Medicare Advantage (MA) focused companies, like Oak Street
Health (14x revenues), Cano Health (11x revenues), and Iora
Health (announced sale to One Medical at 7x revenues), reflect
valuation multiples that appear irrational to many market observers. Multiples may be
exuberant, but they are not necessarily irrational.
One reason for high valuations across the healthcare sector is the large pools of capital
from institutional public investors, retail investors and private equity that are seeking
returns higher than the low single digit bond yields currently available. Private equity
alone has hundreds of billions in investable funds seeking opportunities in healthcare.
As a result of this abundance of capital chasing deals, there is a premium attached to the
scarcity of available companies with proven business models and strong growth
Valuations of companies that rely on Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement have
traditionally been discounted for the risk associated with a change in government
reimbursement policy. This “bop the mole” risk reflects the market’s assessment that
when a particular healthcare sector becomes “too profitable,” the risk increases that CMS
will adjust policy and reimbursement rates in that sector to drive down profitability.
However, there appears to be consensus among both political parties that MA is the right
policy to help manage the rise in overall Medicare costs and, thus, incentives for MA
growth can be expected to continue. This factor combined with strong demographic
growth in the overall senior population means investors apply premiums to companies in
the MA space compared to traditional providers.
Large pools of available capital, scarcity value, lower perceived sector risk and overall
growth in the senior population are all factors that drive higher valuations for the MA
disrupters. However, these factors pale in comparison the underlying economic driver
for these companies. Taking full risk for MA enrollees and dramatically reducing hospital
utilization, while improving health status, is core to their business model. These
companies target and often achieve reduced hospital utilization by 30% or more for their
assigned MA enrollees.
In 2019, the average Medicare days per 1,000 in the U.S. was 1,190. With about
$14,700 per Medicare discharge and a 4.5 ALOS, the average cost per Medicare day is
approximately $3,200. At the U.S. average 1,190 Medicare hospital days per thousand,
if MA hospital utilization is decreased by 25%, the net hospital revenue per 1,000 MA
enrollees is reduced by about $960,000. If one of the MA disrupters has, for example, 50,000 MA lives in a market, the
decrease in hospital revenues for that MA population would be about $48 million. This does not include the associated
physician fees and other costs in the care continuum. That same $48 million + in the coffers of the risk-taking MA
disrupters allows them deliver comprehensive array of supportive services including addressing social determinants of health. These services then further reduce utilization and improves overall health status, creating a virtuous circle. This is very profitable.
MA is only the beginning. When successful MA businesses expand beyond MA, and they will, disruption across the
healthcare economy will be profound and painful for the incumbents. The market is rationally exuberant about that
A new report out later today concludes that basic scientific research plays an essential role in creating companies that later produce thousands of jobs and billions in economic value.
Why it matters: The report uses the pandemic — and especially the rapid development of new mRNA vaccines — to show how basic research funding from the government lays the necessary groundwork for economically valuable companies down the road.
By the numbers: The Science Coalition — a nonprofit group that represents 50 of the nation’s top private and public research universities — identified 53 companies that have spun off from federally funded university research.
- Those companies — which range from pharmaceutical startups to agriculture firms — have contributed more than $1.3 billion to U.S. GDP between 2015 and 2019, while supporting the creation of more than 100,000 jobs.
What they’re saying: “The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that the need for the federal government to continue investing in fundamental research is far from theoretical,” says John Latini, president of the Science Coalition. “Consistent, sustained, robust federal funding is how science evolves.”
Details: Latini praised the Biden administration’s first budget proposal to Congress, released last week, which includes what would be a $9 billion funding boost for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) — the country’s single biggest science research funding agency.
- The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would see its budget rise to a record high of $6.9 billion, including $800 million reserved for climate research.
The catch: The Biden budget proposal is just that, and it will ultimately be up to Congress to decide how much to allocate to research agencies.
Context: Government research funding is vital because private money tends to go to applied research. But without basic research — the lifeblood of science — the U.S. risks missing out on potentially world-changing innovations in the future.
- The long-term value of that funding can be seen in the story of Katalin Kariko, an obscure biomedical researcher who labored for years on mRNA with little reward — until the pandemic, when her work helped provide the foundation for mRNA COVID-19 vaccines.
