HCA Healthcare and Tenet Healthcare acquire more outpatient assets

https://mailchi.mp/0b6c9295412a/the-weekly-gist-january-7-2022?e=d1e747d2d8

FGI releases outpatient facility guide | 2018-01-10 | Health Facilities  Management
  1. HCA has purchased MD Now Urgent Care, Florida’s largest urgent care chain, adding 59 urgent care centers to its existing 170. Meanwhile Tenet’s $1.1B deal to buy SurgCenter Development cements its position as the nation’s largest ambulatory surgery center (ASC) operator, eclipsing Envision-owned AMSURG and Optum-owned Surgical Care Affiliates. 

The Gist: Healthcare services are increasingly moving outpatient and even virtual—a trend only accelerated by the pandemic. With this latest acquisition, Tenet will now own or operate nearly seven times as many ASCs as hospitals. Such national, for-profit systems are looking to add more non-acute assets to their portfolios, to capitalize on a shift fueled by both consumer preference for greater convenience, and purchaser pressure to reduce care costs.  

Tenet inks another $1B deal with SurgCenter Development for ambulatory surgery centers, long-term partnership

Tenet strikes $1.2B surgery center deal - NewsBreak

Dive Brief:

  • Tenet and its subsidiary USPI have entered into a $1.2 billion deal to acquire ambulatory surgery center operator SurgCenter Development, expanding on a previous $1.1 billion cash deal inked with SCD last year.
  • Under the new deal announced Monday, Tenet will acquire SCD’s ownership interests in 92 ambulatory surgery centers and other support services in 21 states.
  • In addition to the acquisition, USPI and SCD plan to enter into a five-year partnership and development agreement in which SCD will help facilitate “continuity and support for SCD’s facilities and physician partners.” USPI will also have exclusivity on developing new projects with SCD during the five-year agreement.

Dive Insight:

Despite being a legacy hospital operator, Tenet’s outpatient surgery business is key to its long-term strategy.

After the latest deal closes, USPI will operate 440 surgery centers in 35 states, Tenet said Tuesday. The acquisition will boost USPI’s footprint in existing markets, such as Florida where it already operates 47 centers and will gain an additional 15. USPI will also enter new markets, such as Michigan, with a sizable footprint at the outset, executives said Tuesday.

The deal includes 65 mature centers and 27 that have opened in the past year or will soon open and start performing their first cases. Tenet may also spend an additional $250 million to acquire equity interests from physician owners.

Tenet leaders touted SCD’s service line mix, pointing out that a significant portion of the cases performed by these centers are for musculoskeletal care, which includes total joint and spine procedures.

The deal is expected to generate $175 million in EBITDA during the first year, executives said. 

SVB Leerink analysts characterized the deal as savvy and said it will reshape the company’s earnings towards a “faster growing, higher margin, and improved capital return profile.”

Heading into 2021, Tenet had expected a greater share of its earnings power to come from its outpatient surgery business. This deal accelerates that aim over the long-term.

In 2014, Tenet’s ambulatory surgery business accounted for just 5% of the company’s overall earnings. Prior to this latest deal, Tenet expected the unit to account for 42% of its overall earnings in 2021.

This latest announcement follows Tenet’s deal in October with Compass Surgical Partners to acquire its ownership and management interests in nine ambulatory surgery centers located in Florida, North Carolina and Texas for an undisclosed sum.

New CMS payment rule is good news, bad news for hospitals

https://mailchi.mp/b5daf4456328/the-weekly-gist-july-23-2021?e=d1e747d2d8

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services - Wikipedia

Two major policy developments emerged from this week’s release by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) of the FY22 proposed rule governing payment for hospital outpatient services and ambulatory surgical centers.

First, CMS proposes to dramatically increase the financial penalties assessed to hospitals that fail to adequately reveal prices for their services, a requirement first put in place by the Trump administration. According to a report by the consumer group Patient Rights Advocate, only 5.6 percent of a random sample of 500 hospitals were in full compliance with the transparency requirement six months after the regulation came into effect, with many instead choosing to pay the $300 per hospital per day penalty associated with noncompliance. The new CMS regulation proposes to scale the assessed penalties in accordance with hospital size, with larger hospitals liable for up to $2M in annual penalties, a substantial increase from the earlier $109,500 maximum annual fine. In a press release, the agency said it “takes seriously concerns it has heard from consumers that hospitals are not making clear, accessible pricing information available online, as they have been required to do since January 1, 2021.” In a statement, the AHA stated that it was “deeply concerned” about the proposal, “particularly in light of substantial uncertainty in the interpretation of the rules.” The penalty hike is a clear signal that the Biden administration plans to put teeth behind its new push for more competition in healthcare, which was a major focus of the President’s recent executive order. We’d expect to see most hospitals and health systems quickly move to comply with the transparency rule, given the size of potential penalties.
 
