A decline in COVID-19 funding and sustained expenses issues helped lead St. Louis-based Ascension to a $1.8 billion operating loss in the nine months ending March 31.
The nine-month loss was on revenue of $21.3 billion. In the quarter ending March 31, the 140-hospital system reported an operating loss of $1.4 billion on $6.9 billion in revenue.
Such losses compared with $640 million and $671 million deficits in the nine-month and three-month periods, respectively, ending March 31, 2022.
Expenses for the nine-month period increased 3.7 percent on the previous year to total $22.3 billion.
“The reduction in COVID-19 funding negatively impacted revenue in the current year,” Ascension management said in the filing. “Additionally, challenges to expenses continue to persist resulting from the inflationary environment.”
The operating losses were offset by improved non-operating income in the first three months of 2023 but not over the nine-month period, which saw a net deficit of $1.9 billion.
Ascension, which operates 2,600 sites of care across 19 states and Washington, D.C., had 219 days of cash on hand as of March 31 compared with 259 at the same time last year.
Pittsburgh-based UPMC’s operating income hit $100.4 million in the first quarter — up from $50.4 million in the prior year period — due to increased patient volumes, the growth of its insurance division and equity earnings in its investment in CarepathRx.
UPMC said quarterly results were partially offset by reduced pandemic-related funding and increased labor costs. First-quarter revenue increased 12 percent year over year to $6.9 billion and expenses rose 11 percent to $6.8 billion.
Year over year, UPMC’s admissions and observations increased 6 percent, while its health plan grew by almost 500,000 members to 4.5 million. UPMC attributed the 12 percent jump to the expansion of its behavioral health and Medicaid programs in eastern Pennsylvania.
“While meeting strong patient preference for care to be provided more conveniently in ambulatory settings closer to home, UPMC’s outpatient revenue increased 9 percent compared to a year ago,” CFO Edward Karlovich said in a May 25 news release. “Our patient volumes continue to shift from inpatient to outpatient settings.”
After including the performance of its investment portfolio and other nonoperating items, the 40-hospital system reported an overall gain of $187.3 million, compared with a loss of $226.2 million in the first quarter of 2022.
Fitch Ratings Senior Director Kevin Holloran dubbed 2022 the worst operating year ever and most nonprofit health systems reported large losses. However, the losses are shrinking and some systems have even reported gains during 2023 so far.
Cleveland Clinic reported $335.5 million net income for the first quarter of the year, compared with a $282.5 million loss over the same period in 2022. The health system reported revenue of $3.5 billion for the quarter. Cleveland Clinic has 321 days cash on hand, which puts it in a strong position for the future.
Boston-based Mass General Brighamreported $361 million gain for the second quarter ending March 31, which is up from a $867 million loss in the same period last year. The health system reported quarterly revenue jumped 11 percent year over year to $4.5 billion. The system’s quarterly loss on operations was down significantly this year, hitting $8 million, compared to $183 million last year.
Renton, Wash.-based Providence reported first quarter revenues were up 5.1 percent in 2023 to $7.1 billion, and operating loss is also moving in the right direction. The system reported $345 million operating loss in the first quarter of 2023, down from $510 million last year.
All three systems cited ongoing labor shortages and labor costs as a challenge, but are working on initiatives to reduce expenses. Cleveland Clinic and Mass General Brigham reported operating margin improvement to nearly positive numbers.
Kaiser Permanente, based in Oakland, Calif., also reported operating income at $233 million for the first quarter of the year, an increase from $72 million operating loss over the same period last year. The system is focused on advancing value-based care for the remainder of the year and its health plan grew more than 120,000 members year over year.
Even more regional systems are stemming their losses. SSM Health, based in St. Louis, went from a $57.4 million loss for the first quarter of 2022 to $16.5 million quarterly loss this year. Revenue increased 13.3 percent to $2.5 billion for the quarter, with increased labor expenses and inflation on supply costs continuing to weigh on the system.
UCHealth in Aurora, Colo., also reported a first quarter income of $61.8 million and revenue of more than $5 billion.
