Nonprofit health systems — despite huge cash reserves — get billions in CARES funding

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/nonprofit-health-systems-despite-huge-cash-reserves-get-billions-in-car/580078/

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Healthcare Dive’s findings revive concerns that greater examination of hospital finances is needed before divvying up COVID-19 rescue funding allocated by Congress.
The nation’s largest nonprofit health systems, led by Kaiser Permanente, Ascension and Providence, have received more than $7.1 billion in bailout funds from the federal government so far, as the novel coronavirus forced them to all but shutter their most profitable business lines.

At the same time, some of these same behemoth systems sit on billions in cash, and even greater amounts when taking into account investments that can be liquidated over time. That raises questions about how much money these systems actually need from the federal government given they have hundreds of days worth of cash on hand. Indeed, some big systems, like Kaiser Permanente, are already returning some of the funds.

And it revives concerns that greater examination of hospital finances is needed before divvying up rescue packages.

Nonprofits with more cash and greater net income tend to have received less funding — but not always

This is the second story of a Healthcare Dive series examining the bailout funds health systems received amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In this report, we focus on the 20 largest nonprofits by revenue and the amount of Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding they have received compared to the amount of cash on hand and recent financial performance. Healthcare Dive used bond filings filed as of June 12 to compile the amount of CARES funding received by health systems. In some instances, we relied on data from Good Jobs First, which also tracks the money. In addition to bond filings, we relied on annual audited financial statements and analyst reports to compile financial performance and days cash on hand.

Cash reserves

The cash hospitals have on hand has become an important metric to watch over the past few months as many have seen reserves dwindle to pay everyday expenses as revenue has dried up. At the same time, hospital volumes have plunged due to the economy grinding to a halt.

“You can’t write a payroll check off of accounts receivables, you have to write it off your cash and cash equivalents.” Rick Gundling, senior vice president of healthcare financial practices for Healthcare Financial Management Association, told Healthcare Dive.

In the early days of the outbreak in the U.S., some hospital executives sounded the alarm over dire financial straits, particularly small, rural hospitals whose executives warned they were weeks away from not making payroll. These pleas helped push Congress to pass massive rescue packages, with providers earmarked for $175 billion thus far.

Nonprofit health systems tend to keep more cash on hand than publicly-traded hospital chains. That’s because investor-owned facilities can raise capital more quickly, mainly through the stock market, while nonprofits have to rely on the bond market and their own operations, Gundling said.

Another important avenue that can boost cash is investments. It’s common for large nonprofits to rake in more in net income than they do from their core operations of running hospitals and caring for patients, in large part due to their investments in the stock market.

For example, Chicago-based CommonSpirit posted an operating loss of $602 million during its fiscal year 2019 but net income far exceeded that, totaling $9 billion. It was buoyed by investments and its recent merger, bringing together Catholic Health Initiatives and Dignity Health, according to its audited financial statement for the year ended June 30, 2019.

Many nonprofit health systems rake in more in net income than they do from their core operations

Ascension, the second-largest nonprofit system, received about $492 million in CARES funding, according to Good Jobs First. Ascension reported having 231 days cash on hand. Its unrestricted cash and investments totaled a sum of $15.5 billion as of March 31.

Kaiser, the nation’s largest nonprofit system, has about 200 days of cash on hand as of its fiscal year end, Dec. 31, according to a recent report from Fitch Ratings.

Providence, the third-largest nonprofit and first U.S. health system to treat a COVID-19 patient, reported 182 days of cash on hand as of March 31, according to a May bond filing.

However, Cleveland Clinic has the most cash on hand when measured in days among the top 20 nonprofits.

Cleveland Clinic had 337 days of cash on hand at the end of March, according to an unaudited financial statement from May. That’s nearly an entire year’s worth of operating expenses. The system has received $199 million in CARES funding, according to that same filing.

Rochester, Minnesota-based Mayo Clinic had the second most days of cash on hand with 252. Mayo Clinic has received $220 million in grant money, according to a May financial filing.

“You would never see that much cash on an investor-owned hospital,” Gundling said. “Generally, they want to pour that cash back into the services,” he said.

NYC Health + Hospitals, also the nation’s largest municipal health system, had the fewest days of cash on hand and it received $745 million in CARES funding, the second-most compared to other systems.

How health systems’ funding and cash on hand compare

Samantha Liss (@samanthann) | Twitter

Risks of accepting bailout money

Sitting on a pile of money and accepting the bailout funds is already raising eyebrows.

“There is significant headline risk,” Michael Abrams, co-founder and partner at Numerof & Associates, told Healthcare Dive.

Worried about the optics, other institutions with considerable reserves or endowments have returned federal bailout funds, including Harvard University and major health insurers.

Providers are returning relief funds, too. Kaiser Permanente, the nation’s largest nonprofit by revenue, told the San Francisco Business Times it has returned more than $500 million in CARES funding. CEO Greg Adams the system “will do fine” despite the setback from the pandemic.

Mara McDermott, vice president of McDermott+Consulting, agrees there is a risk in accepting the grant money if systems possess such large reserves. Yet, she also cautioned that the healthcare ecosystem is so much more complicated.

“Regardless of the structure, it requires a deeper dive into need and that’s not what HHS did. They just wrote checks,” McDermott told Healthcare Dive.

Just because a parent company has a large cash reserve, it doesn’t mean that the money is readily available on a daily basis to a smaller practice it may own down the chain and one that hasn’t had any patients since March, she said.

