CHS sees massive Q3 net loss amid weak volume, aftershocks of HMA settlement

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/chs-sees-massive-q3-net-loss-amid-weak-volume-aftershocks-of-hma-settlemen/540868/

Credit: Rebecca Pifer / Healthcare Dive, Yahoo Finance data

 

Dive Brief:

  • Community Health Systems reported third quarter net operating revenues of $3.5 billion, a 5.9% decrease compared with $3.7 billion from the same period last year but slightly higher than analyst expectations.
  • In its earnings release after market close Monday, the Franklin, Tennessee-based hospital operator also disclosed a massive shareholder loss in the quarter of $325 million, or $2.88 per diluted share. CHS had a net loss of $110 million, or $0.98 per diluted share, in Q3 2017.
  • Lower volume was partially to blame, as the quarter saw a 12.4% decrease in total admissions and a 12.2% decrease in total adjusted admissions compared with the same period in 2017. The report also pointed the finger at the financial aftershocks of its troubled purchase of Health Management Associates (HMA), along with loss from early extinguishment of debt, restructuring and taxes.

Dive Insight:

CHS, one of the largest publicly traded hospital companies in the U.S., reported its highest operating cash flow since the second quarter of 2015, according to Jefferies. The third quarter figure of $346 million is also significantly higher than the $114 million from the same quarter last year.

Similarly, volume and revenue didn’t tank as heavily on a same-store basis as they did overall. Same-facility admissions decreased just 2.3% (adjusted admissions by 0.8%) compared with a year ago. Net operating revenues actually increased by 3.2% during the quarter compared with last year, beating analyst expectations.

But declining admissions show how hospital operators continue to struggle under the fierce headwinds 2018 has blown their way so far. CHS is clearly not immune, as the 117-hospital system faces ongoing operational challenges, bringing in financial advisers earlier this year to restructure its copious long-term debt.

The 20-state hospital operator continues to deal with the fiscal fallout from its roughly $7.6 billion acquisition of Florida hospital chain HMA in 2014. The Department of Justice accused the 70-facility HMA of violating the Stark Law and the anti-kickback statute for financial gain between 2008 and 2012, activities CHS reportedly was aware of prior to the merger.

Just last month, CHS announced a $262 million settlement agreement ending the DOJ investigation into HMA’s misconduct. However, that liability was adjusted during the third quarter and, taking into account interest, now totals $266 million. The fee will reportedly be paid by the end of this year.

The settlement also slapped an additional $23 million tax bill on the 19,000-bed system under recent changes to the U.S. tax code.

But that’s not the only regulatory brouhaha CHS has dealt with this quarter.

Since August, CHS has been under civil investigation over EHR adoption and compliance. Annual financial filings show that the company received more than $865 million in EHR incentive payments between 2011 and 2017 through the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act, payments that investigators believe may have been overly inflated.

To deal with the burden, CHS has continued its portfolio-pruning strategy into the third quarter (although a recent Morgan Stanley report notes the system has a very high concentration of weak facilities, and those at risk of closing, relative to its peers). 

During 2018 so far, CHS has sold nine hospitals and entered into definitive agreements to divest five more. The earnings report also divulged CHS is pursuing additional sale opportunities involving hospitals with a combined total of at least $2 billion in annual net operating revenues during 2017, taken in tandem with the hospitals already sold.

The ongoing transactions are currently in various stages of negotiation, the report notes, but CHS “continues to receive interest from potential acquirers.”

CHS is cast in a better light when balance sheet adjustment and non-cash expenses are discarded, as well. Adjusted EBITDA was $372 million compared with $331 million for the same period in 2017, representing a 12.4% increase and suggesting the company can still generate cash flow for its owners in a more friendly atmosphere than the one Q3 provided.

But, though Q2 results were a bright spot in an otherwise gloomy year for the massive hospital operator, its shares have lost about 30% of their value since the beginning of the year (compared to the S&P 500’s decline of roughly 0.5%).

Jefferies believes that CHS should improve its balance sheet and drive positive same-store volume growth, along with speeding up divestitures to raise cash to pay down debt, in order to improve its stock performance.

