30 health systems with strong finances in 2022

Here are 30 health systems with strong operational metrics and solid financial positions in 2022, according to reports from Fitch Ratings and Moody’s Investors Service.

1. Advocate Aurora Health has an “AA” rating and a stable outlook with Fitch. The health system, dually headquartered in Milwaukee and Downers Grove, Ill., has a strong financial profile and a leading market position over a broad service area in Illinois and Wisconsin, Fitch said. The health system’s fundamental operating platform is strong, the credit rating agency said.

2. Atlantic Health System has an “Aa3” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s. The Morristown, N.J.-based health system has strong operating performance and liquidity metrics, Moody’s said. The credit rating agency expects Atlantic Health System to sustain strong performance to support capital spending. 

3. Banner Health has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The Phoenix-based health system’s core hospital delivery system and growth of its insurance division combine to make it a successful, highly integrated delivery system, Fitch said. The credit rating agency said it expects Banner to maintain operating EBITDA margins of about 8 percent on an annual basis, reflecting the growing revenues from the system’s insurance division and large employed physician base.

4. BayCare has an “AA” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The 14-hospital system based in Clearwater, Fla., has excellent liquidity and operating metrics, which are supported by its leading market position in a four-county area, Fitch said. The credit rating agency expects strong revenue growth and cost management to sustain BayCare’s operating performance. 

5. Bon Secours Mercy Health has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The Cincinnati-based health system has a broad geographic footprint as one of the five largest Catholic health systems in the U.S., a good payer mix and a leading or near-leading market share in eight of its 11 markets in the U.S., Fitch said.

6. Bryan Health has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The Lincoln, Neb.-based health system has a leading and growing market position, very strong cash flow and a strong financial position, Fitch said. The credit rating agency said Bryan Health has been resilient through the COVID-19 pandemic and is well-positioned to accommodate additional strategic investments. 

7. CaroMont Health has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The Gastonia, N.C.-based system has a leading market position in a growing services area and a track record of good cash flow, Fitch said.  

8. Christiana Care Health System has an “Aa2” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s. The Newark, Del.-based system has a unique position as the state’s largest teaching hospital and extensive clinical depth that affords strong regional and statewide market capture, and it is expected to return to near pre-pandemic level margins over the medium-term, Moody’s said.

9. Cone Health has an “AA” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The Greensboro, N.C.-based health system has a leading market share and a favorable payer mix, Fitch said. The health system’s broad operating platform and strategic capital investments should enable it to return to stronger operating results, the credit rating agency said.

10. Deaconess Health System has an “AA” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The Evansville, Ind.-based system has a leading market position in its primary service area and a favorable payer mix, Fitch said. The ratings agency said it expects Deaconess’ operating EBITDA margins to improve and stabilize around 10 percent by 2023, reflecting strong volumes and focus on operating efficiencies. 

11. El Camino Health has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. El Camino Health, which includes hospital campuses in Los Gatos, Calif., and Mountain View, Calif., has a solid market share in a competitive market and a stable payer mix, Fitch said. The credit rating agency said El Camino Health’s balance sheet provides moderate financial flexibility.

12. Gundersen Health System has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The La Crosse, Wis.-based health system has strong balance sheet metrics, a leading market position and an expanding operating platform in its service area, Fitch said. The credit rating agency expects the health system to return to strong operating performance as it emerges from disruption related to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

13. Hackensack Meridian Health has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The Edison, N.J.-based health system has shown consistent year-over-year increases in market share and has a solid liquidity position, Fitch said. 

14. Inova Health System has an “Aa2” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s. The Falls Church, Va.-based health system has a consistently strong operating cash flow margin and ample balance sheet resources, Moody’s said. Inova’s financial excellence will remain undergirded by its favorable regulatory and economic environment, the credit rating agency said. 

15. Intermountain Healthcare has an “Aa1” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s. The Salt Lake City-based health system has exceptional credit quality, which will continue to benefit from its leading market position in Utah, Moody’s said. The credit rating agency said the health system’s merger with Broomfield, Colo.-based SCL Health will also give Intermountain greater geographic reach.

16. Mass General Brigham has an “Aa3” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s. The Boston-based health system has an excellent clinical reputation, good financial performance and strong balance sheet metrics, Moody’s said. The credit rating agency said it expects Mass General Brigham to maintain a strong market position and stable financial performance. 

