The health care debate we ought to be having

https://www.axios.com/what-matters-2020-health-care-costs-7139f124-d4f7-44a1-afc2-6d653ceec77d.html

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Americans worry a lot about how to get and pay for good health care, but the 2020 presidential candidates are barely talking about what’s at the root of these problems: Almost every incentive in the U.S. health care system is broken.

Why it matters: President Trump and most of the Democratic field are minimizing the hard conversations with voters about why health care eats up so much of each paycheck and what it would really take to change things.

  • Instead, the public debate focuses on ideas like how best to cover the uninsured and the relative virtue of health care “choice.”

The U.S. spent $3.6 trillion on health care last year, and almost every part of the system is pushing its costs up, not down.

 

Hospitals collect the biggest piece of the health care pie, at about $1 trillion per year.

  • Their incentive is to fill beds — to send as many bills as possible, for as much as possible.
  • Big hospital systems are buying up smaller ones, as well as physician practices, to reduce competition and charge higher prices.
  • And hospitals have resisted efforts to shift toward a system that pays for quality, rather than volume.

 

Drug companies, meanwhile, are the most profitable part of the health care industry.

  • Small biotech companies usually shoulder the risk of developing new drugs.
  • Big Pharma companies then buy those products, market them aggressively and develop a fortress of patents to keep competition at bay as long as possible.

 

The money bonanza is enticing some nontraditional players into the health care world.

 

Insurers do want to keep costs down — but many of their methods are deeply unpopular.

  • Making us pay more out of pocket and putting tighter restrictions on which doctors we can see create real and immediate headaches for patients.
  • That makes insurers the most convenient punching bag for politicians.

 

The frustrating reality: Democrats’ plans are engaging in the debate about possible solutions more than the candidates themselves.

  • It’s a tacit acknowledgment of two realities: That controlling the cost of care is imperative, and that talking about taking money away from doctors and hospitals is a big political risk.

 

What they’re saying: The top 2020 Democrats have actually released “insanely aggressive” cost control ideas, says Larry Levitt, executive vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation. “But they don’t talk about that a lot.”

  • Medicare for All, the plan endorsed by Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, would sharply reduce spending on doctors and hospitals by eliminating private insurance and paying rates closer to Medicare’s. Estimates range from about $380 billion to nearly $600 billion in savings each year.
  • Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg have proposed an optional Medicare-like insurance plan, which anyone could buy into. It would pay providers less than private insurance, with the hopes of putting competitive pressure on private plans’ rates.
  • The savings there would be smaller than Medicare for All’s, but those plans are still significantly more ambitious than the Affordable Care Act or most of the proposals that came before it.

 

Yes, but: The health care industry has blanketed Iowa with ads, and is prepared to spend millions more, to defend the very profitable status quo.

  • The argument is simple: Reframe the big-picture debate about costs as a threat to your doctor or your hospital. It’s an easy playbook that both parties, and the industry, know well. And it usually works.

 

The bottom line: “Voters want their health care costs reduced, but that doesn’t mean they would necessarily support what it would take to make that happen,” Levitt said.

 

 

 

 

The top 10 questions from the 2020 J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference that every CEO must answer

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/strategy/the-top-10-questions-from-the-2020-j-p-morgan-healthcare-conference-that-every-ceo-must-answer.html

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As we enter a new decade, everyone is searching for something to truly change the game in healthcare over the next 10 years. To find that answer, an estimated 50,000 people headed to San Francisco this week for the prestigious J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference. Every one of them is placing big bets on who will win and lose in the future of healthcare. The shortcut to figuring this out is actually a question — or 10 questions to be more precise. And what matters most is whether or not the right people are asking and answering those questions.  

While the prophets are ever present and ever ready to pitch their promises in every corner of the city, the pragmatists head up to the 32nd floor of the Westin St. Francis Hotel to hear from the CEOs and CFOs of close to 30 of the largest and most prestigious providers of care in the country. Why? Remember, this is an investor conference and if you want to understand any market, the first rule is to follow the money. And if you want to understand the future business model of healthcare, you better listen closely to the health providers in that room and take notes. 

What providers are saying matters to everyone in healthcare

Healthcare is the largest industry in our economy with over $4 trillion spent per year. Healthcare delivery systems and healthcare providers account for over $2 trillion of that spend, so that feels like a pretty good place to start, right? For that reason alone, it’s critical to listen closely to the executives in those organizations, as their decisions will affect the quality, access and cost of care more than any other stakeholder in healthcare.

Some will say that what they saw this year from healthcare providers was more of the same, but I encourage you to ignore that cynicism and look more closely. As the futurist William Gibson once said, “The future is already here — it’s just not evenly distributed.” The potential for any health system to drive major change is certainly there and the examples are everywhere. The biggest blocker is whether they are asking the right questions. One question can change everything. Here’s proof. 

The stunning power of and need for good questions 

Last year I titled my summary The #1 Takeaway from the 2019 JP Morgan Conference – It’s the Platform, Stupid.” The overwhelming response to the article was pretty surprising to me  — it really resonated with leaders. One example was Jeff Bolton, the chief administrative officer of Mayo Clinic, who told me that the article had inspired their team to ask a single question, “Does Mayo need to be a platform?” They answered the question “yes” and then took aggressive action to activate a strategy around it. Keep reading to learn about what they set in motion. 

