On today’s episode of Gist Healthcare Daily, Kaufman Hall co-founder and Chair Ken Kaufman joins the podcast to discuss his recent blog that examines Ford Motor Company’s decision to stop producing internal-combustion sedans, and talk about whether there are parallels for health system leaders to ponder about whether their traditional strategies are beginning to age out.
Inflation moderated notably in March as a decline in gas prices helped to pave the way for the slowest pickup in prices in nearly two years, providing relief for many American consumers and a positive talking point for President Biden.
The Consumer Price Index climbed 5 percent in the year through March, down from 6 percent in February. That marked the slowest pace since May 2021.
Still, the details of the report underlined that inflation retains concerning staying power under the surface: A so-called core index that aims to get a clearer sense of price trends by stripping out food and fuel costs, both of which can be volatile, picked up by 5.6 percent from a year earlier. That was up slightly from February’s 5.5 percent increase, and it marked the first acceleration in the yearly number since September.
The mixed signals in the fresh inflation data — which, taken as a whole, suggested that price increases are meaningfully moderating but the progress remains gradual — come at a challenging economic moment for the Federal Reserve. The central bank is the government’s main inflation fighter, and it has been trying to wrestle price increases back under control for slightly more than a year, raising interest rates to nearly 5 percent from near zero as recently as March 2022 to slow the economy and weigh down costs.
Officials are now assessing how their policy changes are working, and they are trying to gauge how much more they need to do to ensure that price increases come fully under control. Inflation has been slowing after peaking at about 9 percent last summer, but the process has been a slow one. It remains a long way back to the 2 percent inflation that was normal before the onset of the pandemic in 2020.
Uncertainty over how quickly and completely price increases will cool is being compounded by recent developments. A series of high-profile bank blowups last month could slow the economy, but it is unclear by how much. Some Fed officials are urging caution in light of the turmoil, even as others warn that the central bank should keep its foot on the economic brake and remain focused on its fight against rising prices.
The new data “solidifies the case for the Fed to do another hike in May, and to proceed cautiously from here,” said Blerina Uruci, chief U.S. economist at T. Rowe Price, later adding that “it will take time to bring inflation down.”
Fed officials target 2 percent inflation, which they define using a different index: the Personal Consumption Expenditures measure, which uses some data from the consumer price measure but is calculated differently and released a few weeks later. That measure has also been sharply elevated.
While Wednesday’s report showed an uptick in core inflation on an annual basis — one that economists had largely expected — Ms. Uruci said that it also offered some encouraging signs. The core inflation measure slowed slightly on a monthly basis, when the March figures were compared to those in February.
And a few important services prices, which the Fed is watching closely for a sense of whether price increases are poised to fade, cooled notably. Rent of primary residences picked up 0.5 percent compared to the prior month, down from 0.8 percent in the previous reading, for instance. Housing inflation broadly is expected to slow in 2023, and that appears to be starting to take hold.
“There are signs in the details to suggest we’re making some progress toward slowing inflation,” Ms. Uruci said. “It’s not where it needs to be, but it’s progress.”
But those hopeful signs do not mean that inflation will fade smoothly and rapidly. The slowdown in the overall index, for instance, may not last: A big chunk of the decline is owed to a drop in gas prices that may not be sustained.
And a few other indexes continued to show quick price increases, including new vehicles and hotel rooms.
As they try to bring inflation to heel, some central bankers have suggested that they may need to further raise interest rates.
The Fed’s latest estimates, released shortly after the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank in March, suggested that officials could lift rates another quarter-point this year, to just above 5 percent. The central bank will announce its next policy decision on May 3.
On Tuesday, John C. Williams, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, said that the Fed had more work to do in bringing down price increases and suggested that the central bank’s March forecast for one more quarter-point rate move was still a “reasonable starting place.”
But Austan D. Goolsbee, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, suggested that recent bank failures could make it tougher for businesses and consumers to access credit, slowing the economy, stoking uncertainty and creating a “need to be cautious.”
“We should gather further data and be careful about raising rates too aggressively until we see how much work the headwinds are doing for us in getting down inflation,” Mr. Goolsbee said.
Higher interest rates have made it much more expensive to borrow money to buy a house or expand a business. That is slowing economic activity. As demand cools and the labor market softens, wage growth is also moderating.
That could help to pave the way for cooler inflation. When wages are climbing quickly, companies might charge more to try to cover their labor bills, and their customers are likely to be able to afford the steeper prices. But as households become more strapped for cash, it could become harder for businesses to raise prices without scaring away shoppers.
