CVS Health is close to a deal to acquire primary care provider Oak Street Health for around $10.5 billion, including debt, marking the latest move among major healthcare stakeholders in acquiring primary care companies, the Wall Street Journal reports.
According to people with knowledge of the matter who spoke to the Journal, the two companies are discussing a deal in which CVS would acquire Oak Street for a price of around $39 a share. If the deal goes through, it could be announced as soon as this week.
According to the Journal, “the Oak Street acquisition would further the company’s long-term shift to broaden into businesses beyond retail pharmacy by adding doctors who can more fully manage patients’ care.”
Oak Street has more than 160 centers across 21 states and focuses mainly on caring for patients enrolled in Medicare. The company, which is based in Chicago, was founded in 2012 and specializes in caring for patients under value-based care arrangements.
Aetna, which is owned by CVS, has a growing Medicare Advantage business that would likely tie in with Oak Street’s clinics, which care for about 159,000 patients under value-based arrangements, the Journal reports.
The move is the latest among major healthcare stakeholders acquiring primary care companies. In September 2022, CVS announced an $8 billion deal to acquire home healthcare company Signify Health.
Meanwhile, Amazon in July 2022 announced a $3.9 billion deal to acquire primary care company One Medical, Humana in September 2022 announced its intention to spend up to $550 million to purchase 20 CenterWell Senior Primary Care clinics, and Walgreens Boots Alliance in November 2022 announced a roughly $9 billion deal to acquire Summit Health.
Recent conversations with executive teams about physician issues have made us feel like we’ve time-travelled back to 2006. Both health systems and large independent physician groups report having difficulties hiring physicians willing to take call, even among specialties where it has long been part of the job expectations.
“We stopped paying for call fifteen years ago,” one CMO shared. “But now, even though we’ve started paying again, it’s hard to get takers.” While procedural specialties seem to be the hardest to cover, with orthopedics, urology, and GI cited most frequently, we’re also hearing challenges with medical specialty coverage. One hospital CEO (who lamented that call coverage had once again risen to a CEO-level problem) shared that cardiologist candidates were looking for positions without call obligations.
The knee-jerk reaction of older executives is to blame a younger generation of doctors seeking more work-life balance. Surely this contributes, but as one astute medical group CEO pointed out, the only way doctors can draw this line in the sand with health systems is if there are alternatives that don’t require call.
He referenced the growing number of investor-backed specialty practices focused squarely on outpatient growth and even offering doctors no-call positions straight out of training. In his market, he felt these doctors were discouraged from taking call: “When 80 percent of the procedures are done in a surgery center, an orthopod doesn’t need referrals from call to fill his schedule with new patients. And the patients they encounter in our ED are more likely to be uninsured or government pay, so they don’t want them anyway.”
Beyond simply paying for call, a few other solutions are gaining traction. Some hospitals are expanding the number of in-house, hospitalist-like positions for other specialties. Others are deploying virtual consult services with some success, even in procedural specialties. As one orthopedic surgeon told us, the virtual call coverage does a decent job with triage and can often save the doctor from having to come in overnight.
Ultimately, as the number of investor-owned specialty groups expands, health systems must develop collaborative relationships to solve care delivery challenges across the continuum.
Radio Advisory’s Rachel Woods sat down with Advisory Board‘s Aaron Mauck and Natalie Trebes to talk about where leaders need to focus their attention on longer-term industry challenges—like growing competition, behavioral health infrastructure, and finding success in value-based care.
Rachel Woods: So I’ve been thinking about the last conversation that we had about what executives need to know to be prepared to be successful in 2023, and I feel like my big takeaway is that the present feels aggressively urgent. The business climate today is extraordinarily tough, there are all these disruptive forces that are changing the competitive landscape, right? That’s where we focused most of our last conversation.
But we also agreed that those were still kind of near-term problems. My question is why, if things feel like they are in such a crisis, do we need to also focus our attention on longer term challenges?
Aaron Mauck: It’s pretty clear that the business environment really isn’t sustainable as it currently stands, and there’s a tendency, of course, for all businesses to focus on the urgent and important items at the expense of the non-urgent and important items. And we have a lot of non-urgent important things that are coming on the horizon that we have to address.
Obviously, you think about the aging population. We have the baby boom reaching an age where they’re going to have multiple care needs that have to be addressed that constitute pretty significant challenges. That aging population is a central concern for all of us.
Costly specialty therapeutics that are coming down the pipeline that are going to yield great results for certain patient segments, but are going to be very expensive. Unmanaged behavioral needs, disagreements around appropriate spending. So we have lots of challenges, myriad of challenges we’re going to have to address simultaneously.
Natalie Trebes: Yeah, that’s right. And I would add that all of those things are at threshold moments where they are pivoting into becoming our real big problems that are very soon going to be the near term problems. And the environment that we talked about last time, it’s competitive chaos that’s happening right now, is actually the perfect time to be making some changes because all the challenges we’re going to talk about require really significant restructuring of how we do business. That’s hard to do when things are stable.
Woods: Yes. But I still think you’re going to get some people who disagree. And let me tell you why. I think there’s two reasons why people are going to disagree. The first reason is, again, they are dealing with not just one massive fire in front of them, but what feels like countless massive fires in front of them that’s just demanding all of their strategic attention. That was the first thing you said every executive needs to know going into this year, and maybe not know, but accept, if I’m thinking about the stages of grief.
But the second reason why I think people are going to push back is the laundry list of things that Aaron just spoke of are areas where, I’m not saying the healthcare industry shouldn’t be focused on them, but we haven’t actually made meaningful progress so far.
Is 2023 actually the year where we should start chipping away at some of those huge industry challenges? That’s where I think you’re going to get disagreement. What do you say to that?