“It’s easy to point the finger… but it’s much more complex than that,” she said.

The first tranche of money HHS sent to hospitals was based on Medicare fee-for-service business, and later on net patient service revenue. These formulas were criticized for putting some hospitals at an advantage compared to others, particularly those with larger shares of Medicaid patients. HHS has since released more targeted funding for providers in hot spots such as New York and plans to funnel funding to those serving a large share of Medicaid members in an attempt to address earlier concerns.

Still, without certainty of how long this public health crisis will last, no one knows how much cash on hand will ultimately be enough.

“A year’s cash on hand sounds like a lot of money but when you expend hundreds of millions of dollars a month, it won’t take you long to burn through that,” Scott Graham, CEO of Three Rivers Hospital, a 25-bed facility in rural Washington state, told Healthcare Dive.

Graham had feared in March that without quick intervention from the government, his hospital was near closure with just a few weeks cash on hand. The federal grant money has bought his hospital some time, about six months if volumes stay where they are, longer if they tick back up.

“I think what HHS did was right at the moment because we needed to ensure that the healthcare system survived this. It’s one thing for a small rural hospital to close, it’s another thing for the entire health system to collapse,” he said.

 

Primary care physicians could take $15 billion hit due to COVID-19 in 2020

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/primary-care-physicians-could-take-15-billion-hit-due-to-covid-19-in-2020/580600/

Dive Brief:

  • The financial impact on primary care practices due to the COVID-19 pandemic has been profound and will likely continue in the months ahead, according to a new study published in Health Affairs.
  • Visits of all types to medical practices declined 58% in March and April compared to the baseline average, and in-person patient encounters declined by 69%, the study found. Although visits are expected to have rebounded by June, volumes are still below pre-COVID-19 levels.
  • The drop in fee-for-service revenue for the 2020 calendar year is nearly $68,000 per physician, contributing to an estimated revenue decline of 12.5%. That’s a steep enough loss to threaten the financial viability of many practices. Losses to primary care practices nationwide could top $15 billion over the year — a number that could grow if the federal government reverts increased telemedicine payment rates.

Dive Insight:

Medical practices across the United States have been hit hard by the COVID-19 outbreak.

The new study by researchers from Harvard Medical School and the American Board of Family Medicine attempts to put a price tag on that hit by running a microsimulation for projected 2020 revenues based on volume data for general practices, general internal medicine practices, general pediatric practices and family medicine practices.

As a result, they concluded that the average revenue loss per practice per physician will be $67,774, even taking into account revenue generated by telemedicine visits, which did not make up for the massive loss of patient volume during the spring.

That loss could be cut to as little as $28,265 per full-time physician if other staff is furloughed and salaries are cut to the 25th percentile of such cuts that took place during the peak of the stay-at-home orders.

Some practices are also projected to have steeper losses. Rural primary care practices are projected to lose $75,274 per physician. Other studies have suggested that pediatric practices have been hit harder than other primary care fields. Some organizations, such as the American Medical Group Association, say revenue won’t rebound fully even next year.

The study also conducted various alternate scenarios for the remainder of 2020, including a second wave of COVID-19 in the fall. The researchers estimated that would cut patient volumes by about half as much as what occurred during the spring. However, the financial hit would deepen even further, reaching $85,666 per physician.

Altogether, the study projects primary care practices will lose $15.1 billion in fee-for-service revenue this year, not even accounting for a second wave of the coronavirus. The study’s authors note that “this loss would balloon substantially if telemedicine payment rates revert back to pre-COVID-19 levels towards the end of the year.”

The study concluded that while primary care physicians as a whole have not been as hard hit as the hospital sector, the services they provide in managing chronic diseases such as diabetes and as the port of entry for many into the healthcare system makes them too valuable to suffer sustained levels of financial damage.

 

 

 

Quorum Health to emerge from bankruptcy next month

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/quorum-bankruptcy-approval-emerging-in-july/580805/

Dive Brief:

  • For-profit hospital operator Quorum Health received approval of its plan to recapitalize the business Monday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware. Quorum expects to emerge from bankruptcy in early July, according to regulatory filings.
  • The system filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy April 7 to address current liquidity needs while continuing to care for patients and keep its hospitals operating amid a pandemic, according to a statement. It entered into a restructuring agreement with a majority of its lenders and noteholders.
  • Quorum still needs the court to issue a final order, but said the reorganization will reduce its debt by about $500 million, as originally expected.

Dive Insight:

Tennessee-based Quorum Health, which operates 22 rural and mid-sized hospitals in 13 states, may have been more ill-positioned financially than other systems going into the pandemic.

The company went public in May 2016 with 38 hospitals — 14 of which have since shuttered. In 2017, private equity firm KKR took a 5.6% stake in the system for $11.3 million.

Beyond being Quorum’s largest debt-holder today, KKR also owns about 9% of its public shares. In December, the firm offered to buy Quorum out and take the hospital chain private at $1 a share.

But that didn’t pan out, and Quorum instead ended up filing for bankruptcy in April, soon after the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The restructuring agreement now “allows our company to begin a new chapter with the flexibility and resources to continue supporting our community hospitals as they serve on the frontlines of this pandemic and beyond,” Marty Smith, Quorum’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, said in a statement Monday.

“We are grateful for the confidence of our financial stakeholders and partners, as well as our dedicated employees and physicians, and look forward to building on the significant progress we have made in strengthening our operations in recent years,” he said.

