FTC, Justice Department have new guidelines for vertical mergers

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/hospital-transactions-and-valuation/ftc-justice-department-have-new-guidelines-for-vertical-mergers.html?utm_medium=email

Trump Administration Updates Vertical Merger Guidelines - Multichannel

Guidance on vertical mergers got its first major overhaul from the Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice in more than 35 years under new joint guidelines published June 30.

Vertical mergers are those that combine firms or assets at different stages of the same supply chain, such as healthcare company CVS Health’s acquisition of insurer Aetna. Previously proposed mergers like that of insurers Humana and Aetna would be considered horizontal.

FTC Chairman Joe Simon said in a news release that the new guidances “are an important step forward in maintaining vigorous antitrust enforcement, and reaffirm our commitment to challenge vertical mergers that are anticompetitive and would harm American consumers.”

Leaders said that the guidelines explain FTC and Justice Department investigative practices and will give the business community clarity about antitrust concerns, such as the type of evidence the FTC and Justice Department review and how they define markets.

To read the full guidelines, click here

 

 

 

 

 

BANKS PRESSURE HEALTH CARE FIRMS TO RAISE PRICES ON CRITICAL DRUGS, MEDICAL SUPPLIES FOR CORONAVIRUS

https://theintercept.com/2020/03/19/coronavirus-vaccine-medical-supplies-price-gouging/

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IN RECENT WEEKS, investment bankers have pressed health care companies on the front lines of fighting the novel coronavirus, including drug firms developing experimental treatments and medical supply firms, to consider ways that they can profit from the crisis.

The media has mostly focused on individuals who have taken advantage of the market for now-scarce medical and hygiene supplies to hoard masks and hand sanitizer and resell them at higher prices. But the largest voices in the health care industry stand to gain from billions of dollars in emergency spending on the pandemic, as do the bankers and investors who invest in health care companies.

Over the past few weeks, investment bankers have been candid on investor calls and during health care conferences about the opportunity to raise drug prices. In some cases, bankers received sharp rebukes from health care executives; in others, executives joked about using the attention on Covid-19 to dodge public pressure on the opioid crisis.

Gilead Sciences, the company producing remdesivir, the most promising drug to treat Covid-19 symptoms, is one such firm facing investor pressure.

Remdesivir is an antiviral that began development as a treatment for dengue, West Nile virus, and Zika, as well as MERS and SARS. The World Health Organization has said there is “only one drug right now that we think may have real efficacy in treating coronavirus symptoms” — namely, remdesivir.

The drug, though developed in partnership with the University of Alabama through a grant from the federal government’s National Institutes of Health, is patented by Gilead Sciences, a major pharmaceutical company based in California. The firm has faced sharp criticism in the past for its pricing practices. It previously charged $84,000 for a yearlong supply of its hepatitis C treatment, which was also developed with government research support. Remdesivir is estimated to produce a one-time revenue of $2.5 billion.

During an investor conference earlier this month, Phil Nadeau, managing director at investment bank Cowen & Co., quizzed Gilead Science executives over whether the firm had planned for a “commercial strategy for remdesivir” or could “create a business out of remdesivir.”

Johanna Mercier, executive vice president of Gilead, noted that the company is currently donating products and “manufacturing at risk and increasing our capacity” to do its best to find a solution to the pandemic. The company at the moment is focused, she said, primarily on “patient access” and “government access” for remdesivir.

“Commercial opportunity,” Mercier added, “might come if this becomes a seasonal disease or stockpiling comes into play, but that’s much later down the line.”

Steven Valiquette, a managing director at Barclays Investment Bank, last week peppered executives from Cardinal Health, a health care distributor of N95 masks, ventilators and pharmaceuticals, on whether the company would raise prices on a range of supplies.

Valiquette asked repeatedly about potential price increases on a variety of products. Could the company, he asked, “offset some of the risk of volume shortages” on the “pricing side”?

Michael Kaufmann, the chief executive of Cardinal Health, said that “so far, we’ve not seen any material price increases that I would say are related to the coronavirus yet.” Cardinal Health, Kaufman said, would weigh a variety of factors when making these decisions, and added that the company is “always going to fight aggressively to make sure that we’re getting after the lowest cost.”

“Are you able to raise the price on some of this to offset what could be some volume shortages such that it all kind of nets out to be fairly consistent as far as your overall profit matrix?” asked Valiquette.

Kaufman responded that price decisions would depend on contracts with providers, though the firm has greater flexibility over some drug sales. “As you have changes on the cost side, you’re able to make some adjustments,” he noted.

The discussion, over conference call, occurred during the Barclays Global Healthcare Conference on March 10. At one point, Valiquette joked that “one positive” about the coronavirus would be a “silver lining” that Cardinal Health may receive “less questions” about opioid-related lawsuits.