Soon after, I had a discussion with John Starcher, CEO of Cincinnati-based Bon Secours Mercy Health, one of the largest health systems in the country, who shared with me that he is taking his team off site for a few days to think about their future. It occurred to me that the most helpful thing for his team wouldn’t be a laundry list of ideas from the other 30 healthcare delivery systems that presented, but rather the questions that they asked at the board and executive level that drove their strategy. Any of those questions would have the potential to change the game for John’s team or any executive team. After all, if you’re going to change anything, the first thing you need to do is change is your mind. 

The wisdom of the crowd 

So, I set out to figure this out: If you were having a leadership or board retreat, what are the 10 questions you should be asking and answering that may change the future of your organization over the next 10 years? I didn’t have the answers, so I decided to tap into the wisdom of the crowd, listening to all 30 of the nonprofit provider presentations, spending additional time with a number of the presenters and reaching out to dozens of experts in the market to help define and refine a set of 10 questions that could spark the conversation that fires up an executive team to develop to the right strategy for their organization. 

A special thank you to a number of the most respected leaders in healthcare who took their time to contribute to and help think through these questions: 

  • Mike Allen, CFO of OSF Healthcare (Peoria, Ill.)
  • Jeff Bolton, CAO of Mayo Clinic (Rochester, Minn.)
  • Robin Damschroder, CFO of Henry Ford Health System (Detroit)
  • JP Gallagher, CEO of NorthShore University HealthSystem (Evanston, Ill.)
  • Kris Zimmer, CFO of SSM Health (St. Louis) 
  • Wright Lassiter, CEO of Henry Ford Health System (Detroit)
  • Mary Lou Mastro, CEO of Edwards-Elmhurst Health (Warrenville, Ill.)
  • Dominic Nakis, CFO of Advocate Aurora Health (Milwaukee and Downers Grove, Ill.) 
  • Dr. Janice Nevin, CEO of ChristianaCare (Newark, Del.)
  • Randy Oostra, CEO or ProMedica (Toledo, Ohio)
  • John Orsini, CFO of Northwestern Medicine (Chicago)
  • Lou Shapiro, CEO of Hospital for Special Surgery (New York City) 
  • John Starcher, President & CEO, Bon Secours Mercy Health (Cincinnati)
  • Vinny Tammaro, CFO, Yale New Haven Health (New Haven, Conn.)
  • Bert Zimmerli, CFO of Intermountain Healthcare (Salt Lake City)

Here are the top 10 questions from the 2020 J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference

Based on the wisdom of the crowd including the 30 nonprofit provider presentations at the 2020 JP Morgan Healthcare Conference, here are the Top 10 Questions that every CEO needs to answer that may make or break their next 10 years.

1. Business model: Will we think differently and truly leverage our “platform?” As referenced earlier in this article, this was the major theme from last year — health systems leveraging their current assets to build high-value offerings and new revenue streams on top of the infrastructure they have in place. Providers are pivoting from the traditional strategy of buying and building hospitals and simply providing care toward a new and more dynamic strategy that focuses on leveraging the platform they have in place to create more value and growth. Mayo Clinic is an organization that all health systems follow closely. Mayo adopted the platform model around their ‘digital assets’ into what they refer to as Mayo Clinic Platform, which initially targets three game-changing initiatives: a Home Hospital to deliver more health in the home even for high acuity patients, a Clinical Data Analytics Platform for research and development and an Advanced Diagnostics Platform focused on predictive analytics, using algorithms to capture subtle signals before a disease even develops. Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, one of the top pediatric hospitals in the world, is leveraging their platform to drive international volume, where revenue is 3.5x more per patient. They are also making investments in cell and gene therapy, where their spinoff of Spark Therapeutics returned hundreds of millions of dollars back to their organization. Both organizations were clear that any returns that they generate will be re-invested back into raising the bar on both access to care and quality of care.

 

2. Market share: Are we leveraging a “share of cup” strategy? Starbucks had dominant share in the market against Caribou Coffee, Peet’s Coffee and Dunkin’ Donuts. Instead of solely focusing on how to grab a little more market share, they reframed the definition of their market. They called it “share of cup” meaning that anywhere and any time a cup of coffee was consumed, they wanted it to be Starbucks. In that definition of the market, they had very little share, but enormous growth potential. Hospital for Special Surgery in New York is the largest and highest volume orthopedic shop in the world. Their belief is that wherever and whenever a musculoskeletal issue occurs, they should be part of that conversation. This thinking has led them to build a robust referral network, which 33 percent of the time leads to no surgical treatment. So instead of fighting for share of market in New York, they have a very small share and a very big opportunity in a “share of cup” approach. NorthShore University Health System in Illinois has taken a similar approach on a regional level, converting one of their full-service hospitals into the first orthopedic and spine institute in the state. The results have exceeded expectations on every measure and they already have to increase their capacity due to even higher demand than they originally modeled. 

