In Defense of Value: A Response to Ken Kaufman

In an Oct. 5, 2022, commentary, Ken Kaufman offers a full-throated and heartfelt defense of non-profit healthcare during a time of significant financial hardship. Ken describes 2022 as “the worst financial year for hospitals in memory.” His concern is legitimate. The foundations of the nonprofit healthcare business model appear to be collapsing. I’ve known and worked with Ken Kaufman for decades. He is the life force behind Kaufman Hall, a premier financial and strategic advisor to nonprofit hospitals and health systems. The American Hospital Association uses Kaufman Hall’s analysis of hospitals’ underlying financial trends to support its plea for Congressional funding. Beyond the red ink, Ken laments the “media free-for-all challenging the tax-exempt status, financial practices, and ostensible market power of not-for-profit hospitals and health systems.” He is referring to three recent investigative reports on nonprofits’ skimpy levels of charity care (Wall Street Journal), aggressive collection tactics (New York Times) and 340B drug purchasing program abuses (New York Times). Ken has never been timid about expressing his opinions. He’s passionate, partisan and proud. His defense of nonprofit healthcare chronicles their selfless care of critically ill patients, the 24/7 demands on their resources and their commitment to treating the uninsured. These “must have clinical services…don’t just magically appear.” Nonprofit healthcare needs “our support and validation in the face of extreme economic conditions and organizational headwinds. ”Given his personality, it’s not surprising that Ken’s strident rhetoric in defending nonprofit healthcare reminds me of the famous “You can’t handle the truth” exchange between Lieutenant Kaffee (Tom Cruise) and Colonel Jessup (Jack Nicholson) from the 1992 movie “A Few Good Men.” Kaffee presses Jessup on whether he ordered a “code red” that led to the death of a soldier under his command. When Kaffee declares he’s entitled to the truth, Jessup erupts,… I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man that rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom I provide and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you say, “thank you” and be on your way. Should American society just say “thank you” to nonprofit healthcare and provide the massive incremental funding required to sustain their current operations?
Truth and Consequences
(Download PDF here)The social theorist Thomas Sowell astutely observed, “If you want to help someone, tell them the truth. If you want to help yourself, tell them what they want to hear.” In this commentary, Ken Kaufman is telling nonprofit healthcare exactly what they want to hear. The truth is more nuanced, troubling and inconvenient. Healthcare now consumes 20 percent of the national economy and the American people are sicker than ever. Despite the high healthcare funding levels, the CDC recently reported in U.S. life expectancy dropped almost a full year in 2021. Other wealthy nations experienced increases in life expectancy. Combining 2020 and 2021, the 2.7-year drop in U.S. life expectancy is the largest since the early 1920s. During an interview regarding the September 28, 2022, White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health, Senator Cory Booker highlighted two facts that capture America’s healthcare dilemma. One in three government dollars funds healthcare expenditure. Half of Americans suffer from diabetes or pre-diabetes.As a nation, we’re chasing our tail by prioritizing treatment over prevention. Particularly in low-income rural and urban communities, there is a breathtaking lack of vital primary care, disease management and mental health services. Instead of preventing disease, our healthcare system has become adept at keeping sick people alive with a diminished life quality. There is plenty of money in the system to amputate a foot but little to manage the diabetes that necessitates the amputation. Despite mission statements to the contrary, nonprofit healthcare follows the money. The only meaningful difference between nonprofit and for-profit healthcare is tax status. Each seeks to maximize treatment revenues by manipulating complex payment formularies and using market leverage to negotiate higher commercial payment rates. According to Grandview Research, the market for revenue cycle management in 2022 is $140.4 billion and forecasted to grow at a 10% annual rate through 2030. By contrast, Ibis World forecasts the U.S. automobile market to grow 2.6% in 2022 to reach $100.9 billion. Unbelievably, in today’s America, processing medical claims is far more lucrative than manufacturing and selling cars and trucks. According to CMS’s National Expenditure Report for 2020, hospitals (31%) and physicians and clinical services (20%) accounted for over half of national healthcare expenditures. This included $175 billion allocated to providers through the CARES Act. Despite the massive waste embedded within healthcare delivery, the CARES Act funding gave providers the illusion that America would continue to fund its profligate and often ineffective operations. It’s not at all surprising that healthcare providers now want, even expect, more emergency funding. Change is hard. Not even during COVID did providers give up their insistence on volume-based payment. Providers did not embrace proven virtual care and hospital-at-home business practices until CMS guaranteed equivalent payment to existing in-hospital/clinic service provision. Even with parity payment and the massive CARES Act funding, there was uneven care access for COVID patients. Particularly in low-income communities, tens of thousands died because they did not receive appropriate care. More of the same approach to healthcare delivery will yield more of the same dismal results. Healthcare providers have had over a decade to advance value-based care (VBC). I define VBC as the right care at the right time in the right place at the right price. Instead of pursuing VBC, providers have doubled-down on volume-driven business models that attract higher-paying commercially-insured patients. Despite the relative ease of migrating service provision to lower-cost settings, providers insist on operating high-cost, centralized delivery models (think hospitals). They want society, writ large, to continue paying premium prices for routine care. It’s time to stop. As a country, we need less healthcare and more health.
A Fourth Question
(Download PDF here)