Cardinal Health is one of several firms accused of ignoring warnings and flooding pharmacies known as so-called pill mills with shipments of millions of highly addictive painkillers. Kaufmann noted that negotiations for a settlement are ongoing.

Owens & Minor, a health care logistics company that sources and manufactures surgical gowns, N95 masks, and other medical equipment, presented at the Barclays Global Healthcare Conference the following day.

Valiquette, citing the Covid-19 crisis, asked the company whether it could “increase prices on some of the products where there’s greater demand.” Valiquette then chuckled, adding that doing so “is probably not politically all that great in the sort of dynamic,” but said he was “curious to get some thoughts” on whether the firm would consider hiking prices.

The inquiry was sharply rebuked by Owens & Minor chief executive Edward Pesicka. “I think in a crisis like this, our mission is really around serving the customer. And from an integrity standpoint, we have pricing agreements,” Pesicka said. “So we are not going to go out and leverage this and try to ‘jam up’ customers and raise prices to have short-term benefit.”

AmerisourceBergen, another health care distributor that supplies similar products to Cardinal Health, which is also a defendant in the multistate opioid litigation, faced similar questions from Valiquette at the Barclays event.

Steve Collis, president and chief executive of AmerisourceBergen, noted that his company has been actively involved in efforts to push back against political demands to limit the price of pharmaceutical products.

Collis said that he was recently at a dinner with other pharmaceutical firms involved with developing “vaccines for the coronavirus” and was reminded that the U.S. firms, operating under limited drug price intervention, were among the industry leaders — a claim that has been disputed by experts who note that lack of regulation in the drug industry has led to few investments in viral treatments, which are seen as less lucrative. Leading firms developing a vaccine for Covid-19 are based in Germany, China, and Japan, countries with high levels of government influence in the pharmaceutical industry.

AmerisourceBergen, Collis continued, has been “very active with key stakeholders in D.C., and our priority is to educate policymakers about the impact of policy changes,” with a focus on “rational and responsible discussion about drug pricing.”

Later in the conversation, Valiquette asked AmerisourceBergen about the opioid litigation. The lawsuits could cost as much as $150 billion among the various pharmaceutical and drug distributor defendants. Purdue Pharma, one of the firms targeted with the opioid litigation, has already pursued bankruptcy protection in response to the lawsuit threat.

“We can’t say too much,” Collis responded. But the executive hinted that his company is using its crucial role in responding to the pandemic crisis as leverage in the settlement negotiations. “I would say that this crisis, the coronavirus crisis, actually highlights a lot of what we’ve been saying, how important it is for us to be very strong financial companies and to have strong cash flow ability to invest in our business and to continue to grow our business and our relationship with our customers,” Collis said.

The hope that the coronavirus will benefit firms involved in the opioid crisis has already materialized in some ways. New York Attorney General Letitia James announced last week that her lawsuit against opioid firms and distributors, including Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen, set to begin on March 20, would be delayed over coronavirus concerns.

MARKET PRESSURE has encouraged large health care firms to spend billions of dollars on stock buybacks and lobbying, rather than research and development. Barclays declined to comment, and Cowen & Co. did not respond to a request for comment.

The fallout over the coronavirus could pose potential risks for for-profit health care operators. In Spain, the government seized control of private health care providers, including privately run hospitals, to manage the demand for treatment for patients with Covid-19.

But pharmaceutical interests in the U.S. have a large degree of political power. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar previously served as president of the U.S. division of drug giant Eli Lilly and on the board of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization, a drug lobby group.

During a congressional hearing last month, Azar rejected the notion that any vaccine or treatment for Covid-19 should be set at an affordable price. “We would want to ensure that we work to make it affordable, but we can’t control that price because we need the private sector to invest,” said Azar. “The priority is to get vaccines and therapeutics. Price controls won’t get us there.”

The initial $8.3 billion coronavirus spending bill passed in early March to provide financial support for research into vaccines and other drug treatments contained a provision that prevents the government from delaying the introduction of any new pharmaceutical to address the crisis over affordability concerns. The legislative text was shaped, according to reports, by industry lobbyists.

As The Intercept previously reported, Joe Grogan, a key White House domestic policy adviser now serving on Donald Trump’s Coronavirus Task Force, previously served as a lobbyist for Gilead Sciences.

“Notwithstanding the pressure they may feel from the markets, corporate CEOs have large amounts of discretion and in this case, they should be very mindful of price gouging, they’re going to be facing a lot more than reputational hits,” said Robert Weissman, president of public interest watchdog Public Citizen, in an interview with The Intercept.

“There will be a backlash that will both prevent their profiteering, but also may push to more structural limitations on their monopolies and authority moving forward,” Weissman said.

Weissman’s group supports an effort led by Rep. Andy Levin, D-Mich., who has called on the government to invoke the Defense Production Act to scale up domestic manufacturing of health care supplies.

There are other steps the government can take, Weissman added, to prevent price gouging.

