100 of the largest hospitals and health systems in America | 2023

Health systems across the U.S. are growing as more independent hospitals and small chains move to join larger organizations amid financially challenging times.

Becker’s compiled a list of 40 of the largest health systems by number of hospitals and 60 of the largest hospitals by number of beds, based on organizational data as of January 2023.

Largest Health Systems

1. HCA Healthcare (Nashville, Tenn.): 182 hospitals 

2. Veterans Health Administration: 171 hospitals 

3. CommonSpirit Health (Chicago): 140 hospitals 

4. Ascension (St. Louis): 139 hospitals 

5. Trinity Health (Livonia, Mich.): 88 hospitals 

6. LifePoint Health (Brentwood, Tenn.): 84 hospitals

7. Community Health Systems (Franklin, Tenn.): 79 hospitals

8. Advocate Health (Charlotte, N.C.): 67 hospitals 

9. Tenet Healthcare (Dallas): 61 hospitals 

10. Christus Health (Irving, Texas): 60 hospitals

11. Providence (Renton, Wash.): 52 hospitals 

12. Baylor Scott & White Health (Dallas): 51 hospitals 

13. Bon Secours Mercy Health (Cincinnati): 48 hospitals

14. Sanford Health (Sioux Falls, S.D.): 47 hospitals 

15. AdventHealth (Altamonte Springs, Fla.): 46 hospitals 

16. Indian Health Service (Rockville, Md.): 46 [24 IHS-operated and 22 tribally operated] hospitals

17. Prime Healthcare (Ontario, Calif.): 45 hospitals 

18. UPMC (Pittsburgh): 40 hospitals 

19. Mercy (St. Louis): 40 hospitals  

20. Kaiser Permanente (Oakland, Calif.): 39 hospitals  

21. UnityPoint Health (West Des Moines, Iowa): 39 hospitals 

22. Avera Health (Sioux Falls, S.D.): 37 hospitals  

23. Intermountain Healthcare (Salt Lake City): 33 hospitals

24. Ardent Health Services (Nashville, Tenn.): 30 hospitals  

25. Banner Health (Phoenix): 30 hospitals  

26. Community Hospital Corp. (Plano, Texas): 29 hospitals

27. Texas Health Resources (Arlington): 29 hospitals 

28.  Universal Health Services (King of Prussia, Pa.): 28 hospitals 

29. Great Plains Health Alliance (Wichita, Kan.): 26 hospitals

30. Adventist Health (Roseville, Calif.): 23 hospitals

31. Sutter Health (Sacramento, Calif.): 23 hospitals 

32. MercyOne (Des Moines, Iowa): 23 hospitals 

33. SSM Health (St. Louis): 23 hospitals  

34. Baptist (Memphis, Tenn.): 22 hospitals 

35. Cleveland Clinic: 22 hospitals

36. Ballad Health (Johnson City, Tenn.): 21 hospitals 

37. Northwell Health (New Hyde Park, N.Y.): 21 hospitals 

38. Quorum Health Corp. (Brentwood, Tenn.): 21 hospitals  

39. University Hospitals (Cleveland): 21 hospitals 

40. Mayo Clinic Health System (Rochester, Minn.): 16 hospitals

Largest Hospitals

1. Yale New Haven (Conn.) Hospital: 1,541 beds 

2. Jackson Memorial Hospital (Miami): 1,488 beds

3. AdventHealth Orlando (Fla.): 1,400 beds

4. Cleveland Clinic: 1,300 beds 

5. Barnes-Jewish Hospital (St. Louis): 1,278 beds 

6. Mayo Clinic Hospital-Saint Marys Campus (Rochester, Minn.): 1,265 beds 

7. UAB Hospital (Birmingham, Ala.): 1,207 beds  

8. The Johns Hopkins Hospital (Baltimore): 1,162 beds

9. Mount Sinai Hospital (New York City): 1,139 beds 

10. Northeast Florida State Hospital (MacClenny): 1,138 beds

11. Beaumont Hospital-Royal Oak (Mich.): 1,131 beds 

12. Saint Francis Hospital (Tulsa, Okla.): 1,112 beds 

13. Atrium Health Carolinas Medical Center (Charlotte, N.C.): 1,059 beds

14. OhioHealth Riverside Methodist Hospital (Columbus): 1,059 beds 

15. Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center (Houston): 1,058 beds 

