Pandemic propels health systems to mull insurer acquisitions, partnerships

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Nearly a year after the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the U.S., some of the nation’s largest health systems made a case for the need to accelerate toward value-based arrangements and potentially acquiring or partnering with health plans to become an integrated system.

Amid new records for deaths and cases from the novel coronavirus, executives gathered virtually for J.P. Morgan’s 39th annual healthcare conference, which typically draws prominent healthcare leaders to San Francisco at the start of each year.

The pandemic has been a heavily discussed topic during the digital gathering. One theme has been health systems either acknowledging they are on the hunt for health insurer acquisitions and partnerships or advocating for such arrangements as result of the challenges.

Anu Singh, managing director and the leader of the mergers, acquisitions and partnerships practice at consultancy Kaufman Hall, said it’s a natural migration for health systems, though it does come with some risk.

“If you want to move into the realm of being a population health manager, and take greater responsibility for your patient bases, you’re going to have to be thinking about maintaining their health,” Singh said. “And that’s typically something that, at least traditionally and historically, has been driven a little bit more by the health plan.”

For Utah’s Intermountain Healthcare, the lessons of the pandemic are clear: The industry needs to move away from a system that rewards volume. Intermountain is a fully integrated system that manages both providers and an insurance unit.

“It is becoming increasingly apparent that systems that are well integrated, especially systems that understand how to take risks, have prospered in the face of the terrible burden, caring for people in the midst of the first pandemic in 100 years,” Intermountain CEO Marc Harrison said Monday.

From his vantage point, Harrison said it has been interesting to watch the consternation around telehealth visits.

“Lots of folks who are really still caught in the volume-based system are actively switching patients back from tele- or distance to in-person visits so they can maximize revenue,” he said. “I understand that. But that’s a really great example of poorly aligned incentives.”

Intermountain has managed to stay in the black as many other systems have struggled financially as a result of the pandemic driving down patient volumes. It reported net income of $167 million through the first nine months of 2020, compared with $919 million the year prior.

Another integrated system, Baylor Scott and White Health, the largest nonprofit system in Texas, said such diversification has helped buoy its finances as hospital and clinic operations bottomed out in the spring due to the virus.

Baylor Scott and White illustrated this point by showing how operating income for its clinical segment took a nosedive in the spring while operating income for its health plan remained relatively steady.

The theme of integrated health systems also seemed to be on the minds of investors. CommonSpirit Health executives were asked during their presentation if buying or creating a health plan was on their radar as the system has a sizable footprint of 140 hospitals across the country.

“I think this is a interesting question, one that of course we’ve discussed many times strategically,” CFO Daniel Morissette said, noting the system does have a number of regional plans. “At this time, we have no plan of having a national CommonSpirit branded plan.” However, Morissette said the system would consider a partnership opportunity.

On the other hand, Midwest-based Advocate Aurora Health said it is actively on the hunt for a potential insurer deal as part of its long-term strategy.

“We do believe that having health plan capability, not necessarily having our own, but partnering for health plan capability, is going to be critical to our success, and we are taking steps to do that,” CEO Jim Skogsbergh said during the virtual conference.

Kaufman Hall said in its latest report that it expects more payer-provider partnerships as a result of the pandemic. “Limitations on fee-for-service payment structures exposed by the pandemic may increase the number of payer-provider partnerships around new payment and care delivery models,” according to the report.

Singh of Kaufman Hall said it’s not surprising that some may lean more toward a partnership due to the risks of starting a new venture, especially an insurance unit that can have “catastrophic loss”. Systems with less experience of moving toward implementing value-based initiatives may be more vulnerable to such risk.

It’s why he thinks partnerships may be a good fit, at least at first. Payers and providers can work together to improve the health of certain populations and then share in the cost savings.

14 health systems with strong finances

14 health systems with strong finances

Hospital Mergers, Acquisitions, and Affiliations | Case Study – RMS

Here are 14 health systems with strong operational metrics and solid financial positions, according to reports from Fitch Ratings, Moody’s Investors Service and S&P Global Ratings.

1. St. Louis-based Ascension has an “AA+” rating and stable outlook with Fitch and an “Aa2” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s. The system has a strong financial profile and a significant presence in several key markets, Fitch said. The credit rating agency expects Ascension will continue to produce healthy operating margins. 

