Health system cash reserves plummet

Cash reserves, an important indicator of financial stability, are dropping for hospitals and health systems across the U.S.

Both large and small health systems are affected by rising labor and supply costs while reimbursement remains low. St. Louis-based Ascension reported days cash on hand dropped from 336 at the end of the 2021 fiscal year to 259 as of June 30, 2022, the end of the fiscal year. The system also reported accounts receivable increased three days from 47.3 in 2021 to 50.3 in 2022 because commercial payers were slow, especially in large dollar claims.

Trinity Health, based in Livonia, Mich., also reported days cash on hand dropped to 211 in fiscal year 2022, ending June 30, compared to 254 days at the end of 2021. Trinity attributed the 43-day decrease in cash on hand to “investment losses and the recoupment of the majority of the Medicare cash advances.”

Chicago-based CommonSpirit Health reported days cash on hand decreased by 69 days in the last year. The 140-hospital health system reported 245 days cash on hand at the 2021 fiscal year’s end June 30, and 176 days for 2022.

Lehigh Valley Health Network in Allentown, Pa., said unfavorable trends in the capital market led to investment losses and a drop in days cash on hand from 216 to 150 days in the 2022 fiscal year ending June 30. The health system also had a scheduled repayment of $191.1 million in advance Medicare dollars as well as $25 million in deferred payroll tax payments.

Philadelphia-based Thomas Jefferson University reported cash on hand for clinical operations dropped by 10.9 days in just the last quarter due to nonoperating investment losses and repaying government advances, which equaled about five days cash on hand. The health system reported 158.5 days cash on hand as of Sept. 30.

While the large health systems’ days cash on hand are dropping, they still have deep reserves. Smaller hospitals and health systems are in a more dire situation. Doylestown (Pa.) Hospital reported as of Sept. 30 the system had 81 days cash on hand, and Moody’s downgraded the hospital in June after the days cash on hand dropped below 100.

Kaweah Health in Visalia, Calif., saw reserves plummet since the pandemic began from 130 to 84 days cash on hand. Gary Herbst, CEO of Kaweah Health, blamed lost elective procedures, high labor costs, inflation and more for the system’s financial issues.

“The COVID-19 pandemic, and its aftermath, have brought District hospitals to the brink of financial collapse,” Mr. Herbst wrote in an open letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom published in the Visalia Times Delta. He asked Mr. Newsom to provide additional funding for public district hospitals. “Without your help, it will soon be virtually impossible for Medi-Cal patients to receive anything but emergency medical care in the State of California.”

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.

For hospitals, ‘difficult decisions’ loom after 9 months of negative margins

The third quarter brought little relief to hospitals in what is shaping up to be one of their worst financial years. 

Kaufman Hall’s October National Hospital Flash Report — based on data from more than 900 hospitals — found slightly lower hospital expenses in September did not outweigh lower revenue across the board, with decreases in discharges, inpatient minutes and operating minutes.

The median year-to-date operating margin index for hospitals was -0.1 percent in September, marking a ninth straight month of negative operating margins and a dimmer outlook for their climb back into the black by year’s end. 

Kaufman Hall noted that expense pressures and volume and revenue declines could force hospitals to make “difficult decisions” about service reductions and cuts. 

“Health systems are starting to get a clear picture of what service lines have a positive effect on their margins and which ones are weighing them down,” said Matthew Bates, managing director and Physician Enterprise service line lead with Kaufman Hall. “Without a positive margin there is no mission. Health systems must think carefully and strategically about what areas of care they invest in for the future.”

A rough year so far for health system finances

https://mailchi.mp/b1e0aa55afe5/the-weekly-gist-october-7-2022?e=d1e747d2d8

As everyone in our industry knows, sluggish volumes amid persistently rising costs, especially for labor, have sent health system margins into a downward spiral across 2022. Using the latest data from consultancy Kaufman Hall, the graphic above shows that by the end of this year, employed labor expenses will have increased more than all non-labor costs combined. 

While contract labor usage, namely travel nursing, is declining, the constant battle for nursing talent means travel nurses are still a significant expense at many hospitals. Through the first six months of this year, over half of hospitals reported a negative operating margin, and the median hospital operating margin has dropped over 100 percent from 2019. 

Larger health systems are not faring better: all five of the large, multi-regional, not-for-profit systems we’ve highlighted below saw their operating margins tumble this year, with drops ranging from three points (Kaiser Permanente) to nearly seven points (CommonSpirit Health and Providence). 

While these unfavorable cost trends have been building throughout COVID, health systems now have neither federal relief nor returns from a thriving stock market to help stabilize their deteriorating financial outlooks. 

Health system boards will tolerate negative margins in the short-term (especially given that many have months’ worth of days cash on hand), but if this situation persists into 2023, pressure for service cuts, layoffs, and restructuring will mount quickly. 

