During one of our regular check-ins with a health system CEO this week, the conversation took a turn for the existential. Lamenting the difficult economic situation in the industry, the continued shift of care to ambulatory disruptors, and the mounting pressure to dial back money-losing services, he shared that he was starting to question the fundamental business model.
“Many years ago, we set out to become an integrated delivery system. But I’m not sure we’ve succeeded at any of those things: we’re not integrated enough, we don’t act like a system, and we don’t seem to be delivering the kind of care consumers want.” A stark admission, but one that could apply to many large health systems across the industry.
In theory, those three “legs of the stool” should create a virtuous flywheel: greater integration across the care continuum (perhaps in a risk-bearing model, but not necessarily) ought to allow systems to deliver quality care at the right place, right time. And a system-oriented approach ought to allow for efficiencies and cost-savings that enable care to be delivered at lower cost to patients.
Instead, the three components often create a vicious spiral: care that’s not coordinated across an integrated continuum, with little success at leveraging system-level efficiencies, resulting in unnecessary, duplicative, and variable-quality care delivery at excessive cost.
Capturing the value of integrated delivery systems will ultimately require hard work, and not just lip service, on all three pieces. Meanwhile, scaling a broken model will only exacerbate the problems of organizations that are neither integrated, nor systemic, nor delivering care that is high value.
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.
The demise of Haven — a coalition of three big employers aiming to lower the cost of healthcare for their workers — was met with a surprising reaction from Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase: “We want to do this again.”
A Dec. 6 report from Bloomberg details some of the aftermath of Haven’s end and also the origins of Morgan Health, the bank’s second go at lowering healthcare costs that was rolled out in spring 2021. While still in its early stages, one tenet of its strategy is a return to basics, including appointments between clinicians and patients that take at least 30 minutes if not an hour.
Haven was the healthcare partnership formed in 2018 by Amazon, JPMorgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway with an aim to lower healthcare costs for their 1.2 million workers. It disbanded in 2021. As its end neared, Mr. Dimon set out to learn what had gone wrong.
When he asked the question of Bill Wulf, MD, CEO of Central Ohio Primary Care, the internist told the businessman the initiative had moved too slowly. A virtual care program drew in only 150 people in Ohio, for example, before it was scrapped.
Shortly after the debrief with Dr. Wulf, Mr. Dimon assigned a lieutenant to restart the work on lowering employer healthcare costs, this time focusing on JPMorgan Chase alone. That leader was Peter Scher, vice chairman with the bank, who had his doubts at first. “There are a lot of things we could be spending our time on,” he told Bloomberg. “I was perfectly prepared to go back to Jamie and the operating committee and say, ‘Listen, it was a good try.'”
Mr. Scher stuck with it and brought on Dan Mendelson, founder and former CEO of healthcare advisory group Avalere Health, to lay the groundwork for JPMorgan’s second healthcare attempt. Mr. Mendelson, who had been a skeptic of Haven, spent three months crafting a strategy and playbook that recognized where Haven had fallen short and avoided repeated mistakes. He signed on to lead the group, dubbed Morgan Health.
The group has made more headlines since its launch than its predecessor Haven, which premiered with much bravado but went nearly a year without releasing any news except for its name and a new website. In fall 2022, Morgan Health openedthree advanced primary care centers in Ohio for a total of five and formed a healthcare venture capital team targeting early- to later-stage healthcare companies with innovations in areas like genetic medicine, autoimmune diseases, cardiometabolic diseases and rare disorders. It also hired Cheryl Pegus, MD, Walmart’s executive vice president of health and wellness, as a managing director.
Morgan Health’s strategy is marked by what appears to be common sense and a return to basics, including the placement of clinics in office building atriums — “a full-service practice where employees can develop long-term relationships with primary-care providers, wellness coaches, mental health providers and care coordinators.”
All appointments are booked for at least 30 minutes with many going an hour, according to Bloomberg. Patients generally see the same practitioner for each visit to build long-term relationships. Clinicians’ payments are tied to goals like avoiding emergency room visits, providing cancer screenings and keeping high blood pressure in check. If it plays out as designed, JPMorgan says the investment in prevention and primary care will curb high-cost services and hospital stays, ultimately leading to meaningful savings.
