Hospital Operating Income Falls for Two-Thirds of Health Systems

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Hospital operating income and health systems

Hospital expenses are rising faster than revenue growth for health systems, resulting in declining operating income.

Health system operating income is deteriorating as hospital expenses continue to grow, according to a recent Navigant analysis.

In the three-year analysis of the financial disclosures for 104 prominent health systems that operate almost one-half of US hospitals, the healthcare consulting firm found that two-thirds of the organization saw operating income fall from FY 2015 to FY 2017. Twenty-two of these health systems had three-year operating income reductions of over $100 million each.

Furthermore, 27 percent of the health systems analyzes lost revenue on operations in at least one of the three years analyzed and 11 percent reported negative margins all three years.

In total, health systems facing operating earnings reductions lost $6.8 billion during the period, representing a 44 percent reduction.

Rapidly growing hospital expenses as the primary driver of declining operating margins, Navigant reported. Hospital expenses increased three percentage points faster hospital revenue from 2015 to 2017. Top-line operating revenue growth decreased from seven percent in 2015 to 5.5 percent by 2017.

Hospital revenue growth slowed during the period because demand went down for key hospital services, like surgery and inpatient admissions, Navigant explained.

Many of the revenue-generating services hospitals rely on are under the microscope. Policymakers and healthcare leaders are particularly looking to decrease the number of hospital admissions and safely shift inpatient surgeries to less expensive outpatient settings.

In exchange, Medicare and other leading payers are reimbursing hospitals for decreasing admissions or readmissions and their performance on other value-based metrics.

The shift to value-based reimbursement, however, is slow and steady, with just over one-third of healthcare payments currently linked to an alternative payment model. Hospitals and health systems are still learning to navigate the new payment landscape while keeping their revenue growing.

Value-based contracts also failed to deliver sufficient patient volume to counteract the discounts given to payers, Navigant added.

According to the firm, other factors contributing to a slowdown in hospital revenue growth included a decline in collection rates for private accounts and reductions in Medicare reimbursement updates because of the Affordable Care Act and the 2012 federal budget sequester.

“Because of reductions in Medicare updates from ACA and the sequester, hospital losses in treating Medicare patients rose from $20.1 billion in 2010 to $48.8 billion in 2016, according to American Hospital Association analyses,” the report stated. “The sharp $7.2 billion deterioration in Medicare margins that occurred from 2015 to 2016 surely contributed to the reduction in hospital operating margins in the same year of this analysis.”

While hospital revenue growth slowed, hospital expenses sharply rose as healthcare organizations invested in new technologies. Value-based reimbursement, federal requirements, and other components of the Affordable Care Act prompted hospitals to make strategic investments in EHRs, physicians, and population health management, causing expenses to increase, Navigant stated.

Key strategic investments made by hospitals and health systems included:

  • Compliance with the 2009 Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, which requires certified EHR implementation in hospitals and affiliated physician practices
  • Compliance with Medicare payment reform initiatives, such as accountable care organizations (ACOs) or pay-for-performance programs
  • Participation in new value-based contracts with payers
  • Establishment of employed physician groups or clinically integrated networks to develop the capabilities needed for compliance with performance- or value-based initiatives

“In addition to these strategic investments, other factors drove up routine patient care expenses, including a nursing shortage that increased nursing wages and agency expenses; specialty drug costs, particularly for chemotherapeutic agents; and, for some systems, recalibration of retirement fund costs,” the report stated.

The shift to value-based reimbursement and all of its accompanying policies will be the “new normal,” and hospitals should expect the low rate of revenue growth to persist, Navigant stated.

But hospitals and health systems can withstand the economic downturn by achieving strategic discipline and operational excellence, the firm advised.

“Systems must be disciplined to invest their growth capital in areas of actual reachable demand; that is, matched to the growth potential in the specific local markets the system serves,” the report stated. For example, creating a Kaiser-like closed panel capitated health offering in markets where there is no employer or health plan interest in buying such a product is a waste of scarce capital and management bandwidth.”