The bottom line: Because its ultimate payoff might lay years in the future, it’s easy to see basic research funding as a waste — until the day comes when we need it.
It’s long been accepted as a truism that “moms” make most of a family’s healthcare choices. This has led many health systems to invest in high-end women’s services, especially labor and delivery facilities, with the hope of winning the entire family’s long-term healthcare loyalty.
This conventional wisdom has existed since the middle of the last century, when the postwar Baby Boom coincided with the rise of commercial insurance. But it’s hard to find real evidence that these investments deliver on their intent—and we think the argument deserves to be reexamined.
An expectant mother is likely years away from her family’s major healthcare spending events. Giving her a fantastic virtual care experience, or taking great care of her teenager who blows out a knee playing soccer, is likely to engender greater loyalty to the health system when she’s looking for her first mammogram, than her labor and delivery experience from a decade earlier. That’s not to say that top-notch obstetrics isn’t important—but market-leading labor and delivery facilities are likely more critical for wholesale purchasers, such as an employer considering a narrow network, or for physicians choosing where to build an OB practice.
Direct-to-consumer strategies should be built on more sophisticated consumer research that takes into account the preferences of a new generation of consumers, for whom not all healthcare choices are equal—that same consumer will be in different “segments” and make different choices for different problems over time, not all pre-determined by one memorable birthing experience.
Blue Cross Blue Shield’s national employee benefits committee filed a lawsuit against Allianz Global Investors and its investment consultant Aon Investments USA, charging both with breaches of fiduciary responsibilities and breach of contract regarding more than $2 billion in losses in the insurer’s defined benefit plan trust.
The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in New York, alleges that AllianzGI took “reckless actions” in the management of three funds the manager had said offered downside protection against market declines and volatility, according to the court filing.
As of Jan. 31, the National Retirement Trust of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association had a total of $2.9 billion invested in the AllianzGI Structured Alpha Multi-Beta Series LLC I, AllianzGI Structured Alpha Emerging Markets Equity 350 LLC, and the AllianzGI Structured Alpha 1000 LLC, according to the filing.
After the funds experienced heavy losses in February and March, the investments were liquidated and redeemed, and the committee received about $540 million, according to the filing.
As of Dec. 31, 2018, the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association National Retirement Trust had $4.6 billion in assets, according to its most recent Form 5500 filing.
The lawsuit, which includes claims breach of fiduciary duty and breach of contract against both AllianzGI and Aon, alleges that AllianzGI “caused the (benefits) committee to believe that structured alpha’s risk profile was consistent with Allianz’s stated investment strategy rather than the actual risk profile, either by making false or misleading representations about structured alpha or failing to disclose information necessary to correct prior representations that were inconsistent with how Allianz was actually managing the strategy.”
The suit alleges Aon breached its obligations by “failing to monitor and inform the committee of breakdowns in Allianz’s risk management protocols, learning only after the catastrophic events of March 2020 that Allianz had inadequate risk management in place.”
AllianzGI’s structured alpha strategies have historically been designed to be both long and short volatility, according to a September 2016 presentation: Taking range-bound spread positions, to sell options that were most likely to expire worthless (short volatility); hedged positions designed to protect against market crashes (long volatility); and directional spread positions designed to generate returns when equity indexes rise or fall more than usual during multiweek periods (long/short volatility).
The lawsuit alleges that “when equity markets declined, volatility spiked and the funds’ option positions were exposed to a heightened risk of loss in February and March 2020, those promised protections were absent.”
The lawsuit seeks relief including restoration of all losses, actual damages and accounting and disgorgement of fees and profits.
John Wallace, AllianzGI spokesman, said in an email: “While the losses sustained by the Structured Alpha portfolio during the market downturn in late February and March were disappointing, AllianzGI believes the allegations made by Blue Cross Blue Shield are legally and factually flawed. We will defend ourselves vigorously against these claims. Blue Cross Blue Shield was advised by a sophisticated investment consultant to evaluate the Structured Alpha strategy. These funds sought to deliver substantial returns of as much as 10% above, net of fees, the returns of the fund’s benchmark, an index like the S&P 500. As was fully disclosed to Blue Cross Blue Shield, the Structured Alpha strategy involved risks commensurate with those higher returns. Blue Cross Blue Shield and their consultant determined that the Structured Alpha Portfolio fit with their overall investment goals and risk tolerances.”
