House Subcommittee Takes Dim View of Healthcare Consolidation

https://www.healthleadersmedia.com/strategy/house-subcommittee-takes-dim-view-healthcare-consolidation

Lawmakers and witnesses alike cited the ill-effects of hospital mergers and acquisitions in a long list of industry behavior they find troubling.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

An economics and health policy professor from Carnegie Mellon suggested lawmakers should give the FTC more power to review nonprofit mergers.

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle expressed dissatisfaction with the healthcare industry’s consolidation trend and voiced support for legislative action.

A hearing of the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee would not have been a comfortable place Thursday for any healthcare executive touting the benefits of a planned merger or acquisition.

Lawmakers and witnesses took turns criticizing rampant consolidation among hospitals and other healthcare companies. While the public is often told these deals will lead to improved efficiency and higher quality care, those purported benefits frequently fail to materialize, they said.

Since the hearing grouped payer and provider consolidation with anticompetitive concerns about the pharmaceutical industry—an area that both major parties have expressed interest in addressing through congressional action—the discussion could signal how lawmakers will approach any legislation to address the problems they perceive.

Rep. Doug Collins, a Republican from Georgia and the committee’s ranking member, said hospital consolidation has had an especially detrimental impact on rural communities in his state.


“These communities often already have few options for quality care, so as hospital consolidation has increased over the past 10 years, rural communities like my own have been hurt the most,” Collins said.

“At times, these mergers and acquisitions can help rural communities by keeping facilities open, but often they result in full or partial closures and shifting patients from nearby facilities to those hours away,” he added.

Some problems caused by consolidation, such as increased travel times for emergency services, can “literally mean the difference in life and death,” Collins said.

Jerry Nadler, a Democrat from New York and the committee’s chairman, said there’s no question that the recent spate of mergers has contributed to the industry’s problems.

“It is well documented that hospital mergers can lead to higher prices and lower quality of care,” Nadler said.

Martin Gaynor, PhD, an economics and health policy professor at Carnegie Mellon University and a founder of the Health Care Cost Institute, said in his testimony that there have been nearly 1,600 hospital mergers in the past 20 years, leading most regions to be dominated by one large health system apiece.

“This massive consolidation in healthcare has not delivered for Americans. It has not given us better care or enhanced efficiency,” Gaynor said. “On the contrary, extensive research evidence shows us that consolidation between close competitors results in higher prices, and patient quality of care suffers for lack of competition.”

Since hospitals that have fewer competitors can better negotiate favorable payment terms, this consolidated landscape “poses a serious challenge for payment reform,” he added.

“Our healthcare system is based on markets. That system is only going to work as well as the markets that underpin it,” Gaynor said. “Unfortunately, these markets do not function as well as they could or should.”

Gaynor recommended several possible policy changes, including an end to policies that make it harder for new competitors to enter a market and compete and an expanded authority for the Federal Trade Commission to review potentially anticompetitive conduct by nonprofit entities. He also said lawmakers should consider imposing FTC reporting requirements for even small transactions to enhance the tracking capabilities of enforcement agencies.

To support his claims, in his written testimony, Gaynor pointed to research he completed with Farzad Mostashari of Aledade Inc. and Paul B. Ginsburg of The Brookings Institution.

 

 

 

 

NC hospital system tries another megamerger

https://www.axios.com/newsletters/axios-vitals-f500be38-f71e-4984-955b-efc69e20a435.html?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=newsletter_axiosvitals&stream=top

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Atrium Health struck out a year ago when it attempted to merge with in-state rival UNC Health Care, Bob reports. Now, the hospital system has inked a new deal to combine with Wake Forest Baptist Health, which is 90 minutes away from its headquarters.

Why it matters: Research overwhelmingly shows these kinds of regional hospital mergers lead to higher health care prices (and, consequently, premiums) because providers gain negotiating leverage and make it harder for health insurers to exclude them from networks.

Between the lines: The primary hook that Atrium and Wake Forest are selling is that they would build a new medical school in Charlotte. Because who could be against more doctors and research?

  • The organizations didn’t mention how, or if, they would try to keep costs and prices down.
  • The combined system would have almost $10 billion of revenue, which is roughly the size of Boston Scientific.

