CHS shares close at all-time low

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/finance/chs-shares-close-at-all-time-low-071619.html

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Shares of Franklin, Tenn.-based Community Health Systems closed July 15 at $2.40, their lowest closing price ever and down 2 percent from July 12. 

The hospital chain’s stock price traded as low as $2.37 and as high as $2.52 on July 15 after closing July 12 at $2.45. Over the past year, CHS shares have traded between $2.35 and $5.35.

CHS has been selling off hospitals in recent years to improve its financial position and reduce its heavy debt load. In late 2017, the company announced a plan to sell a group of hospitals with combined annual revenue of $2 billion. During an earnings call on April 30, CHS Chairman and CEO Wayne Smith said the company expects to complete the hospital divestiture plan in 2019.

CHS carried $13.88 billion in long-term debt when it announced its divestiture plan at the end of 2017. As of March 31, CHS said its long-term debt totaled $13.39 billion.

 

Democratic Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders calls Hahneman University Hospital Impending Closure Insane

Exclusive: Democratic Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders Calls Hahnemann University Hospital Pending Closure ‘Insane’

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Aligning executive comp with long-term strategy

https://mailchi.mp/3675b0fcd5fd/the-weekly-gist-july-12-2019?e=d1e747d2d8

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I recently had a conversation with the CEO of a regional health system we’ve worked with for many years. It’s a system at the forefront of the shift to risk-based contracting—rather than the 3-5 percent of revenue at risk common across the industry, his system already has a third of its revenue fully at risk. (That’s not counting performance bonuses and other “value-based” reimbursement—it’s true, delegated risk for total cost of care.)

The system managed to get to this point without owning its own insurance plan, but now the CEO is considering whether that’s the right next step, which was the topic of our discussion. We talked through the pros and cons of launching a provider-sponsored plan, which has proven to be a difficult step for many other health systems.

When I asked the CEO how his team was able to move so much faster to risk than other systems, he told me an important component of their approach was the incentive structure put in place for executives and facility leaders. Rather than continuing to pay bonuses based on hospital or system profitability, the board agreed to encourage executives to take a longer-term, strategic view by paying straight salary.

Eliminating P&L-based bonuses allowed leaders to focus on making the right decisions to transform the business, without being overly concerned about the short-term impact on profitability. It’s an idea worth considering for other systems committed to leaving fee-for-service behind. The critical ingredient, of course, is ensuring the board is fully bought into the strategy and has a high degree of trust in system executives to make the best long-term decisions on behalf of the organization.

 

What happens when a teaching hospital shuts down

https://mailchi.mp/3675b0fcd5fd/the-weekly-gist-july-12-2019?e=d1e747d2d8

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It’s been less than a month since Hahnemann University Hospital in Philadelphia, the primary teaching hospital for Drexel University College of Medicine, announced that it will close in September. (A judge this week ordered the hospital to remain open while final bankruptcy and closure plans are approved.) The hospital was acquired by for-profit firm American Academic Health System (AAHS) from Tenet Healthcare Corp. just last year. AAHS cited untenable and irreversible financial losses as the reason for closure.

Hahnemann’s shuttering not only deprives the city of a 150-year old institution providing a large portion of its healthcare safety net, but also displaces 570 resident physicians, many of whom just arrived to begin training. The Philadelphia Inquirer eloquently captured the personal stories behind and implications of the closure. Many industry experts, including us, have questioned whether the country may be better served by fewer, larger teaching and research centers. With four medical schools, Philadelphia is a market where there may be too many academic medical centers, each operating at suboptimal scale.

But the Hahnemann saga illustrates the myriad difficulties of actually closing a financially-strained teaching hospital: challenges of for-profit “turnaround” management and performance goals, disruption for hundreds of trainees, and impact on access for the neediest patients. Getting to the right academic training and care delivery model for a region won’t come from reactive responses to abrupt closures, but will require community, government, academic and hospital leaders across organizations to collaborate on a long-term plan aimed at delivering greater value, scale and productivity.

 

Nonprofit Provider Pensions Remain Solidly Funded

https://www.healthleadersmedia.com/finance/nonprofit-provider-pensions-remain-solidly-funded

Nonprofit healthcare organizations benefited from an increase in pension funding last year, according to S&P.

Despite a volatile investment market, the median funded status of defined benefit pension plans for nonprofit healthcare organizations in 2018 was 85%, increasing nearly 5% due to a higher bond rate, according to an S&P Global Ratings report released Thursday afternoon.

Among nonprofit providers, Ponoma Valley Hospital Medical Center in California led the way with a 144.5% funding status, followed by Jackson County Schneck Memorial Hospital in Indiana and Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Illinois.

The lowest funded pension plans were at Northern Inyo County Hospital District in California, with a 44.6% funding status, followed by Kaiser Foundation Health Plan in California and Catholic Health System in New York.