Not every system is seeing losses decline. Chicago-based CommonSpirit Health, which reported larger operating losses in the first quarter year over year, hitting $658 million and $1.1 billion for the nine-month’s end March 31. The system was able to reduce contract labor costs, but still finds hiring a challenge and spent time last year recovering from a cybersecurity incident.
Hospitals face a long road to financial recovery from the pandemic as inflation persists and labor shortages become the norm, but movement in the right direction is welcome.
Below is a summary of hospitals and health systems that have recently received affirmations of existing credit ratings. Some of these have not been reported on previously.
New York City-based cancer specialist Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center was affirmed by Fitch Ratings May 22 at “AA” with a stable outlook both for its default rating and on a series of bonds totaling approximately $2.6 billion.
Baltimore-based University of Maryland Medical System had an “A” rating affirmed on a series of bonds May 19 amid its robust operating profile and status as a premier healthcare provider in Maryland, S&P Global said. The 12-hospital system reported an operating loss of $8.9 million for the nine months ending March 31.
Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser Permanente had its “AA” default rating and that on a series of bonds affirmed May 15 by Fitch as the system was able to maintain a strong financial profile even in the face of a challenging operating environment.
Providence, R.I.-based Care New England has had its default rating and that on $135.8 million of bonds affirmed at “BB-,” Fitch Ratings said May 12. The system’s outlook remains negative.The ratings reflect Care New England’s “ongoing operational challenges and thin liquidity,” Fitch said. While operating performance is expected to improve, there remains a low cash position of concern, the note said.
New Hyde Park, N.Y.-based Northwell Health had an “A-” rating affirmed on a series of bonds amid strong market share and robust financial performance, Fitch said April 28. The 21-hospital system had $15.6 billion revenues in 2022.
While its relatively weaker operating performance may continue in the shorter term, Rochester, Minn.-based Mayo Clinic has had its long-term ratings affirmed because of its excellent reputation in overall health services, both S&P Global and Moody’s said.Mayo Clinic’s revenue bonds remain at “AA” with a stable outlook, S&P said. Mayo Clinic’s “Aa2” stable credit profile is characterized by its excellent reputations for clinical services, research and education, Moody’s said.
Moody’s affirmed New York City-based Montefiore Health System‘s “Baa3” rating because of the 10-hospital system’s leading market share in the Bronx, its clinical expertise, and its flagship status as the primary teaching hospital for Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
The national spotlight this week will be on the debt ceiling stand-off in Congress, the end of Title 42 that enables immigrants’ legal access to the U.S., the April CPI report from the Department of Labor and the aftermath of the nation’s 199th mass shooting this year in Allen TX.
The official end of the Pandemic Health Emergency (PHE) Thursday will also be noted but its impact on the health industry will be immediate and under-estimated.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) logged more than 104 million COVID-19 cases in the US as of late April and more than 11% of adults who had COVID-19 currently have symptoms of long COVID. It comes as the CDC say there’s a 20% chance of a Pandemic 2.0 in the next 2-5 years and the current death toll tops 1000/day in the U.S.
The Immediate impact:
The official end of the PHE means much of the cost for treating Covid will shift to private insurers; access to testing, vaccines and treatments with no out-of-pocket costs for the uninsured will continue through 2024. But enrollees in commercial plans, Medicare, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program can expect more cost-sharing for tests and antivirals.
That means higher revenues for insurers, increased out of pocket costs for consumers and more bad debt for hospitals and physicians.
At the state level, Medicaid disenrollment efforts will intensify to alleviate state financial obligations for Covid-related health costs. In tandem, state allocations for SNAP benefits used by 1 in 4 long-covid victims will shrink as budget-belts tighten lending to hunger cliff.
That means less access to health programs in many states and more disruption in low-income households seeking care.