2. Charlotte, N.C.-based Atrium Health has an “Aa3” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s and an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with S&P. Atrium and Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Wake Forest Baptist Health merged in October. The addition of the Winston-Salem service area and Wake Forest Baptist’s academic and research programs enhance Atrium’s position within the highly competitive North Carolina healthcare market, S&P said. 

3. Phoenix-based Banner Health has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with Fitch and S&P. Banner’s financial profile is strong, even taking into consideration the market volatility that occurred in the first quarter of 2020, Fitch said. The credit rating agency expects the system to continue to improve operating margins and to generate cash flow sufficient to sustain strong key financial metrics. 

4. Dallas- based Baylor Scott & White Health has an “Aa3” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s. The system has strong liquidity and is the largest nonprofit health system in Texas, Moody’s said. The credit rating agency expects Baylor Scott & White Health to continue to benefit from its centralized operating model, proven ability to execute complex strategies and well-developed planning abilities. 

5. Newark, Del.-based ChristianaCare Health System has an “Aa2” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s. The health system has extensive clinical depth and includes Delaware’s largest teaching hospital, Moody’s said. The system’s strong market position will help it resume near pre-pandemic level margins in fiscal year 2021, according to Moody’s. 

6. Falls Church, Va.-based Inova Health System has an “Aa2” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s. The system has a strong financial profile, and Moody’s expects Inova’s balance sheet to remain exceptionally strong. 

7. Philadelphia-based Main Line Health has an “AA” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The credit rating agency expects the system’s operations to recover after the COVID-19 pandemic and for it to resume its track record of strong operating cash flow margins. 

8. Rochester, Minn.-based Mayo Clinic has an “Aa2” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s. The system has an excellent reputation and generates strong patient demand at its academic medical centers in Minnesota, Arizona and Florida, Moody’s said. The credit rating agency said strong patient demand and proactive expense control measures would likely fuel good results for Mayo for the fiscal year that ended Dec. 31.

9. Midland-based MidMichigan Health has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The system generated healthy operational levels through fiscal year 2020, and Fitch expects it to continue generating strong cash flow. 

10. Chicago-based Northwestern Memorial HealthCare has an “Aa2” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s. The health system had strong pre-COVID margins and liquidity, Moody’s said. The credit rating agency expects the system to maintain strong operating cash flow margins. 

11. Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Novant Health has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The system has strong margins and each of its markets have met or exceeded budgeted expectations over the past four years, Fitch said.  

12. Albuquerque, N.M.-based Presbyterian Healthcare Services has an “AA” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The health system has a strong financial profile and a leading market position in Albuquerque and throughout New Mexico, Fitch said. The credit rating agency said it believes Presbyterian Healthcare Services is more resilient to pandemic disruptions than most other hospital systems. 

13. Renton, Wash.-based Providence has an “Aa3” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s. Providence has a large revenue base and a leading market share in most of its markets, according to Moody’s. The credit rating agency expects the system’s operations to improve this year. 

14. Livonia, Mich.-based Trinity Health has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The rating is driven by Trinity’s national size and scale, with significant market presence in several states, Fitch said. The credit rating agency expects the system’s operating margins to improve in the long term. 

Hospital finances bleak as 2020 nears end

Hospital margins and revenues continued to fall in November, while expenses remained above 2019 levels, according to Kaufman Hall’s December Flash report, which examines metrics from the previous month. 

The median hospital operating margin in November was 2.5 percent year to date with funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. Without the funds, the median hospital operating margin narrowed to -1.1 percent. 

Skyrocketing COVID-19 cases are already stretching hospitals’ capacity, and Kaufman Hall expects the situation to worsen in coming months as holiday gatherings and colder weather push case counts up even further. 

Did the CARES Act rescue hospital margins?

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Despite taking a huge volume hit in Q2, most hospitals have managed to maintain positive operating margins—largely thanks to a $100B cash infusion from the federal government via the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

According to Kaufman Hall’s most recent National Hospital Flash Report, based on data from over 900 hospitals of all sizes nationwide, hospitals would have been operating at a significant loss without federal aid. As the graphic above shows, the average hospital operating margin without CARES Act relief funds would have been negative eight percent in April—and would still be in the red as of October, despite much of the cancelled elective business returning across the summer and early fall.

