Advocate Aurora Health is down $601M year to date as it gears up for Atrium Health megamerger

While Advocate Aurora Health’s year-to-date operating income sits at $51.2 million, $666 million in investment declines weigh heavy on its bruised bottom line.

Following a tight first quarter, Advocate Aurora Health managed to grow its operating margin but still landed negative due to $400 million in investment losses during the quarter ended June 30, according to financial filings.

The 27-hospital nonprofit—which pending regulatory review slated to merge with Atrium Health in one of the year’s biggest hospital transactions—reported a $48.7 million operating income during its second fiscal quarter of 2022 (1.7% margin).

This is up from the $2.5 million (0.3% margin) it scraped out earlier this year but well below the $213.7 million (6.5% margin) of Q2 2021.

Revenues for the quarter increased 1.5% year over year to more than $3.5 billion. While patient service revenue and other revenue both grew by tens of millions, capitation revenue declined slightly due to a shift in overall membership mix and a 6.1% dip in capitated lives, the system wrote in its filing.

Discharge volumes fell 7.7% year over year during the most recent quarter, as did home care visits by 7.6%. The system saw increases compared to the previous year among its observation cases (11.6%), hospital outpatient visits (2.1%) and physician visits (7.1%).

Advocate Aurora’s expenses grew at a faster rate, at 6.7% year over year during the second quarter. The increase was led by a 10.2% jump in salaries, wages and benefits payouts, which the system said was fueled by a blend of higher nurse agency costs, higher merit and premium pay for clinical care and volume-driven demand for more full-time equivalent employees.

The nonprofit saw last year’s investment gains largely upended, recording a $400 million net loss during the quarter compared to the $571.6 million gain of the prior year’s equivalent quarter.

The shortfall dragged Advocate Aurora’s net income to a $347.6 million loss for the quarter. It had logged a $545.6 million gain the previous year.

Looking at six-month numbers, the health system reported $7.1 billion in total revenue and $7 billion in total expenses for an operating income of $51.2 million. Year-to-date investment losses landed at $666 million, bringing the organization to a $600.8 million net loss.

Advocate Aurora was formed in 2018 from the merger of nonprofits Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care. It treats 2.6 million unique patients, employs 75,000 people and logged just under $14.1 billion in total revenue across 2021 and a net income of more than $1.8 billion.

Should its merger plans go through, Advocate Aurora and Atrium Health would control 67 hospitals and $27 billion of combined revenues across six states. The deal is anticipated to close before the end of the year, according to the earnings filing.

The system’s latest numbers will come as no surprise in light of similar quarterly reports from Advocate Aurora’s nonprofit contemporaries.

Investment struggles and increased expenses were reported across the board, although not every major system was able to keep operations in the black. Mayo ClinicKaiser Permanente and UPMC were among those on the stronger side of the scale while Sutter HealthMass General Brigham and Providence each reported tens to hundreds of millions in operational losses.

Fitch Ratings warned last week that these sector-wide challenges are unlikely to vanish during the remainder of the year. As such, the agency has downgraded its outlook for the nonprofit hospital industry from “neutral” to “deteriorating.”

Sutter Health’s rising expenses and rough investments yield a $457M net loss for Q2 2022

Updated on Aug. 5 with comments from Sutter Health.

A $457 million net loss for the quarter ended June 30 has brought Sutter Health even deeper into the red for 2022, according to new financial filings.

The Sacramento-based nonprofit health system brought in $3.49 billion in total operating revenues from the quarter, down slightly from the prior year’s $3.51 billion.

At the same time, the system’s operating expenses grew from $3.41 billion in the second quarter of 2021 to $3.55 billion in the most recent quarter, driven by $30 million and $151 million year-over-year increases in salaries and purchased services, respectively. The latter includes the increased professional fees being felt by labor-strapped systems across the country.

These led the system to report a $51 million operating loss for the quarter as opposed to the $106 million operating gain from last year’s equivalent quarter.

“Poorly” performing financial markets also took a toll on Sutter’s numbers. The system’s quarterly investment income dipped from $251 million to $56 million from 2021 to 2022. A $495 million downward change in net unrealized gains and losses on its investments was also a stark reversal from the prior year’s $270 million increase.

The new numbers cement what was already looking to be a tricky year for Sutter Health, which had previously reported a $184 million net loss for its opening quarter.

Despite a 1.5% year-over-year operating revenue increase to $7.05 billion for the opening six months, a 1.7% year-over-year operating revenue bump places the system’s year-to-date income at $44 million (0.6% operating margin), slightly below last year’s $57 million (0.8% operating margin).

However, market struggles through both quarters and a $208 million loss tied to the disaffiliation of Samuel Merritt University now has Sutter sitting at a $641 million net loss for the opening half of 2022. The system was up $825 million at the same time last year.

Sutter’s finances have stabilized, but our year-to-date numbers show we still have more affordability work ahead as we strive to best position Sutter Health to serve our patients and communities into the future,” the system wrote in an email statement. “We are grateful for our employees and clinicians who have worked diligently over the last several years to help bring our costs down—at the same time managing through the pandemic and continuing to provide high-quality, nationally recognized care.”

Sutter noted in the filing that it is or will be in labor negotiations with much of its unionized workforce, as 43% of its contract agreements have either expired or will be running their course within the year.