“The Gilead product is patent-protected and monopoly-protected, but the government has a big claim over that product because of the investment it’s made,” said Weissman.

“The government has special authority to have generic competition for products it helped fund and prevent nonexclusive licensing for products it helped fund,” Weissman continued. “Even for products that have no connection to government funding, the government has the ability to force licensing for generic competition for its own acquisition and purchases.”

Drug companies often eschew vaccine development because of the limited profit potential for a one-time treatment. Testing kit companies and other medical supply firms have few market incentives for domestic production, especially scaling up an entire factory for short-term use. Instead, Levin and Weissman have argued, the government should take direct control of producing the necessary medical supplies and generic drug production.

Last Friday, Levin circulated a letter signed by other House Democrats that called for the government to take charge in producing ventilators, N95 respirators, and other critical supplies facing shortages.

The once inconceivable policy was endorsed on Wednesday when Trump unveiled a plan to invoke the Defense Production Act to compel private firms to produce needed supplies during the crisis. The law, notably, allows the president to set a price ceiling for critical goods used in an emergency.

 

 

 

 

Caught in the crossfire of payer-provider strategies

https://mailchi.mp/9e118141a707/the-weekly-gist-march-6-2020?e=d1e747d2d8

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The aggressive push among insurers to purchase physician practices—one that mirrors the vertical integration strategies pursued by hospital systems over the past few years—has some asking what the end game looks like for health plans.

A recent investigative piece from Kaiser Health News shows where this payer-physician integration might lead. Focused on the activities of UnitedHealth Group in the New Jersey Medicaid market, the article describes a move by the company’s insurance subsidiary, UnitedHealthcare, to shift the Medicaid beneficiaries it covers in its Medicaid managed care plan into physician practices owned by its sister subsidiary, Optum.

That effort is the target of a lawsuit brought by some physician practices in the state, who allege they are losing patients as a result of an attempt by UnitedHealthcare to “narrow” its physician networks by terminating their contracts. It’s an obvious, and clever, strategy on the part of the insurer, which likely hopes to capture savings and generate greater revenue by integrating insurance and provision of care.

But as the piece describes, it’s proving significantly disruptive to the care of many patients, who are losing access to physicians with whom they’ve built relationships with over time. Insurers have pursued these strategies less aggressively in their commercial and Medicare businesses, turning instead to referral management tactics like specialist steerage, mandatory pre-authorizations, and discounted rates instead of shifting primary care patients care.

But, as in many other aspects of care, it may be easier to implement such aggressive “management” techniques in the low-income population, because patients have so few alternatives to care. As vertical integration strategies play out on both the hospital and insurer sides of the industry, it’s worth paying attention to how “grand strategy” of the sort depicted in our map above plays out on the ground, in the lives of individual patients.

 

FTC to block Philadelphia area health system merger in 1st big hospital challenge in 3 years

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/ftc-to-block-philadelphia-area-health-system-merger-in-1st-big-hospital-cha/573165/

Dive Brief:

  • The Federal Trade Commission has moved to block the proposed merger between two nonprofit Pennsylvania health systems over anticompetitive concerns in its first challenge to hospital M&A in more than three years.
  • Jefferson Health and Albert Einstein Healthcare Network both provide inpatient general acute care and inpatient acute rehabilitation services in Philadelphia County and Montgomery County. A marriage between the two systems, which agreed to definitively merge in September 2018, would harm patients because the two systems would no longer compete for patients and for inclusion in payer networks, the FTC says.
  • Jefferson and Einstein defended the deal Thursday in a joint statement provided to Healthcare Dive, saying they remain “confident our merger will result in continued high-quality care for our consumers.”

Dive Insight:

FTC Commissioner Christine Wilson has pledged to be tougher on hospital deals in 2020, including reviewing previously closed deals to see if they’ve delivered on promised cost and quality metrics. The last time the FTC questioned a major hospital merger was in 2016, when it urged Virginia and Tennessee not to approve the union of large operators Mountain States Health Alliance and Wellmont. The push was unsuccessful, and the two coalesced into rural system Ballad Health.

The deal, first announced in March 2018, has stagnated over the past two years as it was scrutinized by regulators at the FTC and Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro.

“This merger would eliminate the competitive pressure that has driven quality improvements and lowered rates,” Ian Conner, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Competition, said in a statement. The rivalry between the two nonprofit players for market dominance has resulted in upgraded medical facilities and technological investments, but that progress could stall if Jefferson and Albert Einstein combined, FTC said.

Jefferson and Einstein boast a combined roughly $5.9 billion in annual revenue, along with 18 hospitals, more than 50 outpatient and urgent care centers and a handful of rehab and post-acute facilities. Jefferson, the bigger player, has 14 hospitals across South Jersey and Philadelphia, Montgomery and Bucks counties.

