue to grow as an integral part of healthcare as time goes on.

Last year, Geisinger health system in Danville, Pennsylvania, implemented telehealth ICU technology in several of its hospitals to support its in-person clinical staff.

ON THE RECORD

“The Critical Care Ban is causing irreparable harm to RICU, which is suffering ongoing financial and reputational harms that cannot be remedied in the future,” the court filing said.

The balance of the equities favors an injunction, because Defendants have already admitted that there is a desperate medical need for the critical care that RICU would provide but for the Critical Care Ban.

“And, finally, preliminary injunction would be in the public interest because, across the United States, Americans stricken by the COVID-19 pandemic are in desperate need of critical care – a need that RICU can help meet. It is not hyperbole to say that the requested injunctive relief is in the public interest because it could save lives.”

Reversing course on Trump-era healthcare policy

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Ahead of a Supreme Court hearing in March to consider the legality of imposing work requirements as a condition of gaining Medicaid coverage, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) were expected to inform states on Friday of plans to rescind the controversial Trump administration policy.

Under the previous administration, ten states had applied for and were approved to use waiver authority to impose work requirements on Medicaid enrollees, and several other states were in the process of submitting applications. Critics (including us) have long held that such requirements, while nominally intended to introduce an element of “personal responsibility” to the safety-net coverage program for low-income Americans, actually serve to hinder access to care, and jeopardize the health status of already vulnerable populations; in addition, the added expense of program infrastructure often exceeds anticipated cost savings.

The policy was a favored project of former CMS administrator Seema Verma, who helped craft a similar program for the state of Indiana before joining the Trump administration. Among states granted waiver authority to impose work requirements, only Arkansas ever fully implemented the policy, before the legality of the waivers was challenged successfully in lower courts.
 
The Biden administration’s recision of work requirements is part of a broader reversal of Trump-era healthcare policies. This week the Justice Department notified the Supreme Court that it was switching sides in the closely watched case questioning the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), although the court has already heard the case and is expected to rule this spring. Starting Monday, the Biden team will also reopen the federal insurance marketplace for a special enrollment period, bolstering funding for outreach to ensure those eligible are aware of coverage options. And as part of its proposed COVID relief legislation, the administration plans to increase subsidies to help individuals buy coverage on the exchanges, and to increase funding to support state Medicaid programs—policies that got a boost this week from a broad coalition of healthcare industry groups, including health plans, doctors, and hospitals.

As the administration rounds out its health policy team, we’d expect a continued focus on strengthening the core pillars of the ACA, along with a greater focus on ensuring health equity and addressing disparities. Meanwhile, two key positions remain unfilled: CMS administrator and commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). These slots will likely remain open until the looming confirmation battle over Biden’s nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, has been settled.
 

A look at the broader Biden healthcare agenda

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Beyond the initiatives directly tied to COVID relief, President Biden’s healthcare agenda includes a broader bolstering of the protections and coverage mechanisms in the Affordable Care Act (ACA), as well as the rollback of several of the previous administration’s regulatory changes. We’ve outlined that agenda in the graphic below, as well as highlighting key members of the Biden healthcare team.

While much will depend on how the COVID pandemic continues to unfold, and how successful Biden is at striking bipartisan compromises with a closely divided Congress, we’re watching closely for the answers to several key questions:

(1) how aggressive can and will the new administration be in unwinding Trump-era reforms, particularly regarding Medicaid work requirements;

(2) what will be the thrust of Biden’s antitrust policy in the healthcare space;

(3) how hard will Biden be willing to push for expanded subsidies for individuals purchasing insurance on the ACA exchanges;

(4) how will the Biden team build on the transparency measures implemented by the Trump administration; and

(5) how will the new administration use payment reforms and other regulations to address racial and other disparities in healthcare?

All of that preceded by one burning question that has us holding our breath: who will Biden pick to run the all-important Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services?

‘Shkreli Awards’ Shame Healthcare Profiteers

Lown Institute berates greedy pricing, ethical lapses, wallet biopsies, and avoidable shortages.

Greedy corporations, uncaring hospitals, individual miscreants, and a task force led by Jared Kushner were dinged Tuesday in the Lown Institute‘s annual Shkreli awards, a list of the top 10 worst offenders for 2020.