16. Tampa (Fla.) General Hospital: 1,040 beds 

17. Christiana Hospital (Newark, Del.): 1,039 beds 

18. UH Cleveland Medical Center: 1,032 beds

19. UF Health Shands Hospital (Gainesville, Fla.): 1,030 beds

20. Massachusetts General Hospital (Boston): 1,019 beds 

21. Vanderbilt University Hospital (Nashville, Tenn.): 1,000 beds 

22. ECU Health Medical Center (Greenville, N.C.): 974 beds 

23. Duke University Hospital (Durham, N.C.): 957 beds 

24. UNC Medical Center (Chapel Hill, N.C.): 950 beds

25. Florida State Hospital (Chattahoochee): 949 beds 

26. Baptist Hospital of Miami (Fla.): 948 beds

27. Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center of Aurora Health Care (Milwaukee): 938 beds

28. Methodist Hospital (San Antonio): 933 beds 

29. Thomas Jefferson University Hospital (Philadelphia): 926 beds 

30. Inova Fairfax Hospital (Falls Church, Va.): 923 beds 

31. Miami Valley Hospital (Dayton, Ohio): 922 beds 

32. Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center (Winston-Salem, N.C.): 921 beds 

33. Baylor University Medical Center (Dallas): 914 beds

34. MedStar Washington Hospital Center: 912 beds 

35. The University of Kansas Hospital (Kansas City): 910 beds

36. Houston Methodist Hospital: 907 beds

37. Sarasota Memorial Hospital (Fla.): 901 beds

38. Ohio State University Hospital (Columbus): 900 beds 

39. Medical City Dallas: 899 beds 

40. Orlando (Fla.) Health Orlando Regional Medical Center: 898 beds

41. St. Joseph’s Hospital (Tampa, Fla.): 897 beds

42. Northwestern Memorial Hospital (Chicago): 894 beds 

43. Cedars-Sinai Medical Center (Los Angeles): 886 beds 

44. Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center (Winston-Salem, N.C.): 885 beds 

45. Huntsville (Ala.) Hospital: 881 beds 

46. Henry Ford Hospital (Detroit, Mich.): 877 beds

47. Hartford (Conn.) Hospital: 867 beds 

48. Lakeland (Fla.) Regional Health Medical Center: 864 beds 

49. Memorial Regional Hospital (Hollywood, Fla.): 863 beds

50. NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center (New York City): 862 beds 

51. Mercy Hospital St. Louis: 859 beds 

52. Texas Heart Institute at Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center (Houston): 850 beds 

53. NYU Langone Hospitals (New York City): 844 beds 

54. Baptist Health-Little Rock (Ark.): 843 beds 

55. Parkland Health and Hospital System (Dallas): 836 beds 

56. Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center (Baton Rouge, La.): 800 beds

57. Mayo Clinic Hospital-Methodist Campus (Rochester, Minn.): 794 beds 

58. ProMedica Toledo (Ohio) Hospital: 794 beds 

59. Brigham and Women’s Hospital (Boston): 793 beds

60. North Shore University Hospital (Manhasset, N.Y.): 738 beds 

U.S. healthcare: A conglomerate of monopolies

The Taylor Swift ticketing debacle of 2022 left thousands of frustrated ‘Swifties’ without a chance to see their favorite artist in concert. And it also highlighted the trouble that arises when companies like Ticketmaster gain monopolistic control.

In any industry, market consolidation limits competition, choice and access to goods and services, all of which drive up prices.

But there’s another—often overlooked—consequence.

Market leaders that grow too powerful become complacent. And, when that happens, innovation dies. Healthcare offers a prime example.

And industry of monopolies

De facto monopolies abound in almost every healthcare sector: Hospitals and health systems, drug and device manufacturers, and doctors backed by private equity. The result is that U.S. healthcare has become a conglomerate of monopolies.  

For two decades, this intense concentration of power has inflicted harm on patients, communities and the health of the nation. For most of the 21st century, medical costs have risen faster than overall inflation, America’s life expectancy (and overall health) has stagnated, and the pace of innovation has slowed to a crawl.

 This article, the first in a series about the ominous and omnipresent monopolies of healthcare, focuses on how merged hospitals and powerful health systems have raised the price, lowered the quality and decreased the convenience of American medicine.

Future articles will look at drug companies who wield unfettered pricing power, coalitions of specialist physicians who gain monopolistic leverage, and the payers (businesses, insurers and the government) who tolerate market consolidation. The series will conclude with a look at who stands the best chance of shattering this conglomerate of monopolies and bringing innovation back to healthcare.

How hospitals consolidate power

The hospital industry is now home to a pair of seemingly contradictory trends. On one hand, economic losses in recent years have resulted in record rates of hospital (and hospital service) closures. On the other hand, the overall market size, value and revenue of U.S. hospitals are growing.

This is no incongruity. It’s what happens when hospitals and health systems merge and eliminate competition in communities.  

Today, the 40 largest health systems own 2,073 hospitals, roughly one-third of all emergency and acute-care facilities in the United States. The top 10 health systems own a sixth of all hospitals and combine for $226.7 billion in net patient revenues.

