The following hospital and health system credit rating and outlook changes or affirmations occurred in the last two weeks, beginning with the most recent:
Fitch Ratings assigned an issuer default rating of “AA-” to Santa Barbara, Calif.-based Cottage Health and upgraded its revenue bond rating from “A+” to “AA-.”
Moody’s Investors Service assigned an “A1” rating to Bexar County (Texas) Hospital District.
Moody’s Investors Service confirmed its “Ba1” issuer and general obligation limited tax ratings for Monroe County (Ala.) Health Care Authority.
Moody’s Investors Service has affirmed its “A3” rating for Cincinnati-based The Christ Hospital, affecting $311 million of outstanding debt.
Moody’s Investors Service assigned an “A3” rating to Boston-based Partners Healthcare’s proposed revenue bonds.
Moody’s Investors Service affirmed its “Aa2,” “Aa2/VMIG 1,” and “P-1” ratings for Chicago-based Northwestern Memorial HealthCare, affecting $1.1 billion of debt.
Moody’s Investors Service affirmed the long-term underlying “Aa3” ratings of Yale New Haven (Conn.) Health, affecting $715 million of rated debt.
Moody’s Investors Service assigned an “A2” rating to Dayton, Ohio-based Kettering Health Network.
S&P Global Ratings assigned an “A+” long-term rating to Marion (Ind.) General Hospital.
Moody’s Investors Service affirmed its “Ba3” rating for Lancaster, Calif.-based Antelope Valley Health District, which includes Antelope Valley Hospital, affecting $122 million of revenue bonds.
Moody’s Investors Service affirmed Ventura, Calif.-based Community Memorial Health System’s “Ba2” rating, affecting $339 million of rated debt.
Moody’s Investors Service affirmed its “A2” rating for the Baltimore-based University of Maryland Medical System, affecting $1.1 billion of outstanding debt.
Moody’s Investors Service affirmed its “B1” rating for Sauk Prairie Healthcare in Prairie du Sac, Wis., affecting $38 million of fixed rate bonds.
Moody’s Investors Service affirmed Greensburg, Pa.-based Excela Health’s “A3” rating, affecting $72 million of outstanding debt.
Moody’s Investors Service affirmed its “A2” rating for Arlington Heights, Ill.-based Northwest Community Hospital, affecting $194 million of rated debt.
Fitch Ratings assigned an “AA-” long-term rating to Livonia, Mich.-based Trinity Health, affecting $175 million of bonds.
Fitch Ratings has withdrawn its issuer default rating for Greenwich (Conn.) Hospital.
Fitch Ratings has assigned an “A” rating and an “A” issuer default rating to Knoxville-based East Tennessee Children’s Hospital.
Moody’s Investors Service affirmed its “A1” rating for Lexington County (S.C.) Health Services District, affecting $369 million of outstanding revenue bonds.
Moody’s Investors Service assigned an “A1” long-term rating to the proposed revenue refunding bonds for Traverse City, Mich.-based Munson Healthcare while also maintaining an “A1” rating on the system’s existing debt.
Growth in UnitedHealth Group’s health services business Optum helped the health insurance company beat Wall Street estimates for the fourth quarter ended Dec. 31, according to Reuters.
Five things to know:
1. Revenues for Optum, which is UnitedHealth’s fastest-growing unit and includes an in-house pharmacy benefits manager, topped $100 billion for the first time in the year ended Dec. 31. Optum grew revenues by 11.1 percent year over year to $101.3 billion, the company said Jan. 15.
2. While Optum may face heightened competition this year after Aetna and Cigna scored deals with large benefit managers, Piper Jaffray analyst Sarah James told Reuters: “We view [the Optum results] as a positive sign given the increasingly competitive nature of the pharmacy benefits management market. We believe 2019 could be a big year at OptumHealth … and see potential for specialty [drugs] to double earnings by 2021.”
3. For the fourth quarter, the country’s largest health insurer posted $27.56 billion in revenues from its Optum unit, up 13 percent year over year.