 

 

 

 

Navigating a Post-Covid Path to the New Normal with Gist Healthcare CEO, Chas Roades

https://www.lrvhealth.com/podcast/?single_podcast=2203

Covid-19, Regulatory Changes and Election Implications: An Inside ...Chas Roades (@ChasRoades) | Twitter

Healthcare is Hard: A Podcast for Insiders; June 11, 2020

Over the course of nearly 20 years as Chief Research Officer at The Advisory Board Company, Chas Roades became a trusted advisor for CEOs, leadership teams and boards of directors at health systems across the country. When The Advisory Board was acquired by Optum in 2017, Chas left the company with Chief Medical Officer, Lisa Bielamowicz. Together they founded Gist Healthcare, where they play a similar role, but take an even deeper and more focused look at the issues health systems are facing.

As Chas explains, Gist Healthcare has members from Allentown, Pennsylvania to Beverly Hills, California and everywhere in between. Most of the organizations Gist works with are regional health systems in the $2 to $5 billion range, where Chas and his colleagues become adjunct members of the executive team and board. In this role, Chas is typically hopscotching the country for in-person meetings and strategy sessions, but Covid-19 has brought many changes.

“Almost overnight, Chas went from in-depth sessions about long-term five-year strategy, to discussions about how health systems will make it through the next six weeks and after that, adapt to the new normal. He spoke to Keith Figlioli about many of the issues impacting these discussions including:

  • Corporate Governance. The decisions health systems will be forced to make over the next two to five years are staggeringly big, according to Chas. As a result, Gist is spending a lot of time thinking about governance right now and how to help health systems supercharge governance processes to lay a foundation for the making these difficult choices.
  • Health Systems Acting Like Systems. As health systems struggle to maintain revenue and margins, they’ll be forced to streamline operations in a way that finally takes advantage of system value. As providers consolidated in recent years, they successfully met the goal of gaining size and negotiating leverage, but paid much less attention to the harder part – controlling cost and creating value. That’s about to change. It will be a lasting impact of Covid-19, and an opportunity for innovators.
  • The Telehealth Land Grab. Providers have quickly ramped-up telehealth services as a necessity to survive during lockdowns. But as telehealth plays a larger role in the new standard of care, payers will not sit idly by and are preparing to double-down on their own virtual care capabilities. They’re looking to take over the virtual space and own the digital front door in an effort to gain coveted customer loyalty. Chas talks about how it would be foolish for providers to expect that payers will continue reimburse at high rates or at parity for physical visits.
  • The Battleground Over Physicians. This is the other area to watch as payers and providers clash over the hearts and minds of consumers. The years-long trend of physician practices being acquired and rolled-up into larger organizations will significantly accelerate due to Covid-19. The financial pain the pandemic has caused will force some practices out of business and many others looking for an exit. And as health systems deal with their own financial hardships, payers with deep pockets are the more likely suitor.”

 

 

 

 

7 health systems report $1B+ losses in Q1

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/finance/7-health-systems-report-1b-losses-in-q1.html?utm_medium=email

The Dollar Total For 1996's Top Verdict Awards Continues On A ...

Health systems across the U.S. saw revenue decline, expenses rise and investment gains dwindle in the first quarter of this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

For the three months ended March 31, some of the biggest nonprofit health systems in the U.S. reported losses. Below are seven health systems that reported net losses of $1 billion or more. 

Ascension (St. Louis)
Revenue: $6.1 billion
Operating loss: $429.4 million
Net loss: $2.7 billion

CommonSpirit Health (Chicago)
Revenue: $7.8 billion
Operating loss: $145 million
Net loss: $1.4 billion

Kaiser Permanente (Oakland, Calif.)
Revenue: $22.6 billion
Operating income: $1.3 billion
Net loss: $1.1 billion

Providence (Renton, Wash.)
Revenue: $6.3 billion
Operating loss: $276 million
Net loss: $1.1 billion

Sutter Health (Sacramento, Calif.)
Revenue: $3.2 billion
Operating loss: $236 million
Net loss: $1.1 billion

Advocate Aurora Health (Downers Grove, Ill., and Milwaukee)
Revenue: $3.1 billion
Operating loss: $85.6 million
Net loss: $1.3 billion

Intermountain Healthcare (Salt Lake City)
Revenue: $2.3 billion
Operating income: $115 million
Net loss: $1 billion

 

 

Tower Health cutting 1,000 jobs as COVID-19 losses mount

https://www.inquirer.com/business/health/tower-health-hospital-layoffs-covid-19-20200616.html

Tower Health cutting 1,000 jobs as COVID-19 losses mount

Tower Health on Tuesday announced that it is cutting 1,000 jobs, or about 8 percent of its workforce, citing the loss of $212 million in revenue through May because of the coronavirus restrictions on nonurgent care.

Fast-growing Tower had already furloughed at least 1,000 employees in April. It’s not clear how much overlap there is between the furloughed employees, some of whom have returned to work, and the people who are now losing their jobs permanently. Tower employs 12,355, including part-timers.

“The government-mandated closure of many outpatient facilities and the suspension of elective procedures caused a 40 percent drop in system revenue,” Tower’s president and chief executive, Clint Matthews, wrote in an email to staff. “At the same time, our spending increased for personal protective equipment, staff support, and COVID-related equipment needs.”

Despite the receipt of $66 million in grants through the federal CARES Act, Tower reported an operating loss of $91.6 million in the three months ended March 31, according to its disclosure to bondholders.