Though the Federal Trade Commission and the Antitrust Division of the DOJ are charged with enforcing antitrust laws in healthcare markets and preventing anticompetitive conduct, legal loopholes and intense lobbying continue to spur hospital consolidation. Rarely are hospital M&A requests denied or even challenged.

The ills of hospital consolidation

The rapid and recent increase in hospital consolidation has left hundreds of communities with only one option for inpatient care.

But the lack of choice is only one of the downsides.

Hospital administrators know that state and federal statutes require insurers and self-funded businesses to provide hospital care within 15 miles of (or 30 minutes from) a member’s home or work. And they understand that insurers must accept their pricing demands if they want to sell policies in these consolidated markets. As a result, studies confirm that hospital prices and profits are higher in uncompetitive geographies.

These elevated prices negatively impact the pocketbooks of patients and force local governments (which must balance their budgets) to redirect funds toward hospitals and away from local police, schools and infrastructure projects.

Perhaps most concerning of all is the lack of quality improvement following hospital consolidation. Contrary to what administrators claim, clinical outcomes for patients are no better in consolidated locations than in competitive ones—despite significantly higher costs.

How hospitals could innovate (and why they don’t)

Hospital care in the United States accounts for more than 30% of total medical expenses (about $1.5 trillion). Even though fewer patients are being admitted each year, these costs continue to rise at a feverish pace.

If our nation wants to improve medical outcomes and make healthcare more affordable, a great place to start would be to innovate care-delivery in our country’s hospitals.

To illuminate what’s possible, below are three practical innovations that would simultaneously improve clinical outcomes and lower costs. And yet, despite the massive benefits for patients, few hospital-system administrators appear willing to embrace these changes.

Innovation 1: Leveraging economies of scale

In most industries, bigger is better because size equals cost savings. This advantage is known as economies of scale.

Ostensibly, when bigger hospitals acquire smaller ones, they gain negotiating power—along with plenty of opportunities to eliminate redundancies. These factors could and should result in lower prices for medical care.

Instead, when hospitals merge, the inefficiencies of both the acquirer and the acquired usually persist. Rather than closing small, ineffective clinical services, the newly expanded hospital system keeps them open. That’s because hospital administrators prefer to raise prices and keep people happy rather than undergo the painstaking process of becoming more efficient.

The result isn’t just higher healthcare costs, but also missed opportunities to improve quality.

Following M&A, health systems continue to schedule orthopedic, cardiac and neurosurgical procedures across multiple low-volume hospitals. They’d be better off creating centers of excellence and doing all total joint replacements, heart surgeries and neurosurgical procedures in a single hospital or placing each of the three specialties in a different one. Doing so would increase the case volumes for surgeons and operative teams in that specialty, augmenting their experience and expertise—leading to better outcomes for patients.

But hospital administrators bristle at the idea, fearing pushback from communities where these services close.   

Innovation 2: Switching to a seven-day hospital

When patients are admitted on a Friday night, rather than a Monday or Tuesday night, they spend on average an extra day in the hospital.

This delay occurs because hospitals cut back services on weekends and, therefore, frequently postpone non-emergent procedures until Monday. For patients, this extra day in the hospital is costly, inconvenient and risky. The longer the patient stays admitted, the greater the odds of experiencing a hospital acquired infection, medical error or complications from underlying disease.

It would be possible for physicians and staff to spread the work over seven days, thus eliminating delays in care. By having the necessary, qualified staff present seven days a week, inpatients could get essential, but non-emergent treatments on weekends without delay. They could also receive sophisticated diagnostic tests and undergo procedures soon after admission, every day of the week. As a result, patients would get better sooner with fewer total inpatient days and far lower costs.  

Hospital administrators don’t make the change because they worry it would upset the doctors and nurses who prefer to work weekdays, not weekends.

Innovation 3: Bringing hospitals into homes

During Covid-19, hospitals quickly ran out of staffed beds. Patients were sent home on intravenous medications with monitoring devices and brief nurse visits when needed.

Clinical outcomes were equivalent to (and often better than) the current inpatient care and costs were markedly less.

Building on this success, hospitals could expand this approach with readily available technologies.

Whereas doctors and nurses today check on hospitalized patients intermittently, a team of clinicians set up in centralized location could monitor hundreds of patients (in their homes) around the clock.

By sending patients home with devices that continuously measure blood pressure, pulse and blood oxygenation—along with digital scales that can calibrate fluctuations in a patient’s weight, indicating either dehydration or excess fluid retention—patients can recuperate from the comforts of home. And when family members have questions or concerns, they can obtain assistance and advice through video.

Despite dozens of advantages, use of the “hospital at home” model is receding now that Covid-19 has waned.