 

When Hospitals Merge to Save Money, Patients Often Pay More

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Massachusetts officials attach stiff conditions to Beth Israel-Lahey merger

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/massachusetts-officials-attach-stiff-conditions-to-beth-israel-lahey-merger/539515/

Dive Brief:

  • Massachusetts public health officials have set tough new conditions for the proposed merger of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Lahey Health that will require the parties to demonstrate they’re holding down costs while ensuring access to low-income patients, The Boston Globe reports.
  • The conditions, laid out at a Wednesday meeting of the state’s Public Health Council, include yearly reporting of how the hospitals will apply savings from the merger to enhance care quality and access to services. If savings surpass the state’s 3.1% benchmark for controlling healthcare costs, the new system will have to put more money back into services and community hospitals and clinics.
  • The conditions also require the system, within six months, to develop a plan to increase services to Medicaid patients and, within two years, ensure full participation by Beth Israel-Lahey physicians in the state Medicaid program.

Dive Insight:

The conditions follow a Health Policy Commission report that warned the merger could result in a $128.4 million to $170.8 million increase in healthcare spending for inpatient, outpatient and adult primary care services and up to $59.7 million for specialty physician services.

The commission concluded that while the merger could lead to improvements in quality and efficiencies, the companies hadn’t explained how that would happen. The new conditions call for a second report in five years to assess the merger’s impact on healthcare costs and services in the state.

BIDMC CEO Kevin Tabb called the commission’s conditions “strict,” but said they won’t discourage the planned merger. “While the conditions are unprecedented, we are eager to move forward together as Beth Israel Lahey Health,” he told Healthcare Dive via email. “The status quo in this market is unacceptable, and it’s time to do something different.”

As mergers and acquisitions continue in healthcare, potential problems could lead to more stringent conditions. Research has shown, for example, that horizontal mergers can drive up costs. Once completed, Beth Israel-Lahey Health would rival Partners HealthCare System in terms of market share in Massachusetts. The new company could use its increased bargaining power to raise prices for commercial payers, increasing healthcare spending.

A recent National Bureau of Economic Research analysis also played down the extent to which hospital mergers increase efficiencies. According to NBER, acquired hospitals save just 1.5% of total costs following a merger — or an average of $176,000 a year.

And a recent University of California-Berkeley study of health system consolidation in the state found that highly concentrated markets led to higher hospital and physician service fees, as well as higher Affordable Care Act premiums, especially in northern California.

 

 

AT&T, Time Warner, and the Future of Health Care

https://www.commonwealthfund.org/blog/2018/att-time-warner-and-future-health-care?omnicid=EALERT%25%25jobid%25%25&mid=%25%25emailaddr%25%25

AT&T Time Warner Merger

Policymakers and private actors should not interpret a federal court’s AT&T and Time Warner ruling as an unconditional green light for vertical integration in health care.

The need for change in the U.S. health care system is obvious, but whether vertical integration is the change we need remains to be determined.

The recent federal district court ruling allowing the merger of AT&T and Time Warner — a case of so-called vertical integration — will likely encourage similar unions throughout the U.S. economy, including in health care. Nevertheless, a close look at the court’s decision, and at the wide variety of vertical health care mergers under way, suggests that policymakers and private actors should not interpret the court’s ruling as an unconditional green light for vertical integration in health care, or any other sector.

Vertical integration typically involves the combination of entities operating on different parts of a supply chain in the production of a particular product. Manufacturers of tires, for example, are part of the supply chain that results in a finished automobile. Similarly, ambulatory physician services are sometimes seen as an input on the supply chain of more advanced hospital services. The acquisition of physician practices by hospitals is often characterized as vertical integration.

Some antitrust experts question whether the analogy between manufactured products and health care delivery is accurate. Independent physicians, for example, often work within hospitals and help to produce their “products.” Nevertheless, there are clear differences between mergers across the same types of health care organizations, like hospitals, and those between different types of providers, like physicians and hospitals.

The AT&T/Time Warner case was the first time in 40 years that the government has taken a proposed vertical integration to court, and many commentators have noted that antitrust theory with respect to vertical integration could use some updating. In the meantime, however, Judge Richard Leon’s 172-page opinion seems to have relied on traditional antitrust considerations: would the merger increase or decrease competition, and thereby increase or decrease consumer welfare? His ruling rested heavily on what he viewed as the government’s failure to supply evidence that the merger would have adverse effects. In other words, if the government had produced more convincing data, the ruling could have gone the other way.

Judge Leon’s ruling may be appealed and, if so, may not stand. But if it does, what are its implications for vertical integration in health care? Simply put, the facts matter. And unfortunately, the facts about vertical integration in health care are obscure, and likely to vary enormously according to the details of the merger and from market to market.

