WHAT TO DO WHEN CONVERTING A HOSPITAL FROM NONPROFIT TO INVESTOR-OWNED

https://www.healthleadersmedia.com/strategy/what-do-when-converting-hospital-nonprofit-investor-owned

While perhaps not as controversial as it once was, the ‘conversion’ of a nonprofit hospital to a for-profit venture can raise questions and spark unhelpful rumors.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

There may be an opportunity to highlight increased revenues for the benefit of local government, since investor-owned hospitals pay taxes.

Remember: Every hospital, regardless of its tax status, must bring in more dollars than it spends in order to be financially healthy and reinvest.

In most communities, the conversion of a hospital from a not-for-profit to an investor-owned enterprise no longer stirs the heated debate that it did decades ago. Instead, you’re much more likely today to see not-for-profit and investor-owned hospital organizations working in partnership.

Renowned not-for-profit health systems such as Duke Health and the Cleveland Clinic have formed strong affiliations with investor-owned hospital companies. In these and other partnerships, not-for-profits and investor-owned organizations are working together to strengthen hospitals, invest in communities, and serve patients.

In fact, the issues facing investor-owned hospital systems during a partnership are the same as those faced by not-for-profit health systems during a partnership discussion: Local control and governance, cultural compatibility, charity care support, and commitment to local investment are leading hot buttons for both.

Still, the “conversion” of a not-for-profit to an investor-owned organization can represent a change that can raise questions and ignite unhelpful rumors.

To help you be prepared, start by answering these basic questions: What’s the difference? How are not-for-profit and for-profit (investor-owned) hospitals different from one another?

  • Taxes: First, a (very) broad definition: “Not-for-profit” and “for profit” are tax-related designations. A not-for-profit hospital does not pay certain taxes, including those on property used for care, income, and sales. How- ever, it usually does pay payroll and other federal employee taxes. A for- profit hospital pays property, sales, and income taxes as well as payroll taxes. Not-for-profits sometimes make payments in lieu of taxes to help offset the costs of providing important community services, such as police and fire coverage.
  • Capital: Not-for-profit and investor-owned hospitals are also differentiated by where they get capital to invest in their facilities for infrastructure improvements, new equipment, staff, and the like. Not-for-profit hospitals usually go to the bond market for capital. Investor-owned hospitals go to the public stock market, the bond market, or investment groups for capital.
  • Analysts: Now for a word about financial ratings. Both types of organizations have outsiders judging the hospital’s financial performance. To help investors monitor their portfolios and make buying and selling decisions, not-for-profits are graded by credit rating agencies, such as Moody’s Investors Services and Standard & Poor’s. Publicly traded, investor-owned hospital stocks are watched by analysts and valued daily in stock exchanges.
  • Ownership: Who “owns” the hospital after such a sale is an important question and can reflect a community’s concerns about having a future voice in the care provided at its hospital. The answer can be complicated and inconsistent from hospital to hospital and community to community.

Here’s an overview: Independent, not-for-profit hospitals are, in a sense, owned by the communities they serve. The boards are usually comprised of local leaders and physicians. Excess revenues—profits—are fully reinvested into the community’s care after debt payments, payroll, and other expenses. Hospitals that join a regional or national not-for-profit health system, however, may or may not have a local board with a say in the direction of the facility and may or may not share their profits with the system. (In fact, if your local hospital is in financial trouble, the money flows into your hospital, not out of it!)

Investor-owned hospitals are, as you might guess by the name, owned by investors, who can be private individuals or stockholders. Investors traditionally benefit as the value of the company’s hospitals increases over time, through effective operations and local investments, and as the company overall grows by adding more hospitals.

Adding to this complexity is the trend for hospitals to pursue joint venture partnerships where ownership is shared by two or more organizations, including the “seller.” These partnerships call for strong and trusting relationships by every party. Communications is key to success.

Familiarize yourselves with these terms and issues as you move through a partnership. Be prepared for some myth busting.

That’s where the fundamental structural differences end. The driving forces of both organizations, however, are precisely the same:

  • No matter your tax status, every hospital must take in more dollars than it spends to be financially healthy and to reinvest in the care it provides.
  • Every hospital must offer quality care, provide current medical equipment and facilities, and support a trained staff to attract (and keep) patients  and serve the needs of physicians, payers, and others.

Now, consider some specific questions you may hear related to the structure of a not-for-profit to investor-owned conversion.

WHAT HAPPENS TO THE PROCEEDS OF THE SALE?