That’s because hospital CEOs and CFOs are paid to fill beds in their brick-and-mortar facilities. And so, unless their facilities are full, they prefer that doctors and nurses treat patients in a hospital bed rather than in people’s own homes.

Opportunities for hospital innovations abound. These three are just a few of many changes that could transform medical care. Instead of taking advantage of them, hospital administrators continue to construct expensive new buildings, add beds and raise prices.

10 Key Medtech Themes for 2023

https://medcitynews.com/2023/01/10

We expect 2023 to be a pivotal year for the industry, as the accelerated acceptance of virtual care and demographic trends, such as an aging population, increasing chronic illnesses and healthcare worker shortages, sustain demand for medtech-enabled solutions.

The combination of rapid developments in novel healthcare technology and heightened demand for integrated tech-enabled care has continued to fuel innovation in the medtech industry.  At the same time, medtech innovators – whether in digital health, wearables and AI-driven offerings in healthcare, or diagnostics, telemedicine and health IT solutions – continue to face a patchwork of laws, rules and norms across the world. Life sciences and healthcare innovators and regulators are also looking to medtech to increase access to care and health equity. Here are ten global medtech themes we are tracking in the coming year:

Focus on digital tuck-in acquisitions in medtech M&A

Despite continued uncertainty in the overall financial market, medtech M&A activity continued at a steady pace in 2022.  This year witnessed a rise in tuck-in acquisitions of smaller companies that can be easily integrated into buyers’ existing infrastructure and product offerings, as opposed to significantly sized takeovers of businesses that aren’t squarely aligned with buyers’ existing businesses lines.  Medtech acquirers have been particularly focused on developing their digital capabilities to innovate and reach customers in new ways.  As digitization continues to transform the industry, we expect acquirers to continue to prioritize the value of digital and data assets as they evaluate potential targets.

Continued interest by private equity and other financial sponsors

Private equity firms, healthcare-focused funds and other financial sponsors have continued to display a strong appetite for investing in Medtech companies, with top targets in subsectors such as diagnostics and healthcare IT solutions.  Later-stage medtech companies in particular are gaining a larger share of venture capital funding, as later-stage investments allow financial sponsors to focus on businesses with higher yields, as well as less time to market and capital reimbursement.  Demographic trends, including an aging population and the increasing prevalence of chronic diseases, coupled with healthcare technology advancements have created robust demand for medtech-enabled solutions.  Additionally, medtech offerings have broad applications that can extend beyond stakeholders in a specific therapy area, product category or care setting, offering the ability to satisfy unmet needs with large patient bases.

Strategic medtech collaborations as the new norm

Strategic medtech collaborations and partnerships have become the new norm in our increasingly connected digital healthcare ecosystem.  In response to heightened consumer demand for tech-enabled care, pharmaceutical and medtech companies are collaborating to use digital technologies to engage with consumers, unlocking a vast range of treatments such as personalized medicine.  Additionally, as the market rapidly evolves towards data-driven healthcare, we expect medtech companies to continue to work collaboratively to address existing barriers to data sharing and promote interoperability of healthcare data.

Continued scrutiny by antitrust and competition authorities 

As expected, global antitrust and competition authorities continued to focus on the tech, life sciences and medtech sectors in 2022.  The US, UK and EU authorities have stepped up efforts to investigate and challenge conduct by large pharma and technology companies pursuing mergers and acquisitions.  We expect these authorities to assess similar concerns in the digital health context in an effort to account for the value of combined datasets and the interoperability of various offerings that could be derived from digital health mergers and acquisitions.  Furthermore, geopolitical tensions have resulted in new and expanded foreign investment regimes to improve the resilience of domestic healthcare systems.  Notably this year, the UK government implemented the National Security and Investment Act that allows it to restrict transactions that may threaten national security, including in the AI and data infrastructure sectors.  Sensitive data continues to be a recurring theme for foreign investment review for Committee on Foreign Investment in the US  and that of the EU as well.

Growing importance of data privacy and security

Increasing regulatory attention to sensitive health data and the escalating rise of ransomware attacks has made data privacy and security more important than ever for medtech innovators.  The Federal Trade Commission has issued several statements about its willingness to “fully” enforce the law against the illegal use and sharing of highly sensitive data.  Additionally, several state privacy laws coming into effect in 2023 create new categories of sensitive personal data, including health data, and impose novel obligations on innovators to obtain data-related consents.  As ransomware continues to pose security-related threats, the US Department of Health and Human Services renewed calls for all covered entities and business associates to prioritize cybersecurity.  New standards, such as cybersecurity label rating programs for connected devices, aim to address security risks.  In the EU, medtech providers will need to consider how the launch of the European Health Data Space and newly proposed data regulation, such as the Data Act and AI Act, could impact their data use and sharing practices.