 

 

Oxygen equipment provider Lincare pays $5.25M to settle Medicare Advantage fraud suit

https://www.fiercehealthcare.com/payer/lincare-oxygen-durable-equipment-medicare-advantage-fraud-settlement?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiTjJRMlpERTBObU0yWldOaiIsInQiOiJPMDVjRGNQVzcxMjIzOGt1ZTZva0R2YU1PXC9mYkczVEtYVHNHWmZzSHc1TjU1RGRZZ1o4VVprZStEV3R3VWdXWFwvQlRoYVg4cGpzakZIOFFkMkthRnVPbVwvNEUwQ3ptOVozRGQ0U3IyVDFENENmZTErMjc3TDhRYlwvaUlrT1oxSWgifQ%3D%3D&mrkid=959610

The word fraud framed by other words

One of the country’s largest suppliers of oxygen and respiratory equipment has agreed to pay $5.25 million to settle allegations that it violated anti-kickback laws by reducing copayments for certain Medicare Advantage members.

Lincare has also entered into a corporate integrity agreement with the Office of Inspector General, the Department of Justice announced last week.

The settlement resolves allegations filed by former billing supervisor Brian Thomas, who worked for nearly a decade at the Florida-based company. In his 2015 complaint, which was later joined by federal prosecutors, Thomas claimed Lincare waived copays for Humana’s Medicare Advantage members beginning in December 2011 after the insurer contracted with Apria Healthcare to be an exclusive in-network provider of medical equipment.

In his complaint, Thomas said Lincare matched network benefits by reducing copays from Humana beneficiaries from 30% to 13% to align with copays from Apria. Humana was left paying for a higher charge using government funds.

Lincare was purchased by The Linde Group, a German industrial gas company, for $3.8 billion in 2012. The government alleged Lincare continued the scheme through 2017.

It’s the second major settlement for Lincare, which operates about 1,000 locations across the country. In May, the company paid $875,000 to settle a class action lawsuit from employers who had their information stolen during a data breach.

 

 

 

CMS seeks input on Stark Law changes amid value-based care shift

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/cms-seeks-input-on-stark-law-changes-amid-value-based-care-shift/526239/

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Dive Brief:

  • The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services asked stakeholders Wednesday for input on how to change the Stark Law to allow for better care coordination and new alternative payment models or other novel financial arrangements.
  • The American Hospital Association has been vocal in pushing for changes to the physician self-referral law, calling it outdated. AHA argues the law presents “nearly impenetrable roadblocks in the move toward value-based care.”
  • The agency specifically is requesting input on what new exemptions to the Stark Law are needed to protect accountable care organization models, bundled payment models and other payment models, including how to allow coordination care outside of an alternative payment model. It also asks for help examining definitions for terminology such as risk-sharing, enrollee, gain-sharing and other terms.

Dive Insight:

The Stark Law, enacted in 1989, aims to cut down on financial incentives impacting physician care decisions. It prohibits certain Medicare-payable referrals to entities they have a financial or familial relationship with, and stops such entities from filing Medicare claims for referred services, unless exempted under certain instances.

CMS says that it is issuing the RFI in response to comments it has received that raised concern that the Stark Law is impeding participation in healthcare delivery and payment reform efforts.

“We are particularly interested in your thoughts on issues that include, but are not limited to, the structure of arrangements between parties that participate in alternative payment models or other novel financial arrangements, the need for revisions or additions to exceptions to the physician self-referral law, and terminology related to alternative payment models and the physician self-referral law,” the CMS notice states.

In a statement submitted by AHA to the House Subcommittee on Health of the Committee on Ways and Means, the group urged Congress to step in to change Stark Law to allow hospitals and physicians to more closely work together.

“Congress should create a clear and comprehensive safe harbor under the anti-kickback law for arrangements designed to foster collaboration in the delivery of health care and incentivize and reward efficiencies and improvement in care,” AHA said.  “In addition, the Stark Law should be reformed to focus exclusively on ownership arrangements. Compensation arrangements should be subject to oversight solely under the anti-kickback law.”

CMS Administrator Seema Verma appears to be sympathetic. In a Wednesday blog post, she said the Stark Law may be prohibiting value-based arrangements that HHS has made a priority to shift towards. Previously, Verma said that CMS was going to put together an inter-agency group to examine potential changes to the law.

