HEALTHCARE INDUSTRY MOST FOCUSED ON CONSOLIDATION, CONSUMERISM IN 2019

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A new Definitive Healthcare survey polled healthcare leaders on the most important trends of the year.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

Industry consolidation was listed as the most important trend of the year, leading the way with 25.2% of the votes, followed by consumerism at 14.4%.

Definitive tracked 803 mergers and acquisitions along with 858 affiliation and partnership announcements last year, a trend that is not expected to slow in 2019.

Thirty-five percent of healthcare M&A activity occurred in the long-term care field, according to CEO Jason Krantz.

Widespread industry consolidation as well as the growing influence of consumerism registered as the most important trends healthcare leaders are paying attention to in 2019, according to a Definitive Healthcare survey released Monday morning.

Industry consolidation was listed as the most important trend of the year, leading the way with 25.2% of the votes, followed by consumerism at 14.4%.

Other topics that received double-digit percentages of the vote were telehealth at 13.8%, AI and machine learning at 11.4%, and staffing shortages at 11.1%. Cybersecurity, EHR optimization, and wearables rounded out the list.

The top results are generally in-line with some of the top storylines from the past year in healthcare, including focus on several vertical megamergers and longstanding business models being redefined by consumer behavior.

Jason Krantz, CEO of Definitive Healthcare, told HealthLeaders that healthcare is becoming increasingly more complicated and leaders are looking at a host of business strategies to navigate industry challenges or emerging market conditions.

“Something that’s on the mind of all of the people that [Definitive Healthcare] has been talking to, whether they are pharma leaders, healthcare IT companies, or providers, is that they’re constantly grappling with all of these new regulations, consolidation, and new technologies,” Krantz said. “[They’re asking] ‘What does that mean for my business and how do I address my strategy as a result?'”

In 2018, Definitive tracked 803 mergers and acquisitions along with 858 affiliation and partnership announcements, a trend Krantz does not expect to slow in 2019.

While Krantz cited some of the major health system mergers from last year as examples, he said another area that is experiencing widespread M&A activity is the post-acute care side.

Thirty-five percent of healthcare M&A activity occurred in the long-term care field, according to Krantz, and this is indicative of hospitals seeking to control costs and drive down rising readmission rates.

It also relates to another issue likely to accelerate in the coming years, which are the staffing shortages facing providers.

The sector currently suffering the most are long-term care facilities, which struggle to maintain an adequate nursing workforce due to the advanced age of most doctors and nurses in the face of the rapidly aging baby boomer generation. Krantz warns that all providers are likely to face these issues going forward.

Krantz also expects consumerism to hold steady as a top issue facing healthcare, citing the growing popularity of urgent care centers and the interconnection of telehealth services to provide patients with care outside of the traditional delivery sites.

However, the growth of these are reliable business options are all dependent on figuring out an adequate reimbursement rates for telehealth services rendered, Krantz said, which has not been fully addressed.

“I think until [telehealth reimbursement rates] get completely figured out, it’s hard for the providers to invest heavily in it,” Krantz said. “This is why you see a lot of non-traditional providers getting into telehealth, but I think it is something that people are thinking about and they know they need to adjust to, though nobody’s stepping up and being first in [telehealth] right now.”

For AI, machine learning, wearables, and cybersecurity, though the responses are split into smaller amounts, Krantz emphasized their combined score, which encompasses more than 25% of total votes, as a sign that healthcare leaders are paying attention to the area despite market complexity.

He added that they are all interconnected issues that deal with technological changes health systems are aware they will have to address in the coming years.

One issue related to harnessing technological change is EHR optimization, which Krantz believes leaders on the provider side are finally starting to gain excitement around. He said most leaders who have waited years to set up a comprehensive EHR system and input data are in-line to now utilize the data in their respective system.

“There’s a lot of great data in there and people are starting to figure out how to utilize that and improve patient outcomes based on the sharing of data,” Krantz said. 

 

 

 

Healthcare’s vertical mergers kick-started a massive industry shift in 2018. Will it pay off?

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Mergers and acquisitions deals consolidation

Two massive megamergers in CVS-Aetna and Cigna-Express Scripts dominated the conversation around mergers and acquisitions in healthcare.

Whether you think the mergers will help or hurt consumers, both deals have sparked a distinct shift across the industry as competitors search for ways to keep pace. It also frames 2019 as the year in which five big vertically integrated insurers in CVS, UnitedHealth, Cigna, Anthem and Humana begin to take shape.

Combined, the mergers totaled nearly $140 billion.

Both CVS and Cigna closed their transactions in the fourth quarter with promises that their new combined companies would “transform” the industry. Unquestionably, it’s already triggered some response from other players. Whether those companies can make good on their promises to improve care for consumers remains to be seen, and the payoff may not come for several years, as 2019 is likely to be a year of initial integration.