More heartening to hospitals was CMS’ proposal to roll back changes the Trump administration made, aimed at shifting certain surgical procedures into lower cost, ambulatory settings. The agency proposed halting the elimination of the Inpatient Only (IPO) list, which specifies surgeries CMS will only pay for if they are performed in an inpatient hospital. Citing patient safety concerns, CMS noted that the phased elimination of the IPO list, which began this year, was undertaken without evaluating whether individual procedures could be safely moved to an outpatient setting. Nearly 300 musculoskeletal procedures have already been eliminated from the list, and will now be added back to the list for 2022, keeping the rest of the list intact while CMS undertakes a formal process to review each procedure. Longer term, we’d anticipate that CMS will look to continue the elimination of inpatient-only restrictions on surgeries, as well as pursuing other policies (such as site-neutral payment) that level the playing field between hospitals and lower-cost outpatient providers. 

For now, hospitals will enjoy a little more breathing room to plan for the financial consequences of that inevitable shift.

The Supreme Court lets site-neutral payment policies proceed

https://mailchi.mp/bfba3731d0e6/the-weekly-gist-july-2-2021?e=d1e747d2d8

Senators urge CMS to reconsider proposal to expand site-neutral policies |  AHA News

This week, the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal challenging Medicare’s 2019 regulation calling for “site-neutral payment” for services provided by hospitals in outpatient settings, clearing the way for the rule’s implementation. The appeal was filed by the American Hospital Association (AHA), along with numerous hospitals and health systems, after a lower court ruling last year upheld the change to Medicare’s reimbursement policies.

The rule aims to level the playing field between independent providers and hospital-owned clinics by curtailing hospitals’ ability to charge higher “facility fees” for services provided in locations they own. Site-neutral payment has been a longstanding target of criticism by health economists and policymakers, who cite the pricing advantage as a driver of consolidation in the industry, which has tended to push the cost of care upward.

The AHA expressed disappointment in the Court’s decision not to hear the appeal, saying that the changes to payment policy “directly undercut the clear intent of Congress to protect them because of the many real and crucial differences between them and other sites of care.” The primary difference, of course, is hospitals’ need to fully allocate their costs across all the services they bill for, making care in lower-acuity settings more expensive than similar care delivered by practices that don’t have to subsidize inpatient hospitals and other costly assets.

Over the years that legitimate business need has turned into a deliberate business model—purchasing independent practices in order to take advantage of higher hospital pricing. As Medicare looks to manage Baby Boomer-driven cost growth, and employers and consumers grapple with rising health spending, expect increasingly rigorous efforts to push back against these kinds of pricing strategies.

ED volume remains persistently down, but at higher acuity

https://mailchi.mp/f42a034b349e/the-weekly-gist-may-28-2021?e=d1e747d2d8

As we shared recently, post-pandemic healthcare volume is not returning evenly. While outpatient volume is rebounding quickly, other settings remain sluggish, especially the emergency department. We partnered with healthcare data analytics company Stratasan to take a closer look at ED volume decline. As shown in the graphic above, nationally, ED visits were down 27 percent in 2020, compared to 2019. ED-only volume (cases that started and ended in the ED) took a large hit across last year, down nearly a third from 2019. We expect that a portion of this ED-only volume will never fully recover to pre-COVID levels, with patient demand permanently shifting to lower-acuity care settings, including virtual, and some patients avoiding care altogether for minor ailments as they learn to “live with” problems like back pain.
 
ED-to-observation volume saw the greatest decline in 2020, likely as a result both of patients avoiding the ED, and presenting in the ED sicker, meeting the criteria for inpatient admission. However, ED-to-inpatient volume, which fell only seven percent in 2020, has been returning. In the second half of 2020, the ED-to-inpatient admission rate was 20 to 30 percent higher than the pre-COVID baseline. Across all three categories of ED volume, pediatrics saw steeper declines compared to adult cases. While some further ED volume rebound is anticipated, health systems should expect that fewer, but sicker, patients will be the new normal for hospital emergency departments. 