 

3. Structure: Are we a holding company or an operating company? There has been a tremendous amount of consolidation over the last few years, but questions remain over the merits of those moves. The reality is that many of these organizations haven’t made the tough decisions and are essentially operating as a holding company. They are not getting any strategic or operational leverage. You can place all health systems on a continuum along these two endpoints — being a holding vs. an operating company — but the most critical step is to have an open conversation about where you’re at today, where you intend to be in the future, when you’re going to get there and how you’re going to make it happen. Bon Secours Mercy Health’s CEO John Starcher shared, “It makes sense to merge, but only if you’re willing to make the tough decisions.” His team hit the mark on every measure of their integration following their merger. They then leveraged that same competency to acquire the largest private provider of care in Ireland, as well as seven hospitals in South Carolina and Virginia. Northwestern Medicine has leveraged a similar approach to transform from a $1 billion hospital into a $5 billion health system in a handful of years. Both of these organizations prioritized and made tough decisions quickly and each has created an organizational competency in executing efficiently and effectively on mergers and acquisitions. 

 

4. Culture: Do we have employees or a team? Every organization states that their employees are their most important asset, but few have truly engaged them as a team. Hospitals and healthcare delivery systems can become extraordinarily political, and it’s easy to see why. These are incredibly complex businesses with tens of thousands of employees in hundreds of locations and thousands of departments. Getting that type of organization to move in the same direction is incredibly challenging in any industry. At the same time, the upside of breaking through is perhaps the most important test of any leadership team. JP Gallagher, CEO of North Shore University Health System, shared his perspective that, “Healthcare is a team sport.” The tough question is whether or not your employees are truly working as a team. Christiana Care provides care in four states — Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. They have taken a unique approach that they frame as “for the love of health,” incorporating the essence of what they do in every communication both internally and externally, in their values and in their marketing. In a multi-state system, it is tricky to create a caring and collaborative culture, but it’s critical and they’ve nailed it. Their CEO shared that, “If you lead with love, excellence will follow.” That’s not only well said but spot-on. Creating a world-class team requires not only loving what you do, but the team you’re part of.

 

5. Physicians: Are our physicians optimistic or pessimistic? There’s a lot of concern about “physician burnout” with a reflex to blame it on EHRs, cutting off the needed conversation to dive deeper into where it really comes from and how best to address it. The challenge over the next decade is to create an optimistic, engaged and collaborative culture with physicians. In reading this, some will react with skepticism, which is exactly why leadership here is so important. One suggestion I was given was to make this question edgier and ask, “Are our physicians with us or not?” However the question is asked, the bottom line is that leadership needs to find a way to turn this into a dynamic, hyper-engaged model. A little while back I spent the day with the leadership team at Cleveland Clinic. At the end of the day, their CEO Dr. Tom Mihaljevic was asked what he would tell someone who was thinking of going to medical school. He said he would tell them that, “This is absolutely the best time to be a doctor.” His answer was based on the fact that there has never been a time when you could do more to help people. He wasn’t ignoring the challenges, he was simply reframing those issues as important problems that smart people need to help solve in the future. Those who adopt that type of optimism and truly engage and partner with their physicians will create a major competitive advantage over the next decade.

 

6. Customer: Do we treat sick patients or care for consumers? Words matter here – patients vs. consumers. Most hospitals are in a B2B, not B2C, mindset. Patients get sick, they try to access care, they check into an ER, they get admitted, they are treated, they get discharged. People get confused, anxious and concerned, then they seek not only care, but simplicity, compassion and comfort. With half of America coming through their stores every week, Walmart is already the largest provider organization that no one thinks of as they provide ‘consumer’ care, not ‘patient’ care. But they are starting to broaden their lens, and health systems will need to make moves as well. Competing with Walmart, CVS and other consumer-centric models will require a different mindset. I think Dr. Janice Nevin, the CEO ChristianaCare, captured this really well when she said, “Our mindset is that our role is to ensure everything that can be digital will be digital. Everything than can be done in the home will be done in the home.” Henry Ford Health System CEO Wright Lassiter commented, “Trust is the fundamental currency in healthcare.” Building that trust will require a digital experience in the future that is just as compassionate and caring as what health systems strive to deliver in person in the past. 

 

7. Data: Will we make data liquid? The most undervalued and misunderstood asset of health systems may be their data. While some at the conference refer to this as having the economic equivalent of being the “oil of healthcare,” the real and more practical question is whether or not your organization will make data liquid, available and accessible to the right players on your team at the right time. Jeff Bolton from Mayo commented that, “The current model is broken. Data and tech can eliminate fragmentation.” In a recent Strata survey, we asked leaders in health systems whether they had access to the information they needed to do their job, and 90 percent said no. For many health systems, data is a science project, hidden behind the scenes primarily used for research and impossible to access for most stakeholders. The call to action is activating that data to improve clinical outcomes, operations and/or financial performance. 