Thursday marks the 13th anniversary of the signing of the Affordable Care Act– perhaps the most consequential healthcare legislation since LBJ’s passage of the Medicare Act in 1965. Except in healthcare circles, it will probably go unnoticed.
World events in the Ukraine and China President Xi Jinping’s visit to Russia will grab more media attention. At home, the ripple effects of Silicon Valley Bank’s bankruptcy and the stability of the banking system will get coverage and former President Trump’s arrest tomorrow will produce juicy soundbites from partisans and commentators. Thus, the birthday of Affordable Care Act, will get scant attention.
That’s regrettable: it offers an important context for navigating the future of the U.S. health system. Having served as an independent facilitator between the White House and private sector interests in 2009-2010, I recall vividly the events leading to its passage and the Supreme Court challenge that affirmed it:
The costs and affordability of healthcare and growing concern about the swelling ranks of uninsured were the issues driving its origin. Both political parties and every major trade group agreed on the issues; solving them not so easy.
Effective messaging from special interests about the ACA increased awareness of the law and calcified attitudes for or against. Misinformation/disinformation about the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” morphed to a national referendum on insurance coverage and the cost-effectiveness of the ACA’s solution (Medicaid expansion, subsidies and insurance marketplaces). ‘Death panels. government run healthcare and Obamacare’ labels became targets for critics: spending by special interests opposed to the law dwarfed support by 7 to 1. Differences intensified: Emotions ran high. I experienced it firsthand. While maintaining independence and concerns about the law, I received death threats nonetheless. Like religion, the ACA was off-limits to meaningful discussion (especially among the majority who hadn’t read it).
And after Scott Brown’s election to the vacant Massachusetts seat held by Ted Kennedy in January, 2010, the administration shifted its support to a more-moderate Senate Finance Committee version of the law that did not include a public option or malpractice reforms in the House version. Late-night lobbying by White House operatives resulted in a House vote in favor of the Senate version with promises ‘it’s only the start’. Through amendments, executive orders, administrative actions and appropriations, it would evolve with the support of the Obama team. It passed along party lines with the CBO offering an optimistic view it would slow health cost escalation by reducing administrative waste, implementation of comparative effectiveness research to align evidence with care, increased insurance coverage, changing incentives for hospitals and physicians and more.
The Affordable Care Act dominated media coverage from August 2009 to March 2010. In the 2010 mid-term election, it was the issue that catapulted Republicans to net gains of 7 in the Senate, 63 in the House and 6 in Governor’s offices. And since, Republicans in Congress have introduced “Repeal and Replace” legislation more than 60 times, failing each time.
Today, public opinion about the ACA has shifted modestly: from 46% FOR and 40% against in 2010 to 55% FOR and 42% against now (KFF). The national uninsured rate has dropped from 15.5% to 8.6% and Medicaid has been expanded in 39 states and DC. Lower costs, increased affordability and quality improvements owing to the ACA have had limited success.
Key elements of the ACA have not lived up to expectations i.e. the Patient Centered Outcome Research Institute, the National Quality Strategy, Title V National Healthcare Workforce Task Force, CMMI’s alternative payment models and achievement of Level 3 interoperability goals vis a vis ONCHIT, CHIME et al. So, as the 2024 political season starts, the ACA will get modest attention by aspirants for federal office because it addressed big problems with blunt instruments. Most recognize it needs to be modernized based on trends and issues relevant to healthcare in 2030 and beyond.
Self-diagnostics and treatment by consumers (enabled by ChatGPT et al).
Data-driven clinical decision-making.
Integration of non-allopathic methodologies.
The science of wellbeing.
Complete price, cost and error transparency.
Employer and individual insurance coverage optimization.
The role and social responsibility of private equity in ownership and operation of services in healthcare delivery and financing.
The regulatory framework for local hospitals vs. Regional/nation health systems, and between investor-owned and not-for-profit sponsorship.
The role and resources for guided self-care management and virtual-care.
Innovations in care delivery services to vulnerable populations using technologies and enhanced workforce models.
Modernization of regulatory environments and rules of competition for fully integrated health systems, prescription drug manufacturers, health insurers, over-the counter therapies, food as medicine, physician ownership of hospitals, data ownership, tech infomediaries that facilitate clinical decision-making, self-care, professional liability and licensing and many others.
Integration of public health and local health systems.
The allocation of capital to the highest and best uses in the health system.