More active engagement with FDA/EMA/MHRA

We expect companies active in the medtech sector, particularly those that make use of AI and other advanced technologies, to continue their conversations with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”), the European Medicines Agency (“EMA”), the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (“MHRA”) and other regulators as such companies grow their medtech business lines and establish their associated regulatory compliance infrastructure. Given the unique regulatory issues arising from the implementation of digital health technologies, we expect the FDA, EMA and MHRA to provide additional guidance on AI/ML-based software-as-a-medical device and the remote management of clinical trials.  2022 saw stakeholders in the life sciences and medtech industries collaborate with regulatory authorities to push forward the acceptance of digital endpoints that rely on sensor-generated data collected outside of a clinical setting.  As the industry shifts to decentralized clinical trials, we expect both innovators and regulators to work together to evaluate the associated clinical, privacy and safety risks in the development and use of such digital endpoints.

Increasing medtech localization in the Asia Pacific region

2022 saw multinational companies (“MNCs”), including American pharma/device makers make an active effort to expand their medtech business lines in the Asia Pacific region.   At the same time, government authorities in the region have been increasingly focused on incentivizing local innovation, approving government grants and prohibiting the importation of non-approved medical equipment. In light of MNCs’ market share of the medical device market in the Asia Pacific region, especially in China, we expect the emergence of the domestic medtech industry to prompt discussions among MNCs, local innovators and government authorities over the long-term development of the global market for medical technology.

Long-term adoption of telehealth and remote patient monitoring technologies 

The Covid-19 pandemic saw the rise of telehealth and remote patient monitoring technologies as key modes of healthcare delivery.  The telehealth industry remains focused on enabling remote consultations and long-term patient management for patients with chronic conditions.  Looking forward, we expect to see increased innovation in non-invasive technologies that can provide early diagnostics and ongoing disease management in a low-friction manner.  At the same time, we anticipate telehealth companies to face increasing scrutiny from regulatory authorities around the world for fraud and abuse by patients and providers.  Consumer and patient data privacy and security in connection with telehealth and remote patient monitoring continue to remain top of mind for regulators as well.

Women’s health and privacy concerns for medtech

We expect to see increased consumer health tech adoption for reproductive care, especially in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.  Following the Dobbs decision, a number of states introduced or passed legislation that prohibits or restricts access to reproductive health services beyond abortion.  In response, women’s health-focused companies are expanding their virtual fertility and pregnancy, telemedicine and other services to patients.  At the same time, such companies need to assess the legal risks stemming from the collection and storage of their customers’ personal health information, which could then be used as evidence to prosecute customers for obtaining illegal reproductive health services.  We expect companies active in this space to take steps to navigate the patchwork of data privacy and security laws across jurisdictions while establishing clear digital health governance mechanisms to safeguard their customers’ data privacy and security.

Addressing inequities in the implementation of digital healthcare technologies

Medtech innovators and regulators have been increasingly focused on addressing inequities in the healthcare system and the data used to train AI and ML-based digital healthcare technologies.  In 2022, a number of medtech companies collaborated to provide technologies that result in improved patient outcomes across all populations, as well as boost participation of diverse populations in clinical trials.  In parallel, we are seeing increased interest from regulators to reduce bias in digital health technologies and the accompanying datasets, as evidenced by the EU’s proposed AI Act and the UK’s health data strategy. In the US, which currently lacks comprehensive government regulation of AI in healthcare, there have been increasing calls for institutional commitments in the area of algorithmovigilance.  Because of the inaccurate conclusions that may result from biased technologies and data, MedTech companies must prioritize health equity in the implementation of digital healthcare technologies so that everyone can benefit from the latest scientific advances.

In conclusion, the medtech industry has remained resilient amidst the challenging macroeconomic environment.  We expect 2023 to be a pivotal year for the industry, as the accelerated acceptance of virtual care and demographic trends, such as an aging population, increasing chronic illnesses and healthcare worker shortages, sustain demand for medtech-enabled solutions.  At the same time, the rapidly changing legal and regulatory landscape will continue to be a key issue for medtech innovators moving forward. Adopting a global, forward-thinking regulatory compliance strategy can help MedTech companies stay competitive and ultimately, achieve better outcomes for patients.

2022 Was Hospitals’ Worst Financial Year in Decades, But 2023 Won’t Be Much Better

https://medcitynews.com/2023/01/2022

Financial analysts have said that 2022 may have been the worst year for hospital finances in decades. This year looks like it will be yet another year of financial underperformance, with rural providers in especially dire circumstances. 

What’s driving this bleak financial reality? It’s “primarily an expense story,” said Erik Swanson, a senior vice president at Kaufman Hall‘s data analytics practice.