When I give speeches to healthcare audiences, I typically begin with three yes-or-no questions about U.S. healthcare to establish the foundation for my subsequent observations. Here they are. Question #1: The U.S. spends 20% of its economy on healthcare. The big country with the next highest percentage spend is France at 12%. How many believe we need to spend more than 20% of our economy to provide great healthcare to everyone in the country? No one ever raises their hand. Question #2: The CDC estimates that 90% of healthcare expenditure goes to treat individuals with chronic disease and mental health conditions. How many believe we’re winning the war against chronic disease and mental health conditions? No one ever raises their hand. Question #3: Given the answer to the previous two questions, how many believe the system needs to shift resources from acute and specialty care into health promotion, primary care, chronic disease management and behavioral health? Everyone raises their hands. This short exercise is quite revealing. It demonstrates that healthcare doesn’t have a funding problem. It has a distribution problem. It also demonstrates that providers aren’t adequately addressing our most critical healthcare challenge, exploding chronic disease and mental health conditions. Finally, the industry needs major restructuring.

The real questions about reforming healthcare are less about what to reform and more about how to undertake reform. The increasing media scrutiny that Ken Kaufman references as well as growing consumer frustrations with healthcare service provision, demonstrate that healthcare is losing the battle for America’s hearts and minds.

Markets are unforgiving. The operating losses most nonprofit providers are experiencing reflect a harsh reality. Their current business models are not sustainable. An economic reckoning is underway. The long arc of economics points toward value. As healthcare deconstructs, the nation’s acute care footprint will shrink, hospitals will close and value-based care delivery will advance. The process will be messy.

The devolving healthcare marketplace led me to ask a fourth question recently in Nashville during a keynote speech to the Council of Pharmacy Executives and Suppliers. Here it is. Question #4: As the healthcare system reforms, will that process be evolutionary (reflecting incremental change) or revolutionary (reflecting fundamental change). Two-thirds voted that the change would be revolutionary. That response is just one data point but it reflects why post-COVID healthcare reform is different than the reform efforts that have preceded it. The costs of maintaining status-quo healthcare are simply too high. From a policy perspective, either market-driven healthcare reforms will drive better outcomes at lower costs (that’s my hope) or America will shift to a government-managed healthcare system like those in Germany, France and Japan.

Like Ken Kaufman, I admire frontline healthcare workers and believe we need to make their vital work less burdensome. I also sympathize with health system executives who are struggling to overcome legacy business practices and massive operating deficits. Unfortunately, most are relying on revenue-maximizing playbooks rather than reconfiguring their operations to advance consumerism and value-based care delivery.

Unlike Ken Kaufman, I believe it’s time for some tough love with nonprofit healthcare providers. Payers must tie new incremental funding to concrete movement into value-based care delivery. This was the argument Zeke Emanuel, Merrill Goozner and I made in a two-part commentary (part 1part 2) in Health Affairs earlier this year. It’s also why the HFMA, where I serve on the Board, has made “cost effectiveness of health (CEoH)” its new operating mantra.

While this truth may be hard, it also is liberating. Freeing nonprofit organizations from their attachment to perverse payment incentives can create the impetus to embrace consumerism and value. Kinder, smarter and affordable care for all Americans will follow.

Hospitals need ‘transformational changes’ to stem margin erosion

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/Fitch-ratings-nonprofit-hospital-changes/627662/

Dive Brief:

  • Nonprofit hospitals are reporting thinner margins this year, stretched by rising labor, supply and capital costs, and will be pressed to make big changes to their business models or risk negative rating actions, Fitch Ratings said in a report out Tuesday.
  • Warning that it could take years for provider margins to recover to pre-pandemic levels, Fitch outlined a series of steps necessary to manage the inflationary pressures. Those moves include steeper rate increases in the short term and “relentless, ongoing cost-cutting and productivity improvements” over the medium term, the ratings agency said.
  • Further out on the horizon, “improvement in operating margins from reduced levels will require hospitals to make transformational changes to the business model,” Fitch cautioned.

