Be Ready for the Reorganized Healthcare Landscape

Running a health system recently has proven to be a very hard job. Mounting losses in the face of higher operating expenses, softer than expected volumes, deferred capex, and strained C-suite succession planning are just a few of the immediate issues with which CEOs and boards must deal.


But frankly, none of those are the biggest strategic issue facing health systems. The biggest
strategic issue
is the reorganization of the American healthcare landscape into an ambulatory care
business that emphasizes competing for covered lives at scale in lower cost and convenient settings
of care. This shift in business model has significant ramifications, if you own and operate acute care
hospitals.


Village MD and Optum are two of the organizations driving the business model shift. They are
owned by large publicly traded companies (Walgreens and UnitedHealth Group, respectively). Both
Optum and Village MD have had a string of announced major patient care acquisitions over the past
few years, none of which is in the acute care space.


The future of American healthcare will likely be dominated by large well-organized and well-run
multi-specialty physician groups with a very strong primary care component. These physician
service companies will be payer agnostic and focused on value-based care, though will still be
prepared to operate in markets where fee-for-service dominates. They will deliver highly
coordinated care in lower cost settings than hospital outpatient departments. And these companies
will be armed with tools and analytics that permit them to manage the care for populations of
patients, in order to deliver both better health outcomes and lower costs.


At the same time this is happening, we are experiencing steady growth in Medicare Advantage.
And along with it, a stream of primary care groups who operate purpose-built clinics to take full risk
on Medicare Advantage populations. These companies include ChenMed, Cano Health and Oak
Street, among others. These organizations use strong culture, training, and analytics to better
manage care, significantly reduce utilization, and produce better health outcomes and lower costs.


Public and private equity capital are pouring into the non-acute care sectors, fueling this growth. As
of the start of 2022, nearly three quarters of all physicians in the US were employed by either
corporate entities
(such as private equity, insurance companies, and pharmacy companies), or
employed by health systems. And this employment trend has accelerated since the start of the
pandemic. The corporate entities, rather than health systems, are driving this increasing trend.
Corporate purchases of physician practices increased by 86% from 2019 to 2021.


What can health systems do? To succeed in the future, you must be the nexus of care for the
covered lives in your community. But that does not mean the health system must own all the
healthcare assets or employ all of the physicians. The health system can be the platform to convene these assets and services in the community. In some respects, it is similar to an Apple iPhone. They are the platform that convenes the apps. Some of those apps are developed and owned by Apple. But many more apps are developed by people outside of Apple, and the iPhone is simply the platform to provide access.


Creating this platform requires a change in mindset. And it requires capital. There are many opportunities for health systems to partner with outside capital providers, such as private equity, to position for the future – from both a capital and a mindset point of view.


The change in mindset, and the access to flexible capital, is necessary as the future becomes more and more about reorganizing into an ambulatory care business that emphasizes competing for covered lives at scale in lower cost and convenient settings of care.

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.

Setting the post-COVID agenda for health systems

https://mailchi.mp/9e0c56723d09/the-weekly-gist-july-8-2022?e=d1e747d2d8

As the economic situation has worsened over the past few months, we’ve been working with several health systems to recalibrate strategy. For many, the anticipated “post-COVID recovery” period has turned into a struggle to reverse declining (often negative) margins, while still scrambling to address mounting workforce shortages. All this amid continued pressure from disruptive competitors and ever-rising consumer expectations.

In the graphic above, we’ve pulled together some of the most important changes we believe health systems need to make. These range from improvements to the operating model (shifting to a team-based approach to staffing, greater use of automation where appropriate, and moving to asset-light capital strategies) to transformations of the clinical model (moving care into lower-cost outpatient and community settings, integrating virtual care into clinical delivery, and creating tighter alignment with key physicians).

In general, the goal is to deliver lower-cost care in less expensive settings, using less expensive staff. 

But those cost-saving strategies will need to be coupled with a new go-to-market approach, including new payment models that reward systems for shifting away from high-cost (and highly reimbursed) care models. 

Employers and consumers will expect more solution-based offerings, which integrate care across the continuum into coherent bundles of service. This will require a more deliberate focus on service line strategies, moving away from a fragmented, inpatient-centric model.

Contracting approaches must align payment with this shift, changing incentives to reward coordinated, cost-effective, outcomes-driven care. 

A key insight from our discussions with health system leaders: short-term cost-cutting initiatives to “stop the bleed” won’t suffice—instead, more permanent solutions will be required that address not only the core operating model, but also the approach to revenue generation. 