The report found that most pension costs for Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) issuers are still low while Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) issuers have dealt with cost as a credit pressure on the organization.


The ratings agency also noted that overall funded ratios have improved, crediting the absence of defined benefit plans as a positive factor, but indicated that such a trend is unlikely to continue going forward.

“In our view, most hospitals and health systems have managed their pension burdens well, with no credit implications,” the report stated. “However, we believe that even without a direct negative credit impact, in some circumstances, a high funding burden has inhibited improvement in credit quality.” 

The report continued: “Furthermore, not all hospitals’ pension funding improved in 2018, and for providers already struggling with thin income statements and balance sheets, underfunded pension plans could contribute to credit
stress.”

Looking at the short-term, nonprofit providers are slated to experience a boost to their respective financial profiles due to a higher funded status resulting in “lower statutory minimum contributions” to defined benefit plans.  

Conversely, the S&P report indicated that underfunded or soon-to-be underfunded defined benefit plans posed a credit risk for nonprofit providers.

As with other lingering financial challenges that health systems face, the looming pension crisis poses a substantial risk to long-term solvency  and the ability to attract clinical talent.  

According to the S&P report, the majority of issuers have closed plan offerings to new employees or eliminated plans to lower risk, while some have used debt funding to prop up plans despite an increased market risk.

 

 

2020 Election’s Healthcare Debate: Truths, Half-Truths, And Falsehoods

https://www.forbes.com/sites/joshuacohen/2019/07/08/2020-elections-healthcare-debate-truths-half-truths-and-falsehoods/#57fb72076466

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are may emerge as the number one issue in the 2020 election. In itself this isn’t surprising, given that for many decades the electorate has considered healthcare a key issue.

And, the truth is healthcare access continues to be a major problem in the U.S., along with inequalities in outcomes, relatively high prices for healthcare services, and high out-of-pocket spending. Democratic presidential candidates have weighed in on these issues.

Without more clarity, however, the debate runs the risk of unraveling into exercises in sophistry.

Politicians in America have had a knack for telling half-truths or even untruths about healthcare. For example, in 2012, John Boehner claimed that “the U.S. has the best healthcare delivery system in the world.” And, just prior to signing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) into law, President Obama stated “if you like your healthcare plan, you can keep it.”

Many constituents — myself included — are also confused by certain terms used in the current debate.

Democrats appear to all want universal coverage. Among the presidential candidates there are different ideas about how to achieve the objective. One group, led by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, wants a single payer system, misnamed “Medicare for All.” When Sanders and others talk about Medicare for All, they aren’t aiming to expand the currently existing Medicare program to include all U.S. residents. Rather, they’re talking about a government program that would replace all currently existing forms of insurance, both private and public. Sanders’s plan would also substitute premiums and out-of-pocket spending with taxes. Whether this single payer system would result in lower healthcare costs for individuals – paid in the form of premiums and out-of-pocket costs, or taxes – remains to be calculated.

When Sanders and others speak of eliminating private insurance and replacing it with Medicare for All they ignore the fact that private insurance is embedded in many aspects of the Medicare program. For example, more than a third of Medicare beneficiaries are enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan, and over 60% have their prescription drug coverage managed in stand-alone fashion by a prescription drug plan. So, in addition to the abolition of commercial private insurance, Medicare for All would radically alter the Medicare program as it operates today, which makes the name of Sanders’ plan all the more curious.

There are of course some things that presumably Medicare for All would do that the currently existing Medicare program does not, including coverage of long-term care expenses, hearing, dental, vision and foot care.

A number of candidates have proposed tinkering with the existing system by expanding Medicare eligibility, i.e., Medicare for More, and still others have proposed including a “public option” to augment ACA. Regarding the former, certain groups of people — for example, those over age 50 — would be offered the opportunity to purchase Medicare. And, in the ACA-plus scenario, certain individuals could buy into existing programs, such as Medicaid, state employee health plans, or an entirely new health plan run by the state.

One area of apparent consensus across the Medicare for All, Medicare for More, and ACA-plus camps is establishing a system in which there are lower reimbursement rates for healthcare services, which would drive down costs. Currently, there is a very sizable gap between Medicare and private health insurer reimbursement rates to hospitals and physicians. Medicare for All goes furthest in ratcheting down payments to essentially a single rate. By abolishing private insurance the rates would be reduced to Medicare levels, which are at least 40% lower. This, however, could prove to be problematic as such measures could force hospitals to close if they had to accept the rates currently paid by Medicare. Physicians would also stand to lose under a drastic rate reduction.

The healthcare industry is particularly opposed to Medicare for All because of concerns about disruption to the system – even undermining insurers’ raison d’être – and much lower reimbursement rates.