Tower, which is anchored by Reading Hospital in Berks County, expanded most recently with the December acquisition of St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in a partnership with Drexel University. Tower paid $50 million for the hospital’s business, but also signed a long-term lease with a company that paid another $65 million for the real estate.

In 2017, Tower paid $418 million for five community hospitals in Southeastern Pennsylvania — Brandywine in Coatesville, Chestnut Hill in Philadelphia, Jennersville Regional in West Grove, Phoenixville in Phoenixville, and Pottstown Memorial Medical Center, now called Pottstown Hospital, in Pottstown.

Tower’s goal was to remain competitive as bigger systems — the University of Pennsylvania Health System and Jefferson Health from the Southeast, Lehigh Valley Health Network and St. Luke’s University Health Network from the east and northeast, and University of Pittsburgh Medical Center from the west — encroached on its Berk’s county base.

Tower had set itself a difficult task in the best of times, but COVID-19 has made it significantly harder for the nonprofit, which had an operating loss of $175 million on revenue of $1.75 billion in the year ended June 30, 2019.

Because health systems have high fixed costs for buildings and equipment needed no matter how many patients are coming through the door, it’s hard for them to limit the impact of the 30% to 50% collapse in demand caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Hospitals and all other health service providers were hit with this disruption with lightning speed, forcing the industry to learn in real time how to handle a situation for which there was no playbook,” Standard & Poor’s analysts David P. Peknay and Suzie R. Desai said in a research report last month.

Tower’s said positions will be eliminated in executive, management, clinical, and support areas.

The cuts include consolidations of clinical operations. Tower plans to close Pottstown Hospital’s maternity unit, which employs 32 nurses and where 359 babies were born in 2018, according to the most recent state data. Tower also has maternity units at Reading Hospital in West Reading and at Phoenixville Hospital.

Tower is aiming to trim expenses by $230 million over the next two years, Matthews told staff.

Like many other health systems, Tower has taken advantage of federal programs to ensure that it has ample cash in the bank to run its businesses. Tower has deferred payroll taxes, temporarily sparing $25 million. It received $166 million in advanced Medicare payments in April.

In the private sphere, Tower obtained a $40 million line of credit in April for St. Chris, which has lost $23.6 million on operations since Tower and Drexel bought it in December. Last month, Tower said it was in the final stages of negotiating a deal to sell and then lease back 24 medical office buildings. That was expected to generate $200 million in cash for Tower.

 

 

 

 

Predicting COVID-19’s Long-Term Impact on the Home Health Care Market

Predicting COVID-19’s Long-Term Impact on the Home Health Care Market

Predicting COVID-19's Long-Term Impact on the Home Health Care ...

The Patient-Driven Groupings Model (PDGM) and its unintended ripple effects were supposed to be the dominant story this year for the nation’s 12,000 or so Medicare-certified home health care providers. But the coronavirus has rewritten the script for 2020, throwing most of the industry’s previous projections out the window.

While PDGM — implemented on Jan. 1 — will still shape home health care’s immediate future, several other long-term trends have emerged as a result of the coronavirus and its impact on the U.S. health care system.

These trends include unexpected consolidation drivers and the sudden embrace of telehealth technology, the latter of which is a development that will affect home health providers in ways both profoundly positive and negative. Unforeseen, long-term trends will also likely include drastic overhauls to the Medicare Home Health Benefit, a revival of SNF-to-home diversion and more.

Now that providers have had roughly three full months to adapt to the coronavirus and transition out of crisis mode, Home Health Care News is looking ahead to what the industry can expect for the rest of 2020 and beyond.

‘Historic’ consolidation will still happen, with some unexpected drivers

Although the precise extent was often up for debate, most industry insiders predicted some level of consolidation in 2020, driven by PDGM, the phasing out of Requests for Anticipated Payment (RAPs) and other factors.

That certainly appeared to be true early on in the year, with Amedisys Inc. (Nasdaq: AMED), LHC Group Inc. (Nasdaq: LHCG) and other home health giants reporting more inbound calls related to acquisition opportunities or takeovers of financially distressed agencies.

In fact, during a fourth-quarter earnings call, LHC Group CEO and Chairman Keith Myers suggested that 2020 would kick off a “historic” consolidation wave that would last several years.

“As a result of this transition in Q4 and the first few months of 2020, we have seen an increase in the number of inbound calls from smaller agencies looking to exit the business,” Myers said on the call. “Some of these opportunities could be good acquisition candidates, and others we can naturally roll into our organic growth through market-share gains.”

Most of those calls stopped with the coronavirus, however.

Although the vast majority of home health agencies have experienced a decline in overall revenues during the current public health emergency, many have been able to compensate for losses thanks to the federal government’s multi-faceted response.

For some, that has meant taking advantage of the approximately $1.7 billion the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has distributed through its advanced and accelerated payment programs. For others, it has meant accepting the somewhat murky financial relief sent their way under the Provider Relief Fund.

In addition to those two possible sources of financial assistance, all Medicare-certified home health agencies have benefitted from Congress’s move to suspend the 2% Medicare sequestration until Dec. 31.

Eventually, those coronavirus lifelines and others will be pulled back, kickstarting M&A activity once again.

“We believe that a lot of the support has stopped or postponed the shakeout that’s occurring in home health — or that we anticipated would be occurring around this time,” Amedisys CEO and President Paul Kusserow said in March. “We don’t believe it’s over, though.”

