Kaufman Hall: Hospitals saw profitability bump in October, boosted by rise in volume


A bar chart showing positive business growth

Hospitals saw a profitable October, spurred by a boost in volume and length of stays, according to a new report. 

Kaufman Hall’s latest flash report, based on financial data from 600 hospitals in October, showed improved performance in both operating margin and EBITDA compared to September and to October 2017.

Year-over-year EBITDA margin improvements were reported across the country, aside from the Northeast and mid-Atlantic, with the greatest gains reported in the Midwest. Midsized hospitals with between 200 and 300 beds made the greatest profitability gains, while large hospitals with 500 or more beds struggled to manage costs as effectively, according to the report.

“For Halloween, October delivered a treat rather than a trick for hospitals,” Jim Blake, managing director and publisher at Kaufman Hall, wrote in the report.

A major source of the improvement, according to the report, was a 15.8% month-over-month increase in operating room minutes. Kaufman Hall’s team found a 5.2% increase in discharges and a 3.6% increase in emergency department visits. 

Though October’s results were positive, the analysts say it’s hard to determine whether one month of gains portends a longer-term rebound. But in the short term, Kaufman Hall does predict a strong December compared to the year before, though it could trail October and November’s figures.

As increased volume also means increased labor and supply costs, the report additionally spotlights the role the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Service’s expansion of cuts to 340B discounts could play in the profitability discussion for 2019.  

In late 2017, the agency finalized changes to the drug discount program’s payment rate, cutting it to 22.5% less than the average sales price for a drug. For 2019, CMS will expand those changes from hospitals to off-campus provider facilities, which will naturally tighten belts further, according to the report. 

The decrease in payments is likely to be less than the $1.6 billion culled from the program in 2018, according to the report, but it does mean hospitals should be paying close attention to how their outpatient and ambulatory facilities prescribe 340B drugs. 

It’s especially crucial to be vigilant, according to the report, as it’s likely CMS is considering other changes in this vein, and commercial payers follow the feds’ lead.

“The new CMS rule on 340B drugs is a sign of things to come, and healthcare leaders should be alert to such changes,” according to the report. “The federal government is likely to challenge any lines of business in which hospitals and health systems make significant margins.” 




Nonprofit hospitals ‘on an unsustainable path,’ Moody’s says


Dive Brief:

  • Not-for-profit and public hospitals spent more than they gained in revenues for the second consecutive year in fiscal 2017, according to Moody’s Investors Service.
  • Moody’s said the widening gap leaves facilities “on an unsustainable path” and will remain the largest strain on nonprofits through next year.
  • Median annual expense growth decreased to 5.7% in 2017 from 7.1%. That’s compared to annual revenue growth, which declined to 4.6% from 6.1%, according to Moody’s analyst Rita Sverdlik.

Dive Insight:

Hospitals, especially nonprofit facilities, are facing difficult times. Morgan Stanley recently reported that about 18% of more than 6,000 hospitals studied were at a risk of closure or are performing weakly. About 8% of studied hospitals were at risk of closing and 10% were called “weak,” according to that report. 

For perspective, just 2.5% of hospitals closed over the past five years.

What’s in store for hospitals in the near term depends on the specific outlook. Moody’s this year revised its outlook for the sector from stable to negative. That move followed nonprofit hospitals seeing more credit downgrades in 2017.  

On the other hand, Fitch Ratings recently called off its “Rating Watch” for U.S. nonprofit hospitals and health systems after the organizations showed improved or stable results this year.

So, there are signs of improvement in the sector, but challenges with revenues, sagging reimbursements and lower admissions will continue to plague hospitals.

The reasons Moody’s gave for lower revenue growth came from lower reimbursements, the shift to outpatient care, increased M&A activity and additional ambulatory competition. It said the move away from inpatient to outpatient moved into its fifth year.

Reversing sluggish volume trends and growing profitable service lines will be critical to improving the sector’s financial trajectory over the near-term as most hospitals continue to operate in a fee-for-service environment,” Sverdlik said.

Moody’s added that more hospitals reported operating deficits in 2017. That coincided with lower absolute operating cash flow. It said 28.4% of nonprofit hospital experienced operating losses, an increase from 16.5% in 2016. Also, 59% of providers reported lower absolute operating cash flow, which was more than double the 24% noted in 2015. The 2017 figure was the highest percentage in five years.

Don’t expect times to get better any time soon. Moody’s said nonprofit hospital margins will continue to remain thin through this year. Margins have fallen to an all-time low of 1.6% operating and 8.1% of operating cash flow.

“Margin pressures led to softened debt coverage ratios, though the median growth rate of total debt has been negative over the last five years,” Sverdlik said. “Ongoing operating pressures will constrain the ability to reverse these trends, especially if providers turn to debt to fund capital needs.”