Trebes: I think that’s fair. I think it’s partly that we have to start transforming today and organizations are going to diverge from here in terms of how they are affected. So far, we’ve been really kind of sharing the pain of a lot of these challenges, it’s bits and pieces here. We’re all having to eat a little slice of this.
I think different organizations right now, if they are careful about understanding their vulnerabilities and thinking about where they’re exposed, are going to be setting themselves up to pass along some of that to other organizations. And so this is the moment to really understand how do we collectively want to address these challenges rather than continue to try to touch as little of it as we possibly can and scrape by?
Woods: That’s interesting because it’s also probably not just preparing for where you have vulnerabilities that are going to be exposed sooner rather than later, but also where might you have a first mover advantage? That gets back to what you were talking about when it comes to the kind of competitive landscape, and there’s probably people who can use these as an opportunity for the future.
Mauck: Crises are always opportunities and even for those players across the healthcare system who have really felt like they’re boxers in the later rounds covering up under a lot of blows, there’s opportunities for them to come back and devise strategies for the long term that really yield growth.
We shouldn’t treat this as a time just of contraction. There are major opportunities even for some of the traditional incumbents if they’re approaching these challenges in the right fashion. When we think about that in terms of things like labor or care delivery models, there’s huge opportunities and when I talk with C-suites from across the sector, they recognize those opportunities. They’re thinking in the long term, they need to think in the long term if they’re going to sustain themselves. It is a time of existential crisis, but also a time for existential opportunity.
Trebes: Yeah, let’s be real, there is a big risk of being a first mover, but there is a really big opportunity in being on the forefront of designing the infrastructure and setting the table of where we want to go and designing this to work for you. Because changes have to happen, you really want to be involved in that kind of decision making.
Woods: And in the vein of acceptance, we should all accept that this isn’t going to be easy. The challenges that I think we want to focus on for the rest of this conversation are challenges that up to this point have seemed unsolvable. What are the specific areas that you think should really demand executive attention in 2023?
Trebes: Well, I think they break into a few different categories. We are having real debates about how do we decide what are appropriate outcomes in healthcare? And so the concept of measuring value and paying for value. We have to make some decisions about what trade-offs we want to make there, and how do we build in health equity into our business model and do we want to make that a reality for everyone?
Another category is all of the expensive care that we have to figure out how to deliver and finance over the coming years. So we’re talking about the already inadequate behavioral health infrastructure that’s seen a huge influx in demand.
We’re talking about what Aaron mentioned, the growing senior population, especially with boomers getting older and requiring a lot more care, and the pipeline of high-cost therapies. All of this is not what we are ready as the healthcare system as it exists today to manage appropriately in a financially sustainable way. And that’s going to be really hard for purchasers who are financing all of this.
There is no shortage of challenges to confront in healthcare today, from workforce shortages and burnout to innovation and health equity (and so much more). We’re committed to giving industry leaders a platform for sharing best practices and exchanging ideas that can improve care, operations and patient outcomes.
Check out this podcast interview with Ketul J. Patel, CEO at Virginia Mason Franciscan Health and division president, Pacific Northwest at CommonSpirit Health, for his insights on where healthcare is headed in the future.
In this episode, we are joined by Ketul J. Patel, Division President, Pacific Northwest; Chief Executive Officer, CommonSpirit Health; Virginia Mason Franciscan Health, to discuss his background & what led him to executive healthcare leadership, challenges surrounding workforce shortages, the importance of having a strong workplace culture, and more.
The executives featured in this article are all speaking at the Becker’s Healthcare 13th Annual Meeting April 3-6, 2023, at the Hyatt Regency in Chicago.
Question: What will hospitals and health systems look like in 10 years? What will be different and what will be the same?
Michael A. Slubowski. President and CEO of Trinity Health (Livonia, Mich.): In 10 years, inpatient hospitals will be more focused on emergency care, intensive/complex care following surgery or complex medical conditions, and short-stay/observation units. Only the most complex surgical cases and complex medical cases will be inpatient status. Most elective surgery and diagnostic services will be done in freestanding surgery, procedural and imaging centers. Many patients with chronic medical conditions will be managed at home using digital monitoring. More seniors will be cared for in homes and/or in PACE programs versus skilled nursing facilities.
Mark A. Schuster, MD, PhD. Founding Dean and Chief Executive Officer of Kaiser Permanente Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine (Pasadena, Calif.): The future of hospitals might not actually unfold in hospitals. I expect that more and more of what we now do in hospitals will move into the home. The technology that makes this transition possible is already out there: Remote monitoring of vital signs and lab tests, remote visual exams, and videoconferencing with patients. And all of this technology will improve even more over the next 10 years — turning at-home care from a dream into a reality.
Imagine no longer being kept awake all night by beeps and alarms coming from other patients’ rooms or kept away from family by limited visiting hours. The benefits are especially welcome for people who live in rural places and other areas with limited medical facilities. Who knows? Maybe robotics will make some in-home surgeries not so far off!
Of course, not all patients have a safe or stable home environment where they could receive care, so hospitals aren’t going away anytime soon. I’m not suggesting that most current patients could be cared for remotely in a decade — but I do think we’re moving in that direction. So those of us who work in education will need to train medical, nursing, and other students for a healthcare future that looks quite different from the healthcare present and takes place in settings we couldn’t imagine 10 years ago.
Shireen Ahmad. System Director, Operations and Finance of CommonSpirit Health (Chicago): The biggest change I anticipate is a continuation in the decentralization of health services delivery that has typically been provided by hospitals. This will result in a reduction of hospitals with fewer services performed in acute settings and with more services provided in non-acute ones.
