Hospital cost containment plateaus, Kaufman Hall reports

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Dive Brief:

  • Hospitals are having a harder time controlling costs through labor and efficiencies and improvement efforts plateaued last year, according to Kaufman Hall’s 2018 National Flash Report. Profitability indicators show that operating margin improved by about 5% compared to 2017.
  • Kaufman Hall, which analyzed more than 600 hospitals, found that volume trends underperformed compared to the previous year. Higher-acuity patients resulted in higher reimbursement per adjusted discharge and adjusted patient day.
  • Drug expenses are one reason for the cost issues. Drug costs increased by about 4% from 2017. Also, bad debt and charity care grew, though at a slower pace at the end of the year. One piece of good news for hospitals is that revenue increased in 2018.

Dive Insight:

Kaufman Hall found that 2018 was generally a year of improvement in regards to profitability. However, volume indicators showed underperformance as discharges continue to drop.

Revenue indicators showed promise, but an ongoing problem is expenses. Hospitals are trying to contain costs by reducing full-time equivalents and bed numbers. However, those savings only go so far and hospitals expect they’ll need to add staff in the coming years. A recent Healthcare Financial Management Association/Navigant survey reported that 78% of hospital CFOs said their organizations’ labor budgets will grow in the coming years, with 18% expecting an increase of more than 5%.

Another factor working against hospitals is drug costs. A recent InCrowd survey found that physicians are pessimistic that those prices will change, with 82% saying it’s unlikely the situation will improve next year.

The Trump administration backs cutting prescription prices as a way to reduce costs. HHS released a proposal in January to end safe harbor protections for drug rebates through pharmacy benefit managers in Medicare Part D and Medicaid managed care plans. Those savings would instead go directly to consumers.

Hospitals have implemented cost-containment strategies, but the report shows there comes a point when hospitals can’t cut anymore. It appears the industry may have reached that point. “Hospitals will need to think more innovatively on how to manage expense,” according to the report.

Kaufman Hall pointed specifically to the West, which experienced “worsening labor efficiency.” Hospitals in this region “need to consider how to employ more advanced approaches to labor management,” the authors wrote.

There are other ways to squeeze dollars out of hospital costs, according to a recent McKinsey & Company report. It estimated that between $1.2 trillion and $2.3 trillion could be saved over the next decade on productivity gains and not expanding the workforce. The report highlighted potential opportunities to improve productivity through efficiency and care coordination.



Healthcare M&A now more about strategy than opportunity, Kaufman Hall says

Dive Brief:

  • The size of the companies involved in healthcare M&A continues to grow. The average size in revenue of sellers was $409 million last year, nearly 14% higher than a decade ago, Kaufman Hall said in a new report.
  • Kaufman Hall found that seven transactions in 2018 involved sellers with net revenues of at least $1 billion.
  • Healthcare M&A today is more of a strategic decision than one about opportunistic growth. Fewer deals last year involved financially distressed sellers, according to the report.

Dive Insight:

Healthcare M&A isn’t so much about saving a struggling hospital now. Instead, these deals often involve strong health systems looking to expand into new areas.

Nearly one-third of healthcare transactions last year involved companies with revenues of between $100 million and $500 million. About one-fifth of deals were at least $500 million.

Nearly half involved not-for-profit companies acquiring other nonprofits and about one-quarter were not-for-profits buying for-profits. Another nearly 25% involved a for-profit acquiring either another for-profit or nonprofit.

Kaufman Hall said M&A activity isn’t about taking advantage of a struggling competitor. A mere 20% of deals involved a distressed company. Instead, health systems want strategic advantages.

“Health system leaders are seeking to acquire organizations that bring embedded expertise and resources to the deal, making these transactions more of a strategic partnership than an asset acquisition,” according to the report.

Kaufman Hall said it has found that health systems with “strong operational or clinical capabilities” are looking beyond their local markets.

New competitors in the market are offering larger scale and resources, including annual revenues as much as nearly 10 times the levels of the biggest not-for-profit systems. The CVS Health-Aetna deal kicked off a trend that continued with Humana-Kindred Healthcare and Optum-DaVita Medical Group and goes on with Amazon’s efforts to enter healthcare.