Not only will consolidation happen, but some of it will be fueled by unexpected players.

With the suspension of elective surgeries and procedures, hospitals and health systems have lost billions of dollars. Rick Pollack, president and CEO of the American Hospital Association (AHA), estimated that hospitals are losing as much as $50 billion a month during the coronavirus.

“I think it’s fair to say that hospitals are facing perhaps the greatest challenge that they have ever faced in their history,” Pollack, whose organization represents the interests of nearly 5,000 hospitals, told NPR.

To cut costs, some hospitals may look to get rid of their in-house home health divisions. It’s a trend that may already be happening, too.

The Home Health Benefit will look drastically different

With a mix of temporary and permanent regulatory changes, including a redefinition of the term “homebound,” the Medicare Home Health Benefit already looks very different now than it did three months ago. But the benefit will likely go through further retooling in the not-too-distant future.

Broadly, the Medicare Part A Trust Fund finances key services for beneficiaries.

While vital to the national health care infrastructure, the fund is going broke — and fast. In the most recent CMS Office of the Actuary report released in April, the Trust Fund was projected to be entirely depleted by 2026.

The COVID-19 virus has only accelerated the drain on the fund, with some predicting it to run out of money two years earlier than anticipated. A group of health care economics experts from Harvard and MIT wrote about the very topic on a joint Health Affairs op-ed published Wednesday.

“COVID-19 is causing the Medicare Part A program and the Hospital Insurance (HI) Trust Fund to contend with large reductions in revenues due to increased unemployment, reductions in salaries, shifts to part-time employment from full time and a reduction in labor force participation,” the group wrote. “In addition to revenue declines, there was a 20% increase in payments to hospitals for COVID-related care and elimination of cost sharing associated with treatment of COVID.”

Besides those and other cost pressures, Medicare is simultaneously expanding by about 10,000 new people every day. The worst-case scenario: the Medicare Part A Trust Fund goes broke closer to 2024.

There are numerous policy actions that can be taken to reduce the financial strain on the trust fund. In their op-ed, for example, the team of Harvard and MIT researchers suggested shifting all of home health care under Part B.

In 2018, Medicare spent about $17.9 billion on home health benefits, with roughly 66% of that falling under Part B, which typically includes community-based care that isn’t linked to hospital or nursing home discharge. Consolidating all of home health care into Part B would move billions of dollars away from Part A, in turn expanding the Trust Fund’s lifecycle.

“Such a policy change would move nearly $6 billion in spending away from the Part A HI Trust Fund but would put upward pressure on the Part B premium,” the researchers noted.

Of course, all post-acute care services may still undergo a transformation into a unified payment model one day. However, the coronavirus has devastated skilled nursing facility (SNF) operators, who were already dealing with the Patient-Driven Payment Model (PDPM), a payment overhaul of their own.

Regulators may shy away from introducing further disruption until SNFs have a chance to recover, a process likely to take years — if not decades.

Previously, the Trump administration had estimated that a unified payment system based on patients’ clinical needs rather than site of care would save a projected $101.5 billion from 2021 to 2030.

Telehealth will be a double-edged sword

The move toward telehealth was a long-term trend that home health providers were cognizant of before COVID-19, even if some clinicians were personally skeptical of virtual visits. But because the virus has demanded social distancing, telehealth has forced its way into health care in a manner that would have been almost unimaginable in 2019.

In late April, during a White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing, President Donald Trump indicated that the number of patients using telehealth had increased from about 11,000 per week to more than 650,000 people per week.

Meanwhile, MedStar Health went from delivering just 10 telehealth visits per week to nearly 4,000 per day.

Backed by policymakers, technology companies and consumers, telehealth is likely here to stay.

“I think the genie’s out of the bottle on this one,” CMS Administrator Seema Verma said in April. “I think it’s fair to say that the advent of telehealth has been just completely accelerated, that it’s taken this crisis to push us to a new frontier, but there’s absolutely no going back.”

The telehealth boom could mean improved patient outcomes and new lines of business for home health providers. But it could also mean more competition moving forward.

For telehealth to be a true game-changer for home health providers, Congress and CMS would need to pave the way for direct reimbursement. Currently, a home health provider cannot get paid for delivering virtual visits in fee-for-service (FFS) Medicare.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) has floated the idea of introducing legislation that would allow for direct telehealth reimbursement in the home health space, but, so far, no concrete steps have been taken — at least in public. With a hyper-polarized Congress and a long list of other national priorities taking up the spotlight, it’s impossible to guess whether home health telehealth reimbursement will actually happen.

While home health providers can’t directly bill for in-home telehealth visits, hospitals and certain health care practitioners can. That regulatory imbalance could lead to providers being used less frequently as “the eyes and ears in the home,” some believe.

A new SNF-to-home diversion wave will emerge

Over the past two decades, many home health providers have been able to expand their patient census by poaching patients from SNFs. Often referred to as SNF-to-home diversion, the approach didn’t just benefit home health providers, though. It helped cut national health care spending by shifting care into lower-cost settings.

At first, the stream of SNF residents being shifted into home health care was like water being shot from a firehose: In 2009, there were 1,808 SNF days per 1,000 FFS Medicare beneficiaries, a March 2018 analysis from consulting firm Avalere Health found. By 2016, that number plummeted to 1,539 days per 1,000 beneficiaries — a 15% drop.

