Achieving True Health Care Transformation Requires Rethinking Compensation Models and Executive Performance Metrics

Healthcare leaders now need to strike a delicate balance that requires managing financial and growth metrics, increasing the speed of transformation, and building the health systems of tomorrow. So how do we redefine compensation models to reward all these behaviors?

Executive compensation might not spring to mind as a key driver of healthcare transformation, nor does it seem naturally connected to critical issues such as health equity, patient safety, or quality of care – just a few of the areas where significant changes can be made to transform healthcare. But, in fact, executives leading not-for-profit health systems today are tasked with delivering measurable results that improve the health status of their patients and their communities. And to ensure that these new performance metrics are met, we must change how we think about —and deliver—compensation.

Defining a new model

While executive compensation has always been tied to specific objectives, they have historically leaned heavily toward financial performance, volume and margins, with a modest portion of compensation aligned to quality of care and patient outcomes. But transformative approaches such as population health, value-based care, patient wellness and health outcomes are shifting the mark.

Healthcare leaders now need to strike a delicate balance that requires managing financial and growth metrics, increasing the speed of transformation, and building the health systems of tomorrow. So how do we redefine compensation models to reward all these behaviors?

Some might say that the answer lies in adjusting incentive plans. While incentive plans across health care have not changed significantly in the past decade, the sophistication of the plans has changed, reflecting greater attention to delivering a better patient experience. But delivering better experiences does not imply that health systems have transformed from the top down. In my mind, adjusting incentive plans only solves part of the problem.

If we want true health care transformation—and we should, in order to best serve patients and communities—health systems need to re-evaluate the outcomes for each stakeholder and create incentives to evolve leadership as a whole. We need to rethink executive compensation models to align with value-based care, patient experience, and the resulting outcomes, along with traditional performance measurements.

Leading through lingering disruption 

But rethinking executive compensation models won’t be an easy task, especially given the external challenges and changes thrust upon the health care system over the last few years.

As with nearly every other aspect of health care, pay for performance was disrupted during the pandemic. Demand for health services changed dramatically, labor and attrition issues intensified, and supply chain problems and operational costs increased. These new pressures required executives to manage through long periods of uncertainty where meeting operational pay-for-performance goals was nearly impossible. Fast-forward to today, the executive talent market remains extraordinarily competitive. Demand outpaces supply due to higher-than-typical retirements, effects of the great resignation, the need for new skill sets and overall burnout.

As a result, there has been upward pressure on compensation to address and fulfill unexpected but immediate needs such as rewarding executives for managing in a unique and challenging performance environment, increasing efforts to recruit and retain, and recognizing leaders for their hard-won accomplishments.

Considerations and changes

When considering adjusting models for 2023 and beyond, CEOs and compensation committees need to take these pressures and disruptions into account. They should look closely at their own compensation data from the past two years – not as a lighthouse for future compensation, but as data that may need to be set aside due to the volume of performance goals and achievements that were up-ended by the pandemic. When relying on external industry data, the same rules apply; smaller data sets or those that don’t account for the past two years may be misleading, so review carefully before using limited data sets to inform adjusted models.

Just as important, CEOs and compensation committees should consider new performance measurements tied to both financial and quality or value-based transformation metrics. We don’t need to eliminate traditional financial and operational goals because viability is still a business mandate. But how can we articulate compensation-driven KPIs for stewardship of patient and community health, improved outcomes and reduced cost of care? Too many measures are akin to having no measures at all.

The compensation mix should take into account a more focused approach to long-term measures. The old paradigm of 12-month incentive cycles is not enough to address the time required to truly transform health care. Another consideration should be performance-based funding of deferred compensation based on achieving transformation goals, and greater use of retention programs to support the maintenance of a stable executive team during the transformation period. Covid-19 proved how crisis can be an accelerator for change. True transformation should blend the skills gained from crisis management with planful, thoughtful and intentional change.

In addition, some metrics may need to incorporate a discretionary component, considering ongoing disruption within the workforce, supply chain limitations, and energy, equipment and labor cost increases. More organizations are also including health equity, DE&I, and ESG goals in incentive programs to tighten alignment with mission-critical board-mandated goals.

Transformative change 

There are four elements that are vital in the journey to transform health care from “heads in beds” to the public-service-oriented organizations that they were meant to be—and can be again. With mounting pressure from patients, communities, and payers to boards and employees, CEOs and compensation committees must become key drivers of change, setting the right goals and incentives from the top down.