When there are funds left over from a sale, they are often referred to as the proceeds. These proceeds exist once the hospital’s debt and any other obligations (e.g., a pension fund) have been paid.

The answer as to what happens to those dollars depends on the ownership structure of the selling organization and the terms of the transaction. Here are a few scenarios:

  • The sale of a stand-alone, not-for-profit community hospital to an investor-owned company may lead to the creation of a community foundation. The creation of the foundation—including its board and mission—may be directed by your state attorney general’s office, and the proceeds from the sale will fund it.
  • When two not-for-profits merge, it is rare that there are proceeds. Instead, the common practice is for all assets from both organizations to combine for the good of the new system.
  • From the sale of a hospital owned by a religious organization, the remaining proceeds will likely return to that order or denomination.
  • When a government-owned hospital is sold, money left over may return to the city’s or county’s coffers, which may deposit it into the government’s general operating fund or create a new organization for meeting the charitable healthcare needs of the community.

WILL CHARITY CARE CONTINUE AT ITS CURRENT LEVEL?

This is really a question of community commitment and may be an indicator of how much the community-based culture is or is not going to change under the new ownership. In most cases, a commitment to either a specific level of charity care or a guarantee to continue the hospital’s existing charitable mission and policy is written into the deal documents. Expect the question and know the answer.

HOW MUCH MONEY IN LOCAL TAXES WILL THE NEW HOSPITAL OWNER PAY?

An investor-owned hospital pays taxes that benefit local government. This question is an opportunity to highlight the added contribution as a distinct benefit of investor-owned partnerships.

In many cases, the fire department, police force, schools, parks, and other community assets will benefit on an annual basis from an investor-owned partner paying state and local property and sales taxes.

One cautionary note: In some cases, new hospital owners may seek appropriate tax incentives when entering a new community and investing in a hospital. Be sure you understand the local government strategic thinking before you answer the tax question.

 

 

 

 

Top 5 Differences Between NFPs and For-Profit Hospitals

https://www.healthleadersmedia.com/finance/top-5-differences-between-nfps-and-profit-hospitals

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Although nonprofit and for-profit hospitals are fundamentally similar, there are significant cultural and operational differences, such as strategic approaches to scale and operational discipline.

All hospitals serve patients, employ physicians and nurses, and operate in tightly regulated frameworks for clinical services. For-profit hospitals add a unique element to the mix: generating return for investors.

This additional ingredient gives the organizational culture at for-profits a subtly but significantly different flavor than the atmosphere at their nonprofit counterparts, says Yvette Doran, chief operating officer at Saint Thomas Medical Partners in Nashville, TN.

“When I think of the differences, culture is at the top of my list. The culture at for-profits is business-driven. The culture at nonprofits is service-driven,” she says.

Doran says the differences between for-profits and nonprofits reflect cultural nuances rather than cultural divides. “Good hospitals need both. Without the business aspects on one hand, and the service aspects on the other, you can’t function well.”

There are five primary differences between for-profit and nonprofit hospitals.

1. Tax Status

The most obvious difference between nonprofit and for-profit hospitals is tax status, and it has a major impact financially on hospitals and the communities they serve.

Hospital payment of local and state taxes is a significant benefit for municipal and state governments, says Gary D. Willis, CPA, a former for-profit health system CFO who currently serves as CFO at Amedisys Inc., a home health, hospice, and personal care company in Baton Rouge, LA. The taxes that for-profit hospitals pay support “local schools, development of roads, recruitment of business and industry, and other needed services,” he says.

The financial burden of paying taxes influences corporate culture—emphasizing cost consciousness and operational discipline, says Andrew Slusser, senior vice president at Brentwood, TN-based RCCH Healthcare Partners.

“For-profit hospitals generally have to be more cost-efficient because of the financial hurdles they have to clear: sales taxes, property taxes, all the taxes nonprofits don’t have to worry about,” he says.

“One of the initiatives we’ve had success with—in both new and existing hospitals—is to conduct an Operations Assessment Team survey. It’s in essence a deep dive into all operational costs to see where efficiencies may have been missed before. We often discover we’re able to eliminate duplicative costs, stop doing work that’s no longer adding value, or in some cases actually do more with less,” Slusser says.

2. Operational Discipline

With positive financial performance among the primary goals of shareholders and the top executive leadership, operational discipline is one of the distinguishing characteristics of for-profit hospitals, says Neville Zar, senior vice president of revenue operations at Boston-based Steward Health Care System, a for-profit that includes 3,500 physicians and 18 hospital campuses in four states.