With recent reimbursement changes, CMS is helping to set the tone of where care is delivered. Hospitals are beginning to rationalize services, including who and where care is delivered. For example, pharmacies often carry clinics that provide vaccinations, but in France, one can go to a pharmacy for care and sterilization of minor wounds while only paying for bandages, medication and other supplies used in the visit. I would not be surprised if, in 10 years, one could get an MRI at their local Walmart or schedule routine screenings and tests at the grocery store with faster, more accurate results as they check out their produce.
If the pandemic has taught us anything, there will always be a need for acute care and our society will always need hospitals to provide care to sick patients. This is not something I would anticipate changing. However, the need to provide most care in a hospital will change with the result leading to fewer hospitals in total. Far from being a bleak outlook, however, I believe that healthier, sustainable health systems will prevail if they are able to provide a greater spectrum of care in broader settings focussing on quality and convenience.
Gerard Brogan. Senior Vice President and Chief Revenue Officer of Northwell Health (New Hyde Park, N.Y.): Operationally, hospitals and health systems will be more designed around the patient experience rather than the patient accommodating to the hospital design and operations. Specifically, more geared toward patient choice, shopping for services, and price competition for out-of-pocket expenses. In order to bring costs down, rational control of utilization will be more important than ever. Hopefully, we will be able to shrink the administrative costs of delivering care. Structurally, more care will continue to be done ambulatory, with hospitals having a greater proportion of beds having critical care capability and single rooms for infection control, putting pressure on the cost per square foot to operate. Sustainable funding strategies for safety net hospitals will be needed.
Mike Gentry. Executive Vice President and COO of Sentara Healthcare (Norfolk, Va.): During the next 10 years, more rural hospitals will become critical assessment facilities. The legislation will be passed to facilitate this transition. Relationships with larger sponsoring health systems will support easy transitions to higher acuity services as required. In urban areas, fewer hospitals with greater acuity and market share will often match the 50 percent plus market share of health plans. The ambulatory transition will have moved beyond only surgical procedures into outpatient but expanded historical medical inpatient status in ED/observation hubs.
The consumer/patient experience will be vastly improved. Investments in mobile digital applications will provide greatly enhanced communication, transparency of clinical status, timelines, the likelihood of expected outcomes and cost. Patients will proactively select from a menu of treatment options provided by predictive AI. The largest 10 health systems will represent 25 percent of the total U.S. acute care market share, largely due to consumer-centric strategic investments that have outpaced their competitors. Health systems will have vastly larger pharma operations/footprints.
Ketul J. Patel. CEO of Virginia Mason Franciscan Health (Seattle) and Division President, Pacific Northwest of CommonSpirit Health (Chicago): This is a transformative time in the healthcare industry, as hospitals and healthcare systems are evolving and innovating to meet the growing and changing needs of the communities we serve. The pandemic accelerated the digital transformation of healthcare. We have seen the proliferation of new technologies — telemedicine, artificial intelligence, robotics, and precision medicine — becoming an integral part of everyday clinical care. Healthcare consumers have become empowered through technology, with greater control and access to care than ever before.
Against this backdrop, in the next decade we’ll see healthcare consumerism influencing how health systems transform their hospitals. We will continue incorporating new technologies to improve healthcare delivery, offering more convenient ways to access high-quality care, and lowering the overall cost of care.
SMART hospitals, including at Virginia Mason Franciscan Health, are utilizing AI to harness real-time data and analysis to revolutionize patient and provider experiences and improve the quality of care. VMFH was the first health system in the Pacific Northwest to introduce a virtual hospital nearly a decade ago, which provides virtual services in the hospital across the continuum of care to improve quality and safety through remote patient monitoring and care delivery.
As hospitals become more high-tech, more nimble, and more efficient over the next 10 years, there will be less emphasis on brick-and-mortar buildings as we continue to move care away from the hospital toward more convenient settings for the patient. We recently launched VMFH Home Recovery Care, which brings all the essential elements of hospital-level care into the comfort and convenience of patients’ homes, offering a safe and effective alternative to the traditional inpatient stay.
Health systems and hospitals must simplify the care experience while reducing the overall cost of care. VMFH is building Washington state’s first hybrid emergency room/urgent care center, which eliminates the guesswork for patients unsure of where to go for care. By offering emergent and urgent care in a single location, patients get the appropriate level of care, at the right price, in one convenient location.
As healthcare delivery becomes more sophisticated in this digital age, we must not lose sight of why we do this work: our patients. There is no device or innovation that can truly replace the care and human intelligence provided by our nurses, APPs and physicians. So, while hospitals and health systems might look and feel different in 2033, our mission will remain the same: to provide exceptional, compassionate care to all — especially the most vulnerable.
David Sylvan. President of University Hospitals Ventures (Cleveland): American healthcare is facing an imperative. It’s clear that incremental improvements alone won’t manifest the structural outcomes that are largely overdue. The good news is that the healthcare industry itself has already initiated the disruption and self-disintermediation. I would hope that in the next 10 years, our offerings in healthcare truly reflect our efforts to adopt consumerism and patient choice, alleviate equity barriers and harness efficiencies while reducing time waste.
We know that some of this will come about through technology design, build and adoption, especially in the areas of generative artificial intelligence. But we also know that some of this will require a process overhaul, with learnings gleaned from other industries that have already solved adjacent challenges. What won’t change in 10 years will be the empathy and quality of care that the nation’s clinicians provide to patients and their caregivers daily.
Joseph Webb. CEO of Nashville (Tenn.) General Hospital: The United States healthcare industry operates within a culture that embraces capitalism as an economic system. The practice of capitalism facilitates a framework that is supported by the theory of consumerism. This theory posits that the more goods and services are purchased and consumed, the stronger an economy will be. With that in mind, healthcare is clearly a driver in the U.S. economy, and therefore, major capital and technology are continuously infused into healthcare systems. Healthcare is currently approaching 20 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product and will continue to escalate over the next 10 years.