  • Affordability: can patients afford the care they need?
  • Quality: is the care being delivered of the utmost quality?
  • Usability: how can we reduce hurdles to undertaking the care plan?
  • Access: are all community members able to access needed care?

Solving for each of these elements is one of the biggest challenges we face, and as we begin to emerge from the disruption of the pandemic, leaders will be watched closely to ensure that they deliver—and can clearly show the path to delivery.

Ideally, end achievements would include patients spending less to achieve better health; payers controlling costs and reducing risk; providers realizing efficiencies and greater patient satisfaction; and alignment of medical supplier pricing to patient outcomes. And when you zoom out to reveal the bigger picture, all of these pieces come together to achieve healthier populations and lower overall health care costs, while still meeting the financial goals of the organization.

We’re asking a lot of already-overburdened health care executives. Stakeholders must prove that we value leaders with the right mindset and skillset in order to attract executives who can shepherd organizations through the transformation journey. This requires a setting where there is supportive leadership, a compelling mission and opportunity for personal growth and development. It will not be easy, but without rethinking how we design compensation models from the top down, it will be unnecessarily challenging.

Thomas Jefferson University reports $83.5M Q3 loss, health system patient volumes up

Philadelphia-based Thomas Jefferson University, including Jefferson Health, reported a multimillion-dollar loss in the third quarter ending Sept. 30.

Five things to know:

1. Thomas Jefferson University reported an $83.5 million loss for the quarter, down significantly from a $12.8 million gain in the same period last year.

2. Thomas Jefferson University reported $29.9 million in operating revenue. Clinical operations reported an $87.3 million loss from operations, and the insurance operations reported a $7.1 million gain for the quarter.

3. The organization reported a -3.7 percent operating margin, compared to 0.9 percent for the third quarter last year.

4. Hospital inpatient admissions grew 30.4 percent year over year to 39,463 cases for the quarter. Outpatient observations were also up 21.6 percent to 11,744 cases. Outpatient visits were up 36 percent year over year to 524,200 visits.

5. Days cash on hand for clinical operations dropped by nearly 11 days since the start of the fiscal year to 158.5 days due to nonoperating investment losses and repaying Medicare advance payments.

Investment gains masking health system operating margin difficulties 

The combination of the Omicron surge, lackluster volume recovery, and rising expenses have contributed to a poor financial start of the year for most health systems. The graphic above shows that, after a healthier-than-expected 2021, the average hospital’s operating margin fell back into the red in early 2022, clocking in more than four percent lower than pre-pandemic levels. 

Despite operational challenges, however, many of the largest health systems continue to garner headlines for their sizable profits, thanks to significant returns on their investment portfolios in 2021.

While CommonSpirit and Providence each posted negative operating margins for the second half of 2021, and Ascension managed a small operating profit, all three were able to use investment income to cushion their performance.

A growing number of health systems are doubling down on investment strategies in an effort to diversify revenue streams, and capture the kind of returns from investments generated by venture capital firms. However, it is unlikely that revenue diversification will be a sustainable long-term strategy.

To succeed, health systems must look to reconfigure elements of the legacy business model that are proving financially unsustainable amid rising expenses, shifts of care to lower-cost settings, and an evolving, consumer-centric landscape.    

Kaiser sees net income top $8B in 2021, operating income fall sharply

Kaiser sees net income top $8B in 2021, operating income fall sharply -  NewsBreak

Driven by strong investment gains, Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser Permanente recorded a net income of $8.1 billion in 2021, an increase of $1.7 billion from 2020, according to its financial results released Feb. 11. However, its operating income fell sharply.

For the 12 months ended Dec. 31, the integrated healthcare provider with 39 hospitals recorded an operating revenue of $93.1 billion, up from $88.7 billion recorded last year. Additionally, Kaiser saw its expenses rise 6.9 percent to $92.5 billion in 2021. 

In 2021, Kaiser saw its operating income fall to $611 million, an operating margin of 0.7 percent. This compares to a $2.2 billion operating income in 2020 and an operating margin of 2.5 percent. 

Kaiser attributed the sharp decrease in operating income to an increase in care delivery expenses due to COVID-19 surges.

Total other income and expenses, which includes investment income, reached $7.5 billion in 2021. In 2020, Kaiser saw a gain of $4.1 billion.