“Growth in expenses has vastly outpaced growth in revenues — since pre-pandemic levels since last year, and even the year prior — such that margins are ultimately being pushed downward. And hospitals’ median operating margin is still below zero on a cumulative basis,” he declared, referring to 2021 and 2020. 

Here’s some context about how dismal this situation is: Even in 2020, a year in which hospitals saw extraordinary losses during the first few months of the pandemic, they still reported operating margins of 2%.

What’s even more disconcerting is that hospitals are underperforming financially pretty much across the board, Swanson said.

For example, the financial reports for the country’s three largest nonprofit health systems — AscensionCommonSpirit Health and Trinity Health — revealed they are all struggling. Ascension reported a $118.6 million loss in the third quarter of 2022, CommonSpirit posted a $227 million loss, and Trinity posted a $550.9 million loss.

Even Kaiser Permanente, one of the country’s largest health systems with an integrated delivery model, reported a $1.5 billion loss for the third quarter of 2022.

Rural hospitals are in even worse shape, but more on that below.

Other hospitals have been forced to shutter service lines to offset these financial losses. Some are also turning to integration and consolidation.

For example, Hermann Area District Hospital in Missouri said last month that it is seeking a “deeper affiliation” with Mercy Health or another provider. This announcement came after the hospital eliminated its home health agency as a cost-cutting measure. In December, the hospital projected a loss of $2 million for 2022.

We can also look at the mega-merger between Atrium Health and Advocate Aurora Health, which was completed last month. The deal, which is designed for cost synergy, creates the fifth-largest nonprofit integrated health system in the U.S. 

The merger was finalized one day after North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein expressed concern about how the deal could impact rural communities. He said that while he didn’t have a legal basis within his office’s limited statutory authority to block the deal, he was worried that it could further restrict access to healthcare in rural and underserved communities.

Stein brings up an extremely valid concern. Rural hospitals’ dismal financial circumstances are becoming more and more worrisome — in fact, about 30% of all rural hospitals are at risk of closing in the near future, according to a recent report from the Center for Healthcare Quality and Payment Reform (CHQPR).

A crucial reason for this is that it is more expensive to deliver healthcare in rural areas — usually because of smaller patient volumes and higher costs for attracting staff. Another factor is that payments rural hospitals receive from commercial health plans isn’t enough to cover the cost of delivering care to patients in rural areas, said Harold Miller, CEO of CHQPR. 

“Many people assume that private commercial insurance plans pay more than Medicare and Medicaid. But for small rural hospitals, the exact opposite is true,” he said. “In many cases, Medicare is their best payer. And private health plans actually pay them well below their costs — well below what they pay their larger hospitals. One of the biggest drivers of rural hospital losses is the payments they receive from private health plans.”

In Miller’s view, rural hospitals perform two main functions: taking care of sick people in the hospital and being there for people in case they need to go to the hospital. 

To fulfill the latter job, rural hospitals must operate 24/7 emergency rooms. These hospitals get paid when there’s an emergency, but not when there isn’t — even though the hospital is incurring costs by operating and staffing these units.

“Rural hospitals have a physician on duty 24/7 to be available for emergencies. But they don’t get paid for that by most payers. Medicare does pay them for that, but other payers don’t. If the hospital is doing two different things, we should be paying them for both of those things. Hospitals should be paid for what I refer to as ‘standby capacity,’” Miller said.

He bolstered his argument by pointing to these analogies: Do we only pay firefighters when there’s a fire? Do we only pay police officers when there’s a crime?

It’s also important to remember that rural hospitals are in the midst of transitioning to a post-pandemic environment, now without the pandemic-era financial assistance they received from the government, said Brock Slabach, chief operations officer at the National Rural Health Association

“Rural providers are looking to move into the future without the benefit of those extra payments. And they’re in an environment of really high inflation. It’s over 8%, and for some goods and services in the healthcare sector, that’s going to be over 20% in terms of increased prices. Wages and salaries have also gone up significantly. But patient volumes have maintained below average or average. That all presents a huge challenge,” Slabach said.

Rural providers across the country are dealing with the stressors Slabach described and clamoring for more government help. For example, the Michigan Health & Hospital Association sought more money from the state last month after having to take 1,700 beds offline.

Many rural hospitals can’t escape their fate. From 2010 to 2021, there were 136 rural hospital closures. There were only two closures in 2021, and Slabach said 2022 produced a similarly low number. But these low totals are due to government relief, he explained. Slabach said he’s expecting an increase in rural hospital closures in 2023.

When a rural hospital closes, it means community members have to travel far distances for emergency or inpatient care. Miller pointed out another problem: in many rural communities, the hospital is the only place people can go to get laboratory or imaging work done. The hospital might also be the only source of primary care for the community. Shuttering these hospitals would be a massive blow to rural Americans’ healthcare access.