However, it’s not all bad news. Moody’s said the medians have shown positive signs. For instance, median unrestricted cash and investments growth rate improved to 8.9% thanks to strong market returns and steady capital spending. Also, absolute cash growth exceeded expenses growth, which caused improved median cash on hand. That trend isn’t expected to continue if hospitals spend more cash flow on capital or if equity markets fall.



Healthcare megadeals may have major long-term impact, Moody’s says


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Dive Brief:

  • CVS Health’s plan to buy Aetna could have a significant impact on hospitals, health insurers and pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), according to Moody’s Investors Service’s Healthcare Quarterly.
  • Payers’ vertical integration strategies are credit negative for hospitals, but hospitals’ plans to make generic drugs and other new strategies are positives, Moody’s said.
  • On the payer side, Moody’s said mergers between health insurers and PBMs are credit negative in the short-term because of increased debt and risk associated with integration. However, in the long run, these deals may lower costs.

Moody’s said hospitals may feel the impact of UnitedHealth’s Optum buying DaVita Medical and Humana investing in Kindred Healthcare. However, Cigna’s purchase of Express Scripts won’t have much of an effect on hospitals.

Payers’ vertical integration strategies, such as buying physician groups and non-acute care providers, are credit negative for nonprofit and for-profit hospitals and put more pressure on hospital volumes and margins, Moody’s said.

The issue comes from payer vertical integration being able to offer preventive, outpatient and post-acute care for lower costs than acute care hospitals. These initiatives will have an increasingly disruptive impact to hospitals’ credit quality, according to the report.

“These strategies would place insurers in direct competition with hospitals, which offer the same services and are also seeking to align with physician groups,” Moody’s said.

On the payer side, two recently announced megadeals, CVS-Aetna and Cigna-Express Scripts, are both designed to control rising medical costs and target drug prescriptions, which now account for nearly one-fifth of total health spending. While payers have been able to limit growth in utilization, medical inflation and sources of medical care, prescription drug costs continue to rise, Moody’s said.

Though Moody’s expects both deals to be credit negative in the short-term, they have the potential to turn credit positive in the long run, especially CVS-Aetna. “The combined company has the potential to lower medical costs as Aetna will be better able to engage with its members as they purchase drugs at CVS retail pharmacies or through its prescription drug programs,” Moody’s said.

These deals will result in most payers having to contract with a PBM owned by a competitor. Moody’s expects PBM competition to remain high. Payer-owned PBMs must still offer the same cost savings to competitors to keep customers.

Out of the recent megadeals, only CVS buying Aetna is expected to have “more significant impact” for payers. The other announced transactions aren’t expected to cause many problems for insurance companies, Moody’s said.

Looking at initiatives that are in development, Moody’s said none of the big-name plans are expected to have much of an impact on the healthcare segments. These include the Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and J.P. Morgan Chase’s partnership, Apple opening medical clinics and entering the medical record business or nonprofit hospitals forming a generics company.


Fitch revises Prime Healthcare Foundation’s outlook to negative


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Fitch Ratings assigned its “BB-” rating to Ontario, Calif.-based Prime Healthcare Foundation’s proposed $123 million series 2017A and $127 million series 2017B.

The assignment was a result of PHF’s strong liquidity metrics relative to its debt burden and its experienced senior management team.

The outlook was revised to negative from stable, reflecting PHF’s unexpected decline in profitability and an increased debt burden.

Medicaid Expansion Has Improved the Financial Outlook for Safety-Net Hospitals



  • Issue: Safety-net hospitals play a vital role in delivering health care to Medicaid enrollees, the uninsured, and other vulnerable patients. By reducing the number of uninsured Americans, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was also expected to lower these hospitals’ significant uncompensated care costs and shore up their financial stability.
  • Goal: To examine how the ACA’s Medicaid expansion affected the financial status of safety-net hospitals in states that expanded Medicaid and in states that did not.
  • Methods: Using Medicare hospital cost reports for federal fiscal years 2012 and 2015, the authors compared changes in Medicaid inpatient days as a percentage of total inpatient days, Medicaid revenues as a percentage of total net patient revenues, uncompensated care costs as a percentage of total operating costs, and hospital operating margins.
  • Findings and Conclusions: Medicaid expansion had a significant, favorable financial impact on safety-net hospitals. From 2012 to 2015, safety-net hospitals in expansion states, compared to those in nonexpansion states, experienced larger increases in Medicaid inpatient days and Medicaid revenues as well as reduced uncompensated care costs. These changes improved operating margins for safety-net hospitals in expansion states. Margins for safety-net hospitals in nonexpansion states, meanwhile, declined.