The sustainability of Medicare and role of Medicare Advantage.
The regulatory framework for disruptors”.
And many others.
These trends are not-easily monitored nor are the issues clear and actionable. Most are inadequately addressed or completely missed in the ACA.
Complicating matters, the political environment today is more complicated than in 2010 when the ACA became law. The economic environment is more challenging: the pandemic, inflation and economic downturn have taken their toll. Intramural tensions in key sectors have spiked as each fights for control and autonomy i.e. primary care vs. specialty medicine, investor-owned vs. not-for-profit hospitals, retail medicine & virtual vs. office-based services, carve-outs, direct contracting et al . Consolidation has widened capabilities and resources distancing big organizations from others. Today’s media attention to healthcare is more sophisticated. Employers are more frustrated. And the public’s confidence in the health system is at an all-time low.
“ACA 2.0” is necessary to the system’s future but unlikely unless spearheaded by community and business leaders left out of the 1.0 design process. The trends and issues are new and complicated, requiring urgent forward thinking.
There are an estimated 19,000 full-time job vacancies across Massachusetts acute care hospitals, according to a survey published Oct. 31 by the Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association.
Hospitals are working to address backlogs and transfer patients to post-acute care settings while skyrocketing labor costs — including a projected $1 billion in travel labor costs this year — are compounding healthcare facilities’ financial woes, according to the report. These challenges are hampering hospital operations as well as leading to care delays and reduced access to care.
Fewer workers mean that fewer beds are available for patients, while the demand for care increases due to deferred care throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the behavioral health crisis and reduced access to community-based services continue to challenge hospitals throughout the state. At any given time, more than 1,500 patients are in acute hospital beds awaiting placement to a specialized behavioral health bed or post-acute care, according to the MHA.
“Our healthcare system has never been more fragile, and its leaders have never been more concerned about what’s to come in months ahead,” Steve Walsh, president and CEO of the MHA, said in an Oct. 31 news release shared with Becker’s Hospital Review. “They are exhausting every option within their control to confront these challenges, but this is an unsustainable reality and providers are in dire need of support.”
In response to the survey, 37 hospitals — representing 70 percent of the state’s total hospital employment — reported 6,650 vacancies among 47 positions critical to hospital operations and clinical care. The positions range from direct care nurses to lab personnel and clinical support staff. Eighteen of the 47 positions have a vacancy rate greater than 20 percent.
At a 56 percent vacancy rate, licensed practical nurses is the most in-demand position, while home health aides (34 percent), mental health workers (32 percent), infection control nurses (26 percent) and CRNAs (24 percent) are also highly sought after.
Survey respondents identified 6,650 vacancies. The 47 positions included in the survey, which was conducted this summer, account for less than half of all hospital roles. The MHA said it extrapolated that across all positions and hospitals to arrive at an estimated 19,000 vacancies across the state.
Staffing shortages are driving labor costs to an unsustainable level for many hospitals already grappling with margins close to zero or in the red. Hospitals have relied on high-cost temporary staffing to fill critical positions during the pandemic, resulting in average hourly wage rates for travel nurses increasing 90 percent since 2019, according to the report. Massachusetts hospitals reported spending $445 million on temporary registered nurse staffing halfway through the fiscal year, with temporary RN staffing costs increasing 234 percent from fiscal year 2019 to March 2022.
If urgent steps are not taken to address healthcare’s staffing shortage, hospitals will continue to face capacity challenges and overpay for labor, which will lead to fiscal instability, according to Mr. Walsh.
The MHA urged providers, payers, public officials and government agencies to address the workforce crisis by investing in training and education, expanding the workforce pipeline, providing financial support to hospitals and advancing new models of care such as telehealth and at-home care.
Hospitals in the United States are on track for their worst financial year in decades. According to a recent report, median hospital operating margins were cumulatively negative through the first eight months of 2022. For context, in 2020, despite unprecedented losses during the initial months of COVID-19, hospitals still reported median eight-month operating margins of 2 percent—although these were in large part buoyed by federal aid from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
The recent, historically poor financial performance is the result of significant pressures on multiple fronts. Labor shortages and supply-chain disruptions have fueled a dramatic rise in expenses, which, due to the annually fixed nature of payment rates, hospitals have thus far been unable to pass through to payers. At the same time, diminished patient volumes—especially in more profitable service lines—have constrained revenues, and declining markets have generated substantial investment losses.