The regulators said they will soon file a formal complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

The complaint alleges that as a result of the merger, Jefferson and Einstein would control at least 60% of the inpatient general acute care services market in North Philadelphia, and 45% in Montgomery. That includes services like medical or surgical diagnostics and treatments requiring an overnight stay.

Jefferson and Einstein manage six of the eight inpatient rehab facilities for recovering from serious, acute conditions in the Philadelphia region, and would control at least 70% of that market if combined.

The hospitals said their marriage represents a “creative effort” to increase access at a time when safety net hospitals are struggling.

“We believe we have presented a strong and comprehensive case as to how the merger would benefit the patients we serve and advance our academic mission without reducing competition for healthcare services,” the systems, which have had an academic partnership for more than two decades, said.

Several studies have debunked theories that bigger is better in terms of quality of care when it comes to health systems.

FTC plans to seek a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to prevent Jefferson and Albert Einstein from consummating the merger pending an administrative trial scheduled to being in September this year.  

 

 

Why Are Nonprofit Hospitals So Highly Profitable?

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These institutions receive tax exemptions for community benefits that often don’t really exist.

“So, how much money do you guys make if I do that test you’re ordering for me?” This is a question I hear frequently from my patients, and it’s often followed by some variant of, “I thought hospitals were supposed to be nonprofit.”

Patients are understandably confused. They see hospitals consolidating and creating vast medical empires with sophisticated marketing campaigns and sleek digs that resemble luxury hotels. And then there was the headline-grabbing nugget from a Health Affairs study that seven of the 10 most profitable hospitals in America are nonprofit hospitals.

Hospitals fall into three financial categories. Two are easy to understand: There are fully private hospitals that mostly function like any other business, responsible to shareholders and investors. And there are public hospitals, which are owned by state or local governments and have obligations to care for underserved populations. And then there are “private nonprofit” hospitals, which include more than half of our hospitals.

Nearly all of the nation’s most prestigious hospitals are nonprofits. These are the medical meccas that come to mind when we think of the best of American medicine — Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, Johns Hopkins, Mass General.

The nonprofit label comes from the fact that they are exempt from federal and local taxes in exchange for providing a certain amount of “community benefit.”

Nonprofit hospitals have their origins in the charity hospitals of the early 1900s, but over the last century they’ve gradually shifted from that model. Now their explosive growth has many questioning how we define “nonprofit” and what sort of responsibility these hospitals have to the communities that provide this financial dispensation.

It’s time to rethink the concept of nonprofit hospitals. Tax exemption is a gift provided by the community and should be treated as such. Hospitals’ community benefit should be defined more explicitly in terms of tangible medical benefits for local residents.

It actually isn’t much of a surprise that nonprofit hospitals are often more profitable than for-profit hospitals. If a private business doesn’t have to pay taxes, its expenses will be lower. Additionally, because nonprofit hospitals are defined as charitable institutions, they can benefit from tax-free contributions from donors and tax-free bonds for capital projects, things that for-profit hospitals cannot take advantage of.

The real question surrounding nonprofit hospitals is whether the benefits to the community equal what taxpayers donate to these hospitals in the form of tax-exempt status.

On paper, the average value of community benefits for all nonprofits about equals the value of the tax exemption, but there is tremendous variation among individual hospitals, with many falling short. There is also intense disagreement about how those community benefits are calculated and whether they actually serve the community in question.

Charity medical care is what most people think of when it comes to a community benefit, and before 1969 that was the legal requirement for hospitals to qualify for tax-exempt status. In that year, the tax code was changed to allow for a wide range of expenses to qualify as community benefits. Charitable care became optional and it was left up to the hospitals to decide how to pay back that debt. Hospitals could even declare that accepting Medicaid insurance was a community benefit and write off the difference between the Medicaid payment and their own calculations of cost.

An analysis by Politico found that since the full Affordable Care Act coverage expansion, which brought millions more paying customers into the field, revenue in the top seven nonprofit hospitals (as ranked by U.S. News & World Report) increased by 15 percent, while charity care — the most tangible aspect of community benefit — decreased by 35 percent.

Communities are often conflicted about the nonprofit hospitals in their midst. Many of these institutions are enormous employers — sometimes the largest employer in town — but the economic benefits do not always trickle down to the immediate neighborhoods. It is not unusual to see a stark contrast between these gleaming campuses and the disadvantaged neighborhoods that surround them.

In some communities, nonprofit hospitals are beloved institutions with a history of caring for generations of families. In other communities, the sums of money devoted to lavish expansions, aggressive advertising and eye-popping executive compensation are a source of irritation.

The average chief executive’s package at nonprofit hospitals is worth $3.5 million annually. (According to I.R.S. regulations, “No part of their net earnings is allowed to inure to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual.”) From 2005 to 2015, average chief executive compensation in nonprofit hospitals increased by 93 percent. Over that same period, pediatricians saw a 15 percent salary increase. Nurses got 3 percent.