While CVS and Cigna hogged most of the spotlight, several other notable transactions across the payer sector could have smaller but similarly important consequences going forward.

WellCare acquires Meridian Health Plans for $2.5B

In May, WellCare picked up Illinois-based Meridian Health Plans for $2.5 billion, acquiring a company with an established Medicaid footprint with 1.1 million members. The deal boosted WellCare’s membership by 26%.

But the transaction also thrust WellCare back onto the ACA exchanges. Meridian has 6,000 marketplace members in Michigan.

Importantly, the acquisition gave WellCare a new pharmacy benefit manager in Meridian Rx. CEO Kenneth Burdick said it would provide “additional insight into changing pharmacy costs and improving quality through the integration of pharmacy and medical care.”

WellCare also makes out on CVS-Aetna transaction

WellCare was also a beneficiary of the CVS-Aetna deal after the Department of Justice required Aetna to sell off its Part D business in order to complete its merger.

The deal adds 2.2 million Part D members to WellCare, tripling its existing footprint of 1.1 million.

Humana goes after post-acute care

2018 was the year of post-acute care acquisitions for Humana. The insurer partnered with two private equity firms to buy Kindred Healthcare for $4.1 billion in a deal that was first announced last year. It used a similar purchase arrangement to invest in hospice provider Curo Health Service in a $1.4 billion deal.

Both acquisitions give Humana equity stake in the companies, with room to make further investments down the road. Kindred, in particular, is expected to further Humana’s focus on data analytics, digital tools and information sharing and improve the continuity of care for patients even after they leave the hospital.

Not to be outdone, rival Anthem also closed its purchase of Aspire Health, one of the country’s largest community-based palliative care providers.

UnitedHealth keeps quietly buying up providers, pharmacies

With ample reserves, UnitedHealth is always in the mix when it comes to acquisitions. This year was no different. The insurance giant snapped up several provider organizations to add to its OptumHealth arm. In June, it was one of two buyers of hospital staffing company Sound Inpatient Physicians Holdings for $2.2 billion. It also bought out Seattle-based Polyclinic for an undisclosed sum. The physician practice has remained staunchly independent for more than a century.

Most notably, UnitedHealth is still in the process of closing its acquisition of DaVita Medical Group. DaVita recently dropped the price of that deal from $4.9 billion to $4.3 billion in an effort to speed up Federal Trade Commission approval.

The Minnesota-based insurer is also clearly interested in specialty pharmacies to supplement its PBM OptumRx. UnitedHealth bought Genoa Healthcare in September, adding 435 new pharmacies under its umbrella. Shortly after, it bought up Avella Specialty Pharmacy, a specialty pharmacy that also offers telepsychiatry services and medication management for behavioral health patients.

Centene invests in a tech-forward PBM

Perhaps in an effort to keep pace with Cigna and CVS, Centene has made smaller scale moves in the PBM space, investing in RxAdvance, a PBM launched by former Apple CEO John Sculley. Following an initial investment in March, Centene sunk another $50 million into the company in October and then announced plans to roll the solution out nationally. Notably, CEO Michael Neidorff has said he is pushing the PBM to move away from rebates and toward a model that relies on net pricing.

“You talk about ultimate transparency—that gets us there,” he said recently.

 

 

 

Can Paying for a Health Problem as a Whole, Not Piece by Piece, Save Medicare Money?

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Among the standard complaints about the American health care system is that care is expensive and wasteful. These two problems are related, and to address them, Medicare has new ways to pay for care.

Until recently, Medicare paid for each health care service and reimbursed each health care organization separately. It didn’t matter if tests were duplicated or if a more efficient way of delivering care was available — as long as doctors and organizations were paid for what they did, they just kept providing care the way they always had.

But ordinary people do not think this way. We focus on solving our health problem, not which — or how many — discrete health care services might address it. New Medicare programs are devised to more closely align how care is paid for with what we want that care to achieve.

One of these programs is known as bundled payments. Instead of paying separately for every health care service associated with a medical event, you pay (or Medicare pays, in this case) one price for the entire episode. If health care providers can address the problem for less, they keep the difference, or some of it. If they spend more, they lose money. Bundled payment programs vary, but some also include penalties for poor quality or bonuses for good quality.

Medicare has several bundled payment programs for hip and knee replacements — the most common type of Medicare procedures — and associated care that takes place within 90 days. This includes the operation itself, as well as follow-up rehabilitation (also known as post-acute care). In theory, if doctors and hospitals get one payment encompassing all this, they will better coordinate their efforts to limit waste and keep costs down.

Do bundled payments work? They certainly appear promising, at least for some treatments. But it’s important to conduct rigorous evaluations.

