On same day of hospital concentration study, AMA says payers are the ones with less competition

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/payer-issues/on-same-day-of-hospital-concentration-study-ama-says-payers-are-the-ones-with-less-competition.html?oly_enc_id=2893H2397267F7G

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In 2018, 75 percent of commercial health insurance markets were highly concentrated, according to a study published by the American Medical Association.

For its study, AMA analyzed market concentration in 382 metropolitan areas across the nation. AMA estimated that 73 million Americans with commercial health plans live in highly concentrated markets and don’t have many health plans to choose from. 

“Americans in three-quarters of commercial health insurance markets have a limited number of health insurers from which to choose,” AMA President Patrice Harris, MD, said in a prepared statement. “In almost half of metropolitan areas, a single health insurer has 50 percent or more of the market, and patients are not benefiting from this degree of market power. While health insurers grow corporate profits, networks are too narrow, premiums are too high, and benefits are too watered down.”

The study was published the same day the Health Care Cost Institute published an analysis finding a growing number of metropolitan areas have highly concentrated hospital markets. HCCI found that by 2016, hospital markets in the majority (72 percent) of 112 metro areas the institute studied were highly concentrated. HCCI said this “reflects the fact that most metros became increasingly concentrated over time.”

Read the full AMA study here.

 

Report: 3 in 4 hospital markets are now ‘highly concentrated’

https://www.fiercehealthcare.com/hospitals-health-systems/report-three-four-hospital-markets-are-now-highly-concentrated?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiT1dJNE5tUTFZV0k1TVdRNCIsInQiOiJMakFtS1IzZmxaRDlQNUtjdFdMUHVYUFdBd1wvXC9EZFR3ekhHU3ZsYVNib2t3bTlEb0Z2bklLZndEZXFOTjZ1RVZ0bURYMXI5dGFNcW92SXFYV25HTVh4d01tNEY4YkVCUnBMamhpbllXSytVTW5ybGJ1OTh0UjJmVDRmSWJ6c1wveCJ9&mrkid=959610

Photo of two men shaking hands in front of a hospital

Nearly 3 in 4 hospital markets around the U.S. are “highly concentrated,” according to a new Healthy Marketplace Index report by the Health Care Cost Institute (HCCI).

Researchers examined more than 4 million commercial inpatient hospital claims between 2012 and 2016 and found 81 out of 112 (72%) were considered “highly concentrated” using the Department of Justice’s Herfindahl-Hirschman Index (HHI). That’s up from 67% in 2012. 

“Increasingly concentrated hospital markets have been linked to the rising cost of hospital care by nearly every expert in the field,” said Niall Brennan, president and CEO of HCCI, in a statement.

Funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the report found:

  • 69% of markets studied experienced an increase in concentration.
  • Metro areas with smaller populations tended to have higher concentration levels. For instance, Springfield, Missouri; Peoria, Illinois; Cape Coral, Florida; and both Durham and Greensboro, North Carolina, had the most concentrated markets in the U.S.
  • Larger metropolitan areas including New York City, Philadelphia and Chicago had the lowest levels of concentration.
  • Some of the less concentrated metros in 2012 like Trenton, New Jersey, experienced larger increases in concentration over time.

“Our findings add to the growing consensus that most localities have highly concentrated hospital markets, and this is becoming increasingly true over time,” Bill Johnson, Ph.D., a senior researcher at HCCI and an author of the report, said in a statement. “The increased concentration we observed can be driven by many factors such as hospital closures, mergers, and acquisitions, changes in hospital capacity, patient preference, or changes in patients’ insurance networks.”

Previous, HCCI reports found inpatient hospital prices were rising in nearly every metro area studied. This new study found a positive relationship—but not a causal relationship—between price increases and increases in hospital market concentration. Those findings align with similar findings correlating consolidation with rising healthcare prices including from the Harvard Global Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Urban Institute.

However, the American Hospital Association recently released its defense of consolidation in a report that argues mergers can improve costs by increasing scale, improving care coordination, reducing capital costs and improving clinical standardization.

 

 

 

Healthcare jobs grow at rapid clip, but wages lag amid consolidation boom

https://www.healthcaredive.com/trendline/labor/28/#story-4

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Healthcare employment is growing at a record pace, but wages remain stagnant, which some experts say likely results in part from the trend of consolidating health systems.

