Nonprofit Hospital Consolidation to Continue in 2019

https://www.healthleadersmedia.com/finance/nonprofit-hospital-consolidation-continue-2019

Despite increased scrutiny from regulators, nonprofit health systems will remain active through mergers and acquisitions this year, according to a new Moody’s report.

The deluge of M&A activity among nonprofit health systems is expected to continue on in 2019, with the potential for some “unconventional relationships,” according to a Moody’s report released Friday morning.

Driven by tight financial conditions challenging the nonprofit hospital business model, as well as the entrance of nontraditional corporate players to healthcare and the potential changes to the ACA, more M&A activity is expected throughout the year.

Moody’s expects nonprofit health systems to engage in partnerships with other hospitals but also seek to align with companies specializing in data analytics or ridesharing services to continue the transition from inpatient care to outpatient care.

Nonprofit health systems are also aiming to increase their footing when negotiating with payers, which involves strategic decisions to diversity service options and increase their geographic reach.

The report cites ProMedica’s acquisition of HCR Manorcare and Tower Health’s purchase of five for-profit acute care hospitals as examples of nonprofit systems taking a short-term credit hit to gain stable long-term positioning for the organization.

Though M&A activity is expected to be widespread and a primary objective for many nonprofit systems, the Moody’s report warned that additional scrutiny from state and federal regulators is on the way.

The requirements put in place on the CHI-Dignity Health merger by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, along with price increase restrictions imposed by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey on CareGroup and Lahey Health, are cited as examples of the terms health systems should expect to meet.

For-profits will tap into capital markets

The Moody’s report also indicates that for-profit hospitals will delve further into capital markets so long as they remain receptive and buoyed by low interest rates. This approach could lead to lower interest costs and improve liquidity, which would bolster their credit standing.

Jessica Gladstone, Moody’s associate managing director and lead analyst on for-profit hospitals, told HealthLeaders that rising interest rates would a material impact on many for-profit hospitals.

“High cash interest costs relative to earnings are already consuming the majority of cash for many FP hospital companies,” Gladstone said. “For companies with floating rate debt, rising interest rates (depending on the amount of the increase) could leave some FP hospitals with very little free cash flow left to pay down debt or otherwise invest to grow operations.”

Gladstone added that while many of the same headwinds facing for-profit hospitals remain a challenge in 2019, executives can be encouraged by the opportunities ahead to refinance high-cost debt and achieve cost savings.

Several deals are listed as potential opportunities that could benefit for-profit healthcare organizations in 2019 regarding changes to capital structure, interest cost savings, as well as M&A activity:

Additional highlights from the Moody’s report:

  • Expect smaller community and regional nonprofit hospitals to join cooperatives to gain leverage at the negotiating table on supply costs among other price points.
  • Growing investment by private equity firms in physician practices and ambulatory services, will put a pinch on nonprofit systems.
  • The entrance of Amazon, Walmart, and Apple can’t be discounted as another driver of M&A activity in 2019.
  • Vertical mergers like CVS-Aetna and the continued rise of telemedicine will drive patients away from traditional areas of care delivery, like hospitals.
  • Though major changes to the ACA remain unlikely due to the split government in Congress, smaller changes could still make a significant impact.
  • The report cites potential changes to site-neutral payments, Medicare quality-factor penalties, and DSH payment reductions as examples.

 

 

 

 

Walmart implements a narrow network for diagnostic imaging

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Starting last March, retail giant Walmart now requires that its employees use a select network of 800 diagnostic imaging providers, or face additional out-of-pocket costs, according to an article this week from Kaiser Health News. Lisa Woods, Walmart’s senior director of benefits design, said high error rates in imaging studies were the driver for establishing the program, with the perspective that “a quality MRI or CT scan can improve the accuracy of diagnoses early in the care journey.”

The network was created in partnership with New York-based Covera Health, a technology company that has amassed information on thousands of imaging facilities nationwide, and uses independent radiologists to evaluate a sample of studies to determine facility and radiologist error rates. According to the article, while many employers have steered employees to lower-cost imaging networks, Walmart is the first to do so based on quality of the studies.
 
Whether this network will be effective in achieving its stated goal—reducing misdiagnoses that lead to unnecessary care and surgery—remains an open question. Poor-quality imaging undoubtedly leads to repeat studies, which carry significant costs. But many other factors (clinical judgement, incentives, patient preferences) contribute to the decision to perform surgery. Defining imaging “quality” beyond the blunt measures of repeat rates, technical adequacy and radiologist sub-specialization is highly complex, and requires correlation with pathology and clinical outcomes data—a high bar for an outsourced analytics provider.

Despite Walmart’s goals, it will be difficult for imaging providers to differentiate their services solely on quality. The high variability in imaging prices is well-documented, and choice of provider is largely made by consumers, for whom imaging is a commodity service.

Without an activist employer or payer to steer them, consumers will likely continue to choose their imaging providers based on their doctor’s recommendation and out-of-pocket costs.

 

Walmart increasingly comparing physicians over cost: 5 things to know

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/finance/walmart-increasingly-comparing-physicians-over-cost-5-things-to-know.html?origin=bhre&utm_source=