In the face of these potentially devastating blows to patient access, financial analysts’ outlook is bleak. 

Higher inflation and costly labor expenses will continue to have negative effects on hospitals — both rural and urban — in 2023, according to an analysis from Moody’s. Expenses will also continue to increase due to supply chain bottlenecks, the need for more robust cybersecurity investments and longer hospital stays due to higher levels of patient acuity.

All of this doom and gloom begs the question — are any hospitals doing well financially?

The answer is yes, a select few. Let’s look at the three largest for-profit health systems in the nation — Community Health SystemsHCA Healthcare and Tenet Healthcare. As of 2020, these three public health systems accounted for about 8% of hospital beds in the U.S. 

These three systems all had positive operating margins for the majority of the pandemic, including most recently in the third quarter of 2022.

Large public health systems have shareholders to report to and stock prices to worry about. Does this mean they’re more likely to deny care to patients who can’t afford it while other hospitals pick up the slack?

Slabach said it’s tough to say.

“Obviously, hospitals try to mitigate their exposure to risk when it comes to taking care of patients. Most hospitals do a really good job of providing services and care to people who don’t have insurance or don’t have the means to pay. But that gets stressed in this current financial environment. So indeed, there may be instances where what you suggested might happen, but it’s not because they want to deny services or deny care. It’s because they have a bigger picture they have to maintain,” Slabach said.

And the big picture involving dollar signs for hospitals looks pretty bleak in 2023.

New Jersey hospital shifts to freestanding ER after Trinity, Capital Health transaction closes

St. Francis Medical Center in Trenton, N.J., on Dec. 21 transitioned to a freestanding emergency room that offers various outpatient services after Capital Health acquired the hospital from Trinity Health, according to PBS affiliate WHYY.

The campus, renamed Capital Health – East Trenton, must feature a primary family health clinic and a women’s OB/GYN clinic, according to terms of the transaction. 

Other services, such as cardiac surgery, are moving to Capital Health Regional Medical Center in Trenton, where “extensive capital projects” are being planned, the health system said in a Dec. 8 news release. 

A St. Francis spokesperson told the news outlet that the hospital had been financially struggling for years. 

“St. Francis has done many great things for the Trenton community, but the current healthcare landscape has made it unsustainable,” Capital Health President and CEO Al Maghazehe said. “Without these key approvals, Trenton would have lost desperately needed healthcare services, including emergency services, behavioral health and cardiac surgery.” 

Capital Health said it has taken “a significant risk” to try and prevent a healthcare crisis for Trenton’s 90,000 residents, according to the report.

University of Michigan Health to buy Sparrow Health

https://mailchi.mp/e44630c5c8c0/the-weekly-gist-december-16-2022?e=d1e747d2d8

Ann Arbor, MI-based University of Michigan Health (UM Health), part of Michigan Medicine, announced last Thursday that it will acquire Lansing, MI-based Sparrow Health System, forming a $7B health system with over 200 care sites across southeast and mid-Michigan. The acquisition will connect Sparrow’s six hospitals to UM Health’s flagship academic medical center (AMC) and sole hospital, while extending the reach of Sparrow’s 70K-member health plan, in which UM Health had previously invested. Pending regulatory approvals, the deal is expected to be completed in the first half of 2023.

The Gist: Given Sparrow’s recent financial struggles—the system announced hundreds of layoffs in September after posting a $90M loss in the first half of 2022—this was a sensible pickup for UM Health, extending its reach into lower-cost community healthcare adjacent to its current market. Other AMCs have made similar moves in recent years, as the differentiated services of an AMC and the local patient reach of community hospitals make for a strong pairing—and this deal will go far toward advancing UM as a truly regional system.

But even if UM Health got a good deal on the acquisition, the current status of Sparrow’s infrastructure and workforce will require considerable investment (UM Health has already committed $800M in the deal’s announcement).

West Coast nonprofit health plans announce agreement to combine

https://mailchi.mp/e44630c5c8c0/the-weekly-gist-december-16-2022?e=d1e747d2d8

Two nonprofit insurers, Long Beach, CA-based SCAN Group and Portland, OR-based CareOregon, have agreed to merge. The new organization—which will take the name HealthRight Group, while retaining the SCAN and CareOregon brands in local markets—will have $6.8B in annual revenue and cover around 800K lives.

Continuing their previous areas of focus, SCAN will cater primarily to Medicare Advantage (MA) beneficiaries, and CareOregon will prioritize serving managed Medicaid enrollees. Executives from both companies cited scale as the primary motivation for the merger, with the companies aiming to both strengthen their foothold in current markets and expand their reach into new ones.

The deal, which still needs approval from state regulators, is expected to close in 2023.