 

8. Cost: Are we serious about reducing the cost of care and delivering value? Affordability is a hot topic, and for good reason, as high deductible plans, price transparency and other factors have accelerated its urgency. As Intermountain Healthcare CEO Dr. Marc Harrison shared, “We have an absolute responsibility to make healthcare affordable.” While the consumer side will be a moving target for some time, the No. 1 challenge for hospitals right now is to lower their cost structure so they can compete more effectively in the future. Advocate Aurora HealthBaylor Scott & White Health, CommonSpirit Health and many others are targeting cost reductions of over $1 billion over the next few years. As most hospitals are now in a continuous process to reduce cost in order to compete more effectively in the future, organizations like Yale New Haven Health in Connecticut have implemented advanced cost accounting solutions to better understand both cost and margins. Yale is using this data to understand variation, supporting an initiative that drove over $150 million in savings. Additionally, they have combined cost data with clinical feeds from their EHR to understand the cost of harm events, which turn out to be 5x more expensive. As more providers take on risk, having a “source of truth” on the cost of care will be essential. Advocate Aurora Health CFO Dominic Nakis shared that, “We believe the market will continue to move to taking on risk.” Many of the presenting organizations shared that same perspective, but they won’t be able to manage that risk unless they understand the cost of care for every patient at every point of care across the continuum every day.

 

9. Capital: Do we have an “asset-light” strategy? Traditional strategy for health systems was defined primarily by what they built or bought. Many hospitals still maintain an “if you build it, they will come” strategy at the board level. Yet, Uber has become the biggest transportation company in the world without owning a single car and Airbnb has become the biggest hospitality company in the world without owning a single room. These models are important to reflect upon as healthcare delivery systems assess their capital investment strategy. Intermountain Healthcare CFO Bert Zimmerli refers to their overall thought process as an “asset-light expansion strategy.” In 2019, they opened a virtual hospital and they have now delivered over 700,000 virtual interactions. The number of virtual visits at Kaiser Permanente now exceeds the number of in-person visits at their facilities. With that said, there will be a balance. I really like how Robin Damschroder the CFO of Henry Ford Health System framed it: “We believe healthcare will be more like the airline and banking industry, both of which are fully digitally enabled but have a balance of ‘bricks and clicks’ with defined roles where you can seamlessly move between the two. Clearly, we have a lot of ‘bricks’ so building out the platform that integrates ‘clicks’ is essential.” 

 

10. Performance: Do we want our team to build a budget or improve performance? The most significant barrier to driving change that many organizations have baked into their operating model is their budget process. The typical hospital spends close to five months creating a budget that is typically more than $100 million off the mark. After it’s presented to the board, it is typically thrown out within 90 days. It creates a culture of politics, entitlement and inertia. According to a Strata survey of 200 organizations, close to 40 percent are now ditching the traditional budget process in favor of a more dynamic approach, often referred to as Advanced PlanningOSF HealthCare leverages a rolling approach, radically simplifying and streamlining the planning process while holding their team accountable for driving improvement vs. hitting a budget. When it comes to driving performance, SSM Health CEO Laura Kaiser captured the underlying mindset that’s needed: “We have a strong bias toward purposeful action.” Well said, and it certainly applies to all of the questions here among the top 10.

 

5 additional questions to consider

As you would imagine or might suggest, the questions above can and in some cases should be replaced with others. Additional critical questions to answer that came from the group included the following:

  1. Competition: Who else will we compete with in the future and are we positioned to win?
  2. Digital health: Are we going to be a “digital health” company, providing tech-enabled services?
  3. Affordability: How are we making care more affordable and easier to understand and access?
  4. Social determinants: Is this a mission, marketing or operations strategy?
  5. Leadership: Have we made the tough decisions we need to make, and will we in the future?

 

Start asking questions

The point here isn’t to get locked into a single list of questions, but rather to force your team to ask and answer the most important and challenging ones that will take you from where you are today to where you want to be in the future. After reviewing these questions with your team, the one additional question you need to consider is one of competency: Do you have the ability and bandwidth to execute on what you’ve targeted? In the end, that’s what matters most. While there are many interesting opportunities, too many teams end up chasing too much and delivering too little.

The next 10 years can and should be the best 10 years for every health system and every healthcare provider, but making it happen will require some really tough questions. “The current path we’re on will leave us with a healthcare delivery model that is completely unsustainable,” stated Randy Osstra, CEO of ProMedica Health System. “We need to take meaningful action toward creating a new model of health and well-being — one that supports healthy aging, addresses social determinants of health, encourages appropriate care in the lowest cost setting, and creates funding and incentives to force a truly integrated approach.”

Strong leaders are needed now more than ever. The rest of healthcare is watching, not just professionally but personally. We are all grateful to you for the extraordinary and often heroic care that you deliver without hesitation to our family and friends every day both in our communities and across our country. But now we all need you to not only deliver care, but a new and better version of healthcare. So, ask and answer these and other tough questions. We know you will do everything that you can to help make healthcare healthier for all of us over the next 10 years.