The goal is to “identify high-risk patients and then bubble-wrap them,” Dr. Wulf told Ohio business leaders in an October meeting, Bloomberg reports. “How do we keep you out of the hospital?”
JPMorgan has opened five clinics in the area of Columbus, Ohio, which will also be open to other employers who want to sign on. The clinics and primary care centers are managed and staffed by Vera Whole Health and Central Ohio Primary Care. JPMorgan is seeking “like-minded” medical groups in markets like New York, Chicago and Dallas where it has hubs of workers, Bloomberg reports.
Driven in large part by the growth of Medicare Advantage, a number of startups are vying to create the next value-based care model for senior care in patients’ homes, Axios’ Sarah Pringle reports.
Why it matters: As we recently reported in our Elder Care Crisis Deep Dive, there is a shortfall of enough cash and caregivers to handle the massive amount of aging baby boomers reaching their senior years.
According to reporting from Bloomberg, primary care company VillageMD, which is majority-owned by Walgreens, is engaged in talks to merge with New Jersey-based Summit Health, a large medical group network and urgent care chain backed by private equity firm Warburg Pincus.
In 2019, Summit merged with CityMD, a New York City-based urgent care chain, and operates over 370 clinic locations based in and around New York City, as well as in central Oregon. The combined entity would be valued between $5B and $10B.
The Gist: Should this deal go through, it would epitomize recent trends in healthcare M&A:a well-established independent medical group using private equity funding to rapidly expand its operations before selling off to an industry giant.
If that industry giant ends up being VillageMD, Walgreens would finally have a physician practice with deep experience in managing risk, on which they can anchor their larger ambitions in care provision. And if the deal with Walgreens falls through, Summit, with its combination of mostly suburban value-based care practices and largely urban urgent care chains, is sure to attract plenty of other suitors, including any of the major national insurers.
The Biden administration is trying to jump start a Medicare program that pays health providers based on patient outcomes rather than by how many services they perform.
Why it matters: The alternative payment effort was created through the Affordable Care Act, but participation has plateaued since 2018 amid waning interest from providers.
Driving the news: The Biden administration finalized an overhaul of the initiative, known as the Medicare Shared Savings Program, on Tuesday. Changes include offering groups of providers in rural and other underserved areas upfront payments to help them start out in the program.
The rule includes other provisions to make it less financial risky for provider groups to join, and makes it easier for participants to earn money back from the government year after year — a central perk of joining the program.
Zoom out: Medicare traditionally pays on a “fee-for-service” basis pegged to the number of patients seen and volume of procedures performed.
But one of the main funding sources for Medicare is set to run dry in 2028 if the federal government doesn’t make changes. Advocates say the solution at least partially lies in value-based care programs, like the Shared Savings Program.
Under the program, doctors, hospitals and other providers join form groups known as accountable care organizations. ACOs take responsibility for the care of a set of traditional Medicare patients.
If ACOs reduce total care costs for their members, they can get back a portion of that savings from the government. ACOs at more advanced stages of the program must pay the government back if total patient spending crosses a threshold.
By the numbers: ACOs have saved the federal government more than $17 billion since 2012, according to the National Association of Accountable Care Organizations.
In 2022, 483 ACOs participated in the program and took care of more than 11 million Medicare enrollees. But that’s down from 517 ACOs participating in 2020.
CMS set a goal last year to bring all 63 million-plus Medicare beneficiaries into a value-based care model by 2030. ACOs are a key player in achieving the goal.
Go deeper: Providers and value-based care advocates are also pushing Congress to extend a 5% pay bump for providers that participate in advanced alternative payment models, including some tracks of the Medicare Shared Savings Program. The bonus expires Dec. 31.
“If the bonus is not continued, it will soften or dampen the momentum toward alternative payment models, because it would create this mentality, or the view, that we’re not serious about that transformation,” said Mara McDermott, vice president at McDermott+Consulting and executive director of the Value Based Care Coalition.
Losing the bonus would also make it harder to recruit new providers into alternative payment models, she added.
The American Medical Association and five other health care groups launched a separate coalition Tuesday to rally around an extension of the 5% bonus.