However, with the aid, hospitals operating margins only turned negative in April and May. When compared to the same time period last year, year-to-date (YTD) gross revenue is down almost five percent, though net patient service revenue per discharge is up—the result of longer lengths of stay, the 20 percent Medicare reimbursement bump for COVID-19 patients, and suspension of the two percent sequestration adjustment on Medicare fee-for-service payments. Yet hospital expenses per discharge are also up 13.5 percent, dampening profitability.
 
Though the CARES Act has been a stopgap solution for the vast majority of hospitals, a handful, most notably HCA Healthcare, have proactively returned the money. While motivations for doing so are varied, we’ve been hearing that the ever-changing reporting and spending requirements associated with CARES Act funding have many hospital leaders concerned about possible future claw-backs. 

With COVID-19 hospitalizations now reaching record-breaking highs, potentially forcing another round of shut-downs, and with little movement on another round of federal relief, hospitals may be on their own for the time being—and the greatest hit to health system finances may still be yet to come.

Providence posts $214M loss during first 9 months of 2020 due to COVID-19 impact

Providence posts $214M loss during first 9 months of 2020 due to COVID-19  impact | FierceHealthcare

Providence health system reported a $214 loss for the first nine months of the year, as the system continues to recover patient volume that declined during the pandemic.

The 51-hospital not-for-profit system also gave an update on its patient volumes during a recent earnings release.

Providence posted operating revenues of $18.9 billion during the first nine months of 2020, but its operating expenses ballooned to $19.1 billion.

That was an increase of 4% compared to the same period in 2019.

“The increased expenses were largely driven by the higher cost of labor, supplies and pharmaceuticals needed to safely and effectively respond to COVID-19,” Providence said in a release.

But the system is also fighting a major decline in patient volumes.

Hospital systems across the country faced plummeting patient volumes in March and April as COVID-19 spread across the country and facilities were forced to cancel or postpone elective procedures.

But even as patients started to return to the hospital in the spring and summer, volumes continue to be below pre-pandemic levels.

“Year-to-date volumes as measured by case mix adjusted admissions were 10% lower than the same period last year,” Providence said.

But a bright spot for the system has been its pivot to virtual care.

“We’ve dramatically ramped up virtual care and are on track to log 1.4 million video visits by the end of the year,” said Providence President and CEO Rod Hochman, M.D.

The income loss also comes as Providence recognized $682 million in relief funding as part of a $175 billion fund passed by Congress as part of the CARES Act.

Providence also got help from a recovering stock market.

The system posted year-to-date, non-operating income of $263 million during the first nine months of the year, compared with $772 million during the same period in 2019.

“Non-operating income helps to recoup reimbursement shortfalls from Medicaid and Medicare coverage, allowing us to serve vulnerable populations while balancing our financial standing,” Providence said.

Genesis Healthcare warns of possible bankruptcy

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Kennett Square, Pa.-based Genesis Healthcare, one of the largest post-acute care providers in the U.S., warned that bankruptcy is possible if its financial losses continue. 

“The virus continues to have a significant adverse impact on the company’s revenues and expenses, particularly in hard-hit Mid Atlantic and Northeastern markets,” Genesis CEO George V. Hager Jr., said in a Nov. 9 earnings release.

Mr. Hager said government stimulus funds the company received in the third quarter of this year fell nearly $60 million short of the company’s COVID-19 costs and lost revenue. 

Genesis said it has taken several steps to help offset the financial damage linked to the pandemic, including delaying payment of a portion of payroll taxes incurred through December. 

But the company warned that bankruptcy is possible if its financial losses continue. 

“Even if the company receives additional funding support from government sources and/or is able to execute successfully all of its these plans and initiatives, given the unpredictable nature of, and the operating challenges presented by, the COVID-19 virus, the company’s operating plans and resulting cash flows, along with its cash and cash equivalents and other sources of liquidity. may not be sufficient to fund operations for the 12-month period following the date the financial statements are issued,” Genesis said. “Such events or circumstances could force the company to seek reorganization under the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.”

Genesis ended the third quarter of this year with a net loss of $62.8 million, compared to net income of $46.1 million in the same period a year earlier. 

Kaiser’s net income grows 68% in Q3

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Kaiser Permanente saw its net income climb more than 68 percent in the third quarter of 2020, according to its financial report released Nov. 6. 