A frank discussion would be welcome regarding the implications of all proposals across the political spectrum, including ramifications of undoing the ACA. For too long, the healthcare debate on both sides of the aisle has shied away from explaining the consequences of policy proposals, or inaction for that matter.

 

 

There’s little chance appeals court will strike down ACA, legal experts say

https://www.modernhealthcare.com/legal/theres-little-chance-appeals-court-will-strike-down-aca-legal-experts-say?utm_source=modern-healthcare-daily-finance&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20190708&utm_content=article3-readmore

Seven months after a federal judge struck down the Affordable Care Act, a coalition of 21 Democratic attorneys general will once again defend the landmark healthcare law in New Orleans on Tuesday. The challenge, if upheld, would have far-reaching consequences for millions of Americans and the healthcare companies that serve them.

Left-leaning and conservative legal experts alike say there’s little chance the three-judge panel in New Orleans agrees with the lower court and declare the ACA unconstitutional. The arguments used by the Republican states that sued to wipe out the ACA are “frivolous,” the experts say.

“This case is different from all of the previous Obamacare cases because there is a consensus among the Republican intellectual establishment that the legal arguments are frivolous,” said Yale University health law professor Abbe Gluck. “You’ve got a lot of prominent Republican legal experts siding against the Trump administration in this case, so I think that most people are hoping that this circuit will apply very settled law and reverse the lower-court decision.”

Even so, Democratic senators on Monday were worried that the ACA would ultimately be struck down, causing millions of Americans to lose their insurance and consumer protections overnight without any Trump administration plan to pick up the pieces.

“Make no mistake, this lawsuit has a good chance of succeeding,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said during a conference call Monday with reporters. “I understand that there are some legal scholars that say that the theory of the petitioners is wacky, but it survived the district court and it now has the administration as a full and complete partner with the attorneys general. There is real muscle on the side of the plaintiffs in this case.”


The appellate court arguments largely mirror those in the district court. This time around, the U.S. Justice Department is urging the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold the lower-court ruling that the entire Affordable Care Act must fall because the 2017 Congress reduced the individual mandate penalty to zero. Previously, the Justice Department argued the individual mandate is unconstitutional, but could be “severed” from most of the ACA.

This question of whether the entire ACA must go is the crux of the case. Gluck explained that a non-controversial, settled legal doctrine called “severability” states that the decision to scrap a piece of a law or destroy the whole thing rests on what Congress would have wanted. That’s something courts usually have to guess, but in this case there’s no question what Congress would have wanted: it already zeroed-out the individual mandate penalty and left the rest of the ACA alone.

“It is an absolutely outrageous argument to say that the district court was doing what Congress wanted when Congress in 2017 reduced the penalty and left the entire statute standing,” Gluck said.

Nicholas Bagley, a law professor at the University of Michigan Law School, similarly said, “These are bad legal arguments.”

The odds of the Fifth Circuit declaring the entire ACA unconstitutional are low, he said, given the arguments in the case “are thin to the point of frivolousness, and I think the Fifth Circuit judges will know that, whatever their political disposition may happen to be. But I’d be lying if I said I knew that for sure.”

The panel announced last week includes Judges Jennifer Walker Elrod, Kurt Englehardt and Carolyn Dineen King. Two were appointed by Republican presidents; one is a Democratic appointee. U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor, who struck down the healthcare law, was also appointed by a Republican president.

Legal experts said it is also likely that oral arguments will devote time to whether the Democratic states and the U.S. House of Representatives have standing to intervene in the case. The Fifth Circuit judges last week asked for supplemental briefs on that question. While the court’s request was seen by some as a sign that it is supportive of the Republican states, others viewed it as normal, given the high stakes and the fact that the Justice Department declined to defend the law.

Gluck said it’s unlikely the court will decide neither the blue states or the House have standing in the case. It would be hard to argue that the Democrat-led states would not be harmed by a ruling that invalidates the entire ACA, and the House has previously intervened to defend a statute when the executive branch chose not to, she said.

But if the Fifth Circuit does decide neither have standing, it would have to decide whether to let the lower-court decision stand or erase it, she said.

Should the appellate court uphold the lower-court ruling, the consequences would be sweeping. In a June analysis, the left-leaning Urban Institute found that the number of uninsured Americans would climb 65% to 50.3 million in 2020 if the ACA is ultimately struck down. The decision would affect not only people who buy coverage in the individual market but also those with coverage through Medicaid expansion, Medicare and from their employers.

That would also impact healthcare providers and insurers.

“No industry has been more directly impacted by the ACA than health insurance providers, which have invested vast amounts of resources to participate in the relevant markets, comply with the law’s myriad reforms, and organize their businesses to operate in a revamped healthcare system,” insurance industry lobbying group America’s Health Insurance Plans wrote in an amicus brief filed in April in support of reversing the lower-court decision.