The Under-estimated Impact:
The end of the PHE enables politicians to shift “good will” toward direct care workers, home and Veteran’s health services and away from hospitals and specialty medicine who face reimbursement cuts and hostile negotiations with insurers. The April 18, 2023 White House Executive Order which enables increased funding for direct care workers called for prioritization across all federal agencies. Notably, in the PHE, hospitals received emergency funding to treat the Covid-19 patients while utilization and funding for non-urgent services was curtailed. Though the Covid-19 population is still significant, funding for hospitals is unlikely in lieu of in-home and social services programs for at risk populations.
A second unknown is this: As the ranks of the uninsured and under-insured swell, and as affordability looms as a primary concern among voters and employers, provider unpaid medical bills and “bad debt” increases are likely to follow.
Hostility over declining reimbursement between health insurers and local hospitals and medical groups will intensify while the biggest drug manufacturers, hospital systems and health insurers launch fresh social media campaigns and advocacy efforts to advance their interests and demonize their foes.
Loss of confidence in the system and a desire for something better may be sparked by the official end of the PHE. And it’s certain to widen antipathy between insurers and hospitals.
In this month’s Health Affairs, DePaul University health researchers reported results of their analysis of the association between hospital reimbursement rates and insurer consolidation:
“Our results confirm this prior work and suggest that greater insurer market power is associated with lower prices paid for services nationally. A critical question for policy makers and consumers is whether savings obtained from lower prices are passed on in the form of lower premiums. The relationship to premiums is theoretically ambiguous. It is possible that insurers simply retain the savings in the form of higher profits.”
What’s clear is health insurers are winners and providers—especially hospitals and physicians—are likely losers as the PHE ends. What’s also clear is policymakers are in no mood to provide financial rescue to either.
In the weeks ahead as the debt ceiling is debated, the Federal FY 2024 budget finalized and campaign 2024 launches, the societal value of the entire health system and speculation about its preparedness for the next pandemic will be top of mind.
For some—especially not-for-profit hospitals and insurers who benefit from tax exemptions in favor of community health obligations– it requires rethinking of long-term strategies to serve the public good. And it necessitates their Boards to alter capital and operating priorities toward a more sustainnable future.
The pandemic exposed the disconnect between local health and human services programs and inadequacy of local, state and federal preparedness Given what’s ahead, the end of the Pandemic Health Emergency seems ill-timed and short-sighted: the impact will further destabilize the health industry.
PS: Saturday, the Allen Premium Outlets, (Allen, TX) was the site of America’s 199th mass shooting this year:
this time, 8 innocents died and 7 remain hospitalized, 4 in critical condition. Sadly, it’s becoming a new normal, marked by public officials who offer “thoughts and prayers” followed by calls for mental health and gun controls. Local law enforcement is deified if prompt or demonized if not. But because it’s a “new normal,” the heroics of EMS, ED and hospitals escapes mention. Medical City Healthcare is where 2 of the 8 drew their last breaths while staff labored to save the other 7. At a time when hospitals are battered by bad press, they deserve recognition for work done like this every day.
Last month, Eric Jordahl, Managing Director of Kaufman Hall’s Treasury and Capital Markets practice, blogged about the dangers of nonprofit healthcare providers’ extremely conservative risk management in today’s uncertain economy.
Healthcare public debt issuance in the first quarter of 2023 was down almost 70 percent compared to the first quarter of 2022. While not the only funding channel for not-for-profit healthcare organizations,
the level of public debt issuance is a bellwether for the ambition of the sector’s capital formation strategies.
While health systems have plenty of reasons to be cautious about credit management right now, it’s important not to underrate the dangers of being too risk averse. As Jordahl puts it: “Retrenchment might be the right risk management choice in times of crisis, but once that crisis moderates that same strategy can quickly become a risk driver.”
The Gist: Given current market conditions, there are a host of good reasons why caution reigns among nonprofit health systems, but this current holding pattern for capital spending endangers their future competitiveness and potentially even their survival.
Nonprofit systems aren’t just at risk of losing a competitive edge to vertically integrated payers, whom the pandemic market treated far more kindly in financial terms, but also to for-profit national systems, like HCA and Tenet, who have been flywheeling strong quarterly results into revamped growth and expansion plans.