Through their missions or legal mandate, safety-net hospitals provide care to all patients, regardless of their ability to pay.1 They include public hospitals, which are often providers of last resort in their communities; academic medical centers, which combine their teaching function with a mission to serve vulnerable populations; and certain private hospitals.

Safety-net hospitals deliver a significant level of care to low-income patients, including Medicaid enrollees and the uninsured, typically providing services that other hospitals in the community do not offer — trauma, burn care, neonatal intensive care, and inpatient behavioral health, as well as education for future physicians and other health care professionals. They are also an important source of care to uninsured individuals who are ineligible for Medicaid or subsidized marketplace coverage because of their citizenship status.2

Several studies have suggested major reductions in uncompensated care and improved financial status at safety-net institutions in states that expanded Medicaid compared to those in states that did not expand.3,4 However, these results were based on interviews with a limited number of safety-net health system executives and staff. Our analysis expands on this research by examining changes in key financial metrics — that is, uncompensated care, Medicaid costs and revenues, and total hospital margins–across safety-net hospitals nationally using standardized data.

When compared to other short-term acute care hospitals, hospitals that met our safety-net hospital criteria had substantially higher Medicaid revenue and uncompensated care levels than non-safety-net hospitals. Safety-net hospitals, however, had lower operating margins (Exhibit 1).

Below we discuss findings on the impact of the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) Medicaid expansion on safety-net hospitals’ financial status. The ACA allowed states to expand Medicaid eligibility to nonelderly adults with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. The reduction in the number of uninsured under the ACA coverage expansions was expected to reduce the uncompensated care that hospitals provide, thus improving their financial status. As of 2015, 31 states and the District of Columbia had expanded Medicaid, while 19 states had not.5

We measure changes in the financial status of safety-net hospitals in states that expanded Medicaid prior to 2015 (326 hospitals) versus safety-net hospitals in states that did not expand or expanded in 2015 or after (268 hospitals). (See “How We Conducted This Study” for complete methods.)

Key Findings

Our analysis of Medicare cost report data for federal fiscal years 2012 and 2015 shows a sizable contrast in financial performance between safety-net hospitals in states that expanded Medicaid under the ACA and those in states that did not. Performance metrics included the following:

    • Hospital operating margins.6 Operating margins improved for safety-net hospitals located in Medicaid expansion states compared with declines for those in states that did not expand. From 2012 to 2015, operating margins for safety-net hospitals in Medicaid expansion states increased from –3.2 percent to –2.1 percent in 2015 (Exhibit 2, Appendix A). In contrast during the same period, operating margins for safety-net hospitals in nonexpansion states declined from 2.3 percent to 2.0 percent. Largely accounting for this difference were increased Medicaid revenues and reduced uncompensated care costs. Even after expansion, safety-net hospitals’ operating margins in Medicaid expansion states were lower than those in nonexpansion states.
    • Medicaid inpatient days. From 2012 to 2015, safety-net hospitals in Medicaid expansion states experienced larger growth in Medicaid utilization than those in nonexpansion states (Exhibit 3). During the study period, Medicaid inpatient days in expansion states rose 13.5 percent. In comparison, Medicaid inpatient days in nonexpansion states fell slightly, by 0.9 percent.
    • Medicaid revenues and costs.7 The rise in use of safety-net hospitals in Medicaid expansion states resulted in these hospitals’ increased Medicaid revenue and costs compared to a slight decline in nonexpansion states (Exhibit 4). From 2012 to 2015, safety-net hospitals’ Medicaid revenues as a share of net patient revenues rose 12.7 percent in Medicaid expansion states. In contrast, during the same period, safety-net hospitals’ Medicaid revenues as a share of net patient revenues declined 1.8 percent in nonexpansion states. However, safety-net hospitals’ profit margins on Medicaid patients fell from 6.8 percent to 0.7 percent in expansion states, suggesting that the revenues received for newly eligible patients did not keep pace with the higher cost of treating these patients.
    • Uncompensated care costs.8 In 2012, safety-net hospitals’ uncompensated care costs as a percent of total hospital operating costs equaled 6.7 percent in expansion states compared to 5.7 percent in nonexpansion states (Exhibit 5). By 2015, however, the safety-net hospitals’ share of uncompensated care declined to 3.5 percent in expansion states, or a reduction of 47.4 percent. By comparison, in nonexpansion states that year, uncompensated care costs as a share of total hospital operating costs fell to 5.3 percent, a 7.8 percent reduction.