 

 

 

U of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics CEO: ‘Everything in healthcare doesn’t need to be done by a hospital CEO’

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/hospital-management-administration/u-of-iowa-hospitals-clinics-ceo-everything-in-healthcare-doesn-t-need-to-be-done-by-a-hospital-ceo.html

Despite branching out through nearly 60 outpatient clinics, the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics in Iowa City — which includes the only comprehensive university medical center in the state — by and large remains a healthcare destination.

As such, demand for inpatient services hasn’t waned, but has kept on par with the surge in outpatient demand that the entire industry is seeing, Suresh Gunasekaran, the CEO of University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics and associate vice president for the University of Iowa Health Care, told Becker’s Hospital Review.

That’s not to say strategic threats don’t exist. The biggest ones threatening the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics are retail medicine providers that cherry-pick services but aren’t able to provide coordinated care, Mr. Gunasekaran said.

“It’s great that today there’s more convenient care being provided by retail providers. The biggest threat, though, is if healthcare consumers start believing that getting disconnected care is worth it,” he said. “We’re in the business of connected care.”

Tackling this challenge will require input from all parties, not just the hospital CEO, he said. Here, Mr. Gunasekaran expands on how University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics is facing the threat of uncoordinated retail medicine, and answers questions on board oversight and the changing role of the hospital CEO.

 

Question: What do you consider your biggest strategic threat?

Suresh Gunasekaran: Major threats are those healthcare services that don’t believe in team-based care, that focus on cherry-picking a corridor of healthcare without thinking about the health of the whole person.

There’s unmet demand in communities for [accessible healthcare]. If Walmart is willing to offer a clinic, they may be the only clinic for 20 miles. What I’d hope is these kinds of Walmart and CVS providers look at how they partner with players like us. In that sense, we don’t view retail medicine as a threat as much as an opportunity. But when they’re not collaborative, that’s a threat to us. It’s only good if the care is coordinated.

Q: U of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics has its own retail clinics. How do they play into the larger consumerism trend healthcare is seeing?

SG: We’re in our fifth year of offering retail urgent care clinics. We offer a setting that’s lower cost and very competitive with other retail clinics. We’ve seen a lot of uptake and growth within this model, but it’s our ability to say: Hey, urgent care and retail healthcare absolutely have a place, but they need to be connected to our lab in radiology and to our specialists.

The next frontier for us is how to partner with other retail clinics. It’s easy to partner with yourself, but it’s more challenging to make it work with others.

Q: U of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics is a state agency, so your board is really the board of regents of the state of Iowa. Have you faced increased pressure from the board to take up any initiatives?

SG: The board of regents has asked we keep a couple issues front and center. There continues to be inadequate maternal healthcare resources for the young moms of Iowa, with more and more hospitals unable to recruit staff to deliver babies. Data shows maternal death is increasing in Iowa, which is a very, very troubling statistic. So we are bringing the full strength of the University of Iowa together on this. We just got a huge research grant from the federal government to create better models for maternal health across the state.

Mental health is another area, and a huge area of priority for our governor. We are looking at expanding our residency program to rural areas that are underserved for mental health. Other things we’re looking at is the workforce shortage and social determinants of health.

Q: How do you think the CEO role will evolve over the next decade? Will we see more hospital CEOs take stances on bigger public issues?

SG: Hospitals within the healthcare industry have [historically] been very insular. You almost could run your business without worrying about the rest of the system. Now with healthcare reform and greater governmental and employer scrutiny of healthcare costs, folks are asking hospital systems to answer for what’s going on in a broader industry. And of course, CEOs have to embrace that journey.

Are we going to get involved in those multiple different steps? Not just access to care, not just the pricing of care, not just care coordination, not just how to get the community to get engaged in their own health. The CEO of the future has to have a stance on all of these, because it’s impossible to go where we need to go without being involved.

Perhaps the CEO is not that important. At the end of the day when you look at these issues, it’s important that we’re at the table, but the community needs to come first. It’s an opportunity for employers to take the lead. It’s an opportunity for the government to take a lead. Everything in healthcare doesn’t need to be done by a hospital CEO, and in the future, probably isn’t best done by a hospital CEO. We need to be one part of the team.

Q: You’ve been leading the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics for a little over a year now. Is there any piece of advice you would go back and give yourself on day one?

SG: Never lose the voice of the patient. I got that at the end of my first year, and I think that beginning with the voice of the patient would’ve been very, very powerful. It’s somewhat impractical that you show up to a new job, and of course, you’re going to meet the people within your organization first. But never forgetting the voice of the patient and being able to hear who you are in their eyes and in their words would have been very powerful [on day one]. But I’m making up for lost time.

 

7 health systems with strong finances

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/finance/7-health-systems-with-strong-finances-01072020.html

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

1. Durham, N.C.-based Duke University Health System has an “Aa2” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s. The three-hospital system benefits from its role as the academic medical center of Duke University’s School of Medicine and is a nationally recognized and leading provider of tertiary and quaternary services, according to Moody’s. The credit rating agency expects the health system to maintain operating cash flow margins in the double-digit range.

2. Edison, N.J.-based Hackensack Meridian Health has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with S&P and Fitch. The health system has a solid financial profile and a strong presence in a large and demographically favorable market, according to Fitch. S&P expects the health system’s depth of clinical services and operations to contribute to its stable financial performance.