Our financial performance underscores the strength of our integrated model, which allows us to weather unexpected challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic while continuing to serve our members,” said Kathy Lancaster, Kaiser Permanente executive vice president and CFO.

In 2021, Kaiser also said its health plan membership grew by 185,000 members. It now has more than 12.5 million members.

Read more here.

67 financial benchmarks for health system executives

35 financial benchmarks for healthcare executives | HENRY KOTULA

Health system leaders use benchmarking as a way to determine how their organizations stack up against both local and regional peers.

Below are 67 financial benchmarks, including key ratios for health systems, as well as revenue and margin metrics, broken down by rating category.

Key balance sheet metrics, ratios:

Source: Fitch Ratings’ “2021 Median Ratios: Not-for-Profit Hospitals and Healthcare Systems” report. It was released Aug. 3. 

1. Cash on hand: 255 days

2. Accounts receivable: 44.6 days

3. Cushion ratio: 29x

4. Current liabilities: 95 days

5. Cash to debt: 169.9 percent

6. Cash to adjusted debt: 161.1 percent

7. Operating margin: 1.3 percent

8. Operating EBITDA margin: 6.7 percent

9. Excess margin: 3.1 percent

10. EBITDA margin: 8.5 percent

11. Net adjusted debt to adjusted EBITDA: -2.6 percent

12. Personnel costs as percent of total operating revenue: 55 percent

13. EBITDA debt service coverage: 3.9x

14. Operating EBITDA debt service coverage: 3.2x

15. Maximum annual debt service as percent of revenues: 2.2 percent

16. Debt to EBITDA ratio: 4.4x

17. Debt to capitalization: 35.2 percent

18. Average age of plant: 11.4 years

19. Capital expenditures as percent of depreciation expense: 110.1 percent

Margins, revenue financial benchmarks broken down by rating category: 

Source: S&P Global Ratings “U.S. Not-For-Profit Health Care System Median Financial Ratios — 2019 vs. 2021″ report.” The report was released Aug. 30.

“AA+” rating

20. Net patient service revenue: $4.16 billion

21. Total operating revenue: $4.43 billion

22. Operating margin: 4.5 percent

23. Operating EBIDA margin: 11.3 percent

24. Excess margin: 5.5 percent

25. EBIDA margin: 12.2 percent

“AA” rating

26. Net patient service revenue: $3.98 billion

27. Total operating revenue: $4.95 billion

28. Operating margin: 3.2 percent

29. Operating EBIDA margin: 8.3 percent

30. Excess margin: 5.8 percent

31. EBIDA margin: 10.7 percent

“AA-” rating

32. Net patient service revenue: $3.08 billion

33. Total operating revenue: $3.41 billion

34. Operating margin: 1.9 percent

35. Operating EBIDA margin: 7.1 percent

36. Excess margin: 4.1 percent

37. EBIDA margin: 9.2 percent

“A+” rating

38. Net patient service revenue: $2.26 billion

39. Total operating revenue: $2.55 billion

40. Operating margin: 3 percent

41. Operating EBIDA margin: 7.1 percent

42. Excess margin: 5.5 percent

43. EBIDA margin: 10.9 percent

“A” rating

44. Net patient service revenue: $2.69 billion

45. Total operating revenue: $3.07 billion

46. Operating margin: 0.7 percent

47. Operating EBIDA margin: 6.6 percent

48. Excess margin: 5.5 percent

49. EBIDA margin: 2.3 percent

“A-” rating

50. Net patient service revenue: $2.08 billion

51. Total operating revenue: $2.69 billion

52. Operating margin: 0.6 percent

53. Operating EBIDA margin: 6.7 percent

54. Excess margin: 2.4 percent

55. EBIDA margin: 8 percent

“BBB+” rating

56. Net patient service revenue: $1.85 billion

57. Total operating revenue: $2.27 billion

58. Operating margin: -0.2 percent

59. Operating EBIDA margin: 5 percent

60. Excess margin: 0.5 percent

61. EBIDA margin: 6 percent

“BBB” rating

62. Net patient service revenue: $2.96 billion

63. Total operating revenue: $4.11 billion

64. Operating margin: -3.2 percent

65. Operating EBIDA margin: 1.6 percent

66. Excess margin: -2 percent

67. EBIDA margin: 2.8 percent