Fewer low-acuity patients utilizing high-cost emergency care is good news from a public health perspective, but health systems must bolster other access channels like urgent care and telemedicine to ensure patients have convenient access for emergent care needs.

Hospital volume continues an uneven recovery

Though consumers say they’re increasingly confident in returning to healthcare settings, hospital volume is not returning with the same momentum across the board. Using the most recent data from analytics firm Strata Decision Technology, covering the first quarter of this year, the graphic above shows that observation, inpatient, and emergency department volumes all remain below pre-COVID levels. 

Consumers are still most wary about returning to the emergency department, with volume down nearly 20 percent across the past year. Meanwhile, hospital outpatient visits rebounded quickly, and have been growing steadily month over month, finishing March 2021 at 36 percent above the 2019 level.

Meanwhile, a recent report from the Commonwealth Fund shows that no ambulatory specialty fully made up for the COVID volume hit by the end of last year. But some areas, including rheumatology, urology, and adult primary care, have bounced back faster than others.

With continued success in rolling out vaccines and reducing COVID cases, we’d expect a continued recovery of most hospital visit volume. It may be, however, that some areas, such as the emergency department, will never fully recover to pre-COVID levels. To the extent those visits are now being replaced by more appropriate telemedicine and urgent care utilization, that’s welcome news.

But the continued lag of inpatient admissions indicates that some of the loss of emergency volume is more worrisome—warranting continued efforts on the part of providers to reassure patients it’s safe to use healthcare services. Stay tuned as our team continues to dig into this data.

Another kind of surprise medical bills

Kaiser Health News’ latest edition of its “Bill of the Month” series features a patient who was charged a “facility fee,” which drove up what she owed to more than 10 times higher than what she’d previously paid for the same care.

Why it matters: Facility fees — which are essentially room rental fees, as KHN puts it — are becoming increasingly controversial, and patients often receive the bill without warning.

  • Hospitals aren’t required to inform patients ahead of time about facility fees.
  • Hospitals say they need the revenue to help cover the cost of providing 24/7 care.

What they’re saying: “Facility fees are designed by hospitals in particular to grab more revenue from the weakest party in health care: namely, the individual patient,” Alan Sager, a professor at the Boston University School of Public Health, told KHN.

  • The practice is becoming more popular as more private provider practices are bought by hospitals.
  • “It’s the same physician office it was,” said Trish Riley, executive director of the National Academy for State Health Policy. “Operating in exactly the same way, doing exactly the same services — but the hospital chooses to attach a facility fee to it.”

MedPAC calls for 2% bump to hospital payments, no update for docs in 2022

MedPAC March 2019 Report to the Congress Released - ehospice

A key Medicare advisory panel is calling for a 2% bump to Medicare payments for acute care hospitals for 2022 but no hike for physicians.

The report, released Monday from the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC)—which recommends payment policies to Congress—bases payment rate recommendations on data from 2019. However, the commission did factor in the pandemic when evaluating the payment rates and other policies in the report to Congress, including whether policies should be permanent or temporary.

“The financial stress on providers is unpredictable, although it has been alleviated to some extent by government assistance and rebounding service utilization levels,” the report said.

MedPAC recommended that targeted and temporary funding policies are the best way to help providers rather than a permanent hike for payments that gets increased over time.

“Overall, these recommendations would reduce Medicare spending while preserving beneficiaries’ access to high-quality care,” the report added.

MedPAC expects the effects of the pandemic, which have hurt provider finances due to a drop in healthcare use, to persist into 2021 but to be temporary.

It calls for a 2% update for inpatient and outpatient services for 2022, the same increase it recommended for 2021.

The latest report recommends no update for physicians and other professionals. The panel also does not want any hikes for four payment systems: ambulatory surgical centers, outpatient dialysis facilities, skilled nursing facilities and hospices.

MedPAC also recommends Congress reduce the aggregate hospice cap by 20% and that “ambulatory surgery centers be required to report cost data to [Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS)],” the report said.

But it does call for long-term care hospitals to get a 2% increase and to reduce payments by 5% for home health and inpatient rehabilitation facilities.