The Gist: HealthRight stands to be a strong player in the booming government-backed, managed care market in states currently dominated by large payers like Kaiser Permanente and UnitedHealthcare. 

SCAN has differentiated itself with services dedicated to underserved populations, including creating a MA plan designed for LGBTQ+ seniors, and offering California’s only integrated dual-eligible, special needs plans. We expect the addition of CareOregon’s 319K managed Medicaid members to provide a larger platform for these targeted initiatives, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see more nonprofit insurers joining forces with HealthRight to better compete with current market heavyweights.  

Atrium and Advocate Aurora complete merger

https://mailchi.mp/3a7244145206/the-weekly-gist-december-9-2022?e=d1e747d2d8

Charlotte, NC-based Atrium Health and Downers Grove, IL- and Milwaukee, WI-based Advocate Aurora Health have formally combined to become the nation’s fifth-largest nonprofit health system. Taking the name Advocate Health, the $27B system will control 67 hospitals across six states in the Midwest and Southeast. The merger, announced in May of this year, unites the systems on even footing, with equal representation on a new board of directors, and a co-CEO arrangement for the first 18 months. The Atrium, Advocate, and Aurora brands will continue to be used in their respective local markets.

The Gist: Structuring Advocate Health as a joint operating agreement, and creating a new superstructure atop the two legacy systems, should allow the combined entity more flexibility in local decision-making, while still potentially generating cost savings from back-office efficiencies. 

While we expect these kinds of mega-mergers between large regional systems to continue, it remains to be seen whether the newly combined systems can successfully create value by building larger “platforms” of care to win consumer loyalty, deploying digital capabilities, attracting talent, and becoming more desirable partners for nontraditional players. 

Why large health insurers are buying up physicians

https://mailchi.mp/3a7244145206/the-weekly-gist-december-9-2022?e=d1e747d2d8

An enlightening piece published this week in Stat News lays out exactly how UnitedHealth Group (UHG) is using its vast network of physicians to generate new streams of profit, a playbook being followed by most other major payers. Already familiar to close observers of the post-Affordable Care Act healthcare landscape, the article highlights how UHG can use “intercompany eliminations”—payments from its UnitedHealthcare payer arm to its Optum provider and pharmacy arms—to achieve profits above the 15 to 20 percent cap placed on health insurance companies.

So far in 2022, 38 percent of UHG’s insurance revenue has flowed into its provider groups, up from 23 percent in 2017. And UHG expects next year’s intercompany eliminations to grow by 20 percent to a total of $130B, which would make up over half of its total projected revenue.

The Gist:

The profit motive behind payer-provider vertical integration is as clear as it is concerning for the state of competition in healthcare

UHG now employs or affiliates with 70K physicians—10K more than last year—seven percent of the US physician workforce, and the largest of any entity. 

Given the weak antitrust framework for regulating vertical integration, the federal government has proven unable to stop the acquisition of providers by payers. Eventually, profit growth for these vertically integrated payers will have to come from tightening provider networks, and not just acquiring more assets. That could prompt regulatory action or consumer backlash, if the government or enrollees determine that access to care is being unfairly restricted.

Until then, the march of consolidation is likely to continue.

‘What they’ve done is extremely evil’: Hospital closures spark questions about private equity in healthcare

Private equity has piled into healthcare in recent years, but one company’s recent moves have some questioning whether it belongs in the industry.

Los Angeles-based Prospect Medical Holdings has come under fire for shuttering hospitals and service lines across multiple states after paying itself and shareholders $457 million from a $1.1 billion loan in 2018, CBS News reported Dec. 6. The company paid the loan by selling assets to a healthcare real estate trust.

Prospect Medical then turned around and leased the same assets from the trust, resulting in $35 million in annual rent charges.

The company began cutting services earlier in 2022 at the 168-bed Upper Darby, Pa.-based Delaware County Memorial, the report said. The hospital’s emergency department closed in November.

“What they’ve done is extremely evil, in my words,” emergency nurse Angela Neopolitano, who worked at Delaware County Memorial for 41 years, told CBS News. “To gain a dollar, you maybe destroyed lives, maybe even ended lives, because they can’t get the help they need.”

Paramedics in the hospital’s system at one point found that the credit cards used to refuel their ambulances had been disabled because Prospect Medical “didn’t pay their bill,” Ms. Neopolitano told CBS News.

Delaware County officials said Prospect Medical told them labor costs, inflation and strain from the pandemic all fed into its decision to cut services, the report said.

“I had the sense they were not giving us all the information,” county official Monica Taylor told CBS News.

The Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General has filed a petition seeking to have Prospect Medical held in contempt and fined $100,000 per day for violating a court order prohibiting the hospital’s closure pending further order by the court.

Prospect Medical has said it plans to convert Delaware County Memorial into a 100-bed behavioral health facility, the report said.