Evidence on the effects of horizontal health care mergers has grown considerably in recent years, and generally shows that they increase prices. But studies of vertical health care mergers are much less common. Perhaps the most relevant experience concerns long-standing integrated health systems, such as Kaiser Permanente, Intermountain, Geisinger, and a handful of similar organizations.

Widely regarded as industry leaders in quality and efficiency, these systems seem to demonstrate the benefits of vertical integration: they are able to coordinate services across different types of providers, and, when incentives encourage it, they can easily substitute less expensive services (e.g., ambulatory care) for more expensive ones (e.g., hospital care). However, whether the experiences of these integrated systems are generalizable to the current flock of mergers is unclear. Each of these venerable organizations has a unique history and culture that have shaped its performance over decades.

Studies of vertical integration will have to take into account the type of merger under consideration. The most common type of vertical integration seems to be the acquisition of physician groups — both primary care and specialty — by hospitals. Between 2012 and 2016, the number of hospital-employed U.S. physicians increased from 95,000 to 155,000.

But health care is witnessing a variety of other types of vertical integration. Insurers are buying physician groups, as in the case of UnitedHealth Group’s acquisition of parts of DaVita’s physician network. Drug store chains are buying insurers, as in the case of CVS’s purchase of Aetna. And integrated health systems like Partners HealthCare are proposing to buy insurers like Harvard Pilgrim Health Care.

The effects of these varied mergers will depend on the types of services being combined and the markets affected. From both a societal and legal standpoint, the facts matter.

For example, it turns out that the CVS-Aetna merger includes an important horizontal union between Part D health plans owned independently by CVS and Aetna. Part D health plans provide drug coverage to Medicare beneficiaries. In recent testimony before the California Department of Insurance, economist Richard Scheffler showed that in a number of markets, the merger of these Part D plans would significantly reduce competition, and thereby, could potentially increase the prices of drug coverage for Medicare patients. Fear of consolidation among Part D plans has caused the American Medical Association to oppose CVS’s acquisition of Aetna.

Adding to the uncertainty surrounding these questions is the unique nature of the health market, in which governments are the largest purchasers and consumers often don’t know the prices or value of the products they buy. Traditional competition in local markets sometimes results in radically increasing prices and costs, as providers pile on new technologies and facilities and compete for star physicians in an effort to attract customers. And many parts of health care already have a high degree of consolidation that limits price competition.  The result is a level of dysfunction that has created an almost universal cry for radical disruption of the status quo.

Health care is a conundrum on many levels, and how and whether to regulate vertical integration among its varied components may turn out to be another one. The need for change is obvious. Whether vertical integration is the change we need, and how the courts will treat it, remain to be determined.

 

Healthcare Triage: Why Does the U.S. Spend So Much on Healthcare? High, High Prices.

https://theincidentaleconomist.com/wordpress/healthcare-triage-why-does-the-u-s-spend-so-much-on-healthcare-high-high-prices/

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American healthcare spending is still WAY higher than pretty much all other industrialized countries. But not that long ago, things were different. The US didn’t spend nearly as much in this realm. What changed? Demographics? More sickness? Nah. Spoiler alert, prices have risen much, much faster than the rate of inflation. We’ve got a few suggestions for getting it under control.

 

What all these health care mergers mean for patients

The health care industry is on a mergers-and-acquisitions bender right now. But, as my colleague Bob Herman reports this morning, it’s not clear whether all of that consolidation will leave patients any better off.

  • Five proposed megamergers have been announced just within the past few weeks. They would create the top two largest non-profit hospital systems in the country. The proposed CVS-Aetna deal alone would be creating a giant pharmacy chain, clinic operator, pharmacy benefit manager and health insurer — all under one roof.

Why now? As more Baby Boomers age into Medicare and more low-income families gain coverage through the ACA’s Medicaid expansion, hospitals are taking on a lot more patients whose bills get paid by the government.

  • Merging into bigger, more concentrated health systems gives them more bargaining power with private insurance, where they can command higher rates than what they get from Medicare and Medicaid

Yes, but: The risk to the broader system is that health care companies might see savings from mergers, but people won’t feel the benefits.

  • “If you become too big, you don’t have the incentives to turn that into lower prices for consumers. That’s sort of the sticking point for when the merger gets out of hand for its size and scope,” says Tim Greaney, a former Department of Justice antitrust official who’s now a health law professor at the UC Hastings.

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