The post-COVID environment is turning out to be a lot tougher than many had expected, to say the least.

What the “org chart” can reveal about physician culture 

https://mailchi.mp/ce4d4e40f714/the-weekly-gist-june-10-2022?e=d1e747d2d8

A consultant colleague recently recounted a call from a health system looking for support in physician alignment. He mused, “It’s never a good sign when I hear that the medical group reports to the system CFO [chief financial officer].” We agree. It’s not that CFOs are necessarily bad managers of physician networks, or aren’t collaborative with doctors—as you’d expect from any group of leaders, there are CFOs who excel at these capabilities, and ones that don’t. 

The reporting relationship reveals less about the individual executive, and more about how the system views its medical group: less as a strategic partner, and more as “an asset to feed the [hospital] mothership.” Or worse, as a high-cost asset that is underperforming, with the CFO brought in as a “fixer”, taking over management of the physician group to “stop the bleed.”

Ideally the medical group would be led by a senior physician leader, often with the title of chief clinical officer or chief physician executive, who has oversight of all of the system’s physician network relationships, and can coordinate work across all these entities, sitting at the highest level of the executive team, reporting to the CEO. Of course, these kinds of physician leaders—with executive presence, management acumen, respected by physician and executive peers—can be difficult to find. 

Having a respected physician leader at the helm is even more important in a time of crisis, whether they lead alone or are paired with the CFO or another executive. Systems should have a plan to build the leadership talent needed to guide doctors through the coming clinical, generational, and strategic shifts in practice. 

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.

Strategic misalignment at the heart of a governance issue

https://mailchi.mp/016621f2184b/the-weekly-gist-december-3-2021?e=d1e747d2d8

When Innovation and Strategy Don't Align - TENZING Strategic

In our work with health systems, physician groups, and other organizations over the years, we’ve often been asked to facilitate board-level discussions about governance—resolving board conflicts, navigating difficult decisions, evaluating board composition.

A recent discussion again highlighted one of our main observations in working with boards: governance problems are often strategy problems in disguise. Working with a system that has grown through acquisition over the years, and whose board includes members from several of the “legacy” hospitals which had merged into the system over time, we were asked to help facilitate a dialogue about investment priorities across the component parts of the system.

At the root of the issue: each of the “representatives” of the subsidiary entities were pushing to have their own investment needs take precedence. On the face of it, that’s a governance problem: boards shouldn’t be constituent assemblies, with each member representing the interests of a sub-unit. Rather, they should act with one purpose: to advance the interests of the whole.

But that misalignment turned out to be a symptom of a larger problem: there was no consensus at the board level about what the strategic direction of the combined system should be, and what role each component part played in that direction.

That’s a strategy problem, masquerading as a governance issue. Identifying the strategic issue allowed the board to reframe the dialogue around vision, which then unblocked the subsequent decisions about investments. Good strategy and good governance go hand in hand.

5 new responsibilities for the beyond-finance CFO

https://www.cfodive.com/spons/5-new-responsibilities-for-the-beyond-finance-cfo/607630/

The Urgent Need to Redefine the Office of the CFO

For years, pioneering CFOs steadily extended their duties beyond the boundaries of the traditional finance and accounting function. Over the past year, an expanding set of beyond-finance activities – including those related to environmental, social and governance (ESG) matters; human capital reporting; cybersecurity; and supply chain management – have grown in importance for most finance groups. Traditional finance and accounting responsibilities remain core requirements for CFOs, even as they augment planning, analysis, forecasting and reporting processes to thrive in the cloud-based digital era. Protiviti’s latest global survey of CFOs and finance leaders shows that CFOs are refining their new and growing roles by addressing five key areas:

Accessing new data to drive success ­– The ability of CFOs and finance groups to address their expanding priorities depends on the quality and completeness of the data they access, secure, govern and use. Even the most powerful, cutting-edge tools will deliver subpar insights without optimal data inputs. In addition, more of the data finance uses to generate forward-looking business insights is sourced from producers outside of finance group and the organization. Many of these data producers lack expertise in disclosure controls and therefore need guidance from the finance organization.

