Another reality check on hospital beds

https://www.axios.com/newsletters/axios-vitals-1a6dd9a6-5198-4abf-812f-dbf8dd8e67cb.html

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Hospital beds are not filling up like they used to, but that doesn’t mean hospitals want their beds to be empty, Axios’ Bob Herman reports.

What they’re saying: Even though more patients are being treated in outpatient clinics rather than hospitals, “we’ll still be able to keep our beds pretty full,” Don Scanlon, chief financial officer at Mount Sinai Health System, said this week at an investor lunch held at Goldman Sachs headquarters in New York City.

Details: Mount Sinai, a not-for-profit hospital system based in Manhattan with $5 billion in annual revenue, is preparing to sell $475 million in bonds, and was making its pitch to bondholders about why buying that debt would be a good deal.

Between the lines: Mount Sinai’s discharges have trended down, but the hospital doesn’t want to lose the bigger dollars tied to inpatient stays. And the system wants to reassure municipal investors they will see returns.

  • As a result, Mount Sinai has invested more money in outpatient centers in other parts of New York that serve as “feeders” for its main city hospitals, Scanlon said.

The bottom line: Mount Sinai, Trinity HealthBanner Health and a host of other hospital systems have openly touted plans to boost or retain admissions even though they say they want to keep people out of the hospital. This is a fundamental disconnect between “value-based care” and the system’s financial incentives.

Go deeper: How banks and law firms make millions from hospital debt

 

WHAT TO DO WHEN CONVERTING A HOSPITAL FROM NONPROFIT TO INVESTOR-OWNED

https://www.healthleadersmedia.com/strategy/what-do-when-converting-hospital-nonprofit-investor-owned

While perhaps not as controversial as it once was, the ‘conversion’ of a nonprofit hospital to a for-profit venture can raise questions and spark unhelpful rumors.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

There may be an opportunity to highlight increased revenues for the benefit of local government, since investor-owned hospitals pay taxes.

Remember: Every hospital, regardless of its tax status, must bring in more dollars than it spends in order to be financially healthy and reinvest.

In most communities, the conversion of a hospital from a not-for-profit to an investor-owned enterprise no longer stirs the heated debate that it did decades ago. Instead, you’re much more likely today to see not-for-profit and investor-owned hospital organizations working in partnership.

Renowned not-for-profit health systems such as Duke Health and the Cleveland Clinic have formed strong affiliations with investor-owned hospital companies. In these and other partnerships, not-for-profits and investor-owned organizations are working together to strengthen hospitals, invest in communities, and serve patients.

In fact, the issues facing investor-owned hospital systems during a partnership are the same as those faced by not-for-profit health systems during a partnership discussion: Local control and governance, cultural compatibility, charity care support, and commitment to local investment are leading hot buttons for both.

Still, the “conversion” of a not-for-profit to an investor-owned organization can represent a change that can raise questions and ignite unhelpful rumors.

To help you be prepared, start by answering these basic questions: What’s the difference? How are not-for-profit and for-profit (investor-owned) hospitals different from one another?

  • Taxes: First, a (very) broad definition: “Not-for-profit” and “for profit” are tax-related designations. A not-for-profit hospital does not pay certain taxes, including those on property used for care, income, and sales. How- ever, it usually does pay payroll and other federal employee taxes. A for- profit hospital pays property, sales, and income taxes as well as payroll taxes. Not-for-profits sometimes make payments in lieu of taxes to help offset the costs of providing important community services, such as police and fire coverage.
  • Capital: Not-for-profit and investor-owned hospitals are also differentiated by where they get capital to invest in their facilities for infrastructure improvements, new equipment, staff, and the like. Not-for-profit hospitals usually go to the bond market for capital. Investor-owned hospitals go to the public stock market, the bond market, or investment groups for capital.
  • Analysts: Now for a word about financial ratings. Both types of organizations have outsiders judging the hospital’s financial performance. To help investors monitor their portfolios and make buying and selling decisions, not-for-profits are graded by credit rating agencies, such as Moody’s Investors Services and Standard & Poor’s. Publicly traded, investor-owned hospital stocks are watched by analysts and valued daily in stock exchanges.
  • Ownership: Who “owns” the hospital after such a sale is an important question and can reflect a community’s concerns about having a future voice in the care provided at its hospital. The answer can be complicated and inconsistent from hospital to hospital and community to community.

Here’s an overview: Independent, not-for-profit hospitals are, in a sense, owned by the communities they serve. The boards are usually comprised of local leaders and physicians. Excess revenues—profits—are fully reinvested into the community’s care after debt payments, payroll, and other expenses. Hospitals that join a regional or national not-for-profit health system, however, may or may not have a local board with a say in the direction of the facility and may or may not share their profits with the system. (In fact, if your local hospital is in financial trouble, the money flows into your hospital, not out of it!)