4. Still, UnitedHealth’s medical care ratio — or the amount of premiums used to cover medical expenses compared to overhead costs — fell short of expectations at 82.2 percent, according to Reuters. Higher costs in UnitedHealth’s government-sponsored Medicaid business were partially to blame, analysts told the publication.
5. UnitedHealth’s insurance business, UnitedHealthcare, increased sales by 11.1 percent in the fourth quarter, for a total of $46.2 billion. Net earnings to shareholders fell 16 percent to $3 billion in the fourth quarter, compared to $3.6 billion a year prior.
Consolidations among larger payers makes it harder for smaller players to enter the market or sustain a presence.
Payment reforms around the ACA will continue to drive more cross-sector collaboration among payers and providers.
Despite the uncertainty over the future of the Affordable Care Act, the U.S. health insurance sector remains stable heading into 2019, according to a new analysis by S&P Global Ratings.
“A combination of still-favorable business conditions, financial factors, and diminished near-term legislative uncertainty balances our concerns relating to merger and acquisition activity, elevated policy risk, and re-emergent legal overhang,” said S&P analyst Joseph Marinucci.
Strong job growth is bolstering commercial markets, aging Baby Boomers are driving Medicare Advantage growth, states are shifting their high acuity populations into managed Medicaid, and the ACA exchanges are stabilizing and attracting new competitors, S&P said.
“We assess capital and liquidity as strong or better for most of our rated U.S. health insurers, which supports balance-sheet strength,” Marinucci said. “U.S. health insurers’ operating performance reflects sustained earnings strength and improved earnings quality.”
However, Marinucci said that profitability could moderate somewhat this year.
M&As remain a key rating factor, especially with larger transaction sizes, raising concerns about financial leverage, integration, and cultural compatibility. Consolidations, joint ventures, and partnering among larger insurers are defragmenting the sector, allowing the big insurers to build scale, “and create more touch points as the trend toward consumerism gains traction.”
“This is making it harder for newer and smaller players to enter the market or sustain their presence,” S&P said. “As a result, we continue to see larger health insurers taking a bigger share of the marketplace, and smaller players being displaced or struggling to achieve profitable growth as the competitive gap widens.”
“Although the mid-term elections removed a good deal of legislative uncertainty for the industry, policy risk remains elevated given the administration’s preference for ACA alternatives,” S&P said.
In addition, S&P says that payment and delivery reforms mandated in the ACA around value-based care will continue to drive greater cross-sector collaboration among payers and providers.
Here are eight hospitals and health systems with strong operational metrics and solid financial positions, according to recent reports from Moody’s Investors Service and Fitch Ratings.
Note: This is not an exhaustive list. Hospital and health system names were compiled from recent credit rating reports and are listed in alphabetical order.
1. Dallas-based Baylor Scott & White Health has an “Aa3” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s. The health system has strong cash flow margins and its favorable demographics will contribute to volume and revenue growth, according to Moody’s.
2. Orange, Calif.-based Children’s Hospital of Orange County has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The hospital has a strong financial profile, and Fitch expects its capital-related ratios to improve.
3. Newark, Del.-based Christiana Care has an “Aa2” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s. The health system has solid margins and a robust balance sheet, according to Moody’s.
4. Fort Worth, Texas-based Cook Children’s Medical Center has an “Aa2” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s. The hospital has a strong market position and solid operating performance, according to Moody’s.
5. Durham, N.C.-based Duke University Health System has an “Aa2” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s. The health system is a leading provider of tertiary and quaternary services and has solid margins and cash levels, according to Moody’s.
6. St. Louis-based SSM Health Care has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. SSM has a strong financial profile, and Fitch expects the system to continue growing unrestricted liquidity and to maintain improved operational performance.
7. Appleton, Wis.-based ThedaCare has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The health system has a leading market share in a stable service area and strong operating performance, according to Fitch.
8. Cincinnati-based TriHealth has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. Fitch expects the health system to maintain good operating ratios leading to liquidity growth.