The latest Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers show the industry gained 49,000 jobs in March and 398,000 over the past 12 months. Analysts at Jefferies say the month-to-month growth is the second largest increase on record for the sector. Healthcare job growth has surpassed non-healthcare job growth and nudging the share of total jobs to an all time high, according to consulting firm Altarum.

Hospital employment grew by 14,000 jobs in March, adding up to a total of 120,000 for the combined first quarter of 2019. BLS tallied ambulatory jobs at 27,000 and home health and skilled nursing jobs at 9,000.

At the same time, real average weekly earnings for production and non-supervisory employees across sectors grew 0.1% over the month according to BLS. That growth in earnings is due to an increase in average weekly hours.

For nurses and pharmacists working in hospitals in heavily concentrated markets, annual wage growth has been lagging behind national rates by as much as 1.7 times. That’s according to researchers Elana Prager and Matt Schmitt, of Kellogg and UCLA, respectively, whose working paper compares wage growth rates in markets where mergers have occurred.

The paper drew the ire of the American Hospital Association.

“Among the many serious concerns about the study are its lack of rigor in the definitions and assumptions it used, and absence of data on total compensation and the recognition of other obvious factors that could affect wage growth,” an AHA spokesperson said in a statement criticizing media coverage of the research.

Academics researching the impacts of consolidation have asked the Federal Trade Commission to look at the impact horizontal mergers have on labor and consumers before they become difficult to challenge. FTC green-lit hundreds of horizontal hospital mergers over the past decade, maxing out at 115 in 2017, according to the National Institute for Health Care Management. In 2009, there were 50 such deals.

A Penn Law paper on mergers and labor markets published last year found employer consolidation has had a direct impact on wages and productivity in concentrated labor markets in the past. Wages, the authors write, tend to dilute when competition is scarce and labor concentration is “very high, as high or higher overall than product market concentration.”

Jason Plagman, a healthcare analyst at Jefferies, agreed, telling Healthcare Dive it becomes an “oligopsony situation where there are only a handful of buyers of a product” — in this case, labor — “you tend to see [employers] exert more control.”

As AHA noted, hospital and health systems tend to offer non-wage benefits, “such as employer-sponsored insurance, time off and education benefits” rather than increase wages. That’s an important caveat, said Dennis Shea, a health policy professor at Penn State.

 

Labor push

The debate comes as nurses unions have been pushing hard for additional staff and higher wages for hospital workers in consolidated states like California, New York, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. Hospital consolidation has raised prices as much as 20% to 40% when they occur in the same market, according to National Institute for Health Care Management, with some prices reaching as much as 55%.

Unions argue hospitals can afford to pay extra to hire more nurses. Jefferies analyst Plagman said it’s not that easy. About 50% of hospital revenue goes to salary, wages and benefits, he said, and half of that chunk of revenue goes to nurses. “If they give a 3% raise to all nurses, that’s a big impact on their overall expense line,” Plagman said.

The lack of competition bars labor from seeking work elsewhere. A nurse in a concentrated labor market can’t quit their job to work for the hospital down the street, because it’s probably owned by the same health system, Shea said.

Shea and Plagman agreed that movement of labor away from concentrated markets is one way to break the wage slump. But lack of mobility was one of the consequences of concentration found in a National Bureau of Economic Research published in February 2018. The paper suggests a negative relationship between consolidated markets and wages that becomes more pronounced with higher levels of concentration and only increases over time.

Pay raises have historically been pushed by labor unions, and though some hospitals have already raised wages, few have been inclined to raise staffing levels as well.

“Strikes are picking up,” Shea said. “That’s always an indicator that wage and salary growth will pick up a little bit.”

While labor disruption has been on the rise over the past year, Plagman ​said he expects employment and wage growth to continue at the current pace. At some point, he said the market will have to resolve itself.

“What we’re seeing is hospitals and healthcare providers are hiring, but they’ve been very disciplined over the past few years giving raises to nurses and therapists,” Plagman said.

In testimony to the FTC in October, economist Alan Kreuger alleged employers in concentrated markets “collude to hold wages to a fixed, below-market rate,” even when the economy is booming. Union membership has plummeted 25% since 1980, and without a counterweight to balance the power of a monopsony, he argued, employers are free to set wages at will — even if they lag behind inflation rates.

Pressures to contain costs and move from volume to value is forcing health system executives to be extra delicate with their labor expenses. When nurses strike, hospitals have temps at the ready. That’s a boon for staffing agencies like AMN Healthcare Services and Cross Country Healthcare.