Named after Martin Shkreli, the entrepreneur who unapologetically raised the price of an anti-parasitic drug by a factor of 56 in 2015 (now serving a federal prison term for unrelated crimes), the list of shame calls out what Vikas Saini, the institute’s CEO, called “pandemic profiteers.” (Lown bills itself as “a nonpartisan think tank advocating bold ideas for a just and caring system for health.”)

Topping the list was the federal government itself and Jared Kushner, President’s Trump’s son-in-law, who led a personal protective equipment (PPE) procurement task force. The effort, called Project Airbridge, was to “airlift PPE from overseas and bring it to the U.S. quickly,” which it did.

“But rather than distribute the PPE to the states, FEMA gave these supplies to six private medical supply companies to sell to the highest bidder, creating a bidding war among the states,” Saini said. Though these supplies were supposed to go to designated pandemic hotspots, “no officials from the 10 hardest hit counties” said they received PPE from Project Airbridge. In fact, federal agencies outbid states or seized supplies that states had purchased, “making it much harder and more expensive” for states to get supplies, he said.

Number two on the institute’s list: vaccine maker Moderna, which received nearly $1 billion in federal funds to develop its mRNA COVID-19 preventive. It set a price of between $32 and $37 per dose, more than the U.S. agreed to pay for other COVID vaccines. “Although the U.S. has placed an order for $1.5 billion worth of doses at a discount, a price of $15 per dose, given the upfront investment by the U.S. government, we are essentially paying for the vaccine twice,” said Lown Institute Senior Vice President Shannon Brownlee.

Webcast panelist Don Berwick, MD, former acting administrator for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, noted that a lot of work went into producing the vaccine at an impressive pace, “and if there’s not an immune breakout, we’re going to be very grateful that this happened.” But, he added, “I mean, how much money is enough? Maybe there needs to be some real sense of discipline and public spirit here that goes way beyond what any of these companies are doing.”

In third place: four California hospital systems that refused to take COVID-19 patients or delayed transfers from hospitals that were out of beds. Wall Street Journal investigation found that these refusals or delays were based on the patients’ ability to pay; many were on Medicaid or were uninsured.

“In the midst of such a pandemic, to continue that sort of behavior is mind boggling,” said Saini. “This is more than the proverbial wallet biopsy.”

The remaining seven offenders:

4. Poor nursing homes decisions, especially one by Soldiers’ Home for Veterans in western Massachusetts, that worsened an already terrible situation. At Soldiers’ Home, management decided to combine the COVID-19 unit with a dementia unit because they were low on staff, said Brownlee. That allowed the virus to spread rapidly, killing 76 residents and staff as of November. Roughly one-third of all COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. have been in long-term care facilities.

5. Pharmaceutical giants AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson, which refused to share intellectual property on COVID-19, instead deciding to “compete for their profits instead,” Saini said. The envisioned technology access pool would have made participants’ discoveries openly available “to more easily develop and distribute coronavirus treatments, vaccines, and diagnostics.”

Saini added that he was was most struck by such an attitude of “historical blindness or tone deafness” at a time when the pandemic is roiling every single country.

Berwick asked rhetorically, “What would it be like if we were a world in which a company like Pfizer or Moderna, or the next company that develops a really great breakthrough, says on behalf of the well-being of the human race, we will make this intellectual property available to anyone who wants it?”

6. Elizabeth Nabel, MD, CEO of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, because she defended high drug prices as a necessity for innovation in an op-ed, without disclosing that she sat on Moderna’s board. In that capacity, she received $487,500 in stock options and other payments in 2019. The value of those options quadrupled on the news of Moderna’s successful vaccine. She sold $8.5 million worth of stock last year, after its value nearly quadrupled. She resigned from Moderna’s board in July and, it was announced Tuesday, is leaving her CEO position to join a biotech company founded by her husband.

7. Hospitals that punished clinicians for “scaring the public,” suspending or firing them, because they “insisted on wearing N95 masks and other protective equipment in the hospital,” said Saini. Hospitals also fired or threatened to fire clinicians for speaking out on COVID-19 safety issues, such as the lack of PPE and long test turnaround times.

Webcast panelist Mona Hanna-Attisha, MD, the Flint, Michigan, pediatrician who exposed the city’s water contamination, said that healthcare workers “have really been abandoned in this administration” and that the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration “has pretty much fallen asleep at the wheel.” She added that workers in many industries such as meatpacking and poultry processing “have suffered tremendously from not having the protections or regulations in place to protect [them].”