17. Mayo Clinic has an “Aa2” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s. The credit rating agency said Mayo Clinic’s strong market position and patient demand will drive favorable financial results. The Rochester, Minn.-based health system “will continue to leverage its excellent reputation and patient demand to continue generating favorable operating performance while maintaining strong balance sheet ratios,” Moody’s said. 

18. MemorialCare has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The Fountain Valley, Calif.-based health system has excellent leverage metrics and a strong financial profile, Fitch said. The credit rating agency said it expects the system’s leverage metrics to remain strong over the next several years. 

19. Methodist Health System has an “Aa3” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s. The Dallas-based system has strong operating performance, and investments in facilities have allowed it to continue to capture more market share in the fast-growing Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, area, Moody’s said. The credit rating agency said it expects Methodist Health System’s strong operating performance and favorable liquidity to continue.

20. OhioHealth has an “AA+” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The Columbus, Ohio-based system has an exceptionally strong credit profile, broad regional operating platform and leading market position in both its competitive two-county primary service area and broader 47-county total service area, Fitch said. 

21. Parkview Health has an “Aa3” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s. The Fort Wayne, Ind.-based system has a leading market position with expansive tertiary and quaternary clinical services in Northeastern Indiana and Northwestern Ohio, Moody’s said. 

22. Presbyterian Healthcare Services has an “Aa3” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s and an “AA” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The Albuquerque, N.M.-based system is the largest in the state, and it has strong revenue growth and a healthy balance sheet, Moody’s said. The credit rating agency said it expects the health system’s balance sheet and debt metrics to remain strong. 

23. Rady Children’s Hospital has an “AA” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The San Diego-based hospital has a very strong balance sheet position and operating performance, and it is also a leading provider of pediatric services in the growing city and tri-county service area, Fitch said. 

24. Rush Health has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The Chicago-based health system has a strong financial profile and a broad reach for high-acuity services as a leading academic medical center, Fitch said. The credit rating agency expects Rush’s services to remain profitable over time. 

25. Stanford (Calif.) Health Care has an “AA” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The health system has extensive clinical reach in a competitive market and its financial profile is improving, Fitch said. The health system’s EBITDA margins rebounded in fiscal year 2021 and are expected to remain strong going forward, the crediting rating agency said. 

26. ThedaCare has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The Neenah, Wis.-based system has a focused strategy, strong financial profile and robust market share, Fitch said. 

27. Trinity Health has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The Livonia, Mich.-based system’s large size and market presence in multiple states disperses risk and the long-term ratings incorporate the expectation that Trinity will return to sustained stronger operating EBITDA margins. 

28. UnityPoint Health has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The Des Moines, Iowa-based health system has strong leverage metrics and cash position, Fitch said. The credit rating agency expects the health system’s balance sheet and debt service coverage metrics to remain robust.

29. University of Chicago Medical Center has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The credit rating agency said it expects University of Chicago Medical Center’s capital-related ratios to remain strong, in part because of its broad reach of high-acuity services. 

30. Yale New Haven (Conn.) Health has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The health system’s turnaround efforts, brand recognition and market presence will help it return to strong operating results, Fitch said. 

2022 Was Hospitals’ Worst Financial Year in Decades, But 2023 Won’t Be Much Better

https://medcitynews.com/2023/01/2022

Financial analysts have said that 2022 may have been the worst year for hospital finances in decades. This year looks like it will be yet another year of financial underperformance, with rural providers in especially dire circumstances. 

What’s driving this bleak financial reality? It’s “primarily an expense story,” said Erik Swanson, a senior vice president at Kaufman Hall‘s data analytics practice.

“Growth in expenses has vastly outpaced growth in revenues — since pre-pandemic levels since last year, and even the year prior — such that margins are ultimately being pushed downward. And hospitals’ median operating margin is still below zero on a cumulative basis,” he declared, referring to 2021 and 2020. 

Here’s some context about how dismal this situation is: Even in 2020, a year in which hospitals saw extraordinary losses during the first few months of the pandemic, they still reported operating margins of 2%.

What’s even more disconcerting is that hospitals are underperforming financially pretty much across the board, Swanson said.