In line with strategic discipline, organizations will need to “prune” their owned assets portfolio by improving the utilization of their clinical capacity and growing patient throughput. Health systems can achieve this by focusing on scheduling and staffing, ensuring adherence to clinical pathways, streamlining discharges and care transitions, and adjusting physical capacity to actual demand.

The tools used to succeed in value-based contracts should also be applied to Medicare lines of business to reduce Medicare operating losses.

Additionally, vertical alignment will be key to weathering falling operating earnings, Navigant explained.

“Revenue growth is more likely to occur around the edges of the hospital’s core services — inpatient care, surgery, and imaging — rather than from those services themselves,” the report stated. “Creatively repackaging services like care management that is presently imbedded in every aspect of clinical operations, and finding retail demand for services presently bundled as part of the hospital’s traditional service offerings, represent such edge opportunities.”

Reducing patient leakage in multi-specialty groups and systems through improved referral patterns, scheduling, or care coordination will help to grow revenue and keep it within the system.

“To achieve better performance, health system management and boards must take a fresh look at their strategy considering local market realities. They need to look closely at the markets they serve, and size and target their offerings to actual market demand,” the report concluded. “They must re-examine and rationalize their portfolio of assets and demand marked improvements in efficiency and effectiveness, and measurable value creation for those who pay for care, particularly their patients. Since much of this should have been done five years ago, time is of the essence.”

Hospitals are investing in housing — Here’s why

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Several factors, including changes in reimbursement, have motivated some hospitals to invest in community housing projects, according to NPR.

In the 1990s, 50 percent of the children in Southern Orchards — near Columbus, Ohio-based Nationwide Children’s Hospital — lived in poverty. Through a partnership called the Healthy Neighborhoods Healthy Families initiative, Columbus, community groups like United Way, and Nationwide Children’s began to invest in the neighborhood’s homes. In 2008, the organizations started renovating vacant homes for resale, building affordable housing and funding renovations for homeowners.

With a $6.6 million infusion from Nationwide Children’s, the $22 million project led to the construction of 58 affordable housing units, 71 renovated homes and 15 new homes. The organizations also gave out 149 home improvement grants from 2008 to 2018, according to the report, which cites Pediatrics.

Kelly Kelleher, MD, director of the Center for Innovation in Pediatric Practice at Nationwide Children’s, writes in Pediatrics that Nationwide Children’s is treating “the neighborhood as a patient.” The hospital is attempting to mend harmful socio-economic and physical environments in the hope it will lower the prevalence of health issues caused by those conditions. The investment could pay for itself if the number of hospital visits from Southern Orchards neighborhood falls, said Dr. Kelleher.

Hospitals across the country are taking similar approaches, though not as direct as owning and operating housing in a certain neighborhood, according to Megan Sandel, MD, who helps direct Boston Medical Center’s housing initiative. Dr. Sandel said Boston Medical Center’s projects are owned and operated by other community organizations. Similar projects are off the ground in Seattle, Boston, Atlanta and New York, among other places.

A potential motivator for these projects is a shift from fee-for-service medicine to reimbursement based on improving quality of care, according to the report. Some states are even starting to give healthcare organizations funding to manage populations.

 

More than a quarter of major health systems plan Medicare Advantage launch, though many lack confidence

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Executives say the top reason for launching a Medicare Advantage plan is the opportunity to capture more value.

A new survey from Lumeris found that 27 percent of major U.S. health system executives intend to launch a Medicare Advantage plan in the next four years. Despite that, confidence among these same execs is lacking, with only 29 percent reporting they felt confident in their organization’s ability to make the launch successfully.

“These survey findings are consistent with our conversations with healthcare executives across the country who are feeling a sense of urgency around Medicare Advantage strategies, but also realize that this type of work is vastly different than traditional health system operations,” said Jeff Carroll, executive director of health plans at Lumeris, by statement.

