After decades as a hospital operator, Tenet shifts its focus to surgery centers

The company’s surgery centers far outnumber its hospital portfolio, and its ambulatory earnings will account for nearly half of overall earnings next year.

Tenet Health got its start as a major hospital operator in the U.S. and can trace its hospital business roots as far back as 1969. But it may be time to think of the Dallas-based company as an ambulatory surgery center operator, first, and a hospital chain, second.

Following its latest acquisition, Tenet’s ASC footprint will be nearly five times larger by the number of facilities than its hospital portfolio, and its ambulatory earnings will account for nearly half of the company’s overall earnings next year, executives recently said. That’s a significant leap from about six years ago when ambulatory represented just 4% of the company’s earnings.

“From a stock perspective, I think they’re going to get more credit now for that ownership of the surgery center business than ever just because of the size contribution,” Brian Tanquilut, an analyst with Jefferies, said.

Still he noted they will likely retain their image as a hospital provider first given that half its business (and earnings) are subject to the dynamics of the hospital space.

Tenet will now operate up to 310 ASCs in 33 states following its $1.1 billion cash deal to buy up to 45 centers from SurgCenter Development.

Tenet has billed its purchase from SurgCenter Development as a transformative deal, crowning itself the leading musculoskeletal surgical platform.

SurgCenter Development is one of the larger ASC operators in the country. The Towson, Maryland-based firm has developed more than 200 centers since the company was officially established in 2002. SCD’s business model calls for its physician partners to maintain majority ownership while SCD provides consulting and capital.

In fact, Tenet will pull ahead of the pack and will operate the most ASCs compared to its competitors, according to various public data.

Amsurg, an ASC operator under private equity-owned Envision, controls more than 250 surgery centers, according to its website, followed by Optum’s 230 centers under its Surgical Care Affiliates brand.

OwnerNumber of ASCs (fully or partially owned)
Tenet Health310
Amsurg (Envision) 250
Surgical Care Affiliates (Optum) 230
SurgCenter Development122
HCA121
Surgery Partners111
Total Medicare-certified ASCs in U.S.5,700

Still, those large players only control a sliver of the overall market. There are more than 5,700 Medicare-certified ASCs operating in the U.S., according to MedPac’s latest March report.

The market is so fragmented because, historically, a handful of doctors could come together and open up a small surgery center with a few operating rooms, Todd Johnson, a partner at Bain and Company, said. Johnson noted there are not that many deals like this out there, which is why it’s significant that Tenet was able to gobble up 45 centers in one swoop.

“We’re a long way from this being a market where any individual operator’s got 30% of market share. There’s just so many of these out there,” Johnson said.

What’s so attractive?

Regulatory and reimbursement changes and patient preference continues to fuel certain procedure migration away from hospitals.

“For payers, typically, the surgery rates are 30 to 40% less than the same procedure that’s done in a hospital outpatient department. So, payers certainly value the economic value proposition of ASCs,” Johnson said.

Just recently, regulators cleared the way for more procedures to be done in ASCs. CMS is eliminating the list of procedures that must be performed in a hospital, drawing ire from the hospital lobby. The inpatient-only list will be completely phased out by 2024, creating even more growth potential for surgery centers. Come Jan. 1, total hip replacements will be covered if performed in an ASC, a huge win for ASC operators.

It’s why hospital operators like Tenet have been keen to expand their surgery center footprint. The centers attract relatively healthy patients for quick procedures — eating into hospitals’ revenue and margin.

“This further move only solidifies the fact that they are trying to diversify their revenue streams, and, frankly move into a more attractive economic profile of procedure types — not trauma and COVID but rather scheduled surgeries they can run in and out like a factory but with really good clinical outcomes,” Johnson said.

To this point, Tenet leaders said the new SurgCenter Development centers generate higher margins and have minimal debt.

Patients also tend to prefer ASCs, Johnson said. Plus, as a lower cost option it can be persuasive for patients, especially those with high-deductible health plans.

Long-term strategy

Tenet has continued to bet on the shift from inpatient to outpatient services following its purchase of USPI in 2015.

The purchase set Tenet up to be a serious competitor in the space, establishing a portfolio of 244 surgery centers when the deal was announced. It illustrated Tenet’s intent to build a broader portfolio.

At the same time, it has whittled down its hospital portfolio, divesting in markets where it isn’t the No. 1 or No. 2 player as it seeks to hone its most competitive segments and markets.

Just last year, it announced plans to largely exit the Memphis, Tennessee, market with the sale of a number of assets including two hospitals, urgent care centers and the associated physician practices.

In 2018, Tenet shed all of its operations in the U.K. and eight hospitals across the U.S. 

That long-term strategy was made clearer last week when Tenet announced its sale of its urgent care business to FastMed. By selling off its 87 CareSpot and MedPost centers, Tenet said it will allow the company to further focus on its surgery center business.

Tenet has been keen to tout its position of musculosketel procedures — a high growth area compared to other procedure types such as gastroenterology. A 2019 report from Bain and Company expects that orthopaedic and spine procedure volumes will increase the fastest over the next few years.