For example, the financial reports for the country’s three largest nonprofit health systems — AscensionCommonSpirit Health and Trinity Health — revealed they are all struggling. Ascension reported a $118.6 million loss in the third quarter of 2022, CommonSpirit posted a $227 million loss, and Trinity posted a $550.9 million loss.

Even Kaiser Permanente, one of the country’s largest health systems with an integrated delivery model, reported a $1.5 billion loss for the third quarter of 2022.

Rural hospitals are in even worse shape, but more on that below.

Other hospitals have been forced to shutter service lines to offset these financial losses. Some are also turning to integration and consolidation.

For example, Hermann Area District Hospital in Missouri said last month that it is seeking a “deeper affiliation” with Mercy Health or another provider. This announcement came after the hospital eliminated its home health agency as a cost-cutting measure. In December, the hospital projected a loss of $2 million for 2022.

We can also look at the mega-merger between Atrium Health and Advocate Aurora Health, which was completed last month. The deal, which is designed for cost synergy, creates the fifth-largest nonprofit integrated health system in the U.S. 

The merger was finalized one day after North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein expressed concern about how the deal could impact rural communities. He said that while he didn’t have a legal basis within his office’s limited statutory authority to block the deal, he was worried that it could further restrict access to healthcare in rural and underserved communities.

Stein brings up an extremely valid concern. Rural hospitals’ dismal financial circumstances are becoming more and more worrisome — in fact, about 30% of all rural hospitals are at risk of closing in the near future, according to a recent report from the Center for Healthcare Quality and Payment Reform (CHQPR).

A crucial reason for this is that it is more expensive to deliver healthcare in rural areas — usually because of smaller patient volumes and higher costs for attracting staff. Another factor is that payments rural hospitals receive from commercial health plans isn’t enough to cover the cost of delivering care to patients in rural areas, said Harold Miller, CEO of CHQPR. 

“Many people assume that private commercial insurance plans pay more than Medicare and Medicaid. But for small rural hospitals, the exact opposite is true,” he said. “In many cases, Medicare is their best payer. And private health plans actually pay them well below their costs — well below what they pay their larger hospitals. One of the biggest drivers of rural hospital losses is the payments they receive from private health plans.”

In Miller’s view, rural hospitals perform two main functions: taking care of sick people in the hospital and being there for people in case they need to go to the hospital. 

To fulfill the latter job, rural hospitals must operate 24/7 emergency rooms. These hospitals get paid when there’s an emergency, but not when there isn’t — even though the hospital is incurring costs by operating and staffing these units.

“Rural hospitals have a physician on duty 24/7 to be available for emergencies. But they don’t get paid for that by most payers. Medicare does pay them for that, but other payers don’t. If the hospital is doing two different things, we should be paying them for both of those things. Hospitals should be paid for what I refer to as ‘standby capacity,’” Miller said.

He bolstered his argument by pointing to these analogies: Do we only pay firefighters when there’s a fire? Do we only pay police officers when there’s a crime?

It’s also important to remember that rural hospitals are in the midst of transitioning to a post-pandemic environment, now without the pandemic-era financial assistance they received from the government, said Brock Slabach, chief operations officer at the National Rural Health Association

“Rural providers are looking to move into the future without the benefit of those extra payments. And they’re in an environment of really high inflation. It’s over 8%, and for some goods and services in the healthcare sector, that’s going to be over 20% in terms of increased prices. Wages and salaries have also gone up significantly. But patient volumes have maintained below average or average. That all presents a huge challenge,” Slabach said.

Rural providers across the country are dealing with the stressors Slabach described and clamoring for more government help. For example, the Michigan Health & Hospital Association sought more money from the state last month after having to take 1,700 beds offline.

Many rural hospitals can’t escape their fate. From 2010 to 2021, there were 136 rural hospital closures. There were only two closures in 2021, and Slabach said 2022 produced a similarly low number. But these low totals are due to government relief, he explained. Slabach said he’s expecting an increase in rural hospital closures in 2023.

When a rural hospital closes, it means community members have to travel far distances for emergency or inpatient care. Miller pointed out another problem: in many rural communities, the hospital is the only place people can go to get laboratory or imaging work done. The hospital might also be the only source of primary care for the community. Shuttering these hospitals would be a massive blow to rural Americans’ healthcare access.

In the face of these potentially devastating blows to patient access, financial analysts’ outlook is bleak. 