Also, in 10 years, there will be major shifts in ownership structures, e.g., mergers, acquisitions, and consolidations. Many healthcare organizations/hospitals will be unable to sustain operations due to shrinking profit margins. This will lead to a higher likelihood of increasing closures among rural hospitals due to a lack of adequate reimbursement and rising costs associated with salaries for nurses, respiratory therapists, etc., as well as purchasing pharmaceuticals.
Aging baby boomers with chronic medical conditions will continue to dominate healthcare demand as a cohort group. To mitigate the rising costs of care, healthcare systems and providers will begin to rely even more heavily on artificial intelligence and smart devices. Population health initiatives will become more prevalent as the cost to support fragmented care becomes cost-prohibitive and payers such as CMS will continue to lead the way toward value-based care.
Because of structural and social conditions that tend to drive social determinants of health, which are fundamental causes of health disparities, achieving health equity will continue to be a major challenge in the U.S. Health equity is an elusive goal that can only be achieved when there is a more equitable distribution of SDOH.
Gary Baker. CEO, Hospital Division of HonorHealth (Scottsdale, Ariz.): In 10 years, I would expect hospitals in health systems to become more specialized for higher acuity service lines. Providing similar acute services at multiple locations will become difficult to maintain. Recruiting and retaining specialty clinical talent and adopting new technologies will require some redistribution of services to improve clinical quality and efficiency. Your local hospital may not provide a service and will be a navigator to the specialty facilities. Many services will be provided in ambulatory settings as technology and reimbursement allow/require. Investment in ambulatory services will continue for the next 10 years.
Michael Connelly. CEO Emeritus of Bon Secours Mercy Health (Cincinnati): Our society will be forced to embrace economic limits on healthcare services. The exploding elderly population, in combination with a shrinking workforce to fund Medicare/Medicaid and Social Security, will force our health system to ration care in new ways. These realities will increase the role of primary care as the needed coordinator of health services for patients. Diminishing fragmented healthcare and redundant care will become an increasing focus for health policy.
David Rahija. President of Skokie Hospital, NorthShore University HealthSystem (Evanston, Ill.): Health systems will evolve from being just a collection of hospitals, providers, and services to providing and coordinating care across a longitudinal care continuum. Health systems that are indispensable health partners to patients and communities by providing excellent outcomes through seamless, coordinated, and personalized care across a disease episode and a life span will thrive. Providers that only provide transactional care without a holistic, longitudinal relationship will either close or be consolidated. Care tailored to the personalized needs of patients and communities using team care models, technology, genomics, and analytics will be key to executing a personalized, seamless, and coordinated model of care.
Alexa Kimball, MD. President and CEO of Harvard Medical Faculty Physicians at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (Boston): Ten years from now, hospitals will largely look the same — at least from the outside. Brick-and-mortar buildings aren’t going away anytime soon. What will differ is how care is delivered beyond the traditional four walls. Expect to see a more patient-centered and responsive system organized around what individuals need — when and where they need it.
Telehealth and remote patient monitoring will enable greater accessibility for patients in underserved areas and those who cannot get to a doctor’s office. Technology will not only enable doctors to deliver more personalized treatment plans but will also dramatically reshape physician workflows and processes. These digital tools will streamline administrative tasks, integrate voice commands, and provide more conducive work environments. I also envision greater access to data for both providers and patients. New self-service solutions for care management, scheduling, pricing, shopping for services, etc., will deliver a more proactive patient experience and make it easier to navigate their healthcare journey.
Ronda Lehman, PharmD. President of Mercy Health – Lima (Ohio):
This is a highly challenging question to address as we continue to reevaluate how healthcare is being delivered following several difficult years and knowing that financial challenges still loom. That said, when I am asked what it will look like, I am keenly aware of the fact that it only will look that way if we can envision a better way to improve the health of our communities. So 10 years from now, we need to have easier and more patient-driven access to care.
We will need to stop doing ‘to people’ and start caring ‘with people.’ Artificial intelligence and proliferous information that is readily available to consumers will continue to pave the way to patients being more empowered and educated about their options. So what will differentiate healthcare of the future? Enabling patients to make informed decisions.
Undoubtedly, technology will continue to advance, and along with it, the associated costs of research and development, but healthcare can only truly change if providers fundamentally shift their approach to how we care for patients. It is imperative that we need to transform from being the gatekeepers of valuable resources and services to being partners with patients on their journey. If that is what needs to be different, then what needs to be the same? We need the same highly motivated, highly skilled and perhaps most importantly, highly compassionate caregivers selflessly caring for one another and their communities.
Mike Young. President and CEO of Temple University Health System (Philadelphia): Cell therapy, gene therapy, and immunotherapy will continue to rapidly improve and evolve, replacing many traditional procedures with precise therapies to restore normal human function — either through cell transfer, altering of genetic information, or harnessing the body’s natural immune system to attack a particular disease like cancer, cystic fibrosis, heart disease, or diabetes. As a result, hospitals will decrease in footprint, while the labs dedicated to defining precision medicine will multiply in size to support individual- and disease-specific infusion, drug, and manipulative therapies.
Hospitals will continue to shepherd the patient journey through these therapies and also will continue to handle the most complex cases requiring high-tech medical and surgical procedures. Medical education will likely evolve in parallel, focusing more on genetic causation and treatment of disease, as well as proficiency with increasingly sophisticated AI diagnostic technologies to provide adaptive care on a patient-by-patient basis.