These data suggest that the Medicaid expansion created by the ACA had a significant positive financial impact on safety-net hospitals in states that expanded Medicaid eligibility relative to those in states that did not expand. Safety-net hospitals in expansion states saw larger increases in Medicaid patient volume and revenue, reduced uncompensated care, and improved financial margins compared to safety-net hospitals in nonexpansion states. Although our study’s results are specific to safety-net hospitals, other studies have found similar trends across all hospitals in expansion and nonexpansion states.9

The improved financial stability of safety-net hospitals could allow these hospitals to continue expanding outpatient capacity, invest in strategies to improve care coordination, hire new staff, and develop better infrastructure to monitor costs.10 Such investments can also help prepare hospitals for new payment arrangements that may require them to assume more financial risk for patient care and outcomes. Improvements not only benefit the institutions and Medicaid patients but the communities these hospitals serve.

Current attempts to repeal the ACA aim to eliminate the Medicaid expansions over time and curtail Medicaid spending by more than $800 billion over 10 years. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that about 14 million people could lose their Medicaid coverage by 2026, which would have an adverse effect on safety-net hospitals in those states. Specifically, safety-net hospitals’ gains in reduced uncompensated care and improved overall financial margins could be lost in the future.


Moody’s downgrades UPMC to ‘A1’


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Moody’s Investors Service downgraded Pittsburgh-based UPMC from “Aa3” to “A1,” affecting $2.9 billion of debt.

In addition, Moody’s downgraded UPMC-Hamot’s bonds, which are parity obligations for UMPC, from “Aa3” to “A1.”

The downgrade is a result of several factors including UPMC’s rapid expansion project, high execution risk following the acquisition of Harrisburg, Pa.-based PinnacleHealth and a new service area with high competition. Moody’s also acknowledged UPMC’s increased debt burden, below average financial performance and suppressed margins. Offsetting an additional notch downgrade is UPMC’s strong market position, integration of various hospital acquisitions and core competency in acute care management.

The outlook is negative, reflecting Moody’s expectation that UPMC’s rapid expansion may pose financial and cultural stress.

How hospitals got richer off Obamacare


After fending off challenges to their tax-exempt status, the biggest hospitals boosted revenue while cutting charity care.

decade after the nation’s top hospitals used all their advertising and lobbying clout to keep their tax-exempt status, pointing to their vast givebacks to their communities, they have seen their revenue soar while cutting back on the very givebacks they were touting, according to a POLITICO analysis.

Hospitals’ behavior in the years since the Affordable Care Act provided them with more than 20 million more paying customers offers a window into the debate over winners and losers surrounding this year’s efforts to replace the ACA. It also puts a sharper focus on the role played by the nation’s teaching hospitals – storied international institutions that have grown and flowered under the ACA, while sometimes neglecting the needy neighborhoods that surround them.

And it reveals, for the first time, the extent of the hospitals’ behind-the-scenes efforts to maintain tax breaks that provide them with billions of dollars in extra income, while costing their communities hundreds of millions of dollars in local taxes.

One example of the hospitals’ efforts to remain tax-free: the soaring, minutelong TV commercial that popped up on stations across Western Pennsylvania in 2009 by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, the area’s flagship hospital and one of the largest teaching hospitals in the country.

“UPMC is proud to be part of our city’s past, present and, more importantly, its future,” the narrator enthuses, as the camera pans around Pittsburgh scenes of priests, grocery-store workers, even a ballet dancer before coming to rest on the sprawling medical campus — one of the five largest in the world.

At the time, Congress was considering not only whether to remove tax-exempt status for teaching hospitals, a cause of Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), but also whether to add requirements forcing hospitals to do more for the low-income, urban communities in which so many of the top hospitals are located. And local leaders in many states were attempting to claw back billions of dollars in forgone tax revenue — a battle that would soon break out between UPMC and the mayor of Pittsburgh, too.

But the hospitals, aided by their good-neighbor initiative, prevailed. The ACA did nothing more to force the hospitals to share their revenue with their neighbors or taxpayers generally.

The result, POLITICO’s investigation shows, is that the nation’s top seven hospitals as ranked by U.S. News & World Report collected more than $33.9 billion in total operating revenue in 2015, the last year for which data was available, up from $29.4 billion in 2013, before the ACA took full effect, according to their own financial statements and state reports. But their spending on direct charity care — the free treatment for low-income patients — dwindled from $414 million in 2013 to $272 million in 2015.

To put that another way: The top seven hospitals’ combined revenue went up by $4.5 billion per year after the ACA’s coverage expansions kicked in, a 15 percent jump in two years. Meanwhile, their charity care — already less than 2 percent of revenue — fell by almost $150 million per year, a 35 percent plunge over the same period.

Revenue up, charity care down

While operating revenue increased under Obamacare for not-for-profit hospitals like the Cleveland Clinic and UCLA Medical Center, the amount of charity health care they provided fell. For example, while UCLA saw operating revenue grow by more than $300 million between 2013 and 2015, charity care fell from almost $20 million to about $5 million.