Higher inflation and costly labor expenses will continue to have negative effects on hospitals — both rural and urban — in 2023, according to an analysis from Moody’s. Expenses will also continue to increase due to supply chain bottlenecks, the need for more robust cybersecurity investments and longer hospital stays due to higher levels of patient acuity.

All of this doom and gloom begs the question — are any hospitals doing well financially?

The answer is yes, a select few. Let’s look at the three largest for-profit health systems in the nation — Community Health SystemsHCA Healthcare and Tenet Healthcare. As of 2020, these three public health systems accounted for about 8% of hospital beds in the U.S. 

These three systems all had positive operating margins for the majority of the pandemic, including most recently in the third quarter of 2022.

Large public health systems have shareholders to report to and stock prices to worry about. Does this mean they’re more likely to deny care to patients who can’t afford it while other hospitals pick up the slack?

Slabach said it’s tough to say.

“Obviously, hospitals try to mitigate their exposure to risk when it comes to taking care of patients. Most hospitals do a really good job of providing services and care to people who don’t have insurance or don’t have the means to pay. But that gets stressed in this current financial environment. So indeed, there may be instances where what you suggested might happen, but it’s not because they want to deny services or deny care. It’s because they have a bigger picture they have to maintain,” Slabach said.

And the big picture involving dollar signs for hospitals looks pretty bleak in 2023.

6 health systems hit with credit downgrades

A number of health systems experienced downgrades to their financial ratings in recent weeks amid ongoing operating losses, declines in investment values and challenging work environments.

Here is a summary of recent ratings since Becker’s last roundup Nov. 15:

The following systems experienced downgrades:

Adventist Health (Roseville, Calif.): Saw a downgraded long-term credit rating on bonds it holds, declining from “A” (negative) to “A-” (stable) by S&P Global Ratings.

The December downgrade follows a 2021 downgrade from Fitch Ratings from “A+” to “A.” That downgrade reflected “a series of one-time events and the lingering deleterious impact from the novel coronavirus” which “resulted in lower than anticipated operating EBITDA margins,” Fitch said. In November, Fitch added to this assessment by downgrading Adventist’s outlook from stable to negative, reflecting “continued negative operational pressure.” 

The group, which operates 23 hospitals in California, Hawaii and Oregon, was also assigned an “A” rating by Fitch to 2022 bonds and other outstanding debt.

Catholic Health (Buffalo, N.Y.): The group was downgraded on debt from “B1” to “Caa2” by Moody’s and is in danger of defaulting on its covenants.

The nonprofit health system, which serves residents in Western New York with four acute care hospitals and several other facilities, saw its rating drop in November on approximately $364 million of debt.

Duke University Health System (Durham, N.C.): Downgraded to an “AA-” credit rating by Fitch Ratings.

The December downgrade comes amid concern over Duke’s planned integration of the Private Diagnostic Clinic, a for-profit medical group with more than 1,800 physicians.

The rating, reduced from “AA,” applies both to specific bonds the group holds and to its overall issuer default rating. In addition to the integration of the Private Diagnostic Clinic, Fitch also cited concern over macro issues such as labor and inflationary pressures, which have helped to drag down operating results for the health group.

Main Line Health (Radnor Township, Pa.): – Had its bond rating downgraded to “A1” from “Aa3” by Moody’s.

The December downgrade reflects a multiyear trend of weak operating performance and expectations of tepid progress into 2023, Moody’s said.

In addition to Main Line’s revenue bond rating declining, its outlook has been revised to stable from negative at the lower rating. The hospital group has approximately $651 million in outstanding debt, Moody’s said.

Prime Healthcare (Ontario, Calif.): The group was downgraded on probability of default rating to “B2-PD” from “B1-PD” as well as its ratings of the system’s senior secured notes to “B3” from “B2” by Moody’s.

Moody’s also revised the outlook in November to negative from stable because it projects operating expenses will continue to pressure the 45-hospital system’s profitability in the near term, presenting challenges for “the company’s pace of deleveraging,” according to a Nov. 18 news release.

Westchester County Health Care Corp. and Charity Health System (Valhalla, N.Y): The group was downgraded from “Baa2” to “Baa3” by Moody’s.