In recent years, that steady stream has turned into a slow trickle, with more patients being sent to home health care right off the bat. In the first quarter of 2019, 23.3% of in-patient hospital discharges were coded for home health care, while 21.1% were coded for SNFs, according to data from analytics and metrics firm Trella Health.

Genesis HealthCare (NYSE: KEN) CEO George Hager suggested the initial SNF-to-home diversion wave was over in March 2019. Kennett Square, Pennsylvania-based Genesis is a holding company with subsidiaries that operate hundreds of skilled nursing centers across the country.

“To anyone [who] would want [to] or has toured a skilled nursing asset, I would challenge you to look at the patients in our building and find patients that could be cared for in a home-based or community-based setting,” Hager said during a presentation at the Barclays Global Healthcare Conference. “The acuity levels of an average patient in a skilled nursing center have increased dramatically.”

Yet that was all before the coronavirus.

Over the last three months, more than 40,600 long-term care residents and workers have died as a result of COVID-19, according to an analysis of state data gathered by USA Today. That’s about 40% of the U.S.’s overall death toll.

CMS statistics place that number closer to 26,000.

In light of those figures and infection-control issues in congregate settings, home health providers will see a new wave of SNF-to-home diversion as robust as the first. As the new diversion wave happens, providers will need to be prepared to care for patients with higher acuity levels and more co-morbidities.

“[That’s going to change] the psyche of the way people are going to view SNFs and long-term care facilities for the rest of our generation,” Bruce Greenstein, LHC Group’s chief strategy and innovation officer, said during a June presentation at the Jefferies Virtual Healthcare Conference. “You would never want to put your parent in a facility if you don’t have to. You want options now.”

One stat to back up this idea: Over 50% of family members are now more likely to choose in-home care for their loved ones than they were prior to the coronavirus, according to a survey from health care research and consulting firm Transcend Strategy Group.

Separate from SNF-to-home diversion, hospital-to-home models will also likely continue to gain momentum after the coronavirus.

There will be a land grab for palliative care

Over the past two years, home health providers have aggressively looked to expand into hospice care, partly due to the space’s relatively stable reimbursement landscape. Amedisys — now one of the largest hospice providers in the U.S. — is the prime example of that.

During the COVID-19 crisis, palliative care has gained greater awareness. Generally, palliative care is specialized care for people living with advanced, serious illnesses.

“Right now, we are seeing from our hospital partners and our community colleagues the importance of palliative care, including advanced care as well as appropriate pain and symptom management,” Capital Caring Chief Medical Officer Dr. Matthew Kestenbaum previously told HHCN. “The number of palliative care consults we’re being asked to perform in the hospitals and in the community has actually increased. The importance of palliative care is absolutely being shown during this pandemic.”

As community-based palliative care programs continue to prove their mettle amid the coronavirus, home health providers will increasingly consider expanding into the market to further diversify their services.

Currently, just 10% of community-based palliative care programs are operated by home health agencies.

Demand will reach an all-time high

The home health industry may ultimately shrink in terms of raw number of agencies, but the overall size of the market is very likely to expand at a faster-than-anticipated pace.

In years to come, home health providers will still ride the macro-level tailwinds of an aging U.S. population with a proven preference to age in place — that hasn’t changed. But because of SNF-to-home diversion and calls to decentralize the health care system with home- and community-based care, providers will see an increase in referrals from a variety of sources.

In turn, home health agencies will need to ramp up their recruitment and retention strategies.

There’s already early evidence of this happening.

Last week, in St. Louis, Missouri, four home-based care agencies announced that they were hiring a combined 1,000 new employees to meet the surge in demand, according to the St. Louis Dispatch.

Meanwhile, Brookdale Senior Living Inc. (NYSE: BKD) similarly announced plans to hire 4,500 health care workers, with 10% of those hires coming from the senior living operator’s health care services segment.

Bayada Home Health Care likewise announced plans to ramp up hiring.

“We are absolutely hiring more people now than ever,” Bayada CEO David Baiada previously told HHCN. “The need for services — both because of societal and demographic evolution, but also because of what we anticipate as a rebound and an increase in the demand for home- and community-based care delivery as a result of the pandemic — is requiring us to continue to accelerate our recruitment efforts.”

The bottom line: The coronavirus may have presented immediate obstacles for home health providers, but the long-term outlook is brighter than ever.

 

 

 

 

INSIGHT: Health-Care M&A Post-Pandemic—Opportunities, Not Opportunism

https://news.bloomberglaw.com/health-law-and-business/insight-health-care-m-a-post-pandemic-opportunities-not-opportunism

INSIGHT: Health-Care M&A Post-Pandemic—Opportunities, Not Opportunism

The Covid-19 pandemic has devastated the health-care industry. In addition to the tragedies that the pandemic has brought, health systems have universally experienced severe and rapid deterioration of their bottom lines due to plummeting patient volumes, pausing of high margin elective surgical procedures, and increased expenses.

By some estimates, health system losses will be around $200 billion by the end of June and revenues have dropped by around 50 percent. As a result of the financial uncertainty caused by the pandemic, many hospital and health systems terminated or delayed potential transactions as they focused on managing the crisis and protecting their workforces and communities.

But this may just be the calm before a big M&A storm.

Rise in M&A Activity

Through our work as legal and communications counselors, we have seen preliminary M&A activity rise in recent weeks, with providers exploring and negotiating transactions, including several that have not yet been publicly announced.