At Steward, we believe we’ve done a good job establishing operational discipline. It means accountability. It means predictability. It means responsibility. It’s like hygiene. You wake up, brush your teeth, and this is part of what you do every day.”

A revenue-cycle dashboard report is circulated at Steward every Monday morning at 7 a.m., including point-of-service cash collections, patient coverage eligibility for government programs such as Medicaid, and productivity metrics, he says. “There’s predictability with that.”

A high level of accountability fuels operational discipline at Steward and other for-profits, Zar says.

There is no ignoring the financial numbers at Steward, which installed wide-screen TVs in most business offices four years ago to post financial performance information in real-time. “There are updates every 15 minutes. You can’t hide in your cube,” he says. “There was a 15% to 20% improvement in efficiency after those TVs went up.”

3. Financial Pressure

Accountability for financial performance flows from the top of for-profit health systems and hospitals, says Dick Escue, senior vice president and chief information officer at the Hawaii Medical Service Association in Honolulu.

Escue worked for many years at a rehabilitation services organization that for-profit Kindred Healthcare of Louisville, Kentucky, acquired in 2011. “We were a publicly traded company. At a high level, quarterly, our CEO and CFO were going to New York to report to analysts. You never want to go there and disappoint. … You’re not going to keep your job as the CEO or CFO of a publicly traded company if you produce results that disappoint.”

Finance team members at for-profits must be willing to push themselves to meet performance goals, Zar says.

“Steward is a very driven organization. It’s not 9-to-5 hours. Everybody in healthcare works hard, but we work really hard. We’re driven by each quarter, by each month. People will work the weekend at the end of the month or the end of the quarter to put in the extra hours to make sure we meet our targets. There’s a lot of focus on the financial results, from the senior executives to the worker bees. We’re not ashamed of it.”

“Cash blitzes” are one method Steward’s revenue cycle team uses to boost revenue when financial performance slips, he says. Based on information gathered during team meetings at the hospital level, the revenue cycle staff focuses a cash blitz on efforts that have a high likelihood of generating cash collections, including tackling high-balance accounts and addressing payment delays linked to claims processing such as clinical documentation queries from payers.

For-profit hospitals routinely utilize monetary incentives in the compensation packages of the C-Suite leadership, says Brian B. Sanderson, managing principal of healthcare services at Oak Brook, IL–based Crowe Horwath LLP.

“The compensation structures in the for-profits tend to be much more incentive-based than compensation at not-for-profits,” he says. “Senior executive compensation is tied to similar elements as found in other for-profit environments, including stock price and margin on operations.”

In contrast to offering generous incentives that reward robust financial performance, for-profits do not hesitate to cut costs in lean times, Escue says.

“The rigor around spending, whether it’s capital spending, operating spending, or payroll, is more intense at for-profits. The things that got cut when I worked in the back office of a for-profit were overhead. There was constant pressure to reduce overhead,” he says. “Contractors and consultants are let go, at least temporarily. Hiring is frozen, with budgeted openings going unfilled. Any other budgeted, but not committed, spending is frozen.”

4. Scale

The for-profit hospital sector is highly concentrated.

There are 4,862 community hospitals in the country, according to the American Hospital Association. Nongovernmental not-for-profit hospitals account for the largest number of facilities at 2,845. There are 1,034 for-profit hospitals, and 983 state and local government hospitals.

In 2016, the country’s for-profit hospital trade association, the Washington, DC–based Federation of American Hospitals, represented a dozen health systems that owned about 635 hospitals. Four of the FAH health systems accounted for about 520 hospitals: Franklin, TN-based Community Hospital Systems (CHS); Nashville-based Hospital Corporation of America; Brentwood, TN–based LifePoint Health; and Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare Corporation.

Scale generates several operational benefits at for-profit hospitals.

“Scale is critically important,” says Julie Soekoro, CFO at Grandview Medical Center, a CHS-owned, 372-bed hospital in Birmingham, Alabama. “What we benefit from at Grandview is access to resources and expertise. I really don’t use consultants at Grandview because we have corporate expertise for challenges like ICD-10 coding. That is a tremendous benefit.”

Grandview also benefits from the best practices that have been shared and standardized across the 146 CHS hospitals. “Best practices can have a direct impact on value,” Soekoro says. “The infrastructure is there. For-profits are well-positioned for the consolidated healthcare market of the future… You can add a lot of individual hospitals without having to add expertise at the corporate office.”