Cost control in healthcare is a bit like “pushing on a balloon,” Shea said.

Slow growth or declines in one sector means business is booming for another. In this case, ambulatory added 27,000 jobs month-to-month in March, up from 22,000 in February, and Jefferies analysts are looking favorably at temporary staffing agencies.

While “all indicators” say healthcare wages should be pushed up, Shea said, he wouldn’t be surprised if the growth rate continued to limp along for a little while longer.

 

 

 

 

 

Hospitals hit bump, but healthcare jobs showed steady growth in July

https://www.healthcaredive.com/trendline/labor/28/#story-1

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Dive Brief:

  • A total of 30,000 healthcare jobs were added to the U.S. labor rolls in July, representing 18% of all new jobs added during the month, according to the Department of Labor.
  • Virtually all of the healthcare job growth occurred in ambulatory care — that segment accounted for 29,000 new jobs alone.
  • The weak spot was in hospital job growth, which was down by 2,000 jobs from the month before.

Dive Insight:

Hospitals are often the biggest employers in many towns and medium-sized cities, but their job creation has been uneven at best in recent months. According to an analyst note from Jefferies, employment by hospitals dropped by 2,000 on a seasonally adjusted basis, although that grew to a net 1,000 new jobs on an unadjusted basis.

By comparison, hospitals added a seasonally adjusted 9,000 new jobs in June, 25,000 on an unadjusted basis. However, much of that boost was created by the minting of new residents who just graduated from medical schools.

Hospital employment is still growing at a 1.8% annual clip (compared to 1.4% as of July 2018), although that’s down from the 2.1% rate reported in April.

“Overall, healthcare employment growth continues to demonstrate strong momentum, but hospital jobs growth appears to be moderating,” the analysts said. Inpatient providers account for more than 5.2 million jobs nationwide.

However, Jefferies’ analysts believe that healthcare will continue to be a big job engine for the foreseeable future.

“We believe the supply of clinical labor continues to struggle to keep pace with solid demand growth, resulting in tight clinician labor markets and strong demand for healthcare temp staffing services,” they said.

Although healthcare job growth has been extremely robust, wages have been stagnant in recent years, a phenomenon attributed in part to continued consolidation among industry players.

The ambulatory care segment has been growing rapidly in recent years. Its addition of 29,000 new jobs was up from 17,000 in June, and significantly outpaced the year-to-date average monthly growth of 22,000.

Home healthcare services added 11,000 new jobs last month alone — the highest rate since 2017. The segment’s annual growth rate is currently 5.3%, up from 3.2% in July 2018.

The nursing home segment added another 1,000 jobs.

 

 

Denver Provider Market at ‘Tipping Point,’ Study Finds

https://www.healthleadersmedia.com/finance/denver-provider-market-tipping-point-study-finds?spMailingID=16259324&spUserID=MTg2ODM1MDE3NTU1S0&spJobID=1720747610&spReportId=MTcyMDc0NzYxMAS2

The report expects employers and health plans to exert more influence in demanding market power going forward.

Health systems and physician groups have dominated the Denver healthcare market in recent years, but a new study indicates that employer-purchasers and health plans are poised to disrupt that dynamic. 

Supported by existing legislation, activism from local businesses, and the efforts of Gov. Jared Polis, the Denver market is at a ‘tipping point,’ according to a Catalyst for Payment Reform (CPR) and the Colorado Business Group on Health (CBGH) report released Thursday morning.

The study specifically referenced the RAND report from May which found that payers were paying rates to providers well above Medicare levels, noting that employers have an opportunity to pressure insurers to engage providers in contract arrangements that better align with care rendered.

Researchers believe that payment reform is achievable in Denver, suggesting six policy recommendations to business groups, lawmakers, and insurers, including the expansion of price transparency measures and promotion of benchmarking prices relative to Medicare.

Corralling healthcare prices has been a primary issue in Colorado this year, with the state most recently pursuing a reinsurance program that Polis expects to lower premiums by 18%.

The study found that four major health systems, HCA Holdings, Centura Health, UC Health, and SCL Health, accounted for 85% of patient admissions in 2017. On the Herfindahl-Hirschman Index, this level is considered “moderately concentrated” but the report highlights that it also means the market is “concentrated enough to stifle price competition.”