3. Fountain Valley, Calif.-based MemorialCare has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with Fitch and S&P. The health system has a strong balance sheet and financial profile, according to Fitch. The credit rating agency expects MemorialCare’s cash flow to improve due to its market strategy, which focuses on revenue diversification.

4. Portland-based Oregon Health & Science University has an “Aa3” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s and an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with S&P. OHSU, which is the only academic medical center in Oregon, has favorable operating performance, strong philanthropy and its clinical offerings draw patients from across Oregon and neighboring states, according to Moody’s. The credit rating agency expects OHSU’s revenue to continue to grow.

5. Boston-based Partners HealthCare, which is changing its name to Mass General Brigham, has an “Aa3” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s. The health system has an excellent reputation in clinical care and research, a seasoned management team, large size and diversity of revenue sources across several locations and lines of business, according to Moody’s. The credit rating agency expects Partners to achieve an operating surplus in fiscal 2020.

6. Norfolk, Va.-based Sentara Healthcare has an “Aa2” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s. The health system has a leading market position in its core service area, strong patient demand, and solid margins, according to Moody’s. The credit rating agency expects Sentara’s liquidity and debt metrics to remain at recent levels.

7. Livonia, Mich.-based Trinity Health has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with Fitch and S&P. The health system has a significant market presence in several states and a strong financial profile, according to Fitch. The credit rating agency expects the health system’s operating margins to continue to improve.

 

Beyond the ACA: Healthcare legal fights to watch in 2020

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/beyond-the-aca-healthcare-legal-fights-to-watch-in-2020/569793/

All eyes were on the legal drama over the Affordable Care Act as 2019 drew to a close — and while that case remains a focus for this year — a lot more is also at stake.

Payers and providers are fiercely contesting a price transparency push from the Trump administration that would force privately negotiated rates out into the open. The administration is also being challenged over regulations regarding risk corridor payments to payers and the expansion of association health plans.

Antitrust concerns are also front and center, as payers clash over exclusive broker policies in Florida.

As policy debates rage on this year through presidential debates and on Capitol Hill, courthouses will also be a key battleground for the industry in 2020.  Below are the big cases to watch.

ACA and the high court

The most consequential case still making its way through the court system is the challenge to the Affordable Care Act. At the end of last year, an appeals court notched a win for the red states fighting the law by declaring the individual mandate was no longer constitutional after the penalty was zeroed out by a Republican-controlled Congress.

The three-judge panel, however, stopped short of declaring the entire ACA void, instead asking the lower court that made the argument that the rest of the law is not severable from the individual mandate to revisit and clarify its ruling.

Supporters of the ACA are trying to speed up what is almost certainly the next major step for the court case by petitioning the Supreme Court on Friday to hear the case before the November presidential election.

“States, health insurers, and millions of Americans rely on those provisions when making important — indeed, life-changing — decisions. The remand proceedings contemplated by the panel majority would only prolong and exacerbate the uncertainty already caused by this litigation,” according to the Jan. 3 petition filed by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and a coalition of 19 other states and D.C.

Five justices are needed to approve the suggested expedited timeline while four are needed to agree to hear the case at all. More will be clear in the next couple of months as justices make their decisions. The ultimate decision — whether it comes in months or years — will have huge ramifications across the healthcare landscape.

Price transparency pushback

The legal clash between hospitals and the administration over forcing providers to reveal negotiated rates is set to heat up quickly in the new year.

The federal judge overseeing the case recently released a timeline for how it is expected to proceed in the coming months. Hospitals are seeking a swift ruling and summary judgment. HHS faces a Feb. 4 deadline to file its opposition motion to the summary judgment, while deadlines for motions extend through March 10.

“That is an extremely accelerated schedule,” James Burns, a partner at Akerman, told Healthcare Dive. “My strong suspicion is that we’ll get a ruling from the judge late spring or earlier summer at the latest, which is obviously all before the election.”

Hospital groups including the American Hospital Association and health systems have alleged that the administration’s push to force negotiated rates out into the open exceeds the government’s authority and violates the First Amendment because it compels hospitals to reveal confidential and proprietary information. Legal experts say the principal argument will center around whether the government exceeded its authority, not the First Amendment.

Risk corridor payments

On last month’s Supreme Court docket was a case regarding an ACA risk adjustment program. At issue are $12 billion in payments insurers say they are owed from losses on state exchanges.

Early participants in the marketplaces were hit hard in some cases as they attempted to adjust to people gaining coverage under the ACA. A few nonprofit co-ops were driven to close when CMS declared the program had to be budget neutral and therefore only about one-eighth of the expected risk corridor amount could be paid out.

A number of justices seemed to lean toward ruling in favor of the insurers during arguments in front of the high court, Tim Jost, health law expert and professor emeritus at Washington and Lee University School of Law, told Healthcare Dive​. “Only a couple of the justices that spoke seemed inclined to support the government, but we’ll see what happens there,” he said.

If the payers do prevail, there’s still the question of exactly how much they are owed and how the money will be distributed. It could ultimately affect medical loss ratio rebates or premiums down the road, he said.