In April, The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced it was releasing Medicare Advantage encounter data for the first time by request from the CMS Research Data Assistance Center. The MA encounter data, starting from 2015, provides detailed information about services to beneficiaries enrolled in a Medicare Advantage managed plan. It will give researchers insight into the care delivered under MA plans and will help them improve the Medicare program, CMS said. Annual updates are planned.

According to the 90 executives Lumeris surveyed from major health systems, the top reason for launching a Medicare Advantage plan is the opportunity to capture more value by controlling a greater portion of the premium dollar as compared to fee-for-service Medicare.

Other key drivers cited include market and regulatory trends supporting Medicare Advantage. In particular, shrinking Medicare margins could threaten the viability of hospitals and health systems as the senior population continues to grow and becomes a larger proportion of providers’ patient panels.

The respondents also recognized that launching a Medicare Advantage plan will be challenging due to the complexities of operating an insurance plan, which are far different than the capabilities required to successfully operate a health system.

They also shared concerns about the significant financial investment required and an overall lack of expertise in the health plan space. The majority of respondents, 59 percent, indicated they were likely to use outside resources to launch their plans — and that those resources are very likely to include a vendor partner that can mitigate operational risk.

“Launching and managing a Medicare Advantage plan requires skills beyond the core competencies of most health systems, which is one reason many provider-sponsored plans fail in the first few years,” Carroll said. “Through those failures, it has become clear that providers who select the right partners increase the likelihood for greater success in a shorter period of time.”

 

‘No profit, no mission’ — Why this CEO believes every healthcare leader needs a strong understanding of finance

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/hospital-management-administration/no-profit-no-mission-why-this-ceo-believes-every-healthcare-leader-needs-a-strong-understanding-of-finance.html

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In this special Speaker Series, Becker’s Healthcare caught up with Mark R. Anderson, CEO of AC Group, a healthcare technology and advisory research firm based in Montgomery, Texas.

Mr. Anderson will speak on a panel at Becker’s Hospital Review 7th Annual CEO + CFO Roundtable titled “The CEO paradox: Can you really have volume and value?” at 12:00 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 12. Learn more about the event and register to attend in Chicago.

Question: What keeps you excited and motivated to come to work each day?

Mark Anderson: The knowledge that we are finally moving away from fee-for-service billing to value-based reimbursement. For example, at AC Group, we have been able to cut medical costs for diabetic patients by 38 percent just by tracking blood sugar levels at home. Pay for results — don’t pay for just seeing the patient.

Q: What major challenges, financial or otherwise, are affecting hospitals in the markets you serve? How is your hospital responding?

MA: With hospital bankruptcies on the rise, we need to change how we deliver cost effective care and how we are paid. Because of high deductible health plans, the patient portion of the bill has increased from 9.4 percent in 2019 to 26.9 percent in 2017. How do we collect from the patient? How can we share clinical information about the patient with all providers without hurting our financial position?

Q: What initially piqued your interest in healthcare?

MA: It was my high school graduation present from my father. I wanted a trip to Hawaii and all I got was a letter stating, “Congratulations for finishing in the top 4 percent of your high school class. For your reward, you start work on Monday as the statistician for the hospital CEO.” Forty-five years and 250 hospitals later, I am still in hospital executive management.

Q: What is one of the most interesting healthcare industry changes you’ve observed in recent years?

MA: To name a few: Moving to electronic billing in 1985, moving from spending 2.1 percent on IT in 2005 to over 6.5 percent today (was it worth it?), forcing physicians to become data entry clerks so we can maximize coding with very little improvement in “health,” and moving to value-based reimbursement from fee-for-service so we are finally paid on quality, outcomes and our ability to lower costs through care coordination and remote patient monitoring. The four walls of the hospital are not the only care delivery system. Ninety-five percent of healthcare is delivered in the home.

Q: What is one piece of professional advice you would give to your younger self?

MA: Don’t enter the healthcare market without a strong financial knowledge base. Healthcare is a business. As the nuns told me back in 1976, no profit — no mission to help the poor and disadvantaged.