This article sets out seven thoughts on healthcare systems.
The article discusses:
Before starting the core of the article, we note two thoughts. First, we view a core strategy of systems to spend a great percentage of their time on those things that currently work and bring in profits and revenues. As a general rule, we advise systems to spend 70 to 80 percent of their time doubling down on what works (i.e., their core strengths) and 20 to 30 percent of their time on new efforts.
Second, when we talk about healthcare as a zero-sum game, we mean the total increases in healthcare spend are slowing down and there are greater threats to the hospital portion of that spend. I.e., the pie is growing at a slower pace and profits in the hospital sector are decreasing.
I. Types of Healthcare Systems
We generally see six to eight types of healthcare systems. There is some overlap, with some organizations falling into several types.
1. Elite Systems. These systems generally make U.S. News & World Report’s annual “Best Hospitals” ranking. These are systems like Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, Johns Hopkins Hospital, NewYork-Presbyterian, Massachusetts General, UPMC and a number of others. These systems are often academic medical centers or teaching hospitals.
2. Regionally Dominant Systems. These systems are very strong in their geographic area. The core concept behind these systems has been to make them so good and so important that payers and patients can’t easily go around them. Generally, this market position allows systems to generate slightly higher prices, which are important to their longevity and profitability.
3. Kaiser Permanente. A third type of system is Oakland-based Kaiser Permanente itself. We view Kaiser as a type in and of itself since it is both so large and completely vertically integrated with Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Kaiser Foundation Hospitals and Permanente Medical Groups. Kaiser was established as a company looking to control healthcare costs for construction, shipyard and steel mill workers for the Kaiser industrial companies in the late 1930s and 1940s. As companies like Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase try to reduce costs, it is worth noting that they are copying Kaiser’s purpose but not building hospitals. However, they are after the same goal that Kaiser originally sought. Making Kaiser even more interesting is its ability to take advantage of remote and virtual care as a mechanism to lower costs and expand access to care.
4. Community Hospitals. Community hospitals is an umbrella term for smaller hospital systems or hospitals. They can be suburban, rural or urban. Community hospitals are often associated with rural or suburban markets, but large cities can contain community hospitals if they serve a market segment distinct from a major tertiary care center. Community hospitals are typically one- to three-hospital systems often characterized by relatively limited resources. For purposes of this article, community hospitals are not classified as teaching hospitals — meaning they have minimal intern- and resident-per-bed ratios and involvement in GME programs.
5. Safety-Net Hospitals. When we think of safety-net hospitals, we typically recall hospitals that truly function as safety nets in their communities by treating the most medically vulnerable populations, including Medicaid enrollees and the uninsured. These organizations receive a great percentage of revenue from Medicaid, supplemental government payments and self-paying patients. Overall, they have very little commercial business. Safety-net hospitals exist in different areas, urban or rural. Many of the other types of systems noted in this article may also be considered safety-net systems.
6. National Chains. We divide national chains largely based on how their market position has developed. National chains that have developed markets and are dominant in them tend to be more successful. Chains tend to be less successful when they are largely developed out of disparate health systems and don’t possess a lot of market clout in certain areas.
7. Specialty Hospitals. These are typically orthopedic hospitals, psychiatric hospitals, women’s hospitals, children’s hospital or other types of hospitals that specialize in a field of medicine or have a very specific purpose.
II. Mergers and Acquisitions
There have seen several large mergers over the last few years, including those of Aurora-Advocate, Baylor Scott & White-Memorial Hermann, CHI-Dignity and Mercy-Bon Secours, among others.
In evaluating a merger, the No. 1 question we ask is, “Is there a clear and compelling reason or purpose for the merger?” This is the quintessential discussion piece around a merger. The types of compelling reasons often come in one of several varieties. First: Is the merger intended to double down and create greater market strength? In other words, will the merger make a system regionally dominant or more dominant?
Second: Does the merger make the system better capitalized and able to make more investments that it otherwise could not make? For example, a large number of community hospitals don’t have the finances to invest in the health IT they need, the business and practices they need, the labor they need or other initiatives.