8. Connecticut internist Steven Murphy, MD, who ran COVID-19 testing sites for several towns, but conducted allegedly unnecessary add-ons such as screening for 20 other respiratory pathogens. He also charged insurers $480 to provide results over the phone, leading to total bills of up to $2,000 per person.

“As far as I know, having an MD is not a license to steal, and this guy seemed to think that it was,” said Brownlee.

9. Those “pandemic profiteers” who hawked fake and potentially harmful COVID-19 cures. Among them: televangelist Jim Bakker sold “Silver Solution,” containing colloidal silver, and the “MyPillow Guy,” Mike Lindell, for his boostering for oleandrin.

Colloidal silver has no known health benefits and can cause seizures and organ damage. Oleandrin is a biological extract from the oleander plant and known for its toxicity and ingesting it can be deadly,” said Saini.

Others named by the Lown Institute include Jennings Ryan Staley, MD — now under indictment — who ran the “Skinny Beach Med Spa” in San Diego which sold so-called COVID treatment packs containing hydroxychloroquine, antibiotics, Xanax, and Viagra, all for $4,000.

Berwick commented that such schemes indicate a crisis of confidence in science, adding that without facts and science to guide care, “patients get hurt, costs rise without any benefit, and confusion reigns, and COVID has made that worse right now.”

Brownlee mentioned the “huge play” that hydroxychloroquine received and the FDA’s recent record as examples of why confidence in science has eroded.

10. Two private equity-owned companies that provide physician staffing for hospitalsTeam Health and Envision, that cut doctors’ pay during the first COVID-19 wave while simultaneously spending millions on political ads to protect surprise billing practices. And the same companies also received millions in COVID relief funds under the CARES Act.

Berwick said surprise billing by itself should receive a deputy Shkreli award, “as out-of-pocket costs to patients have risen dramatically and even worse during the COVID pandemic… and Congress has failed to act. It’s time to fix this one.”

After decades as a hospital operator, Tenet shifts its focus to surgery centers

The company’s surgery centers far outnumber its hospital portfolio, and its ambulatory earnings will account for nearly half of overall earnings next year.

Tenet Health got its start as a major hospital operator in the U.S. and can trace its hospital business roots as far back as 1969. But it may be time to think of the Dallas-based company as an ambulatory surgery center operator, first, and a hospital chain, second.

Following its latest acquisition, Tenet’s ASC footprint will be nearly five times larger by the number of facilities than its hospital portfolio, and its ambulatory earnings will account for nearly half of the company’s overall earnings next year, executives recently said. That’s a significant leap from about six years ago when ambulatory represented just 4% of the company’s earnings.

“From a stock perspective, I think they’re going to get more credit now for that ownership of the surgery center business than ever just because of the size contribution,” Brian Tanquilut, an analyst with Jefferies, said.

Still he noted they will likely retain their image as a hospital provider first given that half its business (and earnings) are subject to the dynamics of the hospital space.

Tenet will now operate up to 310 ASCs in 33 states following its $1.1 billion cash deal to buy up to 45 centers from SurgCenter Development.

Tenet has billed its purchase from SurgCenter Development as a transformative deal, crowning itself the leading musculoskeletal surgical platform.

SurgCenter Development is one of the larger ASC operators in the country. The Towson, Maryland-based firm has developed more than 200 centers since the company was officially established in 2002. SCD’s business model calls for its physician partners to maintain majority ownership while SCD provides consulting and capital.

In fact, Tenet will pull ahead of the pack and will operate the most ASCs compared to its competitors, according to various public data.

Amsurg, an ASC operator under private equity-owned Envision, controls more than 250 surgery centers, according to its website, followed by Optum’s 230 centers under its Surgical Care Affiliates brand.

OwnerNumber of ASCs (fully or partially owned)
Tenet Health310
Amsurg (Envision) 250
Surgical Care Affiliates (Optum) 230
SurgCenter Development122
HCA121
Surgery Partners111
Total Medicare-certified ASCs in U.S.5,700

Still, those large players only control a sliver of the overall market. There are more than 5,700 Medicare-certified ASCs operating in the U.S., according to MedPac’s latest March report.