“New combinations across healthcare verticals and new market entrants are creating competitors that dwarf the scale of even the largest health systems,” according to the analysis. “The forces that are reshaping the industry affect not-for-profit and for-profit health systems alike and are causing not-for-profit and for-profit strategies to converge.”

Kaufman Hall found that consolidation is happening faster in some states than others. Not surprisingly, Texas led with eight deals in 2018. Florida (seven), Pennsylvania (six) and Louisiana and Tennessee (five each) ranked next.

Texas ($6.8 billion) and Florida ($3.6 billion) led in terms of revenue of announced deals. Kaufman Hall said 16 states didn’t have any healthcare transactions. However, some of those states, such as Kentucky and Massachusetts, have seen a high volume or large deals in recent years.

One downside of M&A is consolidation that can limit competition. The Center for American Progress recently reported that provider consolidation has led to higher healthcare prices. That report also found that consolidation isn’t lowering costs and improving care coordination, which is a common argument in favor of M&A activity.







There’s a building threat from the nation’s two retail drugstore giants to hospitals and health systems as providers move toward value-based care and lower-cost outpatient services.

Even with Amazon threatening to compete with retail drugstore chains CVS Health and Walgreens with its own online pharmacy, these retailers aren’t giving up on brick-and-mortar as a way to attract more patients into their stores.

And that’s bad news for the nation’s hospitals and health systems.

There’s a building threat from the nation’s two retail drugstore giants to hospitals and health systems as medical care providers move away from fee-for-service medicine to value-based care and lower-cost outpatient services.

Walgreens and CVS are looking to healthcare as a way to keep customers coming into their stores, particularly in an era where consumers are fleeing brick-and-mortar to shop online via Amazon.

As front-end retail sales have fallen in recent years, CVS and Walgreens are moving more rapidly into healthcare from simply their historic role of filling prescriptions beyond the pharmacy counter and treating routine maladies with nurse practitioners in their retail centers to more services.

They are partnering more closely with health insurance companies that will work harder to funnel more patients to outpatient healthcare services inside the stores that will make them direct competitors of U.S. hospitals and health systems.

CVS has more than 1,100 retail MinuteClinics compared to 800 five years ago and 400 a decade ago.

CVS was opening 100 clinics per year 10 years ago, and that has slowed because they are now focusing on expanding healthcare services in the clinics as well as their stores generally. The same goes for Walgreens.

Walgreens has increased the services in its retail clinics, advertising the ability of nurse practitioners to conduct routine exams and student physicals and has been aggressively lobbying states across the country to change scope-of-practice laws to allow pharmacists to administer an array of vaccines.

“Why not use those locations as a strategy for healthcare?” Walgreens Chief Medical Officer Dr. Patrick Carroll says of the drugstore chain’s nearly 10,000 locations across the country. “We have the space. We should use it.”

To be sure, Walgreens is looking to provide more physician services like x-rays and procedures by partnering with UnitedHealth Group’s Optum to connect its MedExpress brand urgent care centers to an adjacent Walgreens. Like most retailers, Walgreens’ sales of general merchandise in the front end of the store is falling just as pharmacy sales, personal healthcare, and wellness revenues rise.

In the first such ventures, the Walgreens store and the MedExpress center each have their own entrance with a door inside connecting the urgent care center with the drugstore. It’s designed for a medical provider to guide a patient to either facility depending on their prescription or other needs.

For now, there are 15 locations in six states that have MedExpress urgent care centers connected to Walgreens stores as part of the pilot. The markets include Las Vegas; Dallas; Minneapolis; Omaha, Nebraska; two cities in West Virginia; and Martinsville, Virginia.

“We’re working closely with a number of partners in the healthcare community to bring services closer to our customers,” Carroll said. “With our stores serving as more of a neighborhood health destination, we can best meet the changing needs of our customers, while also complementing our expanded pharmacy services.”

Meanwhile, CVS plans to offer more healthcare services inside its stores after its merger with Aetna closes. CVS executives say they aren’t ruling out developing urgent care centers as well.

CVS’ network of nearly 10,000 pharmacies and over 1,000 retail clinics, and Optum’s growing network of ambulatory facilities like the MedExpress urgent care centers are emerging as a model health insurers want to do business with as fee-for-service medicine gives way to value-based care that keeps patients out of the hospital.