CSR fight in court this week

The legal fight over canceled payments to insurers​ under the ACA drags on as oral arguments begin this week in a federal appeals court.

A number of insurers including Maine Community Health Options and Sanford Health claim they’re owed millions in cost-sharing reduction payments that the government failed to pay out after the Trump administration said Congress failed to appropriate the funds. The payments were intended to repay insurers for lowering the cost of care to make coverage affordable for those with low incomes.

Health Options and Sanford both won in the lower courts after judges ruled they were entitled to the unpaid CSR payments. The cases have been consolidated within the appeals court and oral arguments start Thursday.

A ruling in favor of insurers in the risk corridor case could be a good sign for their fight to be reimbursed for CSRs as well, Jost said.

Oscar antitrust argument

Health insurer Oscar has alleged that Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida is enforcing a broker policy that is impeding Oscar’s ability to sell individual exchange plans and undermines competition in Florida.

The key question in this case is whether Florida Blue, a dominant insurer in the sunshine state, can lawfully bar independent brokers from working with other carriers like Oscar by threatening to cut off their ability to sell all other Florida Blue plans if they sell Oscar’s individual plans.

A lower court ruled against Oscar and found that such arrangements are shielded from antitrust scrutiny. A federal law excludes the “business of insurance” from antitrust scrutiny in some cases, legal experts say this case shouldn’t be exempt from antitrust enforcement.

A group of 10 antitrust scholars called the ruling “dangerous” and “plainly incorrect,” in an amicus brief Dec. 23 to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th District.

“The practice at issue here — forming exclusive deals with industry gatekeepers to box out potential entry by competitors — is a quotidian business strategy that appears across many industries and raises well-recognized antitrust concerns,” according to the amicus brief.

Oscar alleges that consumers are harmed if brokers are barred from discussing other plan options outside Florida Blue.

The Department of Justice also intends to file an amicus brief, according to a recent filing in the appeals case.

Association, short-term health plans

The federal court of appeals in D.C. heard arguments late last year to review a judge’s decision in March 2019 declaring association health plans an “end-run” around the ACA. AHPs are offered by business or professional associations and aren’t bound by ACA requirements protecting pre-existing conditions and mandating essential benefits.

U.S. District Judge John Bates had strong language in March for the Trump administration, which is being challenged for loosening restrictions on what groups can offer AHPs — and therefore expanding their presence in the marketplace.

The D.C. appeals court is expected to rule on the case in the coming months. Jost’s take from the oral arguments is that the court seem inclined to reverse Bates’ decision, though he warned the outcome is not certain. “It’s a technical case that really has more to do with interpreting ERISA than the Affordable Care Act, though both are relevant,” he said.

A similar challenge has risen on short-term health plans, which were originally meant as stopgap coverage but have been expanded by the Trump administration to offer up to three years worth of coverage.

U.S. District Judge Richard Leon ruled in favor of the administration in July, saying the plans did not undermine the ACA. The plaintiffs, including the Association for Community Affiliated Plans, the National Alliance on Mental Illness and AIDS United, quickly appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals in D.C.

Briefs are due this month and argument is likely in the spring, Jost said.

If AHPs and short-term plans are allowed to continue as the Trump administration has pushed for, it presents a concern for the viability of ACA risk pools. Consumer warnings against short-term plans, however, may be working, he said.

“There’s been a lot of publicity about how risky these plans are and I think they probably have not been achieving the same market strength they were hoping for,” he said.

 

 

 

Despite provider claims, hospital M&A not associated with improved care, NEJM finds

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/despite-provider-claims-hospital-ma-not-associated-with-improved-care-ne/569671/

Dive Brief:

  • Hospital consolidation is associated with poorer patient experiences and doesn’t improve care, according to a study published Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine, refuting a common provider justification for rampant mergers and acquisitions.
  • The study funded by HHS’ health quality research division, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, found that acquired hospitals saw moderately worse patient experience, along with no change in 30-day mortality or readmission rates. ​Acquired hospitals did improve slightly in clinical process, though that can’t be directly chalked up to the results of an acquisition, researchers found.
  • It’s further evidence that bigger isn’t always better when it comes to hospitals, and adds onto a heap of previous studies showing provider mergers lead to higher prices for commercially insured patients.

Dive Insight:

Hospitals continue to turn to M&A to navigate tricky industry headwinds, including lowering reimbursement and flatlining admissions as patients increasingly turn to alternate, cheaper sites of care. Provider trade associations maintain consolidation lowers costs and improves operations, which trickles down to better care for patients.

Though volume of deals has ebbed and flowed, hospital M&A overall has steadily increased over the past decade. The hospital sector in 2018 saw 90 deals, according to consultancy Kaufman Hall, up 80% from just 50 such transactions in 2009.

Thursday’s study analyzed CMS data on hospital quality and Medicare claims from 2007 through 2016 and data on hospital M&A from 2009 to 2013 to look at hospital performance before and after acquisition, compared with a control group that didn’t see a change in ownership.