A number of communities that think nonprofit hospitals take more than they give back have started to sue. The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center fought off one lawsuit from the city’s mayor to revoke its tax-exempt status. Last year it faced another from the Pennsylvania attorney general, alleging that the medical center, valued at $20 billion, did not fulfill “its obligation as a public charity” (the lawsuit was dismissed).

Morristown Hospital in New Jersey lost most of its property-tax exemption because it was found to be behaving as a for-profit institution. The judge in the case wrote that if all nonprofit hospitals operated like this, then “modern nonprofit hospitals are essentially legal fictions.”

It’s important to recognize the extreme variance in hospitals’ financial status. Many nonprofit hospitals, especially in rural areas, struggle mightily; scores of rural hospitals have closed — and hundreds more are teetering — leading to spikes in local death rates. At the other end are hospitals that earn several thousand dollars in profit per patient.

The most profitable nonprofit hospitals tend to be part of huge health care systems. Consolidations are one of the driving forces behind the towering profits, because monopoly hospitals are known to charge more than nonmonopoly hospitals.

Should these highly profitable institutions be exempt from the taxes that pay for local roads, police services, fire protection and 911 services? Should local residents have to pay for the garbage collection for institutions that can afford multimillion-dollar salaries for top executives?

Tax exemption needs to be redefined. Low-impact projects such as community health fairs that function more like marketing shouldn’t be allowed as part of the calculation. Nor should things that primarily benefit the institution, like staff training.

Additionally, hospitals should not be allowed to declare Medicaid “losses” as a community benefit. While it’s true that Medicaid typically pays less than private insurance companies, Medicaid plays a crucial role for private insurance markets by acting as a high-risk pool for patients with severe illness and disability. Hospitals benefit mightily from this taxpayer-funded arrangement. These large medical centers also enthusiastically accept taxpayer money for research, something that burnishes their image and bolsters their rankings. That enthusiasm needs to be mandated to extend toward Medicaid patients and the face value of their insurance.

The I.R.S. states that charitable hospitals “must be organized and operated exclusively for specific tax-exempt purposes.” Thus charitable care should be front and center. Spending on social determinants of health can also be a legitimate community benefit, but the community that is footing the tax break needs to have a forceful say in how this money is spent, rather than leave it solely up to the hospital.

As many policy scholars have noted, tax exemption is a blunt instrument. For struggling hospitals, particularly in communities with a shortage of health care resources, tax exemption can make sense. In medically saturated areas, where profits and executive compensation approach Wall Street levels, tax exemption should raise eyebrows.

If society decides that tax exemption is a worthwhile means to improve health — and it certainly can be — then our regulations need to be far stricter and more explicitly tied to community health. As the United States continues to fall behind its international peers in terms of health outcomes in local communities, there is certainly no lack of opportunity.

 

 

 

The most expensive health care option of all? Do nothing.

https://www.politico.com/news/2020/01/09/medicare-for-all-health-care-096367?utm_source=The+Fiscal+Times&utm_campaign=b67cf54986-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2020_01_09_10_31&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_714147a9cf-b67cf54986-390702969

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‘Medicare for all’ debate sidesteps cost of current system.

The projected multitrillion-dollar cost of “Medicare for All” has pitted Democratic presidential candidates against each other as they argue about the feasibility of single-payer health care.

But the reality is the current health system may cost trillions more in the long run and be less effective in saving lives.

Spending on Medicare, Medicaid, private health insurance and out-of-pocket expenses is projected to hit $6 trillion a year — and $52 trillion over the next decade. At the same time, the number of people with insurance is dropping and Americans are dying younger.

Sen. Bernie Sanders and other single-payer advocates say Medicare for All would cost the government far less — between $20 trillion and $36 trillion over a decade — by slashing overhead, eliminating out-of-pocket costs and empowering federal officials to bargain directly with hospitals and drugmakers. But the streamlined system would have to care for millions of currently uninsured people at a significant cost to taxpayers, and experts disagree whether it would actually save money in the long run.

Centrist Democrats are pushing narrower plans that would, among other things, expand tax credits for people just above the Obamacare subsidy threshold. Virtually no one is arguing for maintaining the status quo, but that’s precisely what could happen given that congressional gridlock has stymied even popular, and bipartisan, causes like halting surprise medical bills.

“It’s really hard to see anything breaking through, especially when the industry interests and the money they’re willing to spend on lobbying and campaign contributions is just mind-boggling,” said Sabrina Corlette, a researcher at Georgetown University’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms. “And, without question, we are on an unsustainable trajectory.”

With Medicare for All and its price tag likely to come up in the next Democratic debate Jan. 14 in Iowa, here are five of the costliest consequences of inaction:

National health spending keeps rising

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services estimates that nationwide health spending will hit $6 trillion a year by 2027 absent any changes in law. That would be nearly a fifth of the economy. In total, the United States is slated to spend about $52 trillion over the coming decade.