Some systems are looking to capitalize on the time between the end of the first wave of Covid-19 and a potential resurgence in the fall to get letters of intent finalized and announced. This coming M&A activity presents legal and communications challenges when the national spotlight is firmly on health systems.

Providers are starting to resurrect deals that were paused during the initial period of the Covid-19 crisis, including Community Health System’s sale of Abilene Regional Medical Center and Brownwood Regional Medical Center to Hendrick Health System.

Some systems are seeking new strategic partners, such as Lake Health in Ohio, and New Hanover Regional Medical Center in North Carolina, which resumed its recent RFP response process after a pause.

Still others are looking for new opportunities consistent with pre-Covid growth strategies, as adjusted for pandemic-related developments and challenges.

More Consolidation

Larger and more financially robust health systems are expected to weather the crisis, whereas smaller systems and hospitals with less cash and tighter operating margins, including rural and critical access hospitals, may be facing insolvency, closure, and bankruptcy. This creates a scenario where one party is financially distressed as a result of the pandemic and needs to partner with or join another system to survive. These circumstances will likely fuel increased consolidation in the health-care industry.

For a struggling provider, joining a larger system can offer much-needed financial commitments, access to capital, disciplined management structure, economies of scale for purchasing and improved IT infrastructure, among many other strategic benefits. A well-positioned system, even if financially weakened due to pandemic challenges, will be able to negotiate favorable deal terms if it has significant strategic value to its prospective partner.

Communications Strategy is Important

As providers explore and execute partnerships, they must implement a stakeholder and communications strategy that focuses on benefits for each side given the new financial reality. Doing so will minimize criticism of opportunism by the acquiring system—and best position a definitive agreement and successful deal.

An effective communications strategy will emphasize how the proposed transaction will maintain or improve quality or affordability, ensure access to care for communities and address financial challenges faced by health systems as a result of the pandemic.

Health systems should articulate how their M&A activity will stabilize affected health systems, allow them to manage the Covid-19 crisis and future pandemics, and continue to meet the overall care needs of the community. It can also highlight how these partnerships will facilitate continued care in a market, which otherwise might lose a valuable health-care resource, as well as the positive economic benefits the transaction will bring for local communities.

Communications that support the vision, rationale and benefits of a deal will also need to be relevant to the regulatory bodies whose approval may be required.

Public perception and support of health-care providers have been extremely positive during the pandemic to date, as evidenced by homemade banners, balcony tributes, and praise on social media. Health systems and their staffs have borne personal risk and financial pain by focusing on patients and public health at the expense of all else. This goodwill can be valuable as health systems seek stakeholder and community support for their transactions.

That goodwill can also quickly be forgotten.

As health systems race to the altar to beat out competitors for M&A targets and other strategic relationships, it is critical that they are thoughtful in structuring their deals and justifying the activity.

For example, acquisitions and partnerships involving substantial outlays of capital and lucrative executive compensation or severance packages will be viewed negatively if undertaken by a system that instituted large compensation reductions across the system or even furloughed or laid off employees during the pandemic.

As the dust begins to settle from the first wave of Covid-19, it is clear that there will be drastic changes to how health systems do business. The pandemic will also create financial winners and losers. Hospitals and health systems must think proactively about a strategy for growth as opportunities with willing transaction partners arise.

But being proactive must be balanced against appearing to be opportunistic or taking advantage of the worst health crisis in our lifetimes. To maintain their goodwill and reputations, health systems should continue to do deals for the right reasons and for the benefit of their communities.

 

 

 

State-by-state breakdown of 130 rural hospital closures

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/finance/state-by-state-breakdown-of-130-rural-hospital-closures.html

Rural Hospital Closures Hit Poor, Minority Communities Hardest ...

Nearly one in five Americans live in rural areas and depend on their local hospital for care. Over the past 10 years, 130 of those hospitals have closed.

Thirty-three states have seen at least one rural hospital shut down since 2010, and the closures are heavily clustered in states that have not expanded Medicaid under the ACA, according to the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research.

Twenty-one rural hospitals in Texas have closed since 2010, the most of any state. Tennessee has the second-most closures, with 13 rural hospitals shutting down in the past decade. In third place is Oklahoma with eight closures. 

Listed below are the 130 rural hospitals that have closed since Jan. 1, 2010, as tracked by the Sheps Center. For the purposes of its analysis, the Sheps Center defined a hospital closure as the cessation in the provision of inpatient services.

“We follow the convention of the Office of Inspector General that a closed hospital is ‘a facility that stopped providing general, short-term, acute inpatient care,'” reads a statement on the Sheps Center’s website. “We did not consider a hospital closed if it: merged with, or was sold to, another hospital but the physical plant continued to provide inpatient acute care, converted to critical access status, or both closed and reopened during the same calendar year and at the same physical location.”

As of June 8, all the facilities listed below had stopped providing inpatient care. However, some of them still offered other services, including outpatient care, emergency care, urgent care or primary care.