Investor-owned hospitals are, as you might guess by the name, owned by investors, who can be private individuals or stockholders. Investors traditionally benefit as the value of the company’s hospitals increases over time, through effective operations and local investments, and as the company overall grows by adding more hospitals.

Adding to this complexity is the trend for hospitals to pursue joint venture partnerships where ownership is shared by two or more organizations, including the “seller.” These partnerships call for strong and trusting relationships by every party. Communications is key to success.

Familiarize yourselves with these terms and issues as you move through a partnership. Be prepared for some myth busting.

That’s where the fundamental structural differences end. The driving forces of both organizations, however, are precisely the same:

  • No matter your tax status, every hospital must take in more dollars than it spends to be financially healthy and to reinvest in the care it provides.
  • Every hospital must offer quality care, provide current medical equipment and facilities, and support a trained staff to attract (and keep) patients  and serve the needs of physicians, payers, and others.

Now, consider some specific questions you may hear related to the structure of a not-for-profit to investor-owned conversion.

WHAT HAPPENS TO THE PROCEEDS OF THE SALE?

When there are funds left over from a sale, they are often referred to as the proceeds. These proceeds exist once the hospital’s debt and any other obligations (e.g., a pension fund) have been paid.

The answer as to what happens to those dollars depends on the ownership structure of the selling organization and the terms of the transaction. Here are a few scenarios:

  • The sale of a stand-alone, not-for-profit community hospital to an investor-owned company may lead to the creation of a community foundation. The creation of the foundation—including its board and mission—may be directed by your state attorney general’s office, and the proceeds from the sale will fund it.
  • When two not-for-profits merge, it is rare that there are proceeds. Instead, the common practice is for all assets from both organizations to combine for the good of the new system.
  • From the sale of a hospital owned by a religious organization, the remaining proceeds will likely return to that order or denomination.
  • When a government-owned hospital is sold, money left over may return to the city’s or county’s coffers, which may deposit it into the government’s general operating fund or create a new organization for meeting the charitable healthcare needs of the community.

WILL CHARITY CARE CONTINUE AT ITS CURRENT LEVEL?

This is really a question of community commitment and may be an indicator of how much the community-based culture is or is not going to change under the new ownership. In most cases, a commitment to either a specific level of charity care or a guarantee to continue the hospital’s existing charitable mission and policy is written into the deal documents. Expect the question and know the answer.

HOW MUCH MONEY IN LOCAL TAXES WILL THE NEW HOSPITAL OWNER PAY?

An investor-owned hospital pays taxes that benefit local government. This question is an opportunity to highlight the added contribution as a distinct benefit of investor-owned partnerships.

In many cases, the fire department, police force, schools, parks, and other community assets will benefit on an annual basis from an investor-owned partner paying state and local property and sales taxes.

One cautionary note: In some cases, new hospital owners may seek appropriate tax incentives when entering a new community and investing in a hospital. Be sure you understand the local government strategic thinking before you answer the tax question.

 

 

 

 

Bruising labor battles put Kaiser Permanente’s reputation on the line

Bruising labor battles put Kaiser Permanente’s reputation on the line

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The ongoing labor battles have undermined the health giant’s once-golden reputation as a model of cost-effective care that caters to satisfied patients — which it calls “members” — and is exposing it to new scrutiny from politicians and health policy analysts.

Kaiser Permanente, which just narrowly averted one massive strike, is facing another one Monday.

The ongoing labor battles have undermined the health giant’s once-golden reputation as a model of cost-effective care that caters to satisfied patients — which it calls “members” — and is exposing it to new scrutiny from politicians and health policy analysts.

As the labor disputes have played out loudly, ricocheting off the bargaining table and into the public realm, some critics believe that the nonprofit health system is becoming more like its for-profit counterparts and is no longer living up to its foundational ideals.

Compensation for CEO Bernard Tyson topped $16 million in 2017, making him the highest-paid nonprofit health system executive in the nation. The organization also is building a $900 million flagship headquarters in Oakland. And it bid up to $295 million to become the Golden State Warriors’ official health care provider, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. The deal gave the health system naming rights for the shopping and restaurant complex surrounding the team’s new arena in San Francisco, which it has dubbed “Thrive City.”

The organization reported $2.5 billion in net income in 2018 and its health plan sits on about $37.6 billion in reserves.