The High Reliability and Safety program at CHS is an example of how standardizing best practices across the health system’s hospitals has generated significant performance gains, she says.

“A few years ago, CHS embarked on a journey to institute a culture of high reliability at the hospitals. The hospitals and affiliated organizations have worked to establish safety as a ‘core value.’ At Grandview, we have hard-wired a number of initiatives, including daily safety huddles and multiple evidence-based, best-practice error prevention methods.”

Scale also plays a crucial role in one of the most significant advantages of for-profit hospitals relative to their nonprofit counterparts: access to capital.

Ready access to capital gives for-profits the ability to move faster than their nonprofit counterparts, Sanderson says. “They’re finding that their access to capital is a linchpin for them. … When a for-profit has better access to capital, it can make decisions rapidly and make investments rapidly. Many not-for-profits don’t have that luxury.”

5. Competitive Edge

There are valuable lessons for nonprofits to draw from the for-profit business model as the healthcare industry shifts from volume to value.

When healthcare providers negotiate managed care contracts, for-profits have a bargaining advantage over nonprofits, Doran says. “In managed care contracts, for profits look for leverage and nonprofits look for partnership opportunities. The appetite for aggressive negotiations is much more palatable among for-profits.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trial approaching in Sutter Health antitrust case

https://www.modernhealthcare.com/legal/trial-approaching-sutter-health-antitrust-case?utm_source=modern-healthcare-daily-finance&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20190923&utm_content=article1-readmore

Spurred in part by the Affordable Care Act, hospitals across the country have merged to form massive medical systems in the belief it would simplify the process for patients.

But a simpler bill doesn’t always guarantee a cheaper bill.

That’s a key issue in an antitrust lawsuit against one of California’s largest hospital systems set to begin Monday.

About 1,500 self-funded health plans have sued Sutter Health, a system that includes 24 hospitals across Northern California. The case has dragged on since 2014, but it picked up steam last year when Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed a similar lawsuit. The cases have been combined and jury selection begins Monday. Opening arguments are scheduled for October.

The lawsuit alleges Sutter Health gobbled up competing medical providers in the region and used its market dominance to set higher prices for insurance plans, which means more expensive insurance premiums for consumers.

Becerra points to a 2018 study that found unadjusted inpatient procedure prices are 70% higher in Northern California than Southern California. The lawsuit notes Sutter Health’s assets were $15.6 billion at the end of 2016, up from $6.4 billion in 2005.

“We never meant for folks to use integration to boost their profits at the expense of consumers,” Becerra said.

It’s rare for antitrust lawsuits of this size to go to trial because the law allows for triple damages — a prospect that often spooks companies into settling outside of court to avoid an unpredictable jury. Health plans in this case are asking for $900 million in damages, meaning Sutter Health could take a nearly $3 billion hit.

Atrium Health, a North Carolina-based hospital system, settled a similar anti-trust lawsuit with the federal government last year. And CHI Franciscan, a health system based in Washington state, also settled similar claims in March that had been brought by the state.

But Sutter Health is fighting the case. The company says the lawsuit is not about its prices, but about insurance companies who want to maximize their own profits. Sutter Health officials insist the company faces fierce competition, vowing to detail in court the expansion of other health systems in the San Francisco Bay Area and the Sacramento Valley.

Four Sutter Health hospitals had operating losses in 2018, totaling $49 million.

“The bottom line is that this lawsuit is designed to skew the healthcare system to the advantage of large insurance companies so they can market inadequate insurance plans to Californians,” said Sutter Health Director of Public Affairs Amy Thoma Tan.

At issue are several of Sutter Health’s contracting policies that Becerra says have allowed the company to “thoroughly immunize itself from price competition.”

One way insurance companies keep costs down is to steer patients to cheaper health care providers through a variety of incentives. Becerra says Sutter Health bans insurance companies from using these incentives, making it harder for patients to use their lower-priced competitors.

Becerra also says Sutter has an “all or nothing” approach to negotiating with insurance companies, requiring them to include all of the company’s hospitals in their provider networks even if it doesn’t make financial sense to do so.

The case was originally filed by a trust of Northern California’s largest unionized grocery companies in 2014. A representative for the trust said it was “unknowingly forced to pay Sutter’s artificially high prices.”