Tom Siemers. Chief Executive Officer of Wilbarger General Hospital (Vernon, Texas): My predictions include the national healthcare landscape will be dominated by a dozen or so large systems. ‘Consolidation’ will be the word that describes the healthcare industry over the next 10 years. Regional systems will merge into large, national systems. Independent and rural hospitals will become increasingly rare. They simply won’t be able to make the capital investments necessary to replace outdated facilities and equipment while vying with other organizations for scarce, licensed personnel.
Jim Heilsberg. CFO of Tri-State Memorial Hospital & Medical Campus (Clarkston, Wash.): Tri-State Hospital continues to expand services for outpatient services while maintaining traditionally needed inpatient services. In 10 years, there will be expanded outpatient services that include leveraged technology that will allow the patient to be cared for in a yet-to-be-seen care model, including traditional hospital settings and increasing home care setting solutions.
Jennifer Olson. COO of Children’s Minnesota (St. Paul, Minn.): I believe we will see more and better access to healthcare over the next 10 years. Advances in diagnostics, monitoring, and artificial intelligence will allow patients to access services at more convenient times and locations, including much more frequently at home, thereby extending health systems’ reach well beyond their walls.
What I don’t think will ever change is the heart our healthcare professionals bring with them to work every day. I see it here at Children’s Minnesota and across our industry: the unwavering commitment our caregivers have to help people live healthier lives.
If I had one wish for the future, it would be that we become better equipped to address the social determinants of health: all of the factors outside the walls of our hospitals and clinics that affect our patients’ well-being. Part of that means relaxing regulations to allow better communication and sharing of information among healthcare providers and public and private entities, so we can take a more holistic approach to improve health and decrease disparities. It also will require a fundamental shift in how health and healthcare are paid for.
Stonish Pierce. COO of Holy Cross Health, Trinity Health Florida: Over the next decade, many health systems will pivot from being ‘hospital’ systems to true ‘health’ systems. Based largely on responding to The Joint Commission’s New Requirements to Reduce Health Care Disparities, many health systems will place greater emphasis on reducing health disparities, enhanced attention to providing culturally competent care, addressing social determinants of health (including, but not limited to food, housing and transportation) and health equity. I’m proud to work for Trinity Health, a system that has already directed attention toward addressing health disparities, cultural competency and health equity.
Many systems will pivot from offering the full continuum of services at each hospital and instead focus on the core services for their respective communities, which enables long-term financial sustainability. At the same time, we will witness the proliferation of partnerships as adept health systems realize that they cannot fulfill every community’s needs alone. Depending upon the specialty and region of the country, we may see some transitioning away from the RVU physician compensation model to base salaries and value-based compensation to ensure health systems can serve their communities in the long term.
Driven largely by continued workforce supply shortages, we will also see innovation achieve its full potential. This will include, but not be limited to, virtual care models, robots to address functions currently performed by humans, and increased adoption of artificial intelligence and remote monitoring. Healthcare overall will achieve parity in technological adoption and innovation that we take for granted and have grown accustomed to in industries such as banking and the consumer service industries.
For what will remain the same, we can anticipate that government reimbursement will still not cover the cost of providing care, although systems will transition to offering care models and services that enable the best long-term financial sustainability. We will continue to see payers and retail pharmacies continue to evolve as consumer-friendly providers. We will continue to see systems make investments in ambulatory care and the most critically ill patients will remain in our hospitals.
Jamie Davis. Executive Director, Revenue Cycle Management of Banner Health (Phoenix): I think that we will see a continued shift in places of service to lower-cost delivery sources and unfavorable payer mix movement to Medicare Advantage and health exchange plans, degrading the value of gross revenue. The increased focus on cost containment, value-based care, inflation, and pricing transparency will hopefully push payers and providers to move to a more symbiotic relationship versus the adversarial one today. Additionally, we may see disruption in the technology space as the venture capital and private equity purchase boom that happened from 2019 to 2021 will mature and those entities come up for sale. If we want to continue to provide the best quality health outcomes to our patients and maintain profitability, we cannot look the same in 10 years as we do today.
James Lynn. System Vice President, Facilities and Support Services of Marshfield Clinic Health System (Wis.): There will be some aspects that will be different. For instance, there will be more players in the market and they will begin capturing a higher percentage of primary care patients. Walmart, Walgreens, CVS, Amazon, Google and others will begin to make inroads into primary care by utilizing VR and AI platforms. More and more procedures will be the same day. Fewer hospital stays will be needed for recovery as procedures become less invasive and faster. There will be increasing pressure on the federal government to make healthcare a right for all legal residents and it will be decoupled from employment status. On the other hand, what will stay the same is even though hospital stays will become shorter for some, we will also be experiencing an ever-aging population, so the same number of inpatient beds will likely be needed.
In any industry, market consolidation limits competition, choice and access to goods and services, all of which drive up prices.
But there’s another—often overlooked—consequence.
Market leaders that grow too powerful become complacent. And, when that happens, innovation dies. Healthcare offers a prime example.
And industry of monopolies
De facto monopolies abound in almost every healthcare sector: Hospitals and health systems, drug and device manufacturers, and doctors backed by private equity. The result is that U.S. healthcare has become a conglomerate of monopolies.
For two decades, this intense concentration of power has inflicted harm on patients, communities and the health of the nation. For most of the 21st century, medical costs have risen faster than overall inflation, America’s life expectancy (and overall health) has stagnated, and the pace of innovation has slowed to a crawl.
This article, the first in a series about the ominous and omnipresent monopolies of healthcare, focuses on how merged hospitals and powerful health systems have raised the price, lowered the quality and decreased the convenience of American medicine.