Moody’s downgrades Envision Healthcare, says bankruptcy possible

https://www.healthcarefinancenews.com/news/moodys-downgrades-envision-healthcare-says-bankruptcy-possible?mkt_tok=NDIwLVlOQS0yOTIAAAGHIoNXD3RHJX9565s0VyIQfY4Uc14busfvrByxC5bYAOaGJlhBG7u8IwXVfkB87U6Jjbirffa4zrcOIdYpH9jOgLhMCdv-mgKhDKgBYygB

Envision will see weak liquidity over the following 12 to 18 months, and its $1.4B cash reserve will likely run dry by the end of next year.

Physician staffing company Envision Healthcare is struggling financially, and these struggles are reflected in a Moody’s Investors Service credit rating downgrade, which took into account ongoing labor pressures and a decline in volumes linked to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Moody’s, Envision will see weak liquidity over the following 12 to 18 months, and its $1.4 billion cash reserve will likely run dry by the end of next year. Moody’s said bankruptcy or restructuring is likely in the cards, and its Corporate Family Rating (CFR) has been downgraded from C to Caa3.

The rating action follows a series of transactions including restructuring of Envision’s senior secured credit facilities, and issuing a new revolving credit facility in July 2022 and other debt in April 2022 at its subsidiary, AmSurg. Moody’s deemed Envision’s transactions to be a distressed exchange, as the loans were exchanged at a price below par. That’s a default under Moody’s definition.

Envision’s capital structure is unsustainable, the rating agency said. Recovery rates for much of the company’s debt will be low. Moody’s expects operating performance will continue to deteriorate due to ongoing labor pressures within the industry, as well as rising interest rates that will cause interest expense to nearly double. 

The refinancing has not materially reduced debt, and while the maturities have been extended, Envision remains at risk of being unable to service its debt.

WHAT’S THE IMPACT

There are some factors in play that mitigate some of the risks. Envision has considerable scale and market position as one of the largest physician staffing outsourcers in the country, said Moody’s. The company has strong product diversification within its physician staffing and ambulatory surgery center segments.

However, continuing business pressures and increased interest expense will cause Envision’s free cash flow to be significantly negative in 2022 and beyond. 

When assigning the new ratings, Moody’s considered the expected loss on the Envision debt, which the Rating Agency expects will be significant. Moody’s noted that to the extent that there is asset recovery on the Envision business, the share of proceeds to the term loans will be applied to the Envision senior secured first out term loan before the other debt. But it’s expected that there will be material losses.

The outlook is stable for both Envision and the AmSurg subsidiary. Moody’s expects the company to remain distressed and there is a heightened risk of default given the weak liquidity and risks surrounding the ongoing sustainability of the business.

THE LARGER TREND

Envision operates an extensive emergency department, hospital, anesthesiology, radiology and neonatology physician outsourcing segment. The company also operates more than 250 ambulatory surgery centers in 34 states, and is owned by private equity firm KKR. Revenues for the period ending June 30 were about $7 billion.

Although it’s unlikely in the near term, a substantial improvement in Envision’s liquidity position –  including refinancing of the existing debt – would be needed to support an upgrade. Envision would also need an improvement in its operating performance, Moody’s said.

Earlier this month, Envision filed a lawsuit against UnitedHealthcare over the insurer’s denied claims, sparking a countersuit from UHC, which claimed Envision fraudulently upcoded claims for services provided to UHC members.

UHC removed Envision from its network last year, claiming the firm’s costs did not reflect fair market rates. According to Envision’s lawsuit, UHC denied about 18% of submitted commercial claims – a number that swelled to 48% of all claims after Envision’s removal from UHC networks, the firm said. And for the highest-acuity claims, Envision is accusing UHC of denying 60% of those claims.

Meanwhile, in June, physicians at Corona Regional Medical Center and Temecula Valley Hospital in California threatened to leave the hospitals if for-profit owner Universal Health Services changes the staffing management firm to Envision, according to an emergency room doctor who heads the hospitals’ current staffing firm, Emergent Medical Associates (EMA).
Physicians objected to Envision citing concerns of lower pay and staffing levels leading to lower quality of care.

14 health systems with strong finances

Here are 14 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 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. AnMed Health has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The Anderson, S.C.-based system has a leading market share in most service lines, strong operating performance and very solid EBITDA margins, Fitch 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. Lincoln, Neb.-based Bryan Health has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The 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. 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. 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. 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. 

10. Salt Lake City-based Intermountain Healthcare has an “Aa1” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s. The 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 give Intermountain greater geographic reach.

11. Omaha-based Nebraska Medicine has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The health system has a strong market position and is the only public academic provider in Nebraska with high acuity services, Fitch said. The health system continues to generate positive operating cash flow levels, and it has modest flexibility to absorb additional debt, according to the credit rating agency. 

12. Fort Wayne, Ind.-based Parkview Health has an “Aa3” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s. The health system has a leading market position with expansive tertiary and quaternary clinical services in northeastern Indiana and northwestern Ohio, Moody’s said. The credit rating agency said the stable outlook reflects management’s ability to generate strong operating performance during the pandement and with less favorable reimbursement rates. 

13. 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. 

14. 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. 