“Patients and the healthcare system in the United States quite literally cannot afford to return to the days before Medicare incentivized healthcare providers for generating good results,” Clif Gaus, CEO of the National Association of ACOs, said in a news release about the coalition.
Also notable: The rule finalized Tuesday outlines physician payment rates for 2023. Interventional radiologists and vascular surgeons will see the largest Medicare cuts among physician specialties next year, though the final cuts are slightly lower than what CMS proposed in July.
Congress could stave off the cuts when they come back to Washington later this month.
“The Medicare payment schedule released today puts Congress on notice that a nearly 4.5 percent across-the-board reduction in payment rates is an ominous reality unless lawmakers act before Jan. 1,” American Medical Association President Jack Resneck said in a statement.
The belief that healthcare should, and would, transition from “volume to value” was a key pillar of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). However, with more than a decade of experience and data to consider, there is little indication that either Medicare or the healthcare industry at large has meaningfully shifted away from fee-for-service payment. Using data from the National Association of Accountable Care Organizations, the graphic below shows that the Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP)—the largest of the ACA’s payment innovations, with over 500 accountable care organizations (ACOs) reaching 11M assigned beneficiaries—has led to minimal savings for Medicare. In its first eight years, MSSP saved Medicare only $3.4B, or a paltry 0.06 percent, of the $5.6T that it spent over that time.
Policymakers had hoped that a Medicare-led move to value would prompt commercial payers to follow suit, but that also hasn’t happened. The proportion of payment to health systems in capitated or other risk-based arrangements barely budged from 2013 to 2020—remaining negligible for most organizations, and rarely amounting to enough to influence strategy. The proportion of risk-based payment for doctors is slightly higher, but still far below what is needed to enable wholesale change in care across a practice.
While Medicare has other options if it wants to increase value-based payment, like making ACOs mandatory, it’s harder to see how the trend in commercial payment will improve, as large payers, who are buying up scores of care delivery assets themselves, seem to have little motivation to deal providers in on risk.
While financial upside of moving to risk hasn’t been significant enough to move the market to date, we aren’t suggesting health systems throw out their population management playbook—to meet mounting cost labor pressures, systems must deliver lower cost care, in lower cost settings, with lower cost staff, just to maintain economic viability moving forward.
In a press release, London-based telemedicine provider Babylon Health said it intends to divest Meritage Medical Network, its 1,800-physician independent practice association located in Northern and Central California. Babylon claims the sale will allow it to better focus on its core business model of digital-first, value-based care contracts. After going public last year at $4.2B, Babylon’s valuation has fallen over 95 percent.
The Gist: Yet another highly touted healthcare startup with digital-first “solutions” has announced a massive pullback in its care footprint. As we wrote about Bright Health last week, these companies have failed to meet investor demands, and mustnowshutter services or sell assets to buy time to prove their core business model can actually turn a profit.
In Babylon’s case, integrating established physician practices into a digital-first, value-based care model was always going to be costly, challenging and time-consuming—too slow to deliver the returns demanded by an increasingly difficult investor market.
In a randomized controlled trial (RCT) study of 85K Europeans, published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine, colonoscopies were found to reduce incidence of colorectal cancer by only 18 percent—much less than earlier large studies—and have no impact on ten-year colorectal cancer mortality rates. This is the first study to directly compare individuals invited to receive colonoscopies with a control group receiving no cancer screening.
While the study’s findings surprised many researchers, an important caveat to the headline takeaways is that a secondary analysis of study participants who actually completed their colonoscopies found a 50 percent reduction in death, though the decision to accept the invitation likely correlates with other factors that improve mortality outcomes.
The Gist: We were surprised to learn this was the first RCT to assess the effectiveness of colonoscopies—15M of which are performed in the US each year—and which comprise a $36B market. While the study’s results need careful interpretation, it reminds us that much of established medical consensus has yet to be “proven” by rigorous scientific research.
While we don’t expect this study’s results to significantly change colonoscopy recommendations, it does place greater emphasis on the question of value generated by widespread preventative screenings. Colonoscopy will almost certainly remain the gold standard for colon cancer screening in the US, but if these results bear out, other less invasive types of screening, like home-based fecal immunochemical testing, could be viewed as equivalent options and receive more traction.
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.
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 1; part 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.