Against that backdrop of wealth, more than 80,000 employees were poised to strike last month over salaries, retirement benefits and concerns over outsourcing and subcontracting. Nearly 4,000 members of its mental health staff in California are threatening to walk out Monday over the long wait times their patients face for appointments.

“Kaiser’s primary mission, based on their nonprofit status, is to serve a charitable mission,” said Ge Bai, associate professor of accounting and health policy at Johns Hopkins University. “The question is, do they need such an excessive, fancy flagship space? Or should they save money to help the poor and increase employee salaries?”

Lawmakers in California, Kaiser Permanente’s home state, recently targeted it with a new financial transparency law aimed at determining why its premiums continue to increase.

There’s a growing suspicion “that these nonprofit hospitals are not here purely for charitable missions, but instead are working to expand market share,” Bai said.

The scrutiny marks a disorienting role-reversal for Kaiser, an integrated system that acts as both health insurer and medical provider, serving 12.3 million patients and operating 39 hospitals across eight states and the District of Columbia. The bulk of its presence is in California. (Kaiser Health News, which produces California Healthline, is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.)

Many health systems have tried to imitate its model for delivering affordable health care, which features teams of salaried doctors and health professionals who work together closely, and charges few if any extraneous patient fees. It emphasizes caring and community with slogans like “Health isn’t an industry. It’s a cause,” and “We’re all in this together. And together, we thrive.”

Praised by President Barack Obama for its efficiency and high-quality care, the health maintenance organization has tried to set itself apart from its profit-hungry, fee-for-service counterparts.

Now, its current practices — financial and medical — are getting a more critical look.

As a nonprofit, Kaiser doesn’t have to pay local property and sales taxes, state income taxes and federal corporate taxes, in exchange for providing “charity care and community benefits” — although the federal government doesn’t specify how much.

As a percentage of its total spending, Kaiser Permanente’s charity care spending has decreased from 1.29% in 2012 to 0.8% in 2017. Other hospitals in California have exhibited a similar decrease, saying there are fewer uninsured patients who need help since the Affordable Care Act expanded insurance coverage.

CEO Tyson told California Healthline that he limits operating income to about 2% of revenue, which pays for things like capital improvements, community benefit programs and “the running of the company.”

“The idea we’re trying to maximize profit is a false premise,” he said.

The organization is different from many other health systems because of its integrated model, so comparisons are not perfect, but its operating margins were smaller and more stable than other large nonprofit hospital groups in California. AdventHealth’s operating margin was 7.15% in 2018, while Dignity Health had losses in 2016 and 2017.

Tyson said that executive compensation is a “hotspot” for any company in a labor dispute. “In no way would I try to justify it or argue against it,” he said of his salary. In addition to his generous compensation, the health plan paid 35 other executives more than $1 million each in 2017, according to its tax filings.

Even its board members are well-compensated. In 2017, 13 directors each received between $129,000 and $273,000 for what its tax filings say is five to 10 hours of work a week.

And that $37.6 billion in reserves? It’s about 17 times more than the health plan is required by the state to maintain, according to the California Department of Managed Health Care.

Kaiser Permanente said it doesn’t consider its reserves excessive because state regulations don’t account for its integrated model. These reserves represent the value of its hospitals and hundreds of medical offices in California, plus the information technology they rely on, it said.

Kaiser Permanente said its new headquarters will save at least $60 million a year in operating costs because it will bring all of its Oakland staffers under one roof. It justified the partnership with the Warriors by noting it spans 20 years and includes a community gathering space that will provide health services for both members and the public.

Kaiser has a right to defend its spending, but “it’s hard to imagine a nearly $300 million sponsorship being justifiable,” said Michael Rozier, an assistant professor at St. Louis University who studies nonprofit hospitals.

The Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West was about to strike in October before reaching an agreement with Kaiser Permanente.

Democratic presidential candidates Kamala HarrisBernie SandersElizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg, as well as 132 elected California officials, supported the cause.

California legislators this year adopted a bill sponsored by SEIU California that will require the health system to report its financial data to the state by facility, as opposed to reporting aggregated data from its Northern and Southern California regions, as it currently does. This data must include expenses, revenues by payer and the reasons for premium increases.

Other hospitals already report financial data this way, but the California legislature granted Kaiser Permanente an exemption when reporting began in the 1970s because it is an integrated system. This created a financial “black hole” said state Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), the bill’s author.

“They’re the biggest game in town,” said Anthony Wright, executive director of the consumer group Health Access California. “With great power comes great responsibility and a need for transparency.”

Patient care, too, is under scrutiny.