“I think that Stark was developed a long time ago, and this gets to where we are going modernizing the program,” Verma told AHA President and CEO Rick Pollack during a webcast in January. “The payment systems and how we are operating is different, and we need to bring along some of those regulations and figure out what we can do. And I’m not sure that this is not going to require some congressional intervention as well.”

CMS is asking for comments to be submitted on the RFI by August 24.

 

Medicare Beneficiaries Feel The Pinch When They Can’t Use Drug Coupons

Medicare Beneficiaries Feel The Pinch When They Can’t Use Drug Coupons

This week, I answered a grab bag of questions about drug copay coupons and primary care coverage on the health insurance marketplace.

Q: My doctor wants me to take Repatha for my high cholesterol, but my Medicare drug plan copayment for it is $618 a month. Why can’t I use a $5 drug copay coupon from the manufacturer? If I had commercial insurance, I could. I’m on a fixed income. How is this fair?

The explanation may offer you little comfort. Under the federal anti-kickback law, it’s illegal for drug manufacturers to offer people any type of payment that might persuade them to purchase something that federal health care programs like Medicare and Medicaid might pay for. The coupons can lead to unnecessary Medicare spending by inducing beneficiaries to choose drugs that are expensive.

“The law was intended to prevent fraud, but in this case it also has the effect of prohibiting Part D enrollees from using manufacturer copay coupons … because using the coupon would be steering Medicare’s business toward a particular entity,” said Juliette Cubanski, associate director of the Program on Medicare Policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation. (Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the foundation.)

The coupons typically offer patients with commercial insurance a break on their copayment for brand-name drugs, often reducing their out-of-pocket costs to what they would pay for inexpensive generic drugs. The coupons help make expensive specialty drugs more affordable for patients. They can also increase demand for the drugmaker’s products. If patients choose to use the coupons to buy a higher-cost drug over a generic, the insurer’s cost is likely to be more than what it would otherwise pay.

In addition, consumers should note that the copay cards often have annual maximums that leave patients on the hook for the entire copayment after a certain number of months, said Dr. Joseph Ross, associate professor of medicine and public health at Yale University who has studied copay coupons.

The coupons may discourage patients from considering appropriate lower-cost alternatives, including generics, said Leslie Fried, a senior director at the National Council on Aging.

According to a 2013 analysis co-authored by Ross and published in the New England Journal of Medicine, 62 percent of 374 drug coupons were for brand-name drugs for which there were lower-cost alternatives available.

Q: Last year, my marketplace plan covered five primary care visits at no charge before I paid down my $2,200 deductible. This year, it doesn’t cover any appointments before the deductible, and I had to pay $80 out-of-pocket when I went to the doctor. Is that typical now? It makes me think twice about going.

Under the Affordable Care Act, marketplace plans are required to cover many preventive services, including an annual checkup, without charging consumers anything out-of-pocket. Beyond that, many marketplace plans cover services such as some primary care visits or generic drugs before you reach your deductible.

The likelihood of having a plan that offers some cost sharing for primary care before you reach your deductible (rather than requiring you to pay 100 percent of the cost until you hit that amount) varies significantly depending on whether you’re in a bronze, silver or gold plan, according to a recent analysis by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

In 2018, 77 percent of silver-level plans offered some cost sharing for primary care visits before enrollees had paid off their typical deductible of $3,800, the analysis found. In most cases, that means people owe a copayment or coinsurance charge for each visit until they reach their deductible. A small number of plans offered a limited number of no-cost or low-cost visits first, and then people using more services either had to pay the full charge for each visit or owed cost sharing until the deductible was met.

Bronze plans were much stingier in what they offered for primary care before people reached their deductible, which was $6,400 or higher in half of plans. Only 38 percent of bronze plans offered any primary care coverage before the deductible, and generally patients still had to pay a copayment or coinsurace. A smaller percentage of bronze plans offered limited visits at no cost or low cost before the deductible.

The share of people who chose bronze plans grew from 23 percent in 2017 to 29 percent this year, said Katherine Hempstead, a senior policy adviser at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. While premiums are typically significantly lower in bronze plans than other “metal”-level plans, it can be worthwhile to check out how plans handle primary care services before the deductible, she said.