American Hospital Association General Counsel Melinda Hatton took aim at the study’s methods to refute its findings, especially its reliance on a common measure of patient experience called HCAHPS.

“Using data collected from patients to make claims about quality fails to recognize that it is often incomplete, as patients are not required to and do not always respond comprehensively,” Hatton told Healthcare Dive in a statement. “The survey does not capture information on the critical aspects of care as it is delivered today.”

The results contradict a widely decried AHA-funded study last year conducted by Charles River Associates that found consolidation improves quality and lowers revenue per admission in the first year prior to integration. The research came quickly under fire by academics and patient advocates over potential cherrypicked results.

A spate of previous studies found hospital tie-ups raise the price tag of care on payers and patients. Congressional advisory group MedPAC found both vertical and horizontal provider consolidation are correlated with higher healthcare costs, the brunt of which is often borne by consumers in the form of higher premiums and out-of-pocket costs.

A 2018 study published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics found prices rose 6% after hospitals were acquired, partially due to limiting market competition. Groups like the left-leaning Center for American Progress have called for increased scrutiny from antitrust regulators as a result, but — despite snowballing M&A — there’s been little change in antitrust regulation since the 1980s. The Federal Trade Commission won several challenges to hospital consolidation in the 2010s, but the agency only contests 2% to 3% of mergers annually, according to MedPAC analysts.

Providers, like most actors across the healthcare ecosystem, are increasingly under fire for high prices and predatory billing practices. President Donald Trump’s administration finalized a rule late last year that would force hospitals to reveal secret negotiated rates with insurers, relying on the assumption that transparency would shame both actors into lowering prices.

A cadre of provider groups led by the AHA sued HHS over the regulation, arguing it violates the First Amendment and would place undue burden on hospitals, while potentially stifling competition. The lawsuit is currently being reviewed by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

 

 

 

Hospital M&A spurs rising healthcare costs, MedPAC finds

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/hospital-ma-spurs-rising-healthcare-costs-medpac-finds/566858/

Dive Brief:

  • Both vertical and horizontal hospital consolidation is correlated with higher healthcare costs, according to a congressional advisory committee on Medicare, in yet another study finding rampant mergers and acquisitions drive up prices for consumers.
  • The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission found providers with greater market share see higher commercial profit margins, leading to higher costs per discharge, though the direct relationship between market share and cost per discharge was not statistically meaningful itself.
  • MedPAC also found vertical integration between health systems and physician practices increases prices and spending for consumers. The top-down consolidation leads to higher prices for commercial payers and Medicare alike, as hospitals have more bargaining heft and benefit from Medicare’s payment hikes for hospital outpatient departments.

Dive Insight:

Hospital consolidation has become a major point of concern for policymakers, antitrust regulators and patient advocacy groups.slew of prior studies have found unchecked provider M&A contributes to higher healthcare costs, with the brunt often borne by consumers in the form of higher premiums and out-of-pocket costs.

Since 2003, the number of “super-concentrated” markets has increased from 47% to 57%, according to the MedPAC analysis of CMS and American Hospital Association data. Those markets, with a high amount of consolidation, rarely see new providers enter, which stifles competition, and are rarely reviewed by the government.

There’s been little change in antitrust regulation since the 1980s and, though the Federal Trade Commission has won several challenges to hospital consolidation in the 2010s, the agency only challenges 2% to 3% of mergers annually.

MedPAC also found super-concentrated insurance markets actually led to lower costs per discharge compared to lower levels of payer concentration, deflating somewhat hospital lobbies’ arguments that payer consolidation is driving prices higher.

Committee members called for more analysis of how macro trends like an aging population and federal policy could be driving consolidation and impacting prices, leading some to call for a revamp of the hospital payment framework itself.

“We have to change the way hospitals are paid. I don’t see another solution,” said Brian DeBusk, CEO of Tennesse-based DeRoyal Industries, a medical manufacturer. “Are you going to undo a thousand hospital mergers? Are you going to enact rate setting? I don’t see another way.”

MedPAC also looked at vertical integration, where hospitals snap up physicians practices downstream. According to the Physician Advocacy Institute, only 26% of physician practices were owned by hospitals in 2012, but by last year that number had spiked to 44%.

Since 2012, billing has shifted from physician offices to hospital outpatient departments, especially in specialty practices. In chemotherapy administration, for example, physician offices saw almost 17% less volume between 2012 and 2018, while outpatient centers saw a 53% increase in volume, according to MedPAC.

Physicians in hospital-owned practices also refer more patients to the hospital’s facilities and, despite a common stumping point that integration improves quality through care coordination, its effect on quality is “ambiguous,” MedPAC analyst Dan Zabinski said Thursday at the committee’s November meeting.

Despite the mountain of evidence, the AHA published a widely-decried study in September claiming acquired hospitals see a reduction in operating expenses and a statistically significant drop in readmission and mortality rates. The study was criticized for not using actual claims data in its analysis among other methodological and conflict of interest concerns.

Republican leaders in the House Energy and Commerce Committee asked MedPAC to study provider consolidation in August, and the body’s full findings will be included in its March report to Congress.​