Future articles will look at drug companies who wield unfettered pricing power, coalitions of specialist physicians who gain monopolistic leverage, and the payers (businesses, insurers and the government) who tolerate market consolidation. The series will conclude with a look at who stands the best chance of shattering this conglomerate of monopolies and bringing innovation back to healthcare.
This is no incongruity. It’s what happens when hospitals and health systems merge and eliminate competition in communities.
Today, the 40 largest health systems own 2,073 hospitals, roughly one-third of all emergency and acute-care facilities in the United States. The top 10 health systems own a sixth of all hospitals and combine for $226.7 billion in net patient revenues.
Though the Federal Trade Commission and the Antitrust Division of the DOJ are charged with enforcing antitrust laws in healthcare markets and preventing anticompetitive conduct, legal loopholes and intense lobbying continue to spur hospital consolidation. Rarely are hospital M&A requests denied or even challenged.
The ills of hospital consolidation
The rapid and recent increase in hospital consolidation has left hundreds of communities with only one option for inpatient care.
But the lack of choice is only one of the downsides.
Hospital administrators know that state and federal statutes require insurers and self-funded businesses to provide hospital care within 15 miles of (or 30 minutes from) a member’s home or work. And they understand that insurers must accept their pricing demands if they want to sell policies in these consolidated markets. As a result, studies confirm that hospital prices and profits are higher in uncompetitive geographies.
These elevated prices negatively impact the pocketbooks of patients and force local governments (which must balance their budgets) to redirect funds toward hospitals and away from local police, schools and infrastructure projects.
Perhaps most concerning of all is the lack of quality improvement following hospital consolidation. Contrary to what administrators claim, clinical outcomes for patients are no better in consolidated locations than in competitive ones—despite significantly higher costs.
How hospitals could innovate (and why they don’t)
Hospital care in the United States accounts for more than 30% of total medical expenses (about $1.5 trillion). Even though fewer patients are being admitted each year, these costs continue to rise at a feverish pace.
If our nation wants to improve medical outcomes and make healthcare more affordable, a great place to start would be to innovate care-delivery in our country’s hospitals.
To illuminate what’s possible, below are three practical innovations that would simultaneously improve clinical outcomes and lower costs. And yet, despite the massive benefits for patients, few hospital-system administrators appear willing to embrace these changes.
Innovation 1: Leveraging economies of scale
In most industries, bigger is better because size equals cost savings. This advantage is known as economies of scale.
Ostensibly, when bigger hospitals acquire smaller ones, they gain negotiating power—along with plenty of opportunities to eliminate redundancies. These factors could and should result in lower prices for medical care.
Instead, when hospitals merge, the inefficiencies of both the acquirer and the acquired usually persist. Rather than closing small, ineffective clinical services, the newly expanded hospital system keeps them open. That’s because hospital administrators prefer to raise prices and keep people happy rather than undergo the painstaking process of becoming more efficient.
The result isn’t just higher healthcare costs, but also missed opportunities to improve quality.
Following M&A, health systems continue to schedule orthopedic, cardiac and neurosurgical procedures across multiple low-volume hospitals. They’d be better off creating centers of excellence and doing all total joint replacements, heart surgeries and neurosurgical procedures in a single hospital or placing each of the three specialties in a different one. Doing so would increase the case volumes for surgeons and operative teams in that specialty, augmenting their experience and expertise—leading to better outcomes for patients.
But hospital administrators bristle at the idea, fearing pushback from communities where these services close.
Innovation 2: Switching to a seven-day hospital
When patients are admitted on a Friday night, rather than a Monday or Tuesday night, they spend on average an extra day in the hospital.
This delay occurs because hospitals cut back services on weekends and, therefore, frequently postpone non-emergent procedures until Monday. For patients, this extra day in the hospital is costly, inconvenient and risky. The longer the patient stays admitted, the greater the odds of experiencing a hospital acquired infection, medical error or complications from underlying disease.
It would be possible for physicians and staff to spread the work over seven days, thus eliminating delays in care. By having the necessary, qualified staff present seven days a week, inpatients could get essential, but non-emergent treatments on weekends without delay. They could also receive sophisticated diagnostic tests and undergo procedures soon after admission, every day of the week. As a result, patients would get better sooner with fewer total inpatient days and far lower costs.
Hospital administrators don’t make the change because they worry it would upset the doctors and nurses who prefer to work weekdays, not weekends.
Innovation 3: Bringing hospitals into homes
During Covid-19, hospitals quickly ran out of staffed beds. Patients were sent home on intravenous medications with monitoring devices and brief nurse visits when needed.
Building on this success, hospitals could expand this approach with readily available technologies.
Whereas doctors and nurses today check on hospitalized patients intermittently, a team of clinicians set up in centralized location could monitor hundreds of patients (in their homes) around the clock.
By sending patients home with devices that continuously measure blood pressure, pulse and blood oxygenation—along with digital scales that can calibrate fluctuations in a patient’s weight, indicating either dehydration or excess fluid retention—patients can recuperate from the comforts of home. And when family members have questions or concerns, they can obtain assistance and advice through video.
Despite dozens of advantages, use of the “hospital at home” model is receding now that Covid-19 has waned.
That’s because hospital CEOs and CFOs are paid to fill beds in their brick-and-mortar facilities. And so, unless their facilities are full, they prefer that doctors and nurses treat patients in a hospital bed rather than in people’s own homes.
Opportunities for hospital innovations abound. These three are just a few of many changes that could transform medical care. Instead of taking advantage of them, hospital administrators continue to construct expensive new buildings, add beds and raise prices.
Last Thursday, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released a proposed rule that would ban employers from imposing noncompete agreements on their employees. Noncompetes affect roughly 20 percent of the American workforce, and healthcare providers would be particularly impacted by this change, as far greater shares of physicians—at least 45 percent of primary care physicians, according to one oft-cited study—are bound by such agreements.