Dive Insight:

It has been a rough year so far for U.S. hospitals, which are navigating labor shortages, rising operating costs and a rebound in healthcare utilization that has followed the suppressed demand of the early pandemic. 

The strain on operations has resulted in five straight months of negative margins for health systems, according to Kaufman Hall’s latest hospital performance report.

Fitch said the majority of the hospitals it follows have strong balance sheets that will provide a cushion for a period of time. But with cost inflation at levels not seen since the late 1970s and early 1980s, and the potential for additional coronavirus surges this fall and winter, more substantial changes to hospitals’ business models could be necessary to avoid negative rating actions, the agency said.

Providers will look to secure much higher rate increases from commercial payers. However, insurers are under similar pressures as hospitals and will push back, using leverage gained through the sector’s consolidation, the report said.

As a result, commercial insurers’ rate increases are likely to exceed those of recent years, but remain below the rate of inflation in the short term, Fitch said. Further, federal budget deficits make Medicare or Medicaid rate adjustments to offset inflation unlikely.

An early look at state regulatory filings this summer suggests insurers who offer plans on the Affordable Care Act exchanges will seek substantial premium hikes in 2023, according to an analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation. The median rate increase requested by 72 ACA insurers was 10% in the KFF study.

Inflation is pushing more providers to consider mergers and acquisitions to create economies of scale, Fitch said. But regulators are scrutinizing deals more strenuously due to concerns that consolidation will push prices even higher. With increased capital costs, rising interest rates and ongoing supply chain disruptions, hospitals’ plans for expansion or renovations will cost more or may be postponed, the report said.

Acknowledging the losses that come with a new strategy

https://mailchi.mp/30feb0b31ba0/the-weekly-gist-july-15-2022?e=d1e747d2d8

Embarking on a new strategy requires myriad organizational changes—which will inevitably come with losses. Some parts of the business, people, roles, processes, and traditions will inevitably be deemphasized, or even eliminated from the organization. A recent article in the Harvard Business Review identifies how leaders launching new strategies typically spend a significant amount of time trying to plan for the unpredictable future, while overlooking one of the most predictable parts of any change in strategy: what will be lost when something else is gained.

The Gist: It is critical to identify, acknowledge, and plan for these losses in adopting any new strategy, as the unexpressed fear of loss is a key driver of organizational inertia and resistance to change.

With health systems deep in strategy development for the post-COVID marketleaders must take into account the wide range of challenges their organizations will face when it comes to reconfiguring investment, growth, competencies, and people, in addition to focusing on new areas of opportunity revealed by the pandemic. 

Failing to confront these tradeoffs head-on may sacrifice any strategic gains resulting from new initiatives.

Shriners to end inpatient care at Massachusetts hospital

Tampa, Fla.-based Shriners Hospitals for Children is transitioning its Springfield, Mass., campus into an outpatient clinic model, NBC/CW affiliate WWLP reported April 20.

Current outpatient services won’t be affected, except that ambulatory surgery will end.

The hospital gave the Massachusetts Department of Public Health a 120-day notice of the plan on March 31, Western Mass News reported April 20.

“The advancement of surgical procedures has resulted in very few patients requiring admission for inpatient pediatric services, which are the cornerstone of a hospital facility,” Shriners said in a letter obtained by Western Mass News. “Accordingly, after evaluating the needs of our patients, we have determined that Shriners Hospitals for Children may best serve our patients and fulfill our charitable mission by transitioning this location from a hospital to an outpatient clinic model.”

Even the largest health systems dwarfed by industry giants

https://mailchi.mp/f6328d2acfe2/the-weekly-gist-the-grizzly-bear-conflict-manager-edition?e=d1e747d2d8

Insurers, retailers, and other healthcare companies vastly exceed health system scale, dwarfing even the largest hospital systems. The graphic above illustrates how the largest “mega-systems” lag other healthcare industry giants, in terms of gross annual revenue. 

Amazon and Walmart, retail behemoths that continue to elbow into the healthcare space, posted 2021 revenue that more than quintuples that of the largest health system, Kaiser Permanente. The largest health systems reported increased year-over-year revenue in 2021, largely driven by higher volumes, as elective procedures recovered from the previous year’s dip.

However, according to a recent Kaufman Hall report, while health systems, on average, grew topline revenue by 15 percent year-over-year, they face rising expenses, and have yet to return to pre-pandemic operating margins. 