Health systems should be wary of becoming stuck on defense while the competition is running up the score.
Last week, California’s legislature passed a bill establishing the Distressed Hospital Loan Program, which will dole out $150M in interest-free emergency loans to struggling nonprofit hospitals in the state which meet specific eligibility criteria, including operating in an underserved area and serving a large share of Medicaid beneficiaries. A combination of state agencies will establish a specific methodology for selection, but hospitals that are part of a health system with more than two separately licensed hospital facilities will be ineligible.
Hospitals receiving loans must provide a plan for how they will use the loans to achieve financial sustainability, and must pay back the money within six years.
The Gist: With twenty percent of the state’s hospitals at risk of shuttering, California lawmakers are hoping to provide the most vulnerable hospitals an alternative to either closure or consolidation, an example other states may follow. But unlike the Paycheck Protection Program loans that shored up businesses through the pandemic’s initial disruption, the outlook for small, struggling, independent hospitals isn’t expected to improve in coming years, even if the economy recovers.
Whether these loans provide lifelines or merely serve as Band-Aids on an untenable situation will depend on whether recipient hospitals can use them to restructure their operating models to absorb increased labor costs amid stagnating volumes and commercial reimbursement.
If these loans aren’t used for transformation, they will only delay the inevitable: more closures, and more mergers to find shelter in scale.
The healthcare financings that came in the past couple of weeks generally did well. Maturities seemed to do better than put bonds, and it remains important to pay attention to couponing and how best to navigate a challenging yield curve. But these are episodic indicators rather than trends, given that the scale of issuance remains muted. Other capital markets—like real estate—are becoming more active and offer competitive funding and different credit considerations relative to debt market options. Credit management continues to be the main driver of low external capital formation, but those looking for outside funding should spend time up front considering the full array of channels and structures.
This Part of the Crisis
And now it’s official. After JPMorgan acquired First Republic Bank—with a whole lot of help from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation—CEO Jamie Dimon declared, “this part of the crisis is over.” Not sure regional bank shareholders would agree, but from Mr. Dimon’s perspective the biggest bank got bigger, which made it a good day.
Last week the Federal Reserve raised rates another 25 basis points and the expectation (hope) seems to be that the Fed has reached the peak of its tightening cycle or will at least pause to see if constrictive forces like higher rates and regional bank balance sheet deflation slow activity enough to bring inflation back to the 2.0% Fed target. Assuming this is a pause point, it makes sense to check in on a few economic and market indicators.
Inflation is improving, although it remains well above the Fed’s 2.0% target range, and there are other indicators (like labor participation and unemployment) that have recovered some of the ground lost in 2020. But the weird part remains that this all seems quite civilized. To some, the Treasury curve spread continues to suggest a recession is looming, but in my neighborhood workers are still in short supply, restaurants are busy, and contractors are booked well into the future. Today’s ~3.36% 10-year Treasury rate is less than 100 basis points higher than the average since the start of the Fed interventionist era in 2008 and a whopping 257 basis points lower than the average since 1965. Think about how much capital has been raised in market environments much worse than now (including most of the modern-day healthcare inpatient infrastructure). Again, the main culprit in retarded capital formation is institutional credit management concerns rather than the funding environment.
The major fallout from the Fed’s recent anti-inflation efforts seems concentrated with financial intermediaries rather than consumers (or workers), and the financial intermediary stress the Fed is relying on to help curb economic activity is grounded in their own balance sheet management decisions rather than deteriorating loan portfolios. We’ve looked at this before, but it bears repeating that in the “great inflation” of the 1970s, the Chicago Fed’s Financial Conditions Index reached its highest recorded points (higher means tighter than average conditions) and in this most recent inflationary cycle, that same index has remained consistently accommodative. Can you wring inflation out of a system while retaining relatively accommodative financial conditions? Which begs the question of whether any Fed pause is more about shifting priorities: downgrading the inflation fight in favor of moderating the financial intermediary threat? We might be living a remake of the 1970s version of stubborn inflation, which means that all the attendant issues—rolling volatility across operations, financing, and investing—might be sticking around as well.