Alabama
SouthWest Alabama Medical Center (Thomasville)
Randolph Medical Center (Roanoke)
Chilton Medical Center (Clanton)
Florence Memorial Hospital
Elba General Hospital
Georgiana Medical Center

Alaska
Sitka Community Hospital

Arizona
Cochise Regional Hospital (Douglas)
Hualapai Mountain Medical Center (Kingman)
Florence Community Healthcare

Arkansas
De Queen Medical Center

California
Kingsburg Medical Center
Corcoran District Hospital
Adventist Health Feather River (Paradise)
Coalinga Regional Medical Center

Florida
Campbellton-Graceville Hospital
Regional General Hospital (Williston)
Shands Live Oak Regional Medical Center
Shands Starke Regional Medical Center

Georgia
Hart County Hospital (Harwell)
Charlton Memorial Hospital (Folkston)
Calhoun Memorial Hospital (Arlington)
Stewart-Webster Hospital (Richland)
Lower Oconee Community Hospital (Glenwood)
North Georgia Medical Center (Ellijay)

Illinois
St. Mary’s Hospital (Streator)

Indiana
Fayette Regional Health System

Kansas
Central Kansas Medical Center (Great Bend)
Mercy Hospital Independence
Mercy Hospital Fort Scott
Horton Community Hospital
Oswego Community Hospital
Sumner Community Hospital (Wellington)

Kentucky
Nicholas County Hospital (Carlisle)
Parkway Regional Hospital (Fulton)
New Horizons Medical Center (Owenton)
Westlake Regional Hospital (Columbia)

Louisiana
Doctor’s Hospital at Deer Creek (Leesville)

Maine
St. Andrews Hospital (Boothbay Harbor)
Southern Maine Health Care-Sanford Medical Center
Parkview Adventist Medical Center (Brunswick)

Maryland
Edward W. McCready Memorial Hospital (Crisfield)

Massachusetts
North Adams Regional Hospital

Michigan
Cheboygan Memorial Hospital

Minnesota
Lakeside Medical Center
Albany Area Hospital
Albert Lea-Mayo Clinic Health System
Mayo Clinic Health System-Springfield

Mississippi
Patient’s Choice Medical of Humphreys County (Belzoni)
Pioneer Community Hospital of Newton
Merit Health Natchez-Community Campus
Kilmichael Hospital
Quitman County Hospital (Marks)

Missouri
Sac-Osage Hospital (Osceola)
Parkland Health Center-Weber Road (Farmington)
Southeast Health Center of Reynolds County (Ellington)
Southeast Health Center of Ripley County (Doniphan)
Twin Rivers Regional Medical Center (Kennett)
I-70 Community Hospital (Sweet Springs)
Pinnacle Regional Hospital (Boonville)

Nebraska
Tilden Community Hospital

Nevada
Nye Regional Medical Center (Tonopah)

New York
Lake Shore Health Care Center
Moses-Ludington Hospital (Ticonderoga)

North Carolina
Blowing Rock Hospital
Vidant Pungo Hospital (Belhaven)
Novant Health Franklin Medical Center (Louisburg)
Yadkin Valley Community Hospital (Yadkinville)
Our Community Hospital (Scotland Neck)
Sandhills Regional Medical Center (Hamlet)
Davie Medical Center-Mocksville

Ohio
Physicians Choice Hospital-Fremont
Doctors Hospital of Nelsonville

Oklahoma
Muskogee Community Hospital
Epic Medical Center (Eufaula)
Memorial Hospital & Physician Group (Frederick)
Latimer County General Hospital (Wilburton)
Pauls Valley General Hospital
Sayre Community Hospital
Haskell County Community Hospital (Stigler)
Mercy Hospital El Reno

Pennsylvania
Saint Catherine Medical Center Fountain Springs (Ashland)
Mid-Valley Hospital (Peckville)
Ellwood City Medical Center
UPMC Susquehanna Sunbury

South Carolina
Bamberg County Memorial Hospital
Marlboro Park Hospital (Bennettsville)
Southern Palmetto Hospital (Barnwell)
Fairfield Memorial Hospital (Winnsboro)

South Dakota
Holy Infant Hospital (Hoven)

Tennessee
Riverview Regional Medical Center South (Carthage)
Starr Regional Medical Center-Etowah
Haywood Park Community Hospital (Brownsville)
Gibson General Hospital (Trenton)
Humboldt General Hospital
United Regional Medical Center (Manchester)
Parkridge West Hospital (Jasper)
Tennova Healthcare-McNairy Regional (Selmer)
Copper Basin Medical Center (Copperhill)
McKenzie Regional Hospital
Jamestown Regional Medical Center
Takoma Regional Hospital (Greeneville)
Decatur County General Hospital (Parsons)

Texas
Wise Regional Health System-Bridgeport
Shelby Regional Medical Center
Renaissance Hospital Terrell
East Texas Medical Center-Mount Vernon
East Texas Medical Center-Clarksville
East Texas Medical Center-Gilmer
Good Shepherd Medical Center (Linden)
Lake Whitney Medical Center (Whitney)
Hunt Regional Community Hospital of Commerce
Gulf Coast Medical Center (Wharton)
Nix Community General Hospital (Dilley)
Weimar Medical Center
Care Regional Medical Center (Aransas Pass)
East Texas Medical Center-Trinity
Little River Healthcare Cameron Hospital
Little River Healthcare Rockdale Hospital
Stamford Memorial Hospital
Texas General-Van Zandt Regional Medical Center (Grand Saline)
Hamlin Memorial Hospital
Chillicothe Hospital
Central Hospital of Bowie

Virginia
Lee Regional Medical Center (Pennington Gap)
Pioneer Community Hospital of Patrick County (Stuart)
Mountain View Regional Hospital (Norton)

West Virginia
Williamson Memorial Hospital
Fairmont Regional Medical Center

Wisconsin
Franciscan Skemp Medical Center (Arcadia)