Meanwhile, the larger companies depicted above, including Walmart, Amazon, CVS Health, and UnitedHealth Group, are emerging from the pandemic in a position of financial strength, and continue to double down on vertical integration strategies, configuring an array of healthcare assets into platform businesses focused on delivering value directly to consumers.

Could physician “income inequality” hold back the medical group?

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

Physicians' income inequality | British Columbia Medical Journal

We spoke this week with a medical group president looking to deploy a more consistent consumer experience across his health system’s physician practices, beginning with primary care.

The discussion quickly turned to two large primary care practices, acquired several years ago, whose doctors are extremely resistant to change. “These guys have built a fee-for-service model that has been extremely lucrative,” the executive shared. “It was a battle getting them on centralized scheduling a few years ago, and now they’re pushing back against telemedicine.”

With ancillary income included, many of these “entrepreneurial” primary care doctors are making over $700K annually, while the rest of the system’s full-time primary care physicians average around $250K.

The situation raises several questions. Standardized access and consistent experience are foundational to consumer strategy; in the words of one CEO, if our system’s name is on the door, any of our care sites should feel like they are part of the same system, from the patient’s perspective.

But how can we get physicians on board with “systemization” if they think it puts their income at risk? Should the system guarantee income to “keep them whole”, and for how long? And is it possible to create consensus across a group of doctors with a three-fold disparity in incomeand widely divergent interests? While there are no easy answers, putting patients and consumers first must be the guiding goal of the system.

How Professionals get trapped into SISI

No photo description available.

This is how the professionals get trapped into SISI – Single Income, Single Identity.

A “mouse” was put at the top of a jar filled with grains. He was too happy to find so much of food around him. Now he doesn’t need to run around searching for food and can happily lead his life. As he enjoyed the grains, in few days time, he reached to the bottom of the jar. Now he is trapped and he cannot come out of it. He has to solely depend upon someone to put grains in the same jar for him to survive. He may even not get the grain of his choice and he cannot choose either. If he has to live, he has to feed on whatever has been put into the jar.

Here are top 4 lessons from this:
1) Short term pleasures can lead to long-term traps.
2) If things are coming easy and you are getting comfortable, you are getting trapped into survival mode.
3) When you are not using your potential, you are losing it.
4) If you don’t take right Action at right time, you will finish what you have and will be in no position to come out.

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

https://www.healthcarefinancenews.com/news/healthcare-executives-fear-their-organizations-viability-without-covid-19-vaccine

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.

Bringing bots into the health system

https://mailchi.mp/95e826d2e3bc/the-weekly-gist-august-28-2020?e=d1e747d2d8

Robotic Process Automation – Everything You Need to Know - Part 1 -  ITChronicles

This week we hosted a member webinar on an application of artificial intelligence (AI) that’s generating a lot of buzz these days in healthcare—robotic process automation (RPA).

That bit of tech jargon translates to finding repetitive, often error-prone tasks performed by human staff, and implementing “bots” to perform them instead. The benefit? Fewer mistakes, the ability to redeploy talent to less “mindless” work (often with the unexpected benefit of improving employee engagement), and the potential to capture substantial efficiencies. That last feature makes RPA especially attractive in the current environment, in which systems are looking for any assistance in lowering operating expenses. 

Typical processes where RPA can be used to augment human staff include revenue cycle tasks like managing prior authorization, simplifying claims processing, and coordinating patient scheduling. Indeed, the health insurance industry is far ahead of the provider community in implementing these machine-driven approaches to productivity improvement.

We heard early “lessons learned” from one member system, Fountain Valley, CA-based MemorialCare, who’s been working with Columbus, OH-based Olive.ai, which bills itself as the only “AI as a service” platform built exclusively for healthcare.

Listening to their story, we were particularly struck by the fact that RPA is far more than “just” another IT project with an established start and finish, but rather an ongoing strategic effort. MemorialCare has been particularly thoughtful about involving senior leaders in finance, operations, and HR in identifying and implementing their RPA strategy, making sure that cross-functional leaders are “joined at the hip” to manage what could prove to be a truly revolutionary technology.

Having identified scores of potential applications for RPA, they’re taking a deliberate approach to rollout for the first dozen or so applications. One critical step: ensuring that processes are “optimized” (via lean or other process improvement approaches) before they are “automated”. MemorialCare views RPA implementation as an opportunity to catalyze the organization for change—“It’s not often that one solution can help push the entire system forward,” in the words of one senior system executive.

We’ll be keeping an eye on this burgeoning space for interesting applications, as health systems identify new ways to deploy “the bots” across the enterprise.