While providers have concentrated in the market through continuous merger activity, the study found that insurers are governed by strict regulations. The result has been Coloradans facing 13% higher prices compared to the national average and 5% high utilization rates.

Two of the recommendations offered by the study were to align two-sided risk arrangements with Medicaid and the Polis-Primavera “Roadmap to Affordability,” the governor’s strategic initiative to make care more affordable, as well as to implement benefit designs to “encourage consumers seek higher value care.” The study also urges that employer-purchases to pursue value-oriented programs that hold providers accountable to the listed targets.

However, in an interview with HealthLeaders earlier this year, Centura Health CEO Peter Banko said the system was going to “pause on the mad rush” to value-based care models, citing the direction the market was taking on the issue.

As highlighted in the RAND report, CPR and CBGH believe that building on purchaser momentum through a statewide purchase cooperative can be an effective method at changing the market dynamics in Denver.

Similar to the Employers’ Forum of Indiana, an employer-led healthcare coalition which collaborated on the RAND report, the Peak Health Alliance, a Summit County-based purchaser cooperative, has sought to combat rising healthcare prices in the Denver area. The report states that Peak Health, which represents 6,000 covered lives, has already negotiated a “very aggressive” reduction in rates with Centura.

Bob Smith, MBA, executive director of CBGH, said that the report gives employer-purchasers “the tools to make changes” to the Denver healthcare market and stem the tide of rising prices.

“Healthcare costs, primarily driven by high prices and seemingly unwarranted increases, are edging out salary growth and economic development,” Smith said in a statement. “These trends are taking a toll on every employer from school districts to manufacturers and are simply not sustainable.”

Smith urged lawmakers to act on the report’s suggested reforms but also said that employers now have “the responsibility to act.”

 

 

 

 

Another round of debate over hospital consolidation

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Are hospital mergers a good thing or a bad thing?

Much of the answer to that question depends on what happens after the merger—does the combined organization provide better, more efficient care, or does it use its increased leverage to raise prices? Yet another round of back and forth on this issue took place this week, as the American Hospital Association (AHA) released the results of a study it commissioned from economic analysis firm Charles River Associates (CRA), while a group of academic antitrust specialists countered with their own briefing in response.

The AHA study, based on interviews with select health system leaders and econometric analysis by CRA, shows (surprise, surprise) that consolidation decreases hospital expenses by 2.3 percent, reduces mortality and readmissions, and reduces revenue per admission by 3.5 percent—indicating that the “savings” from consolidation are being passed along to purchasers. The economists, including Martin Gaynor at Carnegie Mellon, Zack Cooper at Yale, and Leemore Dafny at Harvard, countered in their briefing (surprise, surprise) that CRA’s research was biased in favor of hospitals, and cited numerous academic studies that indicate that hospital consolidation drives overall healthcare costs higher.

Beyond the predictable debate, our view is that consolidation can and should lead to better quality and lower prices—but that it largely hasn’t delivered on that promise. The prospect of “integrated care” that’s often touted by consolidation advocates hasn’t materialized in most places, both because hospital executives haven’t pushed hard enough on strategies to produce it, and because the market lacks sufficient incentives to encourage it.

AHA says hospital mergers are good — economists say otherwise

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/hospital-transactions-and-valuation/aha-says-hospital-mergers-are-good-economists-say-otherwise.html

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The American Hospital Association released a report stating that hospital acquisitions allow providers to provide better care at a lower cost to patients.

The report, which revisited an analysis concluding similar results three years ago, found acquisitions decrease cost due to the increased size of a combined system as well as clinical standardization.

Specifically, the AHA said hospital acquisitions lead to a 2.3 percent reduction in annual operating expenses at acquired hospitals. The study also said readmission and mortality rates decline at merging hospitals, and acquired hospitals see revenues per admission decline 3.5 percent, suggesting “savings that accrue to merging hospitals are passed on to patients and their health plans.”

However, the AHA’s findings — which were largely based on interviews with leaders of 10 health systems who weren’t randomly surveyed — contradict a wealth of economic data published that argues the opposite.

Last year, researchers found hospitals in monopoly markets, compared to hospitals in markets with four or more competitors, have prices that are 12 percent higher. In markets with four or more competitors, hospitals have lower prices and take on more financial risk, researchers said. Another independent analysis found hospital prices rise after hospitals combine. Researchers have also questioned whether consolidation really leads to better quality.