While it’s tempting to view these challenges as transient shocks, a rapid recovery seems unlikely for a number of reasons. Thus, hospitals will be forced to take aggressive cost-cutting measures to stabilize balance sheets. For some, this will include department or service line closures; for others, closing altogether. As these scenarios unfold, ultimately, the costs will be borne by patients, in one form or another.
Hospitals Face A Difficult Road To Financial Recovery
There are several factors that suggest hospital margins will face continued headwinds in the coming years. First, the primary driver of rising hospital expenses is a shortage of labor—in particular, nursing labor—which will likely worsen in the future. Since the start of the pandemic, hospitals have lost a total of 105,000 employees, and nursing vacancieshave more than doubled. In response, hospitals have relied on expensive contract nurses and extended overtime hours, resulting in surging wage costs. While this issue was exacerbated by the pandemic, the national nursing shortage is a decades-old problem that—with a substantial portion of the labor force approaching retirement and an insufficient supply of new nurses to replace them—is projected to reach 450,000 by 2025.
Second, while payment rates will eventually adjust to rising costs, this is likely to occur slowly and unevenly. Medicare rates, which are adjusted annually based on an inflation projection, are already set to undershoot hospital costs. Given that Medicare doesn’t issue retrospective corrections, this underadjustment will become baked into Medicare prices for the foreseeable future, widening the gap between costs and payments.
This leaves commercial payers to make up the difference. Commercial rates are typically negotiated in three- to five-year contract cycles, so hospitals on the early side of a new contract may be forced to wait until renegotiation for more substantial pricing adjustments. “Negotiation” is also the operative term here, as payers are under no obligation to offset rising costs. Instead, it is likely that the speed and degree of price adjustments will be dictated by provider market share, leaving smaller hospitals at a further disadvantage. This trend was exemplified during the 2008 financial crisis, in which only the most prestigious hospitals were able to significantly adjust pricing in response to historic investment losses.
Finally, economic uncertainty and the threat of recession will create continued disruptions in patient volumes, particularly with elective procedures. Although health care has historically been referred to as “recession-proof,” the growing prevalence of high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) and more aggressive cost-sharing mechanisms have left patients more exposed to health care costs and more likely to weigh these costs against other household expenditures when budgets get tight. While this consumerist response is not new—research on previous recessions has identified direct correlations between economic strength and surgical volumes—the degree of cost exposure for patients is historically high. Since 2008, enrollment in HDHPs has increased nearly four-fold, now representing 28 percent of all employer-sponsored enrollments. There’s evidence that this exposure is already impacting patient decisions. Recently, one in five adults reported delaying or forgoing treatment in response to general inflation.
Taken together, these factors suggest that the current financial pressures are unlikely to resolve in the short term. As losses mount and cash reserves dwindle, hospitals will ultimately need to cut costs to stem the bleeding—which presents both challenges and opportunities.
Direct And Indirect Consequences For Cost, Quality, And Access To Care
Inevitably, as rising costs become baked into commercial pricing, patients will face dramatic premium hikes. As discussed above, this process is likely to occur slowly over the next few years. In the meantime, the current challenges and the manner in which hospitals respond will have lasting implications on quality and access to care, particularly among the most vulnerable populations.
Likely Effects On Patient Experience And Quality Of Care
Insufficient staffing has already created substantial bottlenecks in outpatient and acute-care facilities, resulting in increased wait times, delayed procedures, and, in extreme cases, hospitals diverting patients altogether. During the Omicron surge, 52 of 62 hospitals in Los Angeles, California, were reportedly diverting patients due to insufficient beds and staffing.
The challenges with nursing labor will have direct consequences for clinical quality. Persistent nursing shortages will force hospitals to increase patient loads and expand overtime hours, measures that have been repeatedly linked to longer hospital stays, more clinical errors, and worse patient outcomes. Additionally, the wave of experienced nurses exiting the workforce will accelerate an already growing divide between average nursing experience and the complexity of care they are asked to provide. This trend, referred to as the “Experience-Complexity Gap,” will only worsen in the coming years as a significant portion of the nursing workforce reaches retirement age. In addition to the clinical quality implications, the exodus of experienced nurses—many of whom serve in crucial nurse educator and mentorship roles—also has feedback effects on the training and supply of new nurses.
Staffing impacts on quality of care are not limited to clinical staff. During the initial months of the pandemic, hospitals laid off or furloughed hundreds of thousands of nonclinical staff, a common target for short-term payroll reductions. While these staff do not directly impact patient care (or billed charges), they can have a significant impact on patient experience and satisfaction. Additionally, downsizing support staff can negatively impact physician productivity and time spent with patients, which can have downstream effects on cost and quality of care.