California’s Department of Managed Health Care fined the organization $4 million over mental health wait times in 2013, and in 2017 hammered out an agreement with it to hire an outside consultant to help improve access to care. The department said Kaiser Permanente has so far met all the requirements of the settlement.

But according to the National Union of Healthcare Workers, which is planning Monday’s walkout, wait times have just gotten worse.

Tyson said mental health care delivery is a national issue — “not unique to Kaiser Permanente.” He said the system is actively hiring more staff, contracting with outside providers and looking into using technology to broaden access to treatment.

At a mid-October union rally in Oakland, therapists said the health system’s billions in profits should allow it to hire more than one mental health clinician for every 3,000 members, which the union says is the current ratio.

Ann Rivello, 50, who has worked periodically at Kaiser Permanente Redwood City Medical Center since 2000, said therapists are so busy they struggle to take bathroom breaks and patients wait about two months between appointments for individual therapy.

“Just take $100 million that they’re putting into the new ‘Thrive City’ over there with the Warriors,” she said. “Why can’t they just give it to mental health?”

 

 

 

Charity Care Spending By Hospitals Plunges

Charity Care Spending By Hospitals Plunges

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California hospitals are providing significantly less free and discounted care to low-income patients since the Affordable Care Act took effect.

As a proportion of their operating expenses, the state’s general acute-care hospitals spent less than half on these patients in 2017 than they did in 2013, according to data the hospitals reported to California’s Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development.

The biggest decline in charity care spending occurred from 2013 to 2015, when it dropped from just over 2% to just under 1%. The spending has continued to decline, though less dramatically, since then.

The decline was true of for-profit hospitals, so-called nonprofit hospitals and those designated as city, county, district or state hospitals.

Health experts attribute the drop in charity care spending largely to the implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare. The law expanded insurance coverage to millions of Californians, starting in 2014, and hospitals are now treating far fewer uninsured patients who cannot pay for the care they receive.

With fewer uninsured patients, fewer patients seek financial assistance through the charity care programs, according to the California Hospital Association.

Cori Racela, deputy director at the Western Center on Law & Poverty, countered that many people still need financial assistance because — even with insurance — they struggle to pay their premiums, copays and deductibles.

“The need for charity care has changed,” she said, “but it still exists.”

The data on charity care comes from most of the state’s general acute-care hospitals but does not include Kaiser Permanente hospitals, which are not required by the state to report their charity care totals. (Kaiser Health News, which produces California Healthline, has no affiliation with Kaiser Permanente.)

For 2017, California Healthline used data from 177 nonprofit hospitals, 80 for-profit hospitals and 54 city, county, district or state hospitals. The breakdown was similar for the other years, with slight fluctuations.

Nonprofit hospitals, whose charity care spending dropped from 2.02% of operating expenses to 0.91% over the five-year period, are required by state and federal law to provide “community benefits” in exchange for their tax-exempt status.

They can meet that requirement beyond providing free and discounted care in a variety of ways: They can offer community public health programs, write off uncollected patient debt and claim the difference between what it costs to provide care and the amount that they are reimbursed by government insurance programs.

Nonprofit “hospitals get tax-exempt status, but they don’t get it for free,” said Ge Bai, associate professor of accounting and health policy at Johns Hopkins University. Charity care “is part of the implicit contract between hospital and taxpayers.”

Bai sees the reduced spending on charity care as part of a trend of nonprofit hospitals acting more like their for-profit counterparts.

Many nonprofit hospitals “no longer consider charity care their primary mission,” she said. “They are making more and more money but they are dropping their charity care.”

The state and federal governments set no minimum requirements for charity spending by hospitals, although the California Attorney General has created standards for a few nonprofit hospitals that have changed ownership in recent years.

Jan Emerson-Shea, a spokeswoman for the California Hospital Association, said hospitals are giving back to their communities in ways beyond charity care.

“You see charity care declining, but Medi-Cal losses are increasing,” Emerson-Shea said. She pointed to the growing shortfalls many hospitals report from caring for more patients covered by the public insurance program. “Every Medi-Cal patient we treat we lose money on.”

Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program for low-income residents, increased its rolls by 5.6 million — or about 70% — from 2013 to 2017.

Racela, of the Western Center on Law & Poverty, would like to see changes in California’s charity care rules to address high out-of-pocket costs.

And she wants hospitals to abide by the state law that requires them to inform patients that they may be eligible for charity care based on their income.

“There is still a big unmet need for charity care across the state,” Racela said.

 

 

 

Hospitals as medical debt litigators

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Illustration of rope lassoing a hospital bill.

Tax-exempt hospitals are again raising eyebrows over how they harass patients, often the poorest, in court by trying to recoup medical debts, my colleague Bob Herman writes.