Meanwhile, somewhere out in the Atlantic the debt ceiling storm is forming. Who knows whether it will make landfall as a storm or a hurricane, but it does remind us that the operative portion of the Jamie Dimon quote noted above is this part of the crisis is over. The next part of the long saga that is about us climbing out of a deep fiscal and monetary hole will roll in and new variations of the same central challenge will emerge for healthcare leaders.
A Healthcare Makeover
Ken Kaufman has been advancing the idea that healthcare needs a “makeover” to align with post-COVID realities. Look for a piece from him on this soon, but the thesis is that reverting to a 2019 world isn’t going to happen, which means that restructuring is the only option. The most recent National Hospital Flash Report suggests improving margins, but they remain well below historical norms and the labor part of the expense equation is structurally higher. Where we are is not sustainable and waiting for a reversion is a rapidly decaying option.
My contribution to Ken’s argument is to reemphasize that balance sheet is the essential (only) bridge between here and a restructured sector and the journey is going to require very careful planning about how to size, position, and deploy liquidity, leverage, and investments. Of course, the central focus will be on how to reposition operations. But if organic cash generation remains anemic, the gap will be filled by either weakening the balance sheet (drawing down reserves, adding leverage, or adopting more aggressive asset allocation) or by partnering with organizations that have the necessary resources.
Organizations reach the point of greatest enterprise risk when the scale of operating challenges outstrips the scale of balance sheet resources. Missteps are manageable when the imbalance is the product of rapid growth but not when it is the result of deflating resources. If the core imperative is to remake operations, the co-equal imperative is continuously repositioning the balance sheet to carry you from here to whatever defines success.
Here are 24 health systems with strong operational metrics and solid financial positions, according to reports from credit rating agencies Fitch Ratings, Moody’s Investors Service and S&P Global in 2023.
Note: This is not an exhaustive list. Health system names were compiled from credit rating reports.
1. Atrium Health has an ‘AA-‘ and stable outlook with S&P Global. The Charlotte, N.C.-based system’s rating reflects a robust financial profile, growing geographic diversity and expectations that management will continue to deploy capital with discipline.
2. Berkshire Health has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The Pittsfield, Mass.-based system has a strong financial profile, solid liquidity and modest leverage, according to Fitch.
3. CaroMont Health has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with S&P Global. The Gastonia, N.C.-based system has a healthy financial profile and robust market share in a competitive region.
4. CentraCare has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The St. Cloud, Minn.-based system has a leading market position, and its management’s focus on addressing workforce pressures, patient access and capacity constraints will improve operating margins over the medium term, Fitch said.
5. Children’s Minnesota has an “AA” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The Minneapolis-based system’s broad reach within the region continues to support long-term sustainability as a market leader and preferred provider for children’s health care, Fitch said.
6. Cone Health has an “AA” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The rating reflects the expectation that the Greensboro, N.C.-based system will gradually return to stronger results in the medium term, the rating agency said.
7. El Camino Health has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The Mountain View, Calif.-based system has a history of generating double-digit operating EBITDA margins, driven by a solid market position that features strong demographics and a very healthy payer mix, Fitch said.
8. Harris Health System has an “AA” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The Houston-based system has a “very strong” revenue defensibility, primarily based on the district’s significant taxing margin that provides support for operations and debt service, Fitch said.
9. Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian has an “AA” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The Newport Beach, Calif.-based system’s rating is supported by a leading market position in its immediate area and very strong financial profile, Fitch said.
10. Inspira Health has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The Mullica Hill, N.J.-based system’s rating reflects its leading market position in a stable service area and a large medical staff supported by a growing residency program, Fitch said.
11. Mayo Clinic has an “Aa2” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s. The Rochester, Minn.-based system’s credit profile characterized by its excellent reputations for clinical services, research and education, Moody’s said.