The Oakland, Calif.-based health system recorded operating revenue of $22 billion in the quarter ended Sept. 30, up 5.3 percent from the same period a year earlier. Kaiser also saw expenses rise about 5.9 percent year over year, to $21.5 billion. 

“Although the pandemic continues to have an impact on Kaiser Permanente, during the third quarter we safely resumed in-person preventive and elective care, started to address the backlog of deferred procedures that were put on hold due to COVID-19, and continued to leverage and grow virtual care for members’ safety and convenience,” said executive vice president and CFO Kathy Lancaster.

The 39-hospital system spent $964 million on capital projects in the third quarter, up from $891 million in the third quarter of 2019.

A lot of the capital spend has been shifted into the IT arena to boost patient and member access to various digital health services such as telehealth, Tom Meier, corporate treasurer of Kaiser, told Becker’s. It also included ongoing multi-year projects and maintenance of its hospitals.

Compared to the third quarter of 2019, Kaiser’s operating income fell 25.9 percent to $456 million. 

Largely due to the result of returns in the financial market, the system ended the third quarter of 2020 with a net income of $2 billion. In the same quarter last year, Kaiser recorded a net income of $1.2 billion.

In the third quarter, Kaiser saw its non-operating income reach $1.5 billion, up from $556 million in the third quarter of 2019, Mr. Meier said.

Kaiser also offers a health plan to members across the U.S. As of Sept. 30, Kaiser had 12.4 million health plan members, representing a loss of 11,000 members in the third quarter. The decline was largely attributed to members losing access to their employer-sponsored plan as unemployment went up in the state. However, this decline was offset slightly by members purchasing individual plans or being enrolled in a government-sponsored plan, Mr. Meier said. 

For the nine-month period ended Sept. 30, Kaiser reported a net income of $5.4 billion on revenue of $66.6 billion. In the same nine-month period in 2019, the health system recorded a net income of $6.4 billion on revenue of $63.7 billion.

The health system continues to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Through the third quarter the system has cared for 185,000 COVID-19 patients and tested nearly 2 million people for the novel virus. 

11 hospitals laying off workers

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The financial challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have forced hundreds of hospitals across the nation to furlough, lay off or reduce pay for workers, and others have had to scale back services or close. 

Lower patient volumes, canceled elective procedures and higher expenses tied to the pandemic have created a cash crunch for hospitals. U.S. hospitals are estimated to lose more than $323 billion this year, according to a report from the American Hospital Association. The total includes $120.5 billion in financial losses the AHA predicts hospitals will see from July to December. 

Hospitals are taking a number of steps to offset financial damage. Executives, clinicians and other staff are taking pay cuts, capital projects are being put on hold, and some employees are losing their jobs. More than 260 hospitals and health systems furloughed workers this year and dozens of others have implemented layoffs. 

Below are 11 hospitals and health systems that announced layoffs since Sept. 1, most of which were attributed to financial strain caused by the pandemic. 

1. NorthBay Healthcare, a nonprofit health system based in Fairfield, Calif., is laying off 31 of its 2,863 employees as part of its pandemic recovery plan, the system announced Nov. 2. 

2. Minneapolis-based Children’s Minnesota is laying off 150 employees, or about 3 percent of its workforce. Children’s Minnesota cited several reasons for the layoffs, including the financial hit from the COVID-19 pandemic. Affected employees will end their employment either Dec. 31 or March 31.

3. Brattleboro Retreat, a psychiatric and addiction treatment hospital in Vermont, notified 85 employees in late October that they would be laid off within 60 days. 

4. Citing a need to offset financial losses, Minneapolis-based M Health Fairview said it plans to downsize its hospital and clinic operations. As a result of the changes, 900 employees, about 3 percent of its 34,000-person workforce, will be laid off.

5. Lake Charles (La.) Memorial Health System laid off 205 workers, or about 8 percent of its workforce, as a result of damage sustained from Hurricane Laura. The health system laid off employees at Moss Memorial Health Clinic and the Archer Institute, two facilities in Lake Charles that sustained damage from the hurricane.

6. Burlington, Mass.-based Wellforce laid off 232 employees as a result of operating losses linked to the COVID-19 pandemic. The health system, comprising Tufts Medical Center, Lowell General Hospital and MelroseWakefield Healthcare, experienced a drastic drop in patient volume earlier this year due to the suspension of outpatient visits and elective surgeries. In the nine months ended June 30, the health system reported a $32.2 million operating loss. 