Third: Does the merger allow the amortization of central costs? Due to a variety of political reasons, many systems have a hard time taking advantage of the amortization of costs that would otherwise come from either reducing numbers of locations or reducing some of the administrative leadership.
Finally, fourth: Does the merger make the system less fragile?
Each of these four questions tie back to the core query: Does the merger have a compelling reason or not?
Hospitals face many different headwinds. This goes into the concept of healthcare as a zero-sum game. There is only so much pie to be shared, and the hospital slice of pie is being attacked or threatened in various areas. Certain headwinds include:
1. Pharma Costs. The increasing cost of pharmaceuticals and the inability to control this cost particularly in the non-generic area. Here, increasingly the one cost area that payers are trying to merge with relates to pharma/PBM the one cost that hospitals can’t seem to control is pharma costs. There is little wonder there is so much attention paid to pharma costs in D.C.
2. Labor Costs. Notwithstanding all the discussions of technology and saving healthcare through technology, healthcare is often a labor-intensive business. Human care, especially as the population ages, requires lots of people — and people are expensive.
3. Bricks and Mortar. Most systems have extensive real estate costs. Hospitals that have tried to win the competitive game by owning more sites on the map find it is very expensive to maintain lots of sites.
4. Slowing Rises in Reimbursement – Federal and Commercial. Increasingly, due to federal and state financial issues, governments (and interest by employers) have less ability to keep raising healthcare prices. Instead, there is greater movement toward softer increases or reduced reimbursement.
5. Lower Commercial Mix. Most hospitals and health systems do better when their payer mix contains a higher percentage of commercial business versus Medicare or Medicaid. In essence, the greater percentage of commercial business, the better a health system does. Hospital executives have traditionally talked about their commercial business subsidizing the Medicare/Medicaid business. As the population ages and as companies get more aggressive about managing their own healthcare costs, you see a shift — even if just a few percentage points — to a higher percentage of Medicare/Medicaid business. There is serious potential for this to impact the long-term profitability of hospitals and health systems. Big companies like JPMorgan, Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and some other giants like Google and Apple are first and foremost seeking to control their own healthcare costs. This often means steering certain types of business toward narrow networks, which can translate to less commercial business for hospitals.
6. Cybersecurity and Health IT Costs. Most systems could spend their entire budgets on cybersecurity if they wanted to. That’s impossible, of course, but the potential costs of a security breach or incident loom large and there are only so many dollars to cover these costs.
7. The Loss of Ancillary Income. Health systems traditionally relied on a handful of key specialties —cardiology, orthopedics, spine and oncology, for example — and ancillaries like imaging, labs, radiation therapy and others to make a good deal of their profits. Now ancillaries are increasingly shifted away from systems toward for-profits and other providers. For example, Quest Diagnostics and Laboratory Corporation of America have aggressively expanded their market share in the diagnostic lab industry by acquiring labs from health systems or striking management partnerships for diagnostic services.
8. Payers Less Reliant on Systems. Payers have signaled less reliance on hospitals and health systems. This headwind is indicated in a couple of trends. One is payers increasingly buying outpatient providers and investing in many other types of providers. Another is payers looking to merge with pharmaceutical providers or pharmacy and benefit managers.
9. Supergroups. Increasingly in certain specialties and multispecialty groups, especially orthopedics and a couple other specialties, there is an effort to develop strong “super groups.” The idea of some of these super groups is to work toward managing the top line of costs, then dole out and subcontract the other costs. Again, this could potentially move hospitals further and further downstream as cost centers instead of leaders.
IV. The Great Fear
The great fear of health systems is really twofold. First: that more and more systems end up in bankruptcy because they just can’t make the margins they need. We usually see this unfold with smaller hospitals, but over the last 20 years, we have seen bankruptcies periodically affect big hospital systems as well. (Here are 14 hospitals that have filed for bankruptcy in 2018 to date. According to data compiled by Bloomberg, at least 26 nonprofit hospitals across the nation are already in default or distress.)