The filing also included notice of a handful of legal matters that have yet to be resolved. These include an antitrust verdict in favor of Sutter that is being appealed by the plaintiff, a lawsuit regarding an alleged privacy breach of two anonymous plaintiffs and two separate class-action complaints regarding employee retirement plan funding, among others.

“The organization continues to face financial headwinds like inflation and increased staffing costs, as evidenced by our near breakeven operating margin,” Sutter said in a statement. “Even still, we are encouraged that independent ratings agencies have recently acknowledged our efforts to date. In the second quarter, Moody’s, S&P and Fitch all affirmed the system’s existing ‘A’ category bond ratings.”

Much of Sutter’s pains are being felt across the industry. A recent Kaufman Hall industrywide report showed only marginal relief from expenses and middling non-COVID volume recovery through June, while a Fitch Ratings update on nonprofit hospitals warned that these challenges and broader inflation pressures will likely weigh down the sector through 2022.

19 health systems with strong finances

Here are 19 health systems with strong operational metrics and solid financial positions, according to reports from Fitch Ratings, Moody’s Investors Service and S&P Global Ratings.

1. Morristown, N.J.-based Atlantic Health System has an “Aa3” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s. The 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. 

2. 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. 

3. Clearwater, Fla.-based BayCare has an “AA” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The 14-hospital system 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.

4. CentraCare has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The St. Cloud, Minn.-based system has a leading market position and solid operating margins, Fitch said. The credit rating agency said it expects CentraCare’s operating platform to remain strong. 

5. Greensboro, N.C.-based Cone Health has an “AA” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The 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. 

6. Franciscan Alliance has an “AA” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The Mishawaka, Ind.-based health system has a very strong cash position and maintains leading market shares in seven of its nine defined primary service areas, Fitch said. The health system benefits from a good payer mix, the credit rating agency said. 

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 and a leading market position and 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. Falls Church, Va.-based Inova Health System has an “Aa2” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s. The 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. 

9. Vineland, N.J.-based Inspira Health Network has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The health system has strong operating performance, a leading market position in a stable service area and a growing residency program, Fitch said. The credit rating agency expects the system’s growing outpatient footprint and an increase in patient volumes to support its operating stability. 

10. Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser Permanente has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The health system has a strong financial profile, and the system’s operating platform is “arguably the most emulated model” for nonprofit healthcare delivery in the U.S., Fitch said. By revenue base, Kaiser is the largest nonprofit health system in the U.S., and it is the most fully integrated healthcare delivery system in the country, according to the credit rating agency. 

11. Mass General Brigham has an “Aa3” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s and an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with S&P. 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. 

12. Rochester, Minn.-based 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 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. 

13. 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.

14. Traverse City, Mich.-based Munson Healthcare has an “AA” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The health system has a strong market position, a good payer mix and robust cash-to-adjusted debt levels, Fitch said. The credit rating agency expects the system to weather an expected period of weakened operating cash flow margins. 

15. Albuquerque, N.M.-based Presbyterian Healthcare Services has an “Aa3” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s and an “AA” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. Presbyterian Healthcare Services is the largest health system in New Mexico, 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. 

16. Chicago-based Rush Health has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The 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. 

17. 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. 

18. 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. 

19. University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics has an “Aa2” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s. The Iowa City-based health system, the only academic medical center in Iowa, has strong patient demand and excellent financial management, Moody’s said. The credit rating agency said it expects the health system to continue to manage the pandemic with improved operating cash flow margins.

Saying farewell (for now) to a terrible financial quarter

Judging from our recent conversations with health system executives, we’d guess CEOs across the industry woke up this morning glad to see the first quarter in the rearview mirror.

Almost everyone we’ve spoken to has told us that the past three months have been miserable from an operating margin perspective—skyrocketing labor costs, rising drug and supply prices, and stubbornly long length of stay, particularly among Medicare patients.

In the words of one CFO, “I’ve never seen anything like this. For the first time, we budgeted for a negative margin, and still didn’t hit our target. I’m not sure how long our board will let us stay on this trajectory before things change.”

Yet few of the drivers of poor financial performance appear to be temporary. Perhaps the over-reliance on agency nursing staff will wane as COVID volumes bottom out (for how long remains unknown), but overall labor costs will remain high, there’s no immediate relief for supply chain issues, and COVID-related delays in care have left many patients sicker—and thus in need of more costly care. Plus, the lifeline of federal relief funds is rapidly dwindling, if not already gone.

Expect the next three quarters (and beyond) to bring a greater focus on cost cutting, especially as not-for-profit systems struggle to defend their bond ratings in the face of rising interest rates.

Buckle up, it’s going to be a bumpy landing.

Credit monitoring companies are removing most medical debt from consumer credit reports

Spurred by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s investigation into how credit companies report medical debt, TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian—the country’s three largest credit bureaus, who keep records on 200M Americans—are revising how they report medical debt.

As a result, the companies could eliminate up to 70 percent of medical debt from consumers’ credit reports. Starting in July, medical debts paid after going to collections will no longer appear on credit reports, and unpaid debts won’t be added until a year after being sent to collections (instead of six months, per current policy). And beginning in 2023, medical debts of less than $500 will also be excluded from credit reports altogether.

The Gist:The poorest and sickest patients have been disproportionately saddled with the highest levels of medical debt. In 2017, 19 percent of US households carried medical debt, including many with private insurance. 

While these changes will help mitigate the impact of medical debt for some, they aren’t a fix to the larger underlying problem of rising healthcare costs and access to adequate health insurance coverage.