But the company says these contracting practices are designed to protect patients. People often are unable to pick which hospital they go to in a medical emergency, which can lead to surprise bills when they learn a hospital or doctor was not in their network.

Jackie Garman, lawyer for the California Hospital Association, said these contracting practices are standard at a lot of hospitals. If the lawsuit is successful, she said it could “disrupt contracting practices at a lot of other systems.”

But the consequences of not bringing the lawsuit could be greater, Becerra said.

“We are paying every time we allow an anti-competitive behavior to drive the market,” he said.

 

 

 

Federal Reserve announces 2nd consecutive rate cut

https://www.axios.com/federal-reserve-rate-cut-77c504c1-1bed-4336-9c37-490a3452a54f.html?stream=top&utm_source=alert&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=alerts_all

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The Federal Reserve cut interest rates by a quarter point on Wednesday, bringing the target range for the benchmark Fed Funds rate to 1.75%–2%.

Why it matters: The Fed’s 2nd consecutive rate cut reflects worries about the U.S. economy. The trade war and slowing growth around the world have made corporate executives more worried than they’ve been in years.

  • The move prompted a near-immediate response from President Trump, who called chair Powell a “terrible communicator.” The president has demanded in a series of tweets that the Fed cut interest rates more aggressively.

The big picture: Speaking at a press conference, Powell again cited the trade war as a key risk to the economic outlook. “Our business contacts around the country have been telling us that uncertainty about trade policy has discouraged them from investing in their businesses,” Powell said.

  • Still, new projections showed a division among Fed officials about whether more rate cuts are warranted this year.
  • Powell did note that if “the economy does turn down, then a more extensive sequence of rate cuts could be appropriate.”

Powell also acknowledged the liquidity shortfall in money markets that has forced the Fed to intervene — something that before this week hadn’t happened since the financial crisis.

  • In response to the drama in the short-term funding markets, Powell suggested that the Fed may increase the size of its balance sheet through “organic growth” earlier than expected.

 

 

 

 

Comeback or blip? Nonprofit hospital margins show gains in 2018

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/comeback-or-blip-nonprofit-hospital-margins-show-gains-in-2018/562131/

Dive Brief:

  • Nonprofit hospitals’ operating margins are improving after falling for the last two years, according to an annual report on hospital performance from Fitch Ratings.
  • Smaller hospitals are driving the turnaround and it’s a notable trend because they’re not able to command higher rates from payers like their peers the “must-have” hospitals, according to the report.
  • “The fact that [smaller hospitals] saw meaningful improvement is a good indicator that operational strength is returning to the sector, though the highs we saw in 2015 may be an unattainable highwater mark,” Kevin Holloran, senior director for Fitch, said in a statement.

Dive Insight:

The industry continues to experience pressures including slowing inpatient admissions and more patients covered by government-sponsored health insurance such as Medicare, which typically reimburses at a lower rate compared to commercial insurers.

Wages are also under pressure amid a tight labor market, and the need to shift to an environment that is increasingly reimbursing for quality — not quantity.

The question now is whether these recent gains are a “temporary blip” or a major shift, Fitch analysts noted.

“Not-for-profit hospitals are by no means out of the woods yet with sector pressures likely to continue, but there appears to be light at the end of the tunnel in terms of longer-term stability,” Holloran said.

Still, despite the margin improvement, Fitch maintains a negative outlook for the sector.

Even still, “the not-for-profit healthcare sector has shown considerable resiliency over the years, weathering events like the 2008/2009 great recession, sequestration cuts to governmental funding, and a shifting payor mix,” Fitch analysts said.

Fitch believes consolidation among providers will continue. Providers will focus on increasing their size and scale to maintain leverage over insurance companies and allow them to invest in population health.

 

Charity Care Spending By Hospitals Plunges

Charity Care Spending By Hospitals Plunges

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California hospitals are providing significantly less free and discounted care to low-income patients since the Affordable Care Act took effect.

As a proportion of their operating expenses, the state’s general acute-care hospitals spent less than half on these patients in 2017 than they did in 2013, according to data the hospitals reported to California’s Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development.

The biggest decline in charity care spending occurred from 2013 to 2015, when it dropped from just over 2% to just under 1%. The spending has continued to decline, though less dramatically, since then.

The decline was true of for-profit hospitals, so-called nonprofit hospitals and those designated as city, county, district or state hospitals.

Health experts attribute the drop in charity care spending largely to the implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare. The law expanded insurance coverage to millions of Californians, starting in 2014, and hospitals are now treating far fewer uninsured patients who cannot pay for the care they receive.