The $15.3 billion Arkansas Teacher Retirement System, Little Rock, filed its own lawsuit against Allianz Global Investors and subsidiaries in July, regarding its own losses in structured alpha strategies.
Robert Elfinger, Aon spokesman, said the company does not comment on pending litigation.
Sean W. Gallagher, Adam L. Hoeflich, Nicolas L. Martinez, Abby M. Mollen and Mark S. Ouweleen, partners at Bartlit Beck, attorney for the plaintiffs, could also not be immediately reached for comment.
Alignment between CEOs and CFOs has become even more essential during the pandemic.
Many health systems halted elective surgeries earlier this year at the height of the pandemic to conserve resources while caring for COVID-19 patients. Now, in many areas, those procedures are returning and hospitals are slowly resuming more normal operations. But damage has been done to the hospital’s bottom line. Moving forward, the relationship between top executives will be crucial to make the right decisions for patients and the overall health of their organizations.
During the Becker’s Healthcare CEO+CFO Virtual Forum on Aug. 11, CEOs and CFOs for top hospitals and health systems gathered virtually to share insights and strategies as well as discuss the biggest challenges ahead for their institutions. Click here to view the panels on-demand.
Here are six takeaways from the event:
1. The three keys to a strong CEO and CFO partnership are trust, transparency and communication.
2. It’s common for a health system CEO and CFO to have different priorities and different opinions about where investments should be made. To help come to an agreement, they should look at every decision as if it’s a decision being made by the organization as a whole and not an individual executive. For example, there are no decisions by the CFO. There are only decisions by the health system. The CFOs said it’s important to remember that the patient comes first and that health systems don’t exist to make money.
3. Technology has of course been paramount during the pandemic in terms of telehealth. But so are nontraditional partnerships with other health systems that have allowed providers to share research and education.
4. When it comes to evaluating technology, there’s a difference between being on the cutting edge versus the bleeding edge. Investing in new technology requires firm exit strategies. If warning signs show an investment is not going to give the return a health system hoped for, they need to let go of ideals and stick to the exit strategy.
5. Communication and transparency with staff and the public is key while making challenging decisions. Many hard decisions, including furloughs or personnel reductions, were made this spring to protect the financial viability of healthcare organizations. These decisions, which were not made lightly, were critiqued highly by the public. One of the best ways to ensure the message was not getting lost in translation and to help navigate the criticism included creating a communication plan and sharing that with employees, physicians and the public.
6. The pandemic required hospitals to think on their feet and innovate quickly. Many of the usual ways to solve a problem could not be used during that time. For example, large systems had to rethink how to acquire personal protective gear. Typically, in a large health system amid a disaster, when a supply item is running low, organizations can call up another hospital in the network and ask them to send some supplies. However, everyone in the pandemic was running low on the same items, which required innovation and problem-solving that is outside of the norm.
As Warren Buffett turns 90, the story of one of America’s most influential and wealthy business leaders is a study in the logic and discipline of understanding future value.
Patience, caution, and consistency. In volatile times such as these, it may be difficult for executives to keep those attributes in mind when making decisions. But there are immense advantages to doing so. For proof, just look at the steady genius of now-nonagenarian Warren Buffett. The legendary investor and Berkshire Hathaway founder and CEO has earned millions of dollars for investors over several decades (exhibit). But very few of Buffett’s investment decisions have been reactionary; instead, his choices and communications have been—and remain—grounded in logic and value.
Buffett learned his craft from “the father of value investing,” Columbia University professor and British economist Benjamin Graham. Perhaps as a result, Buffett typically doesn’t invest in opportunities in which he can’t reasonably estimate future value—there are no social-media companies, for instance, or cryptocurrency ventures in his portfolio. Instead, he banks on businesses that have steady cash flows and will generate high returns and low risk. And he lets those businesses stick to their knitting. Ever since Buffett bought See’s Candy Shops in 1972, for instance, the company has generated an ROI of more than 160 percent per year —and not because of significant changes to operations, target customer base, or product mix. The company didn’t stop doing what it did well just so it could grow faster. Instead, it sends excess cash flows back to the parent company for reinvestment—which points to a lesson for many listed companies: it’s OK to grow in line with your product markets if you aren’t confident that you can redeploy the cash flows you’re generating any better than your investor can.