Hospitals experiencing some of the worst margins since beginning of pandemic: Kaufman Hall

https://www.fiercehealthcare.com/providers/julys-hospital-margins-were-among-worst-pandemic-kaufman-hall-says

Despite a a seventh straight month of industrywide negative margins, “hospitals and health systems must think strategically and make investments to strengthen performance toward long-term institutional goals despite the day-to-day financial challenges they experience,” Kaufman Hall’s Erik Swanson said.

Months of inching performance gains were upended in July as the nation’s hospitals logged “some of the worst margins since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Kaufman Hall wrote in its latest industry report.

Decreasing outpatient revenues paired with pricier inpatient stays were chief among the culprits and outpaced minor improvements in expenses, the group wrote in its monthly sector update for July.

What’s more, seven straight months of negative margins “reversed any gains hospitals saw this year” and has the advisory group forecasting a brutal year for the industry.

“July was a disappointing month for hospitals and put 2022 on pace to be the worst financial year hospitals have experienced in a long time,” Erik Swanson, senior vice president of data and analytics with Kaufman Hall, said in a statement. “Over the past few years, hospitals and health systems have been able to offset some financial hardship with federal support, but those funding sources have dried up, and hospitals’ bottom lines remain in the red.”

Kaufman Hall placed its median year-to-date operating margin index at -0.98% through July, compared to the -0.09% from January to June the group had reported during last month’s report. Hospitals’ median percent change in operating margin from June to July was -63.9%, according to the report, and -73.6% from July 2021.

The month’s volume trends hinted at the larger shift toward scheduling procedures for ambulatory settings, Kaufman Hall wrote. For instance, operating room minutes declined 10.3% from June to July and 7.7% year over year, according to the report.

Patients who did come into the hospital tended to be sicker, the firm continued. Average length of stay increased 2% from last month and 3.4% year over year. Patient days increased 2.8% from the previous month but were down 2.6% from the prior year, while adjusted discharges dipped 2.8% from June and 4.2% from July 2021.  

These trends came together as a brake check on 2022’s to-date revenue gains. Gross operating revenue fell 3.6% from June but remains up 5.5% year to date. Outpatient revenue was down 4.8% from June and maintains a 7.1% year-to-date increase. Inpatient revenue declined 0.7% from June but is still up 3.6% year to date.

The silver lining in Kaufman Hall’s report were total expenses that, although up 7.6% from July 2021, saw a modest 0.4% decline since June. Those savings came squarely among supply and drug expenses as total labor costs and labor expense per adjusted discharge still grew 0.8% and 3.5%, respectively, since June. Increases in full-time employees per adjusted occupied bed “possibly” suggest increased hiring, the group wrote in the report.

Kaufman Hall acknowledged the “urgency of day-to-day pressures” driving the month’s sudden performance dips but urged hospital leaders to prioritize long-term operational improvements as they work to keep the organization afloat.

“2022 has been, and will likely continue to be, a challenging year for hospitals and health systems, but it would not be prudent to focus on short-term solutions at the expense of long-term planning,” Swanson said. “Hospitals and health systems must think strategically and make investments to strengthen performance toward long-term institutional goals despite the day-to-day financial challenges they experience.”

Kaufman Hall’s monthly reports are based on a sample of more than 900 nationally representative hospitals.

The group isn’t alone in its doom-and-gloom warnings for providers. Fitch Ratings recently wrote that high expenses, jilted volume gains and other challenges are unlikely to resolve before the end of the year. As such, the agency downgraded its outlook for the nonprofit hospital industry from “neutral” to “deteriorating.”

Read the full report here

Nonprofit hospitals’ ‘deceptively strong’ financial metrics likely to end, Fitch says

Nonprofit hospitals’ median financial metrics showed improvement last year, but Fitch Ratings is projecting declines for next year and beyond. 

The credit rating agency analyzed 2021 audited data and reported that “AA” rated hospital medians showed a 20 percent increase in cash to adjusted debt. “BBB” rated health systems had an 8 percent increase.

“The deceptively strong numerical improvements over prior years’ medians are less a sign of sector resiliency and more a cautionary calm before the storm,” Fitch Ratings senior director Kevin Holloran said in the Aug. 18 report. “Additional expenses, primarily labor, have become part of the permanent fabric of hospital operations, that when combined with ongoing incremental challenges will exert tremendous pressure on providers through calendar 2022 and beyond.”

Fitch predicts hospital medians will flip this time next year due to inflationary pressures, a challenging operational start to 2022 and additional omicron sub-variants. 

Fitch also highlighted staffing as a concern for hospital medians. 

“We are likely two years before some level of ‘normal’ returns to the sector,” Mr. Holloran said in the report. “For many hospitals, their ‘value journey’ will be on temporary hold until expenses stabilize and become more predictable.”

8 health systems with strong finances

Here are eight 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 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. 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. Lincoln, Neb.-based Bryan Health has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The 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. 

4. 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. 

5. 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. 

6. 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. 

7. Salt Lake City-based Intermountain Healthcare has an “Aa1” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s. The 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 give Intermountain greater geographic reach.

8. 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.