Disproportionate Impacts On Underserved Communities
Reduced access to care will be felt most acutely in rural regions. A recent report found that more than 30 percent of rural hospitals were at risk of closure within the next six years, placing the affected communities—statistically older, sicker, and poorer than average—at higher risk for adverse health outcomes. When rural hospitals close, local residents are forced to travel more than 20 miles further to access inpatient or emergency care. For patients with life-threatening conditions, this increased travel has been linked to a 5–10 percent increase in risk of mortality.
Rural closures also have downstream effects that further deteriorate patient use and access to care. Rural hospitals often employ the majority of local physicians, many of whom leave the community when these facilities close. Access to complex specialty care and diagnostic testing is also diminished, as many of these services are provided by vendors or provider groups within hospital facilities. Thus, when rural hospitals close, the surrounding communities lose access to the entire care continuum. As a result, individuals within these communities are more likely to forgo treatment, testing, or routine preventive services, further exacerbating existing health disparities.
In areas not affected by hospital closures, access will be more selectively impacted. After the 2008 financial crisis, the most common cost-shifting response from hospitals was to reduce unprofitable service offerings. Historically, these measures have disproportionately impacted minority and low-income patients, as they tend to include services with high Medicaid populations (for example, psychiatric and addiction care) and crucial services such as obstetrics and trauma care, which are already underprovided in these communities. Since 2020, dozens of hospitals, both urban and rural, have closed or suspended maternity care. Similar to closure of rural hospitals, these closures have downstream effects on local access to physicians or other health services.
Potential For Productive Cost Reduction And The Need For A Measured Policy Response
Despite the doom-and-gloom scenario presented above, the focus on hospital costs is not entirely negative. Cost-cutting measures will inevitably yield efficiencies in a notoriously inefficient industry. Additionally, not all facility closures negatively impact care. While rural facility closures can have dire consequences in health emergencies, studies have found that outcomes for non-urgent conditions remained similar or actually improved.
Historically, attempts to rein in health care spending have focused on the demand side (that is, use) or on negotiated prices. These measures ignore the impact of hospital costs, which have historically outpaced inflation and contributed directly to rising prices. Thus, the current situation presents a brief window of opportunity in which hospital incentives are aligned with the broader policy goals of lowering costs. Capitalizing on this opportunity will require a careful balancing act from policy makers.
In response to the current challenges, the American Hospital Association has already appealed to Congress to extend federal aid programs created in the CARES Act. While this would help to mitigate losses in the short term, it would also undermine any positive gains in cost efficiency. Instead of a broad-spectrum bailout, policy makers should consider a more targeted approach that supports crucial community and rural services without continuing to fund broader health system inefficiencies.
The establishment of Rural Emergency Hospitals beginning in 2023 represents one such approach to eliminating excess costs while preventing negative patient consequences. This rule provides financial incentives for struggling critical access and rural hospitals to convert to standalone emergency departments instead of outright closing. If effective, this policy would ensure that affected communities maintain crucial access to emergency care while reducing overall costs attributed to low-volume, financially unviable services.
Policies can also help promote efficiencies by improving coverage for digital and telehealth services—long touted as potential solutions to rural health care deserts—or easing regulations to encourage more effective use of mid-level providers.
The financial challenges facing hospitals are substantial and likely to persist in the coming years. As a result, health systems will be forced to take drastic measures to reduce costs and stabilize profit margins. The existing challenges and the manner in which hospitals respond will have long-term implications for cost, quality, and access to care, especially within historically underserved communities. As with any crisis, though, they also present an opportunity to address industrywide inefficiencies. By relying on targeted, evidence-based policies, policy makers can mitigate the negative consequences and allow for a more efficient and effective system to emerge.
The report comes on the heels of negative GDP growth during the first half of the year. In the January through March period, the economy contracted at a 1.6% annual rate. In the second quarter, the economy shrank at a 0.6% annualized pace.
Between the lines: The latest GDP report is among the final major economic data releases before the midterm elections, where voters have ranked the economy as a critical issue.
The labor market is solid, with the unemployment rate at the lowest level in over 50 years. But soaring inflation has eaten away at Americans’ wage gains.
The backdrop: The Federal Reserve is trying to engineer an economic slowdown in a bid to crush high inflation. It has swiftly raised borrowing costs five times this year, with another big increase likely ahead at its upcoming policy meeting next week.