The December downgrade for CHS is based on WCHCC’s legal guarantee to pay debt service on CHS’ Series 2015 bonds, if CHS is unable. The outlook for both systems remains negative with WCHCC and CHS having $773 million and $127 million of debt, respectively, at the end of fiscal year 2021, Moody’s said.

10 health systems with strong finances

Here are 10 health systems with strong operational metrics and solid financial positions, according to reports from credit rating agencies Fitch Ratings and Moody’s Investors Service.

1. Allina Health System has an “AA-” rating and a stable outlook with Fitch. The Minneapolis-based system is the inpatient market share leader in a highly competitive market and has a strong relation with payers in the market, Fitch said.

2. Bryan Health has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The Lincoln, Neb.-based health system has a leading and growing market position, very strong cash flow and a strong financial position, Fitch said. The credit rating agency said Bryan Health has been resilient through the COVID-19 pandemic and is well-positioned to accommodate additional strategic investments. 

3. CaroMont Health has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The Gastonia, N.C.-based system has a leading market position in a growing services area and a track record of good cash flow, Fitch said.  

4. Christiana Care Health System has an “Aa2” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s.  The Newark, Del.-based system has a unique position as the state’s largest teaching hospital and extensive clinical depth that affords strong regional and statewide market capture, and is expected to return to near pre-pandemic level margins over the medium-term, Moody’s said. 

5. Intermountain Healthcare has an “Aa1” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s. The Salt Lake City-based health system has exceptional credit quality, which will continue to benefit from its leading market position in Utah, Moody’s said. The credit rating agency said the health system’s merger with Broomfield, Colo.-based SCL Health will also give Intermountain greater geographic reach.

6. OhioHealth has a “AA+” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The Columbus, Ohio-based system has an exceptionally strong credit profile, broad regional operating platform and leading market position in both its competitive two-county primary service area and broader 47-county total service area, Fitch said. 

7. Parkview Health has an “Aa3” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s. The Fort Wayne, Ind.-based system has a leading market position with expansive tertiary and quaternary clinical services in northeastern Indiana and northwestern Ohio, Moody’s said. 

8. Rady Children’s Hospital has an “AA” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The San Diego based hospital has a very strong balance sheet position and operating performance, and is also a leading provider of pediatric services in the growing city and tri-county service area, Fitch said. 

9. ThedaCare has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The Neenah, Wis.-based system has a focused strategy, strong financial profile and robust market share, Fitch said. 

10. Trinity Health has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The Livonia, Mich.-based system’s large size and market presence in multiple states disperses and the long-term ratings incorporate the expectation that Trinity will return to sustained stronger operating EBITDA margins.  

Operating Margins Among the Largest For-Profit Health Systems Have Exceeded 2019 Levels for the Majority of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Recent reports have raised concerns about the financial stability of hospitals amidst disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the looming prospect of an economic recession.

Large amounts of government relief helped prop up hospital margins in 2020 and 2021. However, industry reports suggest that the outlook for hospitals and health systems has deteriorated in 2022 due to the ongoing effects of the pandemic (such as labor shortages), decreases in government relief, and broader economic trends that have led to rising prices and investment losses. According to at least one account, 2022 may be the worst financial year for hospitals in decades. These challenges could force hospitals to take steps to increase efficiency but may also result in price increases or cost-cutting measures that impair patient access or care quality. Against this backdrop, industry stakeholders have asked Congress to provide additional fiscal relief to hospitals and to stop scheduled Medicare payment reductions.

To provide context for these policy discussions, we evaluated the financial performance of the three largest for-profit health systems in the country—HCA Healthcare (“HCA”), Tenet Healthcare Corporation (“Tenet”), and Community Health Systems (CHS)—which collectively accounted for about 8 percent of community hospital beds in the US in 2020.1 These three systems are publicly traded, meaning that we were able to acquire timely financial data about these systems through their reports to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), as well as data on their stock prices (see Methods for additional details).

Operating margins among all three large health systems were positive and exceeded pre-pandemic levels for the majority of the pandemic, including most recently in the third quarter of 2022. 