Driving the news: ProPublica and MLK50 published a deep dive yesterday on Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare, a $2 billion not-for-profit and faith-based hospital system in Tennessee that has filed more than 8,300 lawsuits against patients over the past 5 years.

  • One of the patients featured in the story made less than $14,000 last year, and Methodist is suing her for more than $33,000. The hospital operates in the second-poorest large metropolitan area in the nation.
  • Methodist obtained wage garnishment orders in almost half of the cases it filed between 2014 and 2018, meaning that the debtor’s employer was required to send the court a portion of the worker’s after-tax income.

Between the lines: As we wrote this week, hospitals taking patients to court is both common and longstanding.

The bottom line: Not-for-profit hospitals market themselves as charities, but they act more like for-profit peers — renewing questions of whether those organizations’ tax exemptions are justified.

  • Coincidentally, the American Hospital Association released a paper Thursday touting hospitals’ community benefits, but the paper has some of the same flaws as prior analyses.

What we’re watching: These practices have drawn the ire of Sen. Chuck Grassley, who is now chairman of the powerful Finance Committee.

  • “Such hospitals seem to forget that tax exemption is a privilege, not a right. In addition to withholding financial assistance to low-income patients, they give top executives salaries on par with their for-profit counterparts,” Grassley wrote in a 2017 op-ed.

 

 

 

Grassley Renews Probe of Nonprofit Hospitals

https://www.healthleadersmedia.com/grassley-renews-probe-nonprofit-hospitals

The Iowa Republican has asked the IRS for data on how many of the nation’s approximately 3,000 tax-exempt hospitals are in compliance with charity care requirements.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

Grassley asked for information about whether tax-exempt hospitals are meeting the statutory requirements laid out in section 501 of the Internal Revenue Code.

The lawmaker is renewing his probe of tax-exempt hospitals after hearing reports that ‘at least some of these tax-exempt hospitals have cut charity care, despite increased revenue.’

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley has renewed efforts to ensure that nonprofit hospitals are earning their tax-exempt status by providing enough services for low-income people.

In a letter to Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Charles Rettig, the Iowa Republican asked for data on how many hospitals are in compliance with the requirements for tax-exempt status and the status of IRS examinations of those not in compliance.

“Making sure that tax-exempt hospitals abide by their community benefit standards is a very important issue for me,” Grassley said in his letter.

“As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I oversaw an investigation into the billing practices of the Mosaic Life Care hospital. That investigation resulted in debt relief of almost $17 million for thousands of low-income patients.  This issue is still just as important to me now that I am chairman of the Senate Finance Committee,” Grassley wrote.


The Mosaic Life inquiry examined the billing and debt collection practices at the health system after news reports indicated it had sued low-income patients who should have qualified for charity care.

Grassley told Rettig that he was renewing his probe of tax-exempt hospitals after hearing “reports” that “at least some of these tax-exempt hospitals have cut charity care, despite increased revenue, calling into question their compliance with the standards set by Congress.”

He asked Rettig for information about whether tax-exempt hospitals are meeting the statutory requirements laid out in section 501 of the Internal Revenue Code, and he cited in his letter an article in Politico that suggested nonprofit hospitals were profiting from the Affordable Care Act while simultaneously cutting their charity care.

In February 2018, Grassley sent a letter to the IRS to inquire about how the agency reviews nonprofit hospital compliance.

Acting Commissioner David J. Kautter responded in April 2018 that the IRS reviews the status of about 1,000 U.S. tax-exempt hospitals each year by reviewing Forms 990, hospital websites, and other information in order to identify the hospitals with the highest likelihood of noncompliance.

Kautter said the IRS assigns either a compliance check or examination to those hospitals that appear to be most at risk of noncompliance.

Melinda Hatton, general counsel for the American Hospital Association, said her organization was confident that nonprofit hospitals are meeting their mission.

“In 2015, an AHA analysis of Schedule H filings reported that 13.3% of tax-exempt hospitals and health systems total expenses were devoted to community benefits programs, and that half of that spending was attributable to expenditures for providing financial assistance to needy patients and absorbing losses from Medicaid and other means-tested government program underpayments,” she said.

Hatton said an analysis by Ernst & Young for the AHA found that hospitals’ and health systems’ community benefit activities outweigh the value of their federal tax exemption by a factor of 11 to one. “According to the report, non-profit hospitals in 2013 were exempt from an estimated $6 billion in federal taxes and provided an estimated $67.4 billion in community benefits,” Hatton said.

“Making sure that tax-exempt hospitals abide by their community benefit standards is a very important issue for me.”