The market is so fragmented because, historically, a handful of doctors could come together and open up a small surgery center with a few operating rooms, Todd Johnson, a partner at Bain and Company, said. Johnson noted there are not that many deals like this out there, which is why it’s significant that Tenet was able to gobble up 45 centers in one swoop.

“We’re a long way from this being a market where any individual operator’s got 30% of market share. There’s just so many of these out there,” Johnson said.

What’s so attractive?

Regulatory and reimbursement changes and patient preference continues to fuel certain procedure migration away from hospitals.

“For payers, typically, the surgery rates are 30 to 40% less than the same procedure that’s done in a hospital outpatient department. So, payers certainly value the economic value proposition of ASCs,” Johnson said.

Just recently, regulators cleared the way for more procedures to be done in ASCs. CMS is eliminating the list of procedures that must be performed in a hospital, drawing ire from the hospital lobby. The inpatient-only list will be completely phased out by 2024, creating even more growth potential for surgery centers. Come Jan. 1, total hip replacements will be covered if performed in an ASC, a huge win for ASC operators.

It’s why hospital operators like Tenet have been keen to expand their surgery center footprint. The centers attract relatively healthy patients for quick procedures — eating into hospitals’ revenue and margin.

“This further move only solidifies the fact that they are trying to diversify their revenue streams, and, frankly move into a more attractive economic profile of procedure types — not trauma and COVID but rather scheduled surgeries they can run in and out like a factory but with really good clinical outcomes,” Johnson said.

To this point, Tenet leaders said the new SurgCenter Development centers generate higher margins and have minimal debt.

Patients also tend to prefer ASCs, Johnson said. Plus, as a lower cost option it can be persuasive for patients, especially those with high-deductible health plans.

Long-term strategy

Tenet has continued to bet on the shift from inpatient to outpatient services following its purchase of USPI in 2015.

The purchase set Tenet up to be a serious competitor in the space, establishing a portfolio of 244 surgery centers when the deal was announced. It illustrated Tenet’s intent to build a broader portfolio.

At the same time, it has whittled down its hospital portfolio, divesting in markets where it isn’t the No. 1 or No. 2 player as it seeks to hone its most competitive segments and markets.

Just last year, it announced plans to largely exit the Memphis, Tennessee, market with the sale of a number of assets including two hospitals, urgent care centers and the associated physician practices.

In 2018, Tenet shed all of its operations in the U.K. and eight hospitals across the U.S. 

That long-term strategy was made clearer last week when Tenet announced its sale of its urgent care business to FastMed. By selling off its 87 CareSpot and MedPost centers, Tenet said it will allow the company to further focus on its surgery center business.

Tenet has been keen to tout its position of musculosketel procedures — a high growth area compared to other procedure types such as gastroenterology. A 2019 report from Bain and Company expects that orthopaedic and spine procedure volumes will increase the fastest over the next few years.

With the SCD centers in the mix, CEO Ron Rittenmeyer said, “this transaction ensures Tenet will essentially double down and further deepen our concentration in these high growth areas of the future.”

CMS seeks to boost hospital capacity during COVID-19 surge

Troy Medicare Signs Contract with CMS for 2020 - Troy Medicare

CMS is giving hospitals facing a surge of COVID-19 patients expanded flexibility to care for Medicare patients in their homes, the department announced Nov. 25. 

The new Acute Hospital Care At Home program will require in-person screening protocols to assess both medical and non-medical factors, including working utilities, before care can begin at home. Medicare patients will be admitted into the program from emergency departments and inpatient hospital beds.

Once at-home care begins, a registered nurse will evaluate each patient every day either in person or remotely, and either registered nurses or mobile integrated health paramedics will have two in-person visits daily based on the patient’s nursing plan and hospital policies.

CMS approved the following six health systems with extensive experience providing acute hospital care at home to immediately participate in the program: 

  • Boston-based Brigham and Women’s Hospital
  • Salt Lake City-based Huntsman Cancer Institute
  • Boston-based Massachusetts General Hospital
  • New York City-based Mount Sinai Health System
  • Albuquerque, N.M.-based Presbyterian Healthcare Services
  • West Des Moines, Iowa-based UnityPoint Health. 

Other hospitals and health systems may submit a waiver request online.