The rulemaking process is expected to be contentious, as the US Chamber of Commerce has declared the proposal “blatantly unlawful”. While it is unclear whether the rule would apply to not-for-profit entities, the American Hospital Association has released a statement siding with the Chamber of Commerce and urging that the issue continue to be left to states to determine.
The Gist: Should this sweeping rule go into effect, it would significantly shift bargaining power in the healthcare sector in favor of doctors, allowing them the opportunity to move away from their current employers while retaining local patient relationships.
The competitive landscape for physician talent would change dramatically, particularly for revenue-driving specialists, who would have far greater flexibility to move from one organization to another, and to push aggressively for higher compensation and other benefits.
Given that the FTC cited suppressed competition in healthcare as an outcome of current noncomplete agreements, the burden will be on organizations that employ physicians—including health systems and insurers, as well as private equity-backed corporate entities—to prove that physician noncompetes areessential to their operations and do not raise prices, as the FTC has suggested.
We expect 2023 to be a pivotal year for the industry, as the accelerated acceptance of virtual care and demographic trends, such as an aging population, increasing chronic illnesses and healthcare worker shortages, sustain demand for medtech-enabled solutions.
The combination of rapid developments in novel healthcare technology and heightened demand for integrated tech-enabled care has continued to fuel innovation in the medtech industry. At the same time, medtech innovators – whether in digital health, wearables and AI-driven offerings in healthcare, or diagnostics, telemedicine and health IT solutions – continue to face a patchwork of laws, rules and norms across the world. Life sciences and healthcare innovators and regulators are also looking to medtech to increase access to care and health equity. Here are ten global medtech themes we are tracking in the coming year:
Focus on digital tuck-in acquisitions in medtech M&A
Despite continued uncertainty in the overall financial market, medtech M&A activity continued at a steady pace in 2022. This year witnessed a rise in tuck-in acquisitions of smaller companies that can be easily integrated into buyers’ existing infrastructure and product offerings, as opposed to significantly sized takeovers of businesses that aren’t squarely aligned with buyers’ existing businesses lines. Medtech acquirers have been particularly focused on developing their digital capabilities to innovate and reach customers in new ways. As digitization continues to transform the industry, we expect acquirers to continue to prioritize the value of digital and data assets as they evaluate potential targets.
Continued interest by private equity and other financial sponsors
Private equity firms, healthcare-focused funds and other financial sponsors have continued to display a strong appetite for investing in Medtech companies, with top targets in subsectors such as diagnostics and healthcare IT solutions. Later-stage medtech companies in particular are gaining a larger share of venture capital funding, as later-stage investments allow financial sponsors to focus on businesses with higher yields, as well as less time to market and capital reimbursement. Demographic trends, including an aging population and the increasing prevalence of chronic diseases, coupled with healthcare technology advancements have created robust demand for medtech-enabled solutions. Additionally, medtech offerings have broad applications that can extend beyond stakeholders in a specific therapy area, product category or care setting, offering the ability to satisfy unmet needs with large patient bases.
Strategic medtech collaborations as the new norm
Strategic medtech collaborations and partnerships have become the new norm in our increasingly connected digital healthcare ecosystem. In response to heightened consumer demand for tech-enabled care, pharmaceutical and medtech companies are collaborating to use digital technologies to engage with consumers, unlocking a vast range of treatments such as personalized medicine. Additionally, as the market rapidly evolves towards data-driven healthcare, we expect medtech companies to continue to work collaboratively to address existing barriers to data sharing and promote interoperability of healthcare data.
Continued scrutiny by antitrust and competition authorities
As expected, global antitrust and competition authorities continued to focus on the tech, life sciences and medtech sectors in 2022. The US, UK and EU authorities have stepped up efforts to investigate and challenge conduct by large pharma and technology companies pursuing mergers and acquisitions. We expect these authorities to assess similar concerns in the digital health context in an effort to account for the value of combined datasets and the interoperability of various offerings that could be derived from digital health mergers and acquisitions. Furthermore, geopolitical tensions have resulted in new and expanded foreign investment regimes to improve the resilience of domestic healthcare systems. Notably this year, the UK government implemented the National Security and Investment Act that allows it to restrict transactions that may threaten national security, including in the AI and data infrastructure sectors. Sensitive data continues to be a recurring theme for foreign investment review for Committee on Foreign Investment in the US and that of the EU as well.
Growing importance of data privacy and security
Increasing regulatory attention to sensitive health data and the escalating rise of ransomware attacks has made data privacy and security more important than ever for medtech innovators. The Federal Trade Commission has issued several statements about its willingness to “fully” enforce the law against the illegal use and sharing of highly sensitive data. Additionally, several state privacy laws coming into effect in 2023 create new categories of sensitive personal data, including health data, and impose novel obligations on innovators to obtain data-related consents. As ransomware continues to pose security-related threats, the US Department of Health and Human Services renewed calls for all covered entities and business associates to prioritize cybersecurity. New standards, such as cybersecurity label rating programs for connected devices, aim to address security risks. In the EU, medtech providers will need to consider how the launch of the European Health Data Space and newly proposed data regulation, such as the Data Act and AI Act, could impact their data use and sharing practices.