12. McLaren Health Care has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The Grand Blanc, Mich.-based system has a leading market position over a broad service area covering much of Michigan and a track-record of profitability despite sector-wide market challenges in recent years, Fitch said.
13. Novant Health has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The Winston-Salem, N.C.-based system has a highly competitive market share in three separate North Carolina markets, Fitch said, including a leading position in Winston-Salem (46.8 percent) and second only to Atrium Health in the Charlotte area.
14. NYC Health + Hospitals has an “AA-” rating with Fitch. The New York City system is the largest municipal health system in the country, serving more than 1 million New Yorkers annually in more than 70 patient locations across the city, including 11 hospitals, and employs more than 43,000 people.
15. Orlando (Fla.) Health has an “AA-” and stable outlook with Fitch. The system’s upgrade from “A+” reflects the continued strength of the health system’s operating performance, growth in unrestricted liquidity and excellent market position in a demographically favorable market, Fitch said.
16. Rush System for Health has an “AA-” and stable outlook with Fitch. The Chicago-based system has a strong financial profile despite ongoing labor issues and inflationary pressures, Fitch said.
17. Saint Francis Healthcare System has an “AA” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The Cape Girardeau, Mo.-based system enjoys robust operational performance and a strong local market share as well as manageable capital plans, Fitch said.
18. Salem (Ore.) Health has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The system has a “very strong” financial profile and a leading market share position, Fitch said.
19. Stanford Health Care has an “AA” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The Palo Alto, Calif.-based system’s rating is supported by its extensive clinical reach in the greater San Francisco and Central Valley regions and nationwide/worldwide destination position for extremely high-acuity services, Fitch said.
20. SSM Health has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The St. Louis-based system has a strong financial profile, multi-state presence and scale, with solid revenue diversity, Fitch said.
21. UCHealth has an “AA” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The Aurora, Colo.-based system’s margins are expected to remain robust, and the operating risk assessment remains strong, Fitch said.
22. University of Kansas Health System has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with S&P Global. The Kansas City-based system has a solid market presence, good financial profile and solid management team, though some balance sheet figures remain relatively weak to peers, the rating agency said.
23. WellSpan Health has an “Aa3” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s. The York, Pa.-based system has a distinctly leading market position across several contiguous counties in central Pennsylvania, and management’s financial stewardship and savings initiatives will continue to support sound operating cash flow margins when compared to peers, Moody’s said.
24. Willis-Knighton Health System has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The Shreveport, La.-based system has a “dominant inpatient market position” and is well positioned to manage operating pressures, Fitch said.
Embattled insurtech Bright Health will fully ax its insurance business as a potential bankruptcy looms, the company announced Friday.
The company secured an extension to its credit facility through June 30, giving it a few extra months to avoid going belly-up. To ensure it qualifies for the extension, the company must find a buyer for its California-based Medicare Advantage (MA) business by the end of May, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
The MA business includes nearly 125,000 California seniors across its Brand New Day and Central Health Plan brands. In the announcement, Bright said the sale would “substantially bolster” its finances.
“Since our founding, Bright Health has worked to make healthcare simpler, more personal and affordable for consumers,” CEO Mike Mikan said in the announcement. “As our markets evolve, we are taking steps to adapt and ensure our businesses are best positioned for long-term success.”
Manny Kadre, lead independent director of Bright Health’s board of directors, said in the announcement that the company has “received inbound interest” about the California MA business as it explores its options.
With the full divestiture of its insurance business, that means Bright Health will be all-in on its NeueHealth care delivery services. Mikan said in the announcement that the segment performed well in the first quarter and has grown to serve about 375,000 value-based care customers.
As Bright shops for a buyer for its MA plans, it’s also continuing to unwind the ACA business, a process that hit a snag as it was hit with a lawsuit from Oklahoma-based health system SSM Health, which alleged that the insurer owed it more than $13 million in unpaid claims.
Bright Health is also under the gun to boost its stock price, as the New York Stock Exchange has threatened to delist its shares. Shares in the company were trading at 17 cents on Friday afternoon.