Previous studies for Medicare by the Lewin Group and other researchers suggest that Medicare’s Bundled Payments for Care Improvement program has reduced the amount Medicare pays for each hip and knee replacement.

But that doesn’t mean the program saved money over all.

One possible issue would be if, despite saving money per procedure, health care providers wastefully increased the number of procedures — replacing hips and knees that they might not otherwise. A related concern is if hospitals try to increase profits by nudging services toward patients who may not need a procedure as much as patients with more severe and more expensive conditions. An average joint replacement costs $26,000, split almost equally between the initial procedure and post-acute care. But more expensive cases can be $75,000 to $125,000 — a costly proposition for hospitals.

A recent study published in JAMA examined whether the volume of Medicare-financed hip and knee replacements changed in the markets served by hospitals that volunteered for a bundled payments program, relative to markets with no hospitals joining the program. It found no evidence that the bundled payment program increased hip and knee replacement volume, and it found almost no evidence that hospitals skewed their services toward patients whose procedures cost less.

“These results suggest bundled payments are a win-win,” said Ezekiel Emanuel, a co-author of the study. “They save payers like Medicare money and encourage hospitals and physicians to be more efficient in the delivery of care.”

But Robert Berenson, a fellow at the Urban Institute, urges some caution. “Studying one kind of procedure doesn’t tell you much about the rest of health care,” he said. “A lot of health care is not like knee and hip replacements.”

Michael Chernew, a Harvard health economist, agreed. “Bundles can certainly be a helpful tool in fostering greater efficiency in our health care system,” he said. “But the findings for hip and knee replacements may not generalize to other types of care.”

Christine Yee, a health economist with the Partnered Evidence-Based Policy Resource Center at the Boston Veterans Affairs Healthcare System, has studied Medicare’s previous efforts and summarized studies about them. (I and several others were also involved in compiling that summary.) “Medicare has tried bundled payments in one form or another for more than three decades,” Ms. Yee said. “They tend to save money, and when post-acute care is included in the bundle, use of those kinds of services often goes down.”

One limitation shared by all of these studies is that they are voluntary: No hospital is required to participate. Nor are they randomized into the new payment system (treatment) or business as usual (control). Therefore we can’t be certain that apparent savings are real. Maybe hospitals that joined the bundled payment programs are more efficient (or can more easily become so) than the ones that didn’t.

Another new study in JAMA examines a mandatory, randomized trial of bundled payments. On April 1, 2016, Medicare randomly assigned 75 markets to be subject to bundled payments for knee and hip replacements and 121 markets to business as usual. This policy experiment, known as the Comprehensive Care for Joint Replacement program, will continue for five years. The JAMA study analyzed just the first year of data.

“In this first look at the data, we examined post-acute care because it is an area where there is concern about overuse,” said Amy Finkelstein, an M.I.T. health economist and an author of the study. “In addition, prior work suggested that it’s a type of care that hospitals can often avoid.”

The study found that bundled payments reduced the use of post-acute care by about 3 percent, which is less than what prior studies found. “Those prior studies weren’t randomized trials, so some of the savings they estimate may really be due to which hospitals chose to participate in bundled payment programs,” Ms. Finkelstein said. Despite reduced post-acute care use, the study did not find savings to Medicare once the costs of paying out bonuses were factored in. The study also found no evidence of harm to health care quality, no increase in the volume of hip and knee replacements, and no change in the types of patients treated.

“Savings could emerge in later years because it may take time for hospitals to fully change their behavior, “ Ms. Finkelstein said. In addition, the program’s financial incentives will increase over time; bonuses for saving money and penalties for failing to do so will rise.

On the other hand, Dr. Berenson said, health care providers could figure out how to work the system: “In three to five years, we may see volume go up in a way that offsets savings through reduced payments for a procedure. We’ll wait and see.”

Medicare put its best foot forward by using a randomized design. Not only were the markets selected in a randomized fashion, but providers in those markets were also required to participate. Though common in medical studiesrandomization is rare in health care policy, as is mandatory participation. Nearly 80 percent of medical studies are randomized trials, but less than 20 percent of studies testing health system change are. Organizations that would be subject to the experiments often strongly resist randomizing health system changes and forcing providers to participate.

Unfortunately, the randomization of the Comprehensive Care for Joint Replacement program will be partly compromised in coming years. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced last year that hospitals in only half of markets under the program would have to stay in it. Participation is voluntary in the other half, and only one-quarter of hospitals opted in.

Going to a partly voluntary program will make it harder to learn about longer-term effects, Ms. Finkelstein said, and to get at the answers we’re seeking.

Investment firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts closes $2.4 billion deal with Envision Healthcare, acquires Covenant Surgical Partners

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Photo courtesy <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/cak757/15853544615"> Flickr </a>

 

Envision and WebMD deals are valued at more than $2 billion each; financial terms of Covenant deal were not disclosed.