What they’re saying: “For months, doomsayers have been arguing that the US economy is in a recession and Congressional Republicans have been rooting for a downturn,” President Biden said in a statement. “But today we got further evidence that our economic recovery is continuing to power forward.”
Nonprofit hospitals are reporting thinner margins this year, stretched by rising labor, supply and capital costs, and will be pressed to make big changes to their business models or risk negative rating actions, Fitch Ratings said in a report out Tuesday.
Warning that it could take years for provider margins to recover to pre-pandemic levels, Fitch outlined a series of steps necessary to manage the inflationary pressures. Those moves include steeper rate increases in the short term and “relentless, ongoing cost-cutting and productivity improvements” over the medium term, the ratings agency said.
Further out on the horizon, “improvement in operating margins from reduced levels will require hospitals to make transformational changes to the business model,” Fitch cautioned.
It has been a rough year so far for U.S. hospitals, which are navigating labor shortages, rising operating costs and a rebound in healthcare utilization that has followed the suppressed demand of the early pandemic.
Fitch said the majority of the hospitals it follows have strong balance sheets that will provide a cushion for a period of time. But with cost inflation at levels not seen since the late 1970s and early 1980s, and the potential for additional coronavirus surges this fall and winter, more substantial changes to hospitals’ business models could be necessary to avoid negative rating actions, the agency said.
Providers will look to secure much higher rate increases from commercial payers. However, insurers are under similar pressures as hospitals and will push back, using leverage gained through the sector’s consolidation, the report said.
As a result, commercial insurers’ rate increases are likely to exceed those of recent years, but remain below the rate of inflation in the short term, Fitch said. Further, federal budget deficits make Medicare or Medicaid rate adjustments to offset inflation unlikely.
Inflation is pushing more providers to consider mergers and acquisitions to create economies of scale, Fitch said. But regulators are scrutinizing deals more strenuously due to concerns that consolidation will push prices even higher. With increased capital costs, rising interest rates and ongoing supply chain disruptions, hospitals’ plans for expansion or renovations will cost more or may be postponed, the report said.
We’re picking up on a growing concern among health system leaders that many states with “certificate of need” (CON) laws in effect are on the cusp of repealing them. CON laws, currently in place in 35 states and the District of Columbia, require organizations that want to construct new or expand existing healthcare facilities to demonstrate community need for the additional capacity, and to obtain approval from state regulatory agencies. While the intent of these laws is to prevent duplicative capacity, reduce unnecessary utilization, and control cost growth, critics claim that CON requirements reduce competition—and free market-minded state legislators, particularly in the South and Midwest, have made them a target.
One of our member systems located in a state where repeal is being debated asked us to facilitate a scenario planning session around CON repeal with system and physician leaders. Executives predicted that key specialty physician groups would quickly move to build their own ambulatory surgery centers, accelerating shift of surgical volume away from the hospital.
The opportunity to expand outpatient procedure and long-term care capacity would also fuel investment from private equity, which have already been picking up in the market. An out-of-market health system might look to build microhospitals, or even a full-service inpatient facility, which would be even more disruptive.
CON repeal wasn’t all downside, however; the team identified adjacent markets they would look to enter as well. The takeaway from our exercise: in addition to the traditional response of flexing lobbying influence to shape legislative change, the system must begin to deliver solutions to consumers that are comprehensive, convenient, and competitively priced—the kind of offerings that might flood the market if CON laws were lifted.
Insurers, retailers, and other healthcare companies vastly exceed health system scale, dwarfing even the largest hospital systems. The graphic above illustrates how the largest “mega-systems” lag other healthcare industry giants, in terms of gross annual revenue.
Amazon and Walmart, retail behemoths that continue to elbow into the healthcare space, posted 2021 revenue that more than quintuples that of the largest health system, Kaiser Permanente. The largest health systems reported increased year-over-year revenue in 2021, largely driven by higher volumes, as elective procedures recovered from the previous year’s dip.
However, according to a recent Kaufman Hall report, while health systems, on average, grew topline revenue by 15 percent year-over-year, they face rising expenses, and have yet to return to pre-pandemic operating margins.
Meanwhile, the larger companies depicted above, including Walmart, Amazon, CVS Health, and UnitedHealth Group, are emerging from the pandemic in a position of financial strength, and continue to double down on vertical integration strategies, configuring an array of healthcare assets into platform businesses focused on delivering value directly to consumers.