The panel also explores the effects of any policies implemented under the COVID-19 public health emergency, which is likely to extend through 2021 and could continue into 2022.

For instance, CMS used the public health emergency to greatly expand the flexibility for providers to be reimbursed for telehealth services. Use of telehealth exploded during the pandemic after hesitancy among patients to go to the doctor’s office or hospital for care.

“Without legislative action, many of the changes will expire at the end of the [public health emergency],” the report said.

MedPAC recommends Congress temporarily continue some of the telehealth expansions for one to two years after the public health emergency ends. This will give lawmakers more time to gather evidence on the impact of telehealth on quality and Medicare spending.

“During this limited period, Medicare should temporarily pay for specified telehealth services provided to all beneficiaries regardless of their location, and it should continue to cover certain newly-covered telehealth services and certain audio-only telehealth services if there is potential for clinical benefit,” according to a release on the report.

After the public health emergency ends, Medicare should also return to paying the physician fee schedule’s facility rate for any telehealth services. This will ensure Medicare can collect data on the cost for providing the services.

“Providers should not be allowed to reduce or waive beneficiary cost-sharing for telehealth services after the [public health emergency],” the report said. “CMS should also implement other safeguards to protect the Medicare program and its beneficiaries from unnecessary spending and potential fraud related to telehealth.”

9 numbers that show how big Walmart’s role in healthcare is

Georgia Is First State For Walmart's 'Health Center' | 90.1 FM WABE

Walmart has continued to grow its presence in healthcare over the past few years, with expansions of its primary care clinics and the launch of its new insurance arm.

Here are nine numbers that show how big Walmart is in healthcare and how it plans to grow:

Walmart has opened 20 standalone healthcare centers and plans to open at least 15 more in 2021. The health centers offer primary care, urgent care, labs, counseling and other services.

Walmart’s board approved a plan in 2018 to scale to 4,000 clinics by 2029. However, that plan is in flux as the retail giant may be rolling back its clinic strategy, according to a February Insider report.

Walmart in January confirmed plans to offer COVID-19 vaccines in 11 states and Puerto Rico.

In 2020, Walmart established 600 COVID-19 testing sites.

Walmart said it believes expanding its standalone clinics will help bring affordable, quality healthcare to more Americans because 90 percent of Americans live within 10 miles of a Walmart store.

The Walmart Health model lowers the cost of delivering healthcare services by about 40 percent for patients, according to Walmart’s former health and wellness president Sean Slovenski.

In October, Walmart partnered with Medicare Advantage insurer Clover Health on its first health insurance plans, which will be available to 500,000 people in eight Georgia counties. 

Walmart’s insurance arm, Walmart Insurance Services, partnered with eight payers during the Medicare open enrollment period in 2020 to sell its Medicare products. Humana, UnitedHealthcre and Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield were among the insurers offering the products.

Walmart is slowing its ambitious push into healthcare, employees and leaked documents reveal

https://www.businessinsider.com/walmart-slowing-healthcare-clinics-strategy-2021-2

Walmart Health

In 2018, Walmart‘s board of directors approved a bold plan to scale to 4,000 clinics by 2029.

The timeline laid out a net investment of $3 billion, not counting profits from the clinics, and a rollout strategy, according to a February 2019 presentation to the board obtained by Insider.

The vision was backed by former Walmart US CEO Greg Foran, the health team’s biggest champion who left Walmart in 2019. And it was dreamed up by Sean Slovenski, who Foran asked to come up with a big idea in healthcare as Walmart’s biggest competitors were pushing deeper into the space.

Now those leaders have been replaced by a team with a different philosophy, and the strategy is in flux at the same time Walmart is dealing with the pandemic and focusing on e-commerce, Insider has learned through conversations with eight former and current employees. 

One coalition inside Walmart is happy with the change of pace —the retailer has 20 clinics currently, with at least 15 slotted for 2021 — because healthcare is hard, and the clinics are a work in progress.

Another coalition is frustrated by what they see as a stark departure from the initial goal to provide inexpensive care for people around the US quickly as possible.

Walmart didn’t comment on whether the rollout was slowing, but said it continued to “experiment” with Walmart Health centers and that the pandemic had reaffirmed its commitment to healthcare. It pointed to the launch of pharmacy curbside delivery, COVID-19 testing sites, and vaccine administration as evidence.