Second, and more likely, is that hospitals in general become more like mid-level safety net systems for certain types of care — with the best business moving away. I.e., as margins slide, hospitals will handle more and more of the essential types of care. This is problematic, in that many hospitals and health systems have infrastructures that were built to provide care for a wide range of patient needs. The counterpoint to these two great fears is that there is a massive need for healthcare and healthcare is expensive. In essence, there are 325,700,000 people in the United States, and it’s not easy to provide care for an aging population.
V. The Last 10 Years – What Worked
What has worked over the last five to 10 years is some mix of the following:
VI. The Next 10 Years
Over the next 10 years, we advise systems to consider the following.
VII. Other Issues
Other issues we find fascinating today are as follows.
1. First, payers are more likely to look at pharma and pharma benefit companies as merger partners than health systems. We think this is a fascinating change that reflects a few things, including the role and costs of pharmaceuticals in our country, the slowly lessening importance of health systems, and payers’ disinterest in carrying the costs of hospitals.
2. Second, for many years everyone wanted to be Kaiser. What’s fascinating today is how Kaiser now worries about Amazon, Apple and other companies that are doing what Kaiser did 50 to 100 years ago. In essence, large companies’ strategies to design their own health systems, networks or clinics to reduce healthcare costs and provide better care is a force that once created legacy systems like Kaiser and now threatens those same systems.
3. Third, we find politicians are largely tone deaf. On one side of the table is a call for a national single payer system, which at least in other countries of large size has not been a great answer and is very expensive. On the other hand, you still have politicians on the right saying just “let the free market work.” This reminds me of people who held up posters saying, “Get the government out of my Medicare.” We seem to be past a true and pure free market in healthcare. There is some place between these two extremes that probably works, and there is probably a need for some sort of public option.
4. Fourth, care navigation in many elite systems is still a debacle. There is still a lot of room for improvement in this area, but unfortunately, it is not an area that payers directly tend to pay for.
5. Fifth, we periodically hear speakers say “this app is the answer” to every problem. I contrast that by watching care given to elderly patients, and I think the app is unlikely to solve that much. It is not that there is not room for lots of apps and changes in healthcare — because there is. However, healthcare remains as a great mix of technology and a labor- and care-intensive business.
The following six health systems recently released their financial statements for the nine-month period ended Sept. 30:
1. Phoenix-based Banner Health’s revenue climbed 7.2 percent year over year to $6.3 billion in the first nine months of 2018. The system ended the first nine months of this year with operating income of $122.1 million, down 37 percent from $192.9 million in the same period a year earlier.
2. Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser Permanente’s revenue climbed to $59.7 billion in the first nine months of 2018, up 9.6 percent from revenue of $54.5 billion in the same period of 2017. Kaiser ended the first nine months of this year with operating income of $2.03 billion, compared to $2.33 billion in the same period of 2017.
3. Rochester, Minn.-based Mayo Clinic ended the first nine months of 2018 with revenue of $9.5 billion, compared to $8.8 billion in the same period of 2017. The system reported operating income of $601 million in the nine months ended Sept. 30, up 32 percent from the same period of 2017.
4. Bronx, N.Y.-based Montefiore Health System recorded revenue of $4.4 billion in the nine months ended Sept. 30, up from $4.1 billion in the same period a year earlier. The system ended the first nine months of this year with operating income of $59.6 million, up from $37.7 million in the same period of the year prior.
5. Arlington-based Texas Health Resources recorded revenue of $3.5 billion in the first nine months of 2018, up from $3.4 billion in the same period a year earlier. The system ended the first nine months of this year with operating income of $168.7 million, down from $174.5 million in the same period of 2017.
6. Pittsburgh-based UPMC reported revenue of $13.9 billion in the first nine months of this year, up from $11.4 billion in the same period of 2017. The system ended the first nine months of 2018 with operating income of $190 million, down from $196 million in the same period of 2017.