With fewer uninsured patients, fewer patients seek financial assistance through the charity care programs, according to the California Hospital Association.

Cori Racela, deputy director at the Western Center on Law & Poverty, countered that many people still need financial assistance because — even with insurance — they struggle to pay their premiums, copays and deductibles.

“The need for charity care has changed,” she said, “but it still exists.”

The data on charity care comes from most of the state’s general acute-care hospitals but does not include Kaiser Permanente hospitals, which are not required by the state to report their charity care totals. (Kaiser Health News, which produces California Healthline, has no affiliation with Kaiser Permanente.)

For 2017, California Healthline used data from 177 nonprofit hospitals, 80 for-profit hospitals and 54 city, county, district or state hospitals. The breakdown was similar for the other years, with slight fluctuations.

Nonprofit hospitals, whose charity care spending dropped from 2.02% of operating expenses to 0.91% over the five-year period, are required by state and federal law to provide “community benefits” in exchange for their tax-exempt status.

They can meet that requirement beyond providing free and discounted care in a variety of ways: They can offer community public health programs, write off uncollected patient debt and claim the difference between what it costs to provide care and the amount that they are reimbursed by government insurance programs.

Nonprofit “hospitals get tax-exempt status, but they don’t get it for free,” said Ge Bai, associate professor of accounting and health policy at Johns Hopkins University. Charity care “is part of the implicit contract between hospital and taxpayers.”

Bai sees the reduced spending on charity care as part of a trend of nonprofit hospitals acting more like their for-profit counterparts.

Many nonprofit hospitals “no longer consider charity care their primary mission,” she said. “They are making more and more money but they are dropping their charity care.”

The state and federal governments set no minimum requirements for charity spending by hospitals, although the California Attorney General has created standards for a few nonprofit hospitals that have changed ownership in recent years.

Jan Emerson-Shea, a spokeswoman for the California Hospital Association, said hospitals are giving back to their communities in ways beyond charity care.

“You see charity care declining, but Medi-Cal losses are increasing,” Emerson-Shea said. She pointed to the growing shortfalls many hospitals report from caring for more patients covered by the public insurance program. “Every Medi-Cal patient we treat we lose money on.”

Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program for low-income residents, increased its rolls by 5.6 million — or about 70% — from 2013 to 2017.

Racela, of the Western Center on Law & Poverty, would like to see changes in California’s charity care rules to address high out-of-pocket costs.

And she wants hospitals to abide by the state law that requires them to inform patients that they may be eligible for charity care based on their income.

“There is still a big unmet need for charity care across the state,” Racela said.

 

 

 

When a hospital wields monopoly power

https://www.axios.com/newsletters/axios-vitals-1b40c794-c913-4681-b2ac-7a6e9746718f.html?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=newsletter_axiosvitals&stream=top

Illustration of a giant health plus on top of a pile of cash, the ground underneath is cracking.

NorthBay Healthcare, a not-for-profit hospital system in California, recently gave a candid look into how it operates, telling investors it has used its negotiating clout to extract “very lucrative contracts” from health insurance companies.

Why it matters: This is a living example of the economic theories and research that suggest hospitals will charge whatever they want if they have little or no competition, Axios’ Bob Herman reports.

Details: NorthBay owns two hospitals and several clinics in California’s Solano County. Kaiser Permanente owns the only other full-service hospital in the county, and Sutter Health operates some medical offices. (A NorthBay spokesperson argued the system is “more akin to the David among two Goliaths.“)

Three health insurers have terminated their contracts with NorthBay over the past couple years. During a June 19 call with bondholders, executives explained why this has happened.

“We’ve been able to maintain very lucrative contracts without the competition. And what the payers are saying is, they would like us to be like 90% of the rest of the United States in terms of contract structure.”

Jim Strong, interim CFO, NorthBay Healthcare

Between the lines: NorthBay’s revenue has increased by 50% over the past few years, from $400 million in 2013 to $600 million in 2018, due in large part to its natural monopoly and oligopoly over hospital services.

  • This is exactly what we should expect to happen when sellers have the upper hand over buyers, economists say.

NorthBay also serves as a cautionary tale for price transparency, the policy fix du jour.

  • If the health care system is consolidated, consumers don’t have anywhere else to go,” said Sunita Desai, a health economist at NYU. “Even if they see the prices of a given hospital, they’re limited in terms of how much they can ‘shop’ across providers.”