Developing long-term strategies for protecting and leveraging data – From a data-protection perspective, CFOs are refining their calculations of cyber risk while benchmarking their organization’s data security and privacy spending and allocations. From a data-leveraging perspective, finance chiefs are creating and updating roadmaps for investments in robotic process automation, business intelligence tools, AI applications, other types of advanced automation, and the cloud technology that serves as a foundational enabler for these advanced finance tools. These investments are designed to satisfy the need for real-time finance insights and analysis among a mushrooming set of internal customers.

Applying financial expertise to ESG reporting – CFOs are mobilizing their team’s financial reporting expertise to address unfolding Human Capital and ESG reporting and disclosure requirements. Leading CFOs are consummating their role in this next-generation data collection activity while ensuring that the organization lays the groundwork to maximize the business value it derives from monitoring, managing and reporting all forms of ESG-related performance metrics.

Elevating and expanding forecasting – Finance groups are overhauling forecasting and planning processes to integrate new data inputs, from new sources, so that the insights the finance organization produces are more real-time in nature and relevant to more finance customers inside and outside the organization. Traditional key performance indicators (KPIs) are being supplemented by key business indicators (KBIs) to provide sharper forecasts and viewpoints. As major new sources of political, social, technological and business volatility arise in an unsteady post-COVID era, forecasting’s value to the organization continues to soar.

Investing in long-term talent strategies – Finance groups are refining their labor model to become more flexible and gain long-term access to cutting-edge skills and innovative thinking in the face of an ongoing and persistent finance and accounting talent crunch. CFOs also are recalibrating their flexible labor models and helping other parts of the organization develop a similar approach to ensure the entire future organization can skill and scale to operate at the right size and in the right manner.

In search of the “clinician strategist”

https://mailchi.mp/26f8e4c5cc02/the-weekly-gist-july-16-2021?e=d1e747d2d8

How to make figuring out what to propose simple - PropLibrary

We’ve been working with a CEO and his strategy team around their health system’s five-year strategic plan. It’s still early in development, and they’re considering some bold moves. Given that some of the ideas are disruptive, he astutely observed they needed to bring a clinical leader into the process before the strategy is fully developed, but he’s having trouble identifying the right physician to be part of the very small executive working group. 

We began listing the important attributes, creating a rough job description for a “clinician strategist”: the ability to consider clinical and operational implications but not get bogged down in details; bold, big-picture thinking and a willingness to take risks; strong communication and leadership skills.

As the list grew longer, we began to wonder if we were really telling the CEO to chase a unicorn. Some of the characteristics that typically make for an outstanding clinician—reliance on data and evidence, lower risk tolerance—might conflict with embracing disruptive change. Much of strategic decision making is about finding “80-20” compromises, while doctors often tend to get bogged down in detail (for good reason) and are quick to poke holes.

And our ideal physician strategist, out of a desire to safeguard patient care, might sometimes find that the strategy team isn’t adequately considering the ramifications for quality and safety. Finding a physician leader who also has the skills of a chief strategy officer is indeed a rare thing. It’s probably a better bet to identify early-career doctors who have the right mindset and an interest in strategy and help them develop their leadership skills over time. 

Regardless, this CEO’s instinct was correct. Bringing doctors into the strategy-setting process early is crucial, even if the perfect clinician strategist might prove difficult to find. 

How would “Medicare at 60” impact health system margins?

https://mailchi.mp/26f8e4c5cc02/the-weekly-gist-july-16-2021?e=d1e747d2d8

An estimate from the Partnership for America’s Healthcare Future predicts that nearly four out of five 60- to 64-year-olds would enroll in Medicare, with two-thirds transitioning from existing commercial plans, if “Medicare at 60” becomes a reality.

In the graphic above, we’ve modeled the financial impact this shift would have on a “typical” five-hospital health system, with $1B in revenue and an industry-average two percent operating margin. 

If just over half of commercially insured 60- to 64-year-olds switch to Medicare, the health system would see a $61M loss in commercial revenue.

There would be some revenue gains, especially from patients who switch from Medicaid, but the net result of the payer mix shift among the 60 to 64 population would be a loss of $30M, or three percent of annual revenue, large enough to push operating margin into the red, assuming no changes in cost structure. (Our analysis assumed a conservative estimate for commercial payment rates at 240 percent of Medicare—systems with more generous commercial payment would take a larger hit.)

Coming out of the pandemic, hospitals face rising labor costs and unpredictable volume in a more competitive marketplace. While “Medicare at 60” could provide access to lower-cost coverage for a large segment of consumers, it would force a financial reckoning for many hospitals, especially standalone hospitals and smaller systems.