The cost drivers include hospitals, physician and clinical services and prescription drugs. Some local health systems have become monopolies that can largely set prices as they please — leading to higher premiums and more out-of-pocket spending for consumers.

“Even the biggest insurance plans are not big enough to bargain down the cost of services, and they don’t have an incentive to,” said Wendell Potter, a former Cigna executive-turned whistleblower and single-payer advocate.

An aging population is driving up Medicare spending, but the rising cost of private insurance is the biggest factor. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation analysis found per capita spending for private insurance grew by nearly 53 percent over the last decade, or more than double the hike in per capita Medicare spending.

More people will be uninsured

The Census Bureau reported in September that the number of Americans without insurance grew by 2 million people since 2017 — the first increase in nearly a decade. Even with a healthy economy and low unemployment, more than 27 million people weren’t covered at any point last year. That could grow to 35 million by 2029, per the Congressional Budget Office, under current law.

The number of people enrolling in the Obamacare marketplace has declined, and more people are dropping employer-sponsored insurance due to cost and other concerns.

Part of this is President Donald Trump’s doing — the administration has slashed efforts to push Obamacare enrollment and rolled back the massive marketing effort that the Obama administration rolled out for years.

There are also more than 400,000 additional uninsured children than just two years ago — and 4 million in all — and states that haven’t expanded Medicaid are seeing the biggest spikes.

“What we also miss in the debate is the number of people temporarily uninsured, who miss open enrollment, who are between jobs, who fall through the cracks,” said Adam Gaffney, a Harvard Medical School researcher and the president of Physicians for a National Health Program. “I see people all the time in my practice in that situation who don’t fill prescriptions and experience serious complications.”

Going without insurance hits patients and health care providers: Average hospital spending on care for the uninsured was $13 million in 2018 up roughly 3 percent annually since 2016.

Coverage will be skimpier

As the cost of health care has skyrocketed, insurance companies have squeezed patients, charging higher premiums, deductibles and co-pays, and creating narrow networks of providers and aggressively billing for out-of-network care.

Since 2009, the amount workers have had to pay for health insurance has increased 71 percent, while wages have only risen 26 percent over that time.

More than 80 percent of workers now have to pay a minimum amount out of pocket before insurance kicks in — and the amount of that deductible has doubled over the last 10 years, now standing at an average of $1,655, though many workers have to pay a lot more.

These costs are putting care out of reach for millions.

new Gallup poll found that a full quarter of adults have put off treatment for a serious medical condition due to the cost — the highest since Gallup began asking the question three decades ago. A full third say they’ve delayed or deferred some kind of health care service over the past year. Another Gallup and West Help survey found that 34 million people know at least one friend or family member who died over the past five years after skipping treatment due to costs.

 

Needed drugs will become more out of reach

U.S. patients pay vastly more for prescription drugs than people in other developed countries and the disparity is set to grow. The United States spent $1,443 per person on prescription drugs in 2018, while other developed countries fell somewhere between $466 and $939.

In just five years, national spending on prescription drugs increased 25 percent, according to the Government Accountability Office, and CMS expects that increase to “accelerate” over the next several years.

Increasingly, patients are responding by forgoing their medications. Gallup found in November that nearly 23 percent of adults — roughly 58 million people — said they haven’t been able to “pay for needed medicine or drugs that a doctor prescribed” over the past year.

This widespread inability to take needed medication, a government-funded study found last year, is responsible for as much as 10 percent of hospital admissions. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that medication nonadherence accounts for somewhere between $100 and $300 billion in national health spending every year.

 

Americans will continue to get sicker and die younger

The cost of maintaining the status quo is evident not only in dollars but in human lives.

Life expectancy in the United States has declined over the last three years, even as other developed countries around the world saw improvements.

Though the United States spends nearly twice as much on health care as other high-income countries, there’s been a stark increase in mortality between the ages of 19 and 64, with drug overdoses, alcohol abuse, suicide and organ diseases driving the trend. It’s cut across race and gender with the worst effects felt in rural areas.

The opioid epidemic only accounts for a fraction of the problem. The National Research Council found that the United States has higher mortality rates from most major causes of death than 16 other high-income countries.

Researchers at USC estimate that if these trends continue, it would take the United States more than a century to reach the average life expectancy levels other countries hit in 2016.

 

 

Despite provider claims, hospital M&A not associated with improved care, NEJM finds

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/despite-provider-claims-hospital-ma-not-associated-with-improved-care-ne/569671/

Dive Brief:

  • Hospital consolidation is associated with poorer patient experiences and doesn’t improve care, according to a study published Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine, refuting a common provider justification for rampant mergers and acquisitions.
  • The study funded by HHS’ health quality research division, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, found that acquired hospitals saw moderately worse patient experience, along with no change in 30-day mortality or readmission rates. ​Acquired hospitals did improve slightly in clinical process, though that can’t be directly chalked up to the results of an acquisition, researchers found.
  • It’s further evidence that bigger isn’t always better when it comes to hospitals, and adds onto a heap of previous studies showing provider mergers lead to higher prices for commercially insured patients.