More active engagement with FDA/EMA/MHRA
We expect companies active in the medtech sector, particularly those that make use of AI and other advanced technologies, to continue their conversations with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”), the European Medicines Agency (“EMA”), the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (“MHRA”) and other regulators as such companies grow their medtech business lines and establish their associated regulatory compliance infrastructure. Given the unique regulatory issues arising from the implementation of digital health technologies, we expect the FDA, EMA and MHRA to provide additional guidance on AI/ML-based software-as-a-medical device and the remote management of clinical trials. 2022 saw stakeholders in the life sciences and medtech industries collaborate with regulatory authorities to push forward the acceptance of digital endpoints that rely on sensor-generated data collected outside of a clinical setting. As the industry shifts to decentralized clinical trials, we expect both innovators and regulators to work together to evaluate the associated clinical, privacy and safety risks in the development and use of such digital endpoints.
Increasing medtech localization in the Asia Pacific region
2022 saw multinational companies (“MNCs”), including American pharma/device makers make an active effort to expand their medtech business lines in the Asia Pacific region. At the same time, government authorities in the region have been increasingly focused on incentivizing local innovation, approving government grants and prohibiting the importation of non-approved medical equipment. In light of MNCs’ market share of the medical device market in the Asia Pacific region, especially in China, we expect the emergence of the domestic medtech industry to prompt discussions among MNCs, local innovators and government authorities over the long-term development of the global market for medical technology.
Long-term adoption of telehealth and remote patient monitoring technologies
The Covid-19 pandemic saw the rise of telehealth and remote patient monitoring technologies as key modes of healthcare delivery. The telehealth industry remains focused on enabling remote consultations and long-term patient management for patients with chronic conditions. Looking forward, we expect to see increased innovation in non-invasive technologies that can provide early diagnostics and ongoing disease management in a low-friction manner. At the same time, we anticipate telehealth companies to face increasing scrutiny from regulatory authorities around the world for fraud and abuse by patients and providers. Consumer and patient data privacy and security in connection with telehealth and remote patient monitoring continue to remain top of mind for regulators as well.
Women’s health and privacy concerns for medtech
We expect to see increased consumer health tech adoption for reproductive care, especially in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. Following the Dobbs decision, a number of states introduced or passed legislation that prohibits or restricts access to reproductive health services beyond abortion. In response, women’s health-focused companies are expanding their virtual fertility and pregnancy, telemedicine and other services to patients. At the same time, such companies need to assess the legal risks stemming from the collection and storage of their customers’ personal health information, which could then be used as evidence to prosecute customers for obtaining illegal reproductive health services. We expect companies active in this space to take steps to navigate the patchwork of data privacy and security laws across jurisdictions while establishing clear digital health governance mechanisms to safeguard their customers’ data privacy and security.
Addressing inequities in the implementation of digital healthcare technologies
Medtech innovators and regulators have been increasingly focused on addressing inequities in the healthcare system and the data used to train AI and ML-based digital healthcare technologies. In 2022, a number of medtech companies collaborated to provide technologies that result in improved patient outcomes across all populations, as well as boost participation of diverse populations in clinical trials. In parallel, we are seeing increased interest from regulators to reduce bias in digital health technologies and the accompanying datasets, as evidenced by the EU’s proposed AI Act and the UK’s health data strategy. In the US, which currently lacks comprehensive government regulation of AI in healthcare, there have been increasing calls for institutional commitments in the area of algorithmovigilance. Because of the inaccurate conclusions that may result from biased technologies and data, MedTech companies must prioritize health equity in the implementation of digital healthcare technologies so that everyone can benefit from the latest scientific advances.
In conclusion, the medtech industry has remained resilient amidst the challenging macroeconomic environment. We expect 2023 to be a pivotal year for the industry, as the accelerated acceptance of virtual care and demographic trends, such as an aging population, increasing chronic illnesses and healthcare worker shortages, sustain demand for medtech-enabled solutions. At the same time, the rapidly changing legal and regulatory landscape will continue to be a key issue for medtech innovators moving forward. Adopting a global, forward-thinking regulatory compliance strategy can help MedTech companies stay competitive and ultimately, achieve better outcomes for patients.
The majority of hospitals are predicted to have negative margins in 2022, marking the worst year financially for hospitals since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic.
In Part 1 of Radio Advisory’s Hospital of the Future series, host Rachel (Rae) Woods invites Advisory Board experts Monica Westhead, Colin Gelbaugh, and Aaron Mauck to discuss why factors like workforce shortages, post-acute financial instability, and growing competition are contributing to this troubling financial landscape and how hospitals are tackling these problems.
As we emerge from the global pandemic, health care is restructuring. What decisions should you be making, and what do you need to know to make them? Explore the state of the health care industry and its outlook for next year by visiting advisory.com/HealthCare2023.
An enlightening piece published this week in Stat News lays out exactly how UnitedHealth Group (UHG) is using its vast network of physicians to generate new streams of profit, a playbook being followed by most other major payers. Already familiar to close observers of the post-Affordable Care Act healthcare landscape, the article highlights how UHG can use “intercompany eliminations”—payments from its UnitedHealthcare payer arm to its Optum provider and pharmacy arms—to achieve profits above the 15 to 20 percent cap placed on health insurance companies.
So far in 2022, 38 percent of UHG’s insurance revenue has flowed into its provider groups, up from 23 percent in 2017. And UHG expects next year’s intercompany eliminations to grow by 20 percent to a total of $130B, which would make up over half of its total projected revenue.
The profit motive behind payer-provider vertical integration is as clear as it is concerning for the state of competition in healthcare.
UHG now employs or affiliates with 70K physicians—10K more than last year—seven percent of the US physician workforce, and the largest of any entity.
Given the weak antitrust framework for regulating vertical integration, the federal government has proven unable to stop the acquisition of providers by payers. Eventually, profit growth for these vertically integrated payers will have to come from tightening provider networks, and not just acquiring more assets. That could prompt regulatory action or consumer backlash, if the government or enrollees determine that access to care is being unfairly restricted.
Until then, the march of consolidation is likely to continue.