Operating margins reflect the profit margins earned on patient care and other operations of a given health system—such as from gift shops, parking, and cafeterias—and incorporate government COVID-19 relief funds.2 Our definition of operating margins excludes income taxes and nonrecurring revenues and expenses, such as from the sale of facilities. HCA and Tenet had positive operating margins throughout the pandemic, and CHS had positive operating margins in all but two quarters of the pandemic (with one of those quarters being at the very beginning of the pandemic).  HCA has had operating margins of at least 10 percent during the majority of the pandemic (9 out of 11 quarters). In other words, HCA’s revenue from patient care and other operations exceeded operating expenses by at least 10 percent for most of the pandemic. Tenet has had operating margins of at least 5 percent for the majority of the pandemic (9 out of 11 quarters), while CHS’s operating margins have been lower (less than 5% for 9 out of 11 quarters). CHS had lower margins than the other systems before the pandemic as well.

For all three systems, operating margins have exceeded pre-pandemic (2019) levels for most of the pandemic (9 out of 11 quarters), including the last quarter of our analysis (the third quarter of 2022), despite recent decreases in operating margins. HCA and Tenet dipped below their 2019 operating margins during two quarters of 2020, and CHS fell below their 2019 operating margins during the first quarter of 2020 and the second quarter of 2022 before increasing again. As of the third quarter of 2022, operating margins were 11.4 percent for HCA, 8.4 percent for Tenet, and 1.2 percent for CHS.

Stock prices increased and then decreased during the pandemic; HCA and Tenet stock prices have increased overall since January 2020 while CHS stock prices have decreased. 

Stock prices generally reflect investors’ evaluation of the future earnings potential of a given company. Stock prices increased dramatically during the first 1.5 to 2 years of the pandemic. At their heights, HCA stock prices had increased by 87.9 percent, Tenet stock prices had increased by 153.8 percent, and CHS stock prices had increased by 383.1 percent relative to January 2020.

Stock prices have also decreased substantially in 2022—in line with broader economic trends—and especially so among Tenet and CHS. As of November 8, 2022, HCA and Tenet stock prices have increased overall relative to January 2020 (by 44.6% and 12.6%, respectively).3 CHS stock prices have decreased by 11.5% since January 2020, though CHS has also experienced longstanding financial challenges that predate the pandemic. For purposes of comparison, HCA stock prices increased by a much greater amount than the S&P 500 during this period (44.6% versus 16.8%), while the S&P 500 slightly outperformed Tenet stock (16.8% versus 12.6%) and significantly outperformed CHS stock (16.8% versus -11.5%).

As of December 2, 2022, the majority of market analysts followed by MarketWatch were bullish on HCA and Tenet stock (with 18 buy, 3 overweight, and 5 hold recommendations for HCA stock and 14 buy, 2 overweight, and 4 hold recommendations for Tenet stock) and neutral about CHS stock (with 8 hold and 4 buy recommendations); none of the analysts rated these stocks as “sell” or “underweight.”

Discussion

Industry reports have suggested that hospitals had high margins in 2020 and 2021 but have faced significant financial challenges in 2022. Our analysis adds nuance to this discussion. So far this year, operating margins among the three largest for-profit health systems in the country have met or exceeded pre-pandemic levels. HCA and Tenet in particular have had high operating margins. CHS had negative operating margins in the second quarter of 2022, and its stock prices decreased overall from January 2020 to November 2022, but its financial challenges precede the pandemic. While some hospitals are struggling in the current environment—with high inflation and the ongoing burdens posed by COVID-19, flu, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)—our results indicate that the largest for-profit systems have had operating margins that exceed pre-pandemic levels.

Duke Health credit rating downgraded amid integration and macro concerns

Durham, N.C.-based Duke University Health System was downgraded to an “AA-” credit rating amid concern over its planned integration of the Private Diagnostic Clinic, a for-profit medical group with over 1,800 physicians, Fitch Ratings said Dec. 8.

The rating, declining from “AA,” applies both to specific bonds the group holds and to its overall Issuer Default Rating. In addition to the integration of the PDC, Fitch also cited concern over macro issues such as labor and inflationary pressures, which have helped to drag down operating results for the health group.

“While the transition of the PDC into the Duke Health Integrated Practice will only be effective in July 2023, the uncertainty of the proposed change had already caused some disruption to PDC’s ability to recruit physicians and may have had a negative impact on volumes,” Fitch said.

But while such integration will likely lead to an “extended period of lower operating results,” Duke Health is expected to gradually return to much stronger performance given its robust fundamentals, the ratings group added. Historically, the hospital system had pre-pandemic operating EBITDA margins of over 10 percent, compared with a fiscal year 2022 figure of just 2.1 percent.