Dive Insight:

Hospitals continue to turn to M&A to navigate tricky industry headwinds, including lowering reimbursement and flatlining admissions as patients increasingly turn to alternate, cheaper sites of care. Provider trade associations maintain consolidation lowers costs and improves operations, which trickles down to better care for patients.

Though volume of deals has ebbed and flowed, hospital M&A overall has steadily increased over the past decade. The hospital sector in 2018 saw 90 deals, according to consultancy Kaufman Hall, up 80% from just 50 such transactions in 2009.

Thursday’s study analyzed CMS data on hospital quality and Medicare claims from 2007 through 2016 and data on hospital M&A from 2009 to 2013 to look at hospital performance before and after acquisition, compared with a control group that didn’t see a change in ownership.

American Hospital Association General Counsel Melinda Hatton took aim at the study’s methods to refute its findings, especially its reliance on a common measure of patient experience called HCAHPS.

“Using data collected from patients to make claims about quality fails to recognize that it is often incomplete, as patients are not required to and do not always respond comprehensively,” Hatton told Healthcare Dive in a statement. “The survey does not capture information on the critical aspects of care as it is delivered today.”

The results contradict a widely decried AHA-funded study last year conducted by Charles River Associates that found consolidation improves quality and lowers revenue per admission in the first year prior to integration. The research came quickly under fire by academics and patient advocates over potential cherrypicked results.

A spate of previous studies found hospital tie-ups raise the price tag of care on payers and patients. Congressional advisory group MedPAC found both vertical and horizontal provider consolidation are correlated with higher healthcare costs, the brunt of which is often borne by consumers in the form of higher premiums and out-of-pocket costs.

A 2018 study published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics found prices rose 6% after hospitals were acquired, partially due to limiting market competition. Groups like the left-leaning Center for American Progress have called for increased scrutiny from antitrust regulators as a result, but — despite snowballing M&A — there’s been little change in antitrust regulation since the 1980s. The Federal Trade Commission won several challenges to hospital consolidation in the 2010s, but the agency only contests 2% to 3% of mergers annually, according to MedPAC analysts.

Providers, like most actors across the healthcare ecosystem, are increasingly under fire for high prices and predatory billing practices. President Donald Trump’s administration finalized a rule late last year that would force hospitals to reveal secret negotiated rates with insurers, relying on the assumption that transparency would shame both actors into lowering prices.

A cadre of provider groups led by the AHA sued HHS over the regulation, arguing it violates the First Amendment and would place undue burden on hospitals, while potentially stifling competition. The lawsuit is currently being reviewed by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

 

 

 

Hospital M&A spurs rising healthcare costs, MedPAC finds

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/hospital-ma-spurs-rising-healthcare-costs-medpac-finds/566858/

Dive Brief:

  • Both vertical and horizontal hospital consolidation is correlated with higher healthcare costs, according to a congressional advisory committee on Medicare, in yet another study finding rampant mergers and acquisitions drive up prices for consumers.
  • The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission found providers with greater market share see higher commercial profit margins, leading to higher costs per discharge, though the direct relationship between market share and cost per discharge was not statistically meaningful itself.
  • MedPAC also found vertical integration between health systems and physician practices increases prices and spending for consumers. The top-down consolidation leads to higher prices for commercial payers and Medicare alike, as hospitals have more bargaining heft and benefit from Medicare’s payment hikes for hospital outpatient departments.

Dive Insight:

Hospital consolidation has become a major point of concern for policymakers, antitrust regulators and patient advocacy groups.slew of prior studies have found unchecked provider M&A contributes to higher healthcare costs, with the brunt often borne by consumers in the form of higher premiums and out-of-pocket costs.

Since 2003, the number of “super-concentrated” markets has increased from 47% to 57%, according to the MedPAC analysis of CMS and American Hospital Association data. Those markets, with a high amount of consolidation, rarely see new providers enter, which stifles competition, and are rarely reviewed by the government.

There’s been little change in antitrust regulation since the 1980s and, though the Federal Trade Commission has won several challenges to hospital consolidation in the 2010s, the agency only challenges 2% to 3% of mergers annually.

MedPAC also found super-concentrated insurance markets actually led to lower costs per discharge compared to lower levels of payer concentration, deflating somewhat hospital lobbies’ arguments that payer consolidation is driving prices higher.

Committee members called for more analysis of how macro trends like an aging population and federal policy could be driving consolidation and impacting prices, leading some to call for a revamp of the hospital payment framework itself.