Global investment firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co has announced they will buy Covenant Surgical Partners. Financial details were not disclosed.

Covenant buys and operates ambulatory surgery centers and physician practices, and touts 37 facilities located across 17 states.

The deal is expected to close in the third quarter of FY 2017.

The announcement comes just a day after another major, much-anticipated deal was unveiled. KKR’s Air Medical Group Holdings will merge with Envision Healthcare’s transportation subsidiary American Medical Response to form an entirely new medical transportation company, a transaction worth $2.4 billion, KKR said.

The combined company is expected to transport more than five million patients per year with air and ground ambulances across 46 states and the District of Columbia, KKR said in a statement.

Envision’s President of Ambulatory Services Randall Owen will step in as President and CEO of the new company, and when the deal is done, a new company name will be designated.

That deal is scheduled to close in the fourth quarter of 2017.

Envision Healthcare owns and operates 263 surgery centers and one surgical hospital in 35 states and the District of Columbia, with medical specialties ranging from gastroenterology to ophthalmology and orthopedics.

“The Envision leadership team conducted a robust process to review strategic alternatives for AMR. The agreement delivers on our commitment to continue the proud tradition of AMR and enables Envision to focus on its physician-centric strategy and ongoing services, including facility-based provider services, post-acute care and ambulatory surgery,” said Christopher A. Holden, Envision’s President and Chief Executive Officer.

A little more than a week ago, KKR also revealed their deal for their company Internet Brands to buy WebMD in a transaction valued at approximately $2.8 billion.  This acquisition is also expected to close in the fourth quarter of 2017.

Post-acute care: Medicare Advantage vs. Traditional Medicare

http://theincidentaleconomist.com/wordpress/post-acute-care-medicare-advantage-vs-traditional-medicare/

From a public spending point of view, post-acute care is particularly problematic. Most of Medicare’s geographic spending variation is due to this type of care. Part of the story is that Medicare pays for post-acute care in several different ways, with different implications for efficiency.

For example, traditional Medicare (TM) — which spends ten percent of its total on post-acute care — pays skilled nursing facilities per diem rates but inpatient rehabilitation facilities a single payment per discharge. Post-acute care is also available through Medicare Advantage (MA), which operates under a global, per-enrollee, payment. Unlike TM, MA plans establish networks, may require prior authorization for post-acute care, and can charge more in cost-sharing for post-acute care than TM does.

These different payment models offer different incentives that may affect who receives care, in what setting, and for how long. In Health Affairs, Peter Huckfeldt, José Escarce, Brendan Rabideau, Pinar Karaca-Mandic, and Neeraj Sood assessed some of the consequences of those incentives. Focusing on hospital discharges for lower extremity joint replacement, stroke, and heart failure patients between January 2011 and June 2013, they examined subsequent admissions to skilled nursing and inpatient rehabilitation facilities, comparing admission rates, lengths of stays, hospital readmission rates, time spent in the community, and mortality for MA and TM enrollees. To do so, they used CMS data on post-acute patient assessments for patients with discharges from hospitals that received disproportionate share or medical education payments from Medicare.

Nonacute Care: The New Frontier

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Image result for New Frontier

What happens outside the hospital is increasingly important to success, so healthcare leaders need to influence or control care across the continuum.

If you’re running a hospital, one irony in the transformation toward value in healthcare is that your future success will be determined by care decisions that take place largely outside your four walls. If you’re running a health system with a variety of care sites and business entities other than acute care, the hospital’s importance is critical, but its place at the top of the healthcare economic chain is in jeopardy.

Certainly, the hospital is the most expensive site of care, so hospital care is still critically important in a business sense, no matter the payment model. But if it’s true that demonstrating value in healthcare will ensure long-term success—a notion that is frustratingly still debatable—nonacute care is where the action is.

For the purposes of developing and executing strategy, one has to assume that healthcare eventually will conform to the laws of economics—that is, that higher costs will discourage consumption at some level. That means delivering value is a worthy goal in itself despite the short-term financial pain it will cause—never mind the moral imperative to efficiently spend limited healthcare dollars.

So no longer can hospitals exist in an ivory tower of fee-for-service. Unquestionably, outcomes are becoming a bigger part of the reimbursement calculus, which means hospitals and health systems need a strategy to ensure their long-term relevance. They can do that as the main cog in the value chain, shepherding the healthcare experience, a preferable position; but physicians, health plans, and others are also vying for that role. Even if hospitals or health systems can engineer such a leadership role, acute care is high cost and to be discouraged when possible.

Vermont all-payer ACO model approved, will count for MACRA

http://www.healthcarefinancenews.com/news/vermont-all-payer-aco-model-approved-will-count-macra

Under model, rates paid to a given provider are set so that all third parties pay the same price for services to particular provider.