As Peter Kunhardt, director of the HBO documentary Becoming Warren Buffett, said in a 2017 interview, Buffett understands that “you don’t have to trade things all the time; you can sit on things, too. You don’t have to make many decisions in life to make a lot of money.” And Buffett’s theory (roughly paraphrased) that the quality of a company’s senior leadership can signal whether the business would be a good investment or not has been proved time and time again. “See how [managers] treat themselves versus how they treat the shareholders .…The poor managers also turn out to be the ones that really don’t think that much about the shareholders. The two often go hand in hand,” Buffett explains.
Every few years or so, critics will poke holes in Buffett’s approach to investing. It’s outdated, they say, not proactive enough in a world in which digital business and economic uncertainty reign. For instance, during the 2008 credit crisis, pundits suggested that his portfolio moves were mistimed, he held on to some assets for far too long, and he released others too early, not getting enough in return. And it’s true that Buffett has made some mistakes; his decision making is not infallible. His approach to technology investments works for him, but that doesn’t mean other investors shouldn’t seize opportunities to back digital tools, platforms, and start-ups—particularly now that the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated global companies’ digital transformations.
Still, many of Buffett’s theories continue to win the day. A good number of the so-called inadvisable deals he pursued in the wake of the 2008 downturn ended paying off in the longer term. And press reports suggest that Berkshire Hathaway’s profits are rebounding in the midst of the current economic downturn prompted by the global pandemic.
At age 90, Buffett is still waging campaigns—for instance, speaking out against eliminating the estate tax and against the release of quarterly earnings guidance. Of the latter, he has said that it promotes an unhealthy focus on short-term profits at the expense of long-term performance.
“Clear communication of a company’s strategic goals—along with metrics that can be evaluated over time—will always be critical to shareholders. But this information … should be provided on a timeline deemed appropriate for the needs of each specific company and its investors, whether annual or otherwise,” he and Jamie Dimon wrote in the Wall Street Journal.
Yes, volatile times call for quick responses and fast action. But as Warren Buffett has shown, there are also significant advantages to keeping the long term in mind, as well. Specifically, there is value in consistency, caution, and patience and in simply trusting the math—in good times and bad.
The coronavirus pandemic has shown the healthcare industry that it needs to decide whether it’s playing basketball or soccer, journalist and author Malcolm Gladwell said.
Gladwell, the opening keynote speaker at America’s Health Insurance Plans’ annual Institute & Expo, said the two sports exemplify the differences in thinking when one tackles problems using a “strong link” approach versus a “weak link” approach.
In basketball, he said, the team is as strong as its strongest, most high-profile players. In soccer, by contrast, the team is only as strong as its weakest players.
For healthcare organizations, that means making investments in the “weakest links”—such as harried clinicians who may need more training and low-income communities that cannot afford or access coverage—rather than the stronger links, like building out teaching hospitals and physician specializations.
“In healthcare, this is a chance for us to turn the ship around and say we can benefit far more from making health insurance more plentiful and more affordable,” Gladwell said.
Gladwell emphasized that healthcare is far from the only industry to largely follow a “strong link” approach to improvement. In higher education, for example, much of the investment and funding goes to Ivy League institutions and other wealthy, top-performing universities.
Meanwhile, the education system could see significant benefits if it invested in the “weak links” like community colleges and bringing down tuition, Gladwell said.
It’s a similar story in national security—and that “strong link” thinking led to two of the largest security breaches in American history, Gladwell said. Both Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning were relatively low-ranking people within the security apparatus, but they were able to access critical files and release them.
“I would argue that ‘strong link’ paradigm has dominated every part of American society,” Gladwell said. “We have really put our chips down on the ‘strong link’ paradigm.”
How could a “weak link” approach have impacted the response to the COVID-19 pandemic? Gladwell argues that, for instance, widespread testing is hampered by a lack of supplies like nasal swabs. Investment in the supply chain could have mitigated that challenge, he said.
The virus also disproportionately impacts people with certain conditions, notably diabetes. A broader focus on preventing and treating obesity could have had a large impact on how the pandemic played out, he said.
“With this particular pandemic, I think we’re having a wake-up call,” Gladwell said.