With the SCD centers in the mix, CEO Ron Rittenmeyer said, “this transaction ensures Tenet will essentially double down and further deepen our concentration in these high growth areas of the future.”

Healthcare Executives See a Mixed Outlook

https://www.jpmorgan.com/commercial-banking/insights/healthcare-mixed-outlook

Image result for Healthcare Executives See a Mixed Outlook

In a recent survey of healthcare leaders, most were confident about their own organizations going into the new year. But respondents expressed concern about a range of evolving industry-wide challenges, including costs, technology and talent.

A majority of US healthcare executives surveyed by J.P. Morgan said they were optimistic about the financial performance of their own organizations going into 2019, as well as the national and local economies. But most were less positive about the outlook for the industry as a whole, with 28 percent expressing pessimism and another 31 percent merely neutral.

National economy 71% optimistic, 20% neutral, 9% pessimistic
Healthcare Industry's performance 41% optimistic, 31% neutral, 28% pessimistic
Your organization's performance 62% optimistic, 13% neutral, 25% pessimistic
Legend - Optimistic, Blue
Legend: Neutral Gray
Legend: Pessimistic, Green

Respondents to the survey, conducted Oct. 16 to Nov. 2 of 2018, said their biggest concerns were revenue growth, rising expenses and labor costs. The executives said their organizations plan to invest the most in information technology and physician recruitment.

Healthcare Changes Shape Perceptions

The pessimism about the industry likely stems, in part, from regulatory uncertainty and an ongoing shift from a fee-for-service model toward a value-based payment system, said Will Williams, Senior Healthcare Industry Executive within J.P. Morgan’s Commercial Banking Healthcare group. “Healthcare is going through the most transition of any industry in the country right now,” he said. Amid this upheaval, healthcare organizations face a combination of challenges, including lower reimbursement rates for Medicaid and Medicare patients, increased competition, and higher costs for labor, pharmaceuticals and technology investments.

The optimism that executives feel about their own hospital or healthcare group may come from a sense that an individual organization can adapt to industry changes, said Jenny Edwards, Commercial Banker in the healthcare practice at J.P. Morgan. “You can control certain factors, and make adjustments to compensate for the headwinds.”

Biggest Challenges for the New Year

Growth Strategies

For 61 percent of respondents, the focus is on attracting new patients, followed by expanding target markets or lines of business (53 percent), and expanding or diversifying product and service offerings (44 percent). Hospitals, for example, have worked to add more patients to their broader healthcare system by opening clinics for urgent care or physical therapy, Edwards said.

As patient habits change, hospital systems have needed to become more consumer-focused, Edwards said. Patients are more likely to shop around for their care, expect transparent pricing and review healthcare workers on social media sites. This “retail-ization” trend in healthcare is accelerating, Edwards said. “You can shop for healthcare like you would a new pair of jeans.”

Skilled Talent Wanted

The talent shortage is top of mind for many healthcare executives, with 92 percent of survey respondents saying they were at least somewhat concerned with finding candidates with the right skill set. For 35 percent of respondents, the talent shortage is one of their top three challenges.

For those respondents who expressed concern, the most difficulty arises in filling positions for physicians (52 percent) and nurses (46 percent). To address the challenge, 76 percent said they expect to increase compensation of their staff over the next 12 months. According to 37 percent of respondents, the talent pool’s high compensation expectations factor into the shortage.

Most Challenging Positions to Fill

52%
46%
38%
29%
21%
21%

The talent shortage is an issue across the industry, Williams said, and burnout among doctors and nurses presents an ongoing problem. One contributing cause could be evolving changes in daily practice, with considerably more time today spent on electronic medical record entries and less on patient care. Williams said, “Doctors are getting frustrated. The problem is trying to replace those doctors as they quit practicing.”

Healthcare executives are particularly concerned about shortages of primary care professionals. “Rural communities already have these shortages,” said Brendan Corrigan, Vice Chair of the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Council.

Labor costs tend to be higher in healthcare than in other sectors, Williams said, as a hospital must have coverage for all of its major roles 24 hours a day. When asked where they struggle with workforce management, the survey respondents cite staff turnover and its associated cost (47 percent), the ability to flex staff based on patient volumes (41 percent), and the cost of overtime and premium labor (36 percent). These workforce issues not only represent specific challenges; they all contribute to labor costs, which, as noted above, rank in the top three challenges for 2019.

Investments for a Changing Industry

A majority (51 percent) of organizations plan to invest in IT over the next 12 months. Other areas for investment included physician recruitment (44 percent) and new or replacement facilities (36 percent).

Since healthcare organizations manage a large amount of private patient health information, data security remains a large part of IT expenditures. “It’s a huge focus—they’re spending a lot of time and money on preventing a breach,” Edwards said. She goes on to note that the transition to patient EMR systems brings another big IT expense—more than $1 billion for the largest healthcare systems.

Overall, the survey showed healthcare executives grappling with rising costs and structural changes that affect the entire industry. “Healthcare is trying to figure out how to fix themselves,” Williams said.