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.”

Optum looks to acquire Houston-based Kelsey-Seybold Clinic

According to unnamed Axios sources, UnitedHealth Group’s Optum has signed a deal to acquire the independent 500-physician multispecialty group, which operates more than 30 clinic locations and one of the largest ambulatory surgery centers in Texas. With more than 41,000 enrollees, Kelsey-Seybold controls 8 percent of the lucrative Medicare Advantage market in the Houston metro area.

In January 2020, private equity firm TPG Capital made a minority investment in the 73-year-old group, valuing it at $1.3B, to help expand its footprint. Should the current deal come to fruition, Kelsey-Seybold’s physicians would join the ranks of over 60K physicians owned by, or exclusively affiliated with, Optum.

The Gist: Fresh off last year’s acquisition of 700-physician, Boston-based Atrius Health, Optum is continuing its buying spree of large physician groups with a history of managing risk. It will be interesting to see how quickly UnitedHealth Group can combine its Optum-owned physician assets with its commercial insurance platform to create a compelling, lower-cost option for employers and Medicare Advantage enrollees—building on the model of its Harmony network in Southern California.

Of note, Kelsey-Seybold and United Healthcare have offered a co-branded insurance product for years, and UHG executives have said they plan to roll out Harmony in Texas and Seattle next. 

Kelsey-Seybold is one a dwindling number of very large, independent multispecialty groups, and its sale to Optum may have other groups wondering about their ability to remain independent in an increasingly concentrated healthcare market.  

Is it the beginning of the end of CON? 

We’re picking up on a growing concern among health system leaders that many states with “certificate of need” (CON) laws in effect are on the cusp of repealing them. CON laws, currently in place in 35 states and the District of Columbia, require organizations that want to construct new or expand existing healthcare facilities to demonstrate community need for the additional capacity, and to obtain approval from state regulatory agencies. While the intent of these laws is to prevent duplicative capacity, reduce unnecessary utilization, and control cost growth, critics claim that CON requirements reduce competition—and free market-minded state legislators, particularly in the South and Midwest, have made them a target. 
 
One of our member systems located in a state where repeal is being debated asked us to facilitate a scenario planning session around CON repeal with system and physician leaders. Executives predicted that key specialty physician groups would quickly move to build their own ambulatory surgery centers, accelerating shift of surgical volume away from the hospital.

The opportunity to expand outpatient procedure and long-term care capacity would also fuel investment from private equity, which have already been picking up in the market. An out-of-market health system might look to build microhospitals, or even a full-service inpatient facility, which would be even more disruptive.

CON repeal wasn’t all downside, however; the team identified adjacent markets they would look to enter as well. The takeaway from our exercise: in addition to the traditional response of flexing lobbying influence to shape legislative change, the system must begin to deliver solutions to consumers that are comprehensive, convenient, and competitively priced—the kind of offerings that might flood the market if CON laws were lifted. 

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.

Optum’s strategy for 2022 growth

Optum spent the last decade investing in significant growth, adding thousands of physicians to its network and purchasing ASC company Surgical Care Affiliates in 2017. Now the company is focusing more on its primary care network, data offerings and $115 billion pharmacy and medical care business line.

Optum, owned by UnitedHealth Group, has three divisions:

  • Optum Health, the healthcare provider division which includes physician groups and ambulatory surgery centers
  • Optum Insight, which houses the data analytics platforms designed to connect clinical, administrative and financial data
  • Optum Rx, a pharmacy benefits and care services business

Each division has a unique growth strategy focused on the patient and provider experience.

Provider growth
Optum Health now has 60,000 employed or aligned physicians and partners with 100 payers. Optum as a whole now works with 80 percent of health plans and 90 percent of hospitals and 90 percent of Fortune 100 companies.

Wyatt Decker, CEO of Optum Health, said in the 2021 earnings call in January that Optum Health is still a growth platform and the company will make investments to more deeply penetrate established markets. He expects Optum Health to deliver 8 percent to 10 percent margins annually going forward.

“Our approach strengthens the critical provider-patient relationship by empowering our primary care physicians with the latest information, insights and best practices to help them efficiently coordinate all patient care, manage referrals and identify higher-quality, lower-cost options,” the company said in its 2021 yearend highlights report.

ASCs certainly fit the high quality, low-cost care description, but Optum’s executives fell shy of mentioning whether the company would focus on growth in that sector during the 2021 earnings call.

Optum is also expanding its virtual care capabilities, focused on chronic care patients, and its behavioral health services. The company said it needs to add physicians, clinicians and technology to support patient care in those areas. Optum said it has its sights set on providing more whole-person, value-based care, scaling in new markets and having the key data insights to do it better than anyone else.

Value-based care
Last year, Optum and UnitedHealth Group’s health insurance business, UnitedHealthcare, worked together with external partners to grow in commercial and government payer markets, innovate and add 500,000 patients to their value-based contracts. Optum served 100 million patients, and 2 million of the patients were under fully accountable arrangements. Both companies also had a sharpened focus on the consumer experience.

“Taken together, these efforts helped us add more than $30 billion in revenue for the year, about $10 billion above our initial outlook,” said Andrew Witty, CEO of UnitedHealth Group, during the earnings call, as transcribed by The Motley Fool. “And you should expect similar growth in the year ahead. We see an even greater demand for integration to bring together the fragmented pieces of the health system, to harness the tremendous innovation occurring in the marketplace, to help better align the incentives for providers, payers and consumers, and to organize the system around value.”

Data and information
Optum Insights aims to continue growing by acquiring Change Healthcare, a healthcare data and technology company.

“The combination will advance our ability to create products and services that improve the delivery of healthcare and reduce the high costs and inefficiencies that plague the health system,” Optum claimed on its fact sheet about the transaction. “We will share these innovations broadly to benefit those who engage with the health system today and well into the future.”

The acquisition could make the episode of care more seamless for patients and reduce administrative burden for providers, as well as give payers a comprehensive view of the patient’s health outcomes with the potential to reduce cost. But it could also give Optum and UnitedHealth Group an unfair advantage over competitors, the Justice Department argued in a lawsuit filed in February.

“Across Optum, we operate with the highest ethical standards in protecting confidential data and information of our clients and adhere to the safeguards we have had in place for more than a decade to ensure data is accessed and used only for permissible purposes,” according to a statement on Optum’s website responding to the Justice Department’s lawsuit. “We will not be distracted by the DOJ’s complaint and will continue to honorably serve our clients and consumers and those that engage in the health system.”