“We have to change the way hospitals are paid. I don’t see another solution,” said Brian DeBusk, CEO of Tennesse-based DeRoyal Industries, a medical manufacturer. “Are you going to undo a thousand hospital mergers? Are you going to enact rate setting? I don’t see another way.”

MedPAC also looked at vertical integration, where hospitals snap up physicians practices downstream. According to the Physician Advocacy Institute, only 26% of physician practices were owned by hospitals in 2012, but by last year that number had spiked to 44%.

Since 2012, billing has shifted from physician offices to hospital outpatient departments, especially in specialty practices. In chemotherapy administration, for example, physician offices saw almost 17% less volume between 2012 and 2018, while outpatient centers saw a 53% increase in volume, according to MedPAC.

Physicians in hospital-owned practices also refer more patients to the hospital’s facilities and, despite a common stumping point that integration improves quality through care coordination, its effect on quality is “ambiguous,” MedPAC analyst Dan Zabinski said Thursday at the committee’s November meeting.

Despite the mountain of evidence, the AHA published a widely-decried study in September claiming acquired hospitals see a reduction in operating expenses and a statistically significant drop in readmission and mortality rates. The study was criticized for not using actual claims data in its analysis among other methodological and conflict of interest concerns.

Republican leaders in the House Energy and Commerce Committee asked MedPAC to study provider consolidation in August, and the body’s full findings will be included in its March report to Congress.​

 

 

 

 

 

TOP 6 HEALTHCARE MERGERS OF 2019

https://www.healthleadersmedia.com/finance/top-6-healthcare-mergers-2019?spMailingID=16768251&spUserID=MTg2ODM1MDE3NTU1S0&spJobID=1781800057&spReportId=MTc4MTgwMDA1NwS2

M&A activity continued to thrive among insurers and providers in 2019.

As was the case in 2018, the healthcare industry saw several megamergers occur in 2019.

Healthcare leaders pointed to industry consolidation as the year’s top priority, according to a Definitive Healthcare survey, with different reasons for pursuing mergers.

Related: Top 5 Healthcare Mergers of 2018

Providers sought to achieve scale in order to address staffing shortages while insurers looked to respond to the increasing influence of consumerism in healthcare.

While some mergers fell through, many organizations announced or finalized deals during the course of the year.

Below are six major healthcare mergers that were announced or completed in 2019.

1. CVS-AETNA

The nearly $70 billion megamerger received final judicial approval in September after an extended review by U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon.

The merger originally received approval from the Department of Justice in October 2018 but was subject to questions and criticisms by numerous stakeholders.

The deal was marked by scrutiny over vertical mergers, with Leon noting that his approval shouldn’t be seen as a rubber stamp.

 

2. CENTENE-WELLCARE

Centene Corp. announced a $17.3 billion merger with WellCare Health Plans in March, a move seen as doubling down on the marketplaces established by the Affordable Care Act.

The merged company will be based in St. Louis and encompass 22 million members, $97 billion in revenues, and $5 billion in EBITDA for 2019.

The pending transaction has already received regulatory approval from 25 states.

Earlier this month, Centene agreed to sell its subsidiary IlliniCare Health to CVS Health, including its Medicaid and Medicare Advantage plans in Illinois.

3. DIGNITY-CHI

Dignity Health and Catholic Health Initiatives finalized a $29 billion megamerger between the two Catholic health systems in February.

Renamed as “CommonSpirit,” the Chicago–based health system has a footprint in 21 states, with more than 700 care sites and 142 hospitals.

In November, the system released its Q1 2020 financials highlighted by $7.1 billion in revenues and a net loss of $227 million.

 

4. HARVARD PILGRIM-TUFTS

Harvard Pilgrim Health Care and Tufts Health Plan announced an intention to merge in August, potentially serving nearly 2.4 million plan members across New England.

As part of the proposed deal, Tufts CEO Tom Croswell would serve as CEO of the merged company while Harvard Pilgrim CEO Michael Carson would serve as president.

The two Massachusetts-based insurers told The Boston Globe earlier this month that the merger would benefit consumers with more affordable health coverage.

 

5. TOTAL HEALTH CARE-PRIORITY HEALTH

Total Health Care and Priority Health received final regulatory approval from the Michigan Department of Insurance and Financial Services (DIFS) in late November.

The two Michigan-based healthcare organizations, which announced plans to merge in late August, plan to complete the deal by the end of 2019.

Prior to receiving approval from state regulators, Total Health Care members approved the merger earlier this fall.

As part of the merger, the two Michigan-based healthcare organizations will also be establishing a $25 million foundation to improve health outcomes in Detroit.

 

6. DARTMOUTH-HITCHCOCK-GRANITEONE HEALTH

Two New Hampshire-based health systems agreed to merge nine months after signing a letter of intent to merge.

The new merged system will be renamed “Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health GraniteOne” and includes Catholic Medical Center in Manchester.

Both organizations will maintain their locations and local leadership as part of the deal.