The health system, which reported $4.5 billion of total operating revenues in 2022, said its CEO, A. Eugene Washington, MD, will step down in June 2023.

Cooper University Health Care credit rating up to A-, its highest ever

S&P Global Ratings raised Cooper University Health Care’s credit rating from “BBB+” to “A-“, the highest rating in the Camden, N.J.-based system’s 135-year history, roj-nj.com reported Nov. 28.

The rating is for bonds issued by Camden County Improvement Authority. S&P praised Cooper for its focus on cost containment, revenue improvement, expanding market share and developing key services to gain more tertiary referrals and limit outpatient migration to Philadelphia academic medical centers, according to the report.

“Today’s credit rating upgrade is validation of Cooper’s financial strength, our prudent growth strategies and the tremendous work by our dedicated team members who tirelessly serve our patients, their families and each other to produce our current and future success,” co-CEO Kevin O’Dowd said.

Cooper is expected to begin construction on a $2 billion expansion of its Camden, N.J., campus in 2023.

5 health systems hit with rating downgrades

A number of health systems experienced downgrades to their financial ratings in recent weeks amid ongoing operating losses and challenging work environments.

Here is a summary of recent ratings since Becker’s last roundup Sept. 21:

The following systems experienced downgrades:

Main Line Health (Radnor Township, Pa.) — downgraded debt rating from “AA” to “AA-” in November (Fitch Ratings)

The downgrade reflects “significant operating losses” in fiscal year 2022, ending June 30, and is in relation to $594 million of bonds the health system holds. While downgrading that specific rating, however, Fitch described the healthcare group’s outlook as stable and said that it will benefit from a good market position in a favorable service area with strong market share.

Fitch described “continued expense challenges” facing the hospital group over the next two years as part of its decision to downgrade the debt rating.

Hannibal (Mo.) Regional Healthcare System — lowered financial outlook in November from stable to negative amid uncertainty around the hospital group’s capital spending plans (Fitch Ratings)

“The Negative Outlook reflects uncertainty around capital spending and the potential issuance of new debt to address infrastructure issues at the system’s main campus and expand inpatient/outpatient capacity,” Fitch said. “A master facilities planning process has begun, but cost estimates and timing are not yet available and the board has not approved any potential projects.” 

Fitch also affirmed default ratings for HRHS at “A-.”

ChristianaCare (Newark, Del.) was issued a negative outlook in October (S&P Global Ratings)

Pressures from the pandemic and industry challenges have led to a “volatile operating performance” in the last three years, and ChristianaCare has a small revenue base compared to similarly rated health systems, S&P said,

“The negative outlook reflects [ChristianaCare’s] operating volatility and balance sheet deterioration that, while largely stemming from COVID-19 pandemic and industry pressures, are not characteristic of the ‘AA+’ rating level and could lead to a downgrade during the outlook period,” Chloe Pickett, an S&P credit analyst, said in the firm’s report.

The S&P also affirmed ChristianaCare’s “AA+” long-term rating based on the health system’s leading business position within its service area and healthy balance sheet, according to an Oct. 27 report.

MultiCare Health System (Tacoma, Wash.) had various debt obligations downgraded in October from”AA-” to “A+” (Fitch Ratings)

The downgrades included the healthcare system’s existing bond ratings and $430 million of fixed rate taxable notes as well as the group’s Issuer Default Rating.

“The downgrade of MultiCare’s IDR to ‘A+’ from ‘AA-‘ reflects the considerable operating stress the system is facing in the current fiscal year, in combination with balance sheet metrics that have moderated as a result of equity market volatility and a recent debt issuance,” Fitch said.

Wise Health System (Decatur, Texas) was downgraded to “BB+” from “BBB-” in regard to various debt obligations as it struggles with continued operating challenges (Fitch Ratings)

Wise Health System’s Issuer Default Rating and the ratings on series 2014A, 2021A, 2021B and 2021C hospital revenue bonds issued by Decatur Hospital Authority on behalf of Wise were all downgraded.

“The downgrade reflects the change in Fitch’s assessment of Wise’s operating risk and financial profiles to ‘bb’ from ‘bbb’ due to deterioration in the hospital’s operating performance through six-months (ended June 30) and the expectation of sizable operating and net losses in 2022,” Fitch said.