7. Baptist Health Floyd in New Albany, Ind., part of Louisville, Ky.-based Baptist Health, eliminated 36 positions. The hospital said the cuts, which primarily affected administrative and nonclinical roles, are due to restructuring that is “necessary to meet financial challenges compounded by COVID-19.”

8. Cincinnati-based UC Health laid off about 100 employees. The job cuts affected both clinical and non-clinical staff. A spokesperson for the health system said no physicians were laid off. 

9. Mercy Iowa City (Iowa) announced in September that it will lay off 29 employees to address financial strain tied to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

10. Springfield, Ill.-based Memorial Health System laid off 143 employees, or about 1.5 percent of the five-hospital system’s workforce. The health system cited financial pressures tied to the pandemic as the reason for the layoffs. 

11. Watertown, N.Y.-based Samaritan Health announced Sept. 8 that it laid off 51 employees and will make other cost-cutting moves to offset financial stress tied to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Healthcare executives fear for their organizations’ viability without a COVID-19 vaccine

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A complete financial recovery for many organizations is still far away, findings from Kaufman Hall indicate.

For the past three years, Kaufman Hall has released annual healthcare performance reports illustrating how hospitals and health systems are managing, both financially and operationally.

This year, however, with the pandemic altering the industry so broadly, the report took a different approach: to see how COVID-19 impacted hospitals and health systems across the country. The report’s findings deal with finances, patient volumes and recovery.

The report includes survey answers from respondents almost entirely (96%) from hospitals or health systems. Most of the respondents were in executive leadership (55%) or financial roles (39%). Survey responses were collected in August 2020.

FINANCIAL IMPACT

Findings from the report indicate that a complete financial recovery for many organizations is still far away. Almost three-quarters of the respondents said they were either moderately or extremely concerned about their organization’s financial viability in 2021 without an effective vaccine or treatment.

Looking back on the operating margins for the second quarter of the year, 33% of respondents saw their operating margins decline by more than 100% compared to the same time last year.

Revenue cycles have taken a hit from COVID-19, according to the report. Survey respondents said they are seeing increases in bad debt and uncompensated care (48%), higher percentages of uninsured or self-pay patients (44%), more Medicaid patients (41%) and lower percentages of commercially insured patients (38%).

Organizations also noted that increases in expenses, especially for personal protective equipment and labor, have impacted their finances. For 22% of respondents, their expenses increased by more than 50%.

IMPACT ON PATIENT VOLUMES

Although volumes did increase over the summer, most of the improvement occurred in areas where it is difficult to delay care, such as oncology and cardiology. For example, oncology was the only field where more than half of respondents (60%) saw their volumes recover to more than 90% of pre-pandemic levels.

More than 40% of respondents said that cardiology volumes are operating at more than 90% of pre-pandemic levels. Only 37% of respondents can say the same for orthopedics, neurology and radiology, and 22% for pediatrics.

Emergency department usage is also down as a result of the pandemic, according to the report. The respondents expect that this trend will persist beyond COVID-19 and that systems may need to reshape their business model to account for a drop in emergency department utilization.

Most respondents also said they expect to see overall volumes remain low through the summer of 2021, with some planning for suppressed volumes for the next three years.

RECOVERY MEASURES

Hospitals and health systems have taken a number of approaches to reduce costs and mitigate future revenue declines. The most common practices implemented are supply reprocessing, furloughs and salary reductions, according to the report.

Executives are considering other tactics such as restructuring physician contracts, making permanent labor reductions, changing employee health plan benefits and retirement plan contributions, or merging with another health system as additional cost reduction measures.

THE LARGER TREND

Kaufman Hall has been documenting the impact of COVID-19 hospitals since the beginning of the pandemic. In its July report, hospital operating margins were down 96% since the start of the year.

As a result of these losses, hospitals, health systems and advocacy groups continue to push Congress to deliver another round of relief measures.

Earlier this month, the House passed a $2.2 trillion stimulus bill called the HEROES Act, 2.0. The bill has yet to pass the Senate, and the chances of that happening are slim, with Republicans in favor of a much smaller, $500 billion package. Nothing is expected to happen prior to the presidential election.

The Department of Health and Human Services also recently announced the third phase of general distribution for the Provider Relief Fund. Applications are currently open and will close on Friday, November 6.