And in CVS’ case, the pharmacy will soon own Aetna, a health plan with more than 20 million members. That combination, which is currently wending its way through the regulatory process, is expected to lead to more narrow network health plans that encourage patients to use providers in the Aetna-CVS network over other health systems’ facilities.

Health systems should be concerned, healthcare analysts say.

“CVS and Aetna, in their own words, are promising to reinvent the front door of American healthcare,” says Kenneth Kaufman, managing director and chair of the consulting firm Kaufman Hall. “That promise should be of serious concern for legacy hospital providers since those providers have occupied that front door for the past 75 years.”

CVS Health President and CEO Larry Merlo is beginning to offer some details to their strategies.

While cautioning that it’s “very early” in the development of new programs the combined company will develop, Merlo has said the larger company plans to first focus on three primary patient populations: those patients with any of five chronic diseases: diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, asthma, and depression.

CVS and Aetna will also focus on “patients undergoing transitions in care,” and a third “broader focus on managing high-risk patients,” Merlo told analysts on the company’s second quarter earnings call in May.

“By extending our new health care model more broadly in the marketplace, patients will benefit from earlier interventions and better connected care leading to improved health outcomes,” Merlo said on September 20 at a CVS Health town hall meeting in Los Angeles.

“Think again about that senior leaving the hospital, knowing that the care plan prescribed by her doctor is being seamlessly coordinated by CVS and her caregiver. By fully integrating Aetna’s medical information and analytics with CVS Health’s pharmacy data and our 10,000 community locations, we can enable more effective treatment of the whole patient,” he says.


Ascension, Presence Health ink deal to merge

Dive Brief:

  • Ascension and Presence Health signed a definitive agreement for Presence to join Ascension and become part of AMITA Health, a joint venture between Ascension’s Alexian Brothers Health System and Adventist Midwest Health. The two systems signed a non-binding letter of intent to strike a deal last August.
  • Presence Health will add medical centers, outpatient facilities and other care sites to AMITA Health except for Presence Life Connections, which will go under Ascension’s senior care subsidiary, Ascension Living.
  • Presence is one of the largest Catholic health systems in Illinois, serving about 4 million people with annual revenue of $2.6 billion. Ascension is the biggest nonprofit health system in the U.S. by acute care beds, according to Becker’s, with total operating revenue of $11.3 billion as of the second half of 2017, according to the company’s website.

Dive Insight:

Anthony Tersigni, president and CEO of Ascension, said the organizations remain committed to “providing compassionate and personalized care for all, with special attention to persons living in poverty and those most vulnerable.” Bringing the two companies together will “strengthen Catholic healthcare as we provide affordable, accessible and quality care to the community.”

The companies said the transaction advances their “joint commitment to the mission of faith-based healthcare.” They also specifically highlighted both companies’ accountable care organizations (ACOs) that will allow AMITA Health “to even more efficiently and effectively address the growing emphasis on managing the health of large populations.”

Hinsdale, Illinois-based Adventist Midwest Health, which is part of Adventist Health System, and Arlington Heights, Illinois-based Alexian Brothers Health System, part of Ascension, formed AMITA Health in February 2015. AMITA Health is an integrated health system with nine hospitals that serves western and northwestern suburban Chicago.

Ascension is in talks to buy Providence St. Joseph Health, the Wall Street Journal reported late last year, which would make the company even bigger with estimated annual revenue of $45 billion.

The agreement is the latest involving health systems trying to find ways to cut costs and reach scale, while looking to improve quality of care. These deals are becoming increasingly important as hospitals face lower reimbursements and patient volumes and payers push more care to outpatient settings.

A recent Kaufman Hall report found hospital and health system M&A increased from 102 deals and $31.3 billion in 2016 to 115 and a whopping $63.2 billion in 2017. Eleven of those sales involved sellers with net revenues of $1 billion or more, which was the most megadeals recorded.

Kaufman Hall predicts the M&A trend will continue this year, including blockbuster deals, aligning non-traditional players with targeted segments, partnerships involving nonprofits and for-profits and transactions along the continuum of care.

“2017 will likely be looked back upon as a bellwether for 2018 and beyond as the industry transforms itself with both proactive initiatives and reactionary responses to epic levels of disruption,” said Kaufman Hall.