Big payers ranked by Q3 profits

The nation’s largest payers have filed their third-quarter earnings reports, revealing which grew their profits the most year over year.

1. UnitedHealth Group: $5.3 billion
The company’s third quarter earnings increased over 28 percent year over year. Total net earnings in 2022 are $15.7 billion, an increase of 16.2 percent from $13.5 billion in 2021.

2. Cigna: $2.8 billion
The company’s third quarter earnings increased over 70 percent year over year. Total net earnings in 2022 are $5.5 billion, an increase of over 29 percent from $4.2 billion in 2021.

3. Elevance Health: $1.6 billion
The company’s third quarter earnings increased over 7 percent year over year. Total net earnings in 2022 are $5.06 billion, an increase of nearly 2 percent from $5 billion in 2021.

4. Humana: $1.2 billion
The company’s third quarter earnings decreased over 21 percent year over year. Total net earnings in 2022 are $2.8 billion, a decrease of over 4 percent from $2.9 billion in 2021.

5. Centene: $738 million
The company’s third quarter earnings increased over 26 percent year over year. Total net earnings in 2022 are $1.4 billion, an increase of over 89 percent from $748 million in 2021.

6. CVS Health: $3.4 billion losses
The company’s third quarter losses are attributable to an opioid legal settlement. Total net earnings in 2022 are $1.9 billion, a decrease of over 71 percent from $6.6 billion in 2021.

10 health systems with strong finances

Here are 10 health systems with strong operational metrics and solid financial positions, according to reports from Fitch Ratings and Moody’s Investors Service.

1. Advocate Aurora Health has an “AA” rating and a stable outlook with Fitch. The health system, dually headquartered in Milwaukee and Downers Grove, Ill., has a strong financial profile and a leading market position over a broad service area in Illinois and Wisconsin, Fitch said. The health system’s fundamental operating platform is strong, the credit rating agency said. 

2. Allina Health System has an “AA-” rating and a stable outlook with Fitch. The Minneapolis-based system is the inpatient market share leader in a highly competitive market and has a strong relation with payers in the market, Fitch said. Alliana’s financial profile is strong, the ratings agency said. 

3. Banner Health has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The Phoenix-based health system’s core hospital delivery system and growth of its insurance division combine to make it a successful, highly integrated delivery system, Fitch said. The credit rating agency said it expects Banner to maintain operating EBITDA margins of about 8 percent on an annual basis, reflecting the growing revenues from the system’s insurance division and large employed physician base.

4. Bon Secours Mercy Health has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The Cincinnati-based health system has a broad geographic footprint as one of the five largest Catholic health systems in the U.S., a good payer mix and a leading or near-leading market share in eight of its eleven markets in the U.S., Fitch said.

5. Bryan Health has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The Lincoln, Neb.-based health system has a leading and growing market position, very strong cash flow and a strong financial position, Fitch said. The credit rating agency said Bryan Health has been resilient through the COVID-19 pandemic and is well-positioned to accommodate additional strategic investments. 

6. Deaconess Health System has an “AA” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The Evansville, Ind.-based system has a leading market position in its primary service area and a favorable payer mix, Fitch said. The ratings agency said it expects Deaconess’ operating EBITDA margins to improve and stabilize around 10 percent by 2023, reflecting strong volumes and focus on operating efficiencies.

7. Gundersen Health System has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The La Crosse, Wis.-based health system has strong balance sheet metrics, a leading market position and an expanding operating platform in its service area, Fitch said. The credit rating agency expects the health system to return to strong operating performance as it emerges from disruption related to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

8. Hackensack Meridian Health has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The Edison, N.J.-based health system has shown consistent year-over-year increases in market share and has a solid liquidity position, Fitch said. 

9. Intermountain Healthcare has an “Aa1” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s. The Salt Lake City-based health system has exceptional credit quality, which will continue to benefit from its leading market position in Utah, Moody’s said. The credit rating agency said the health system’s merger with Broomfield, Colo.-based SCL Health will also give Intermountain greater geographic reach.

10. Yale New Haven (Conn.) Health has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The health system’s turnaround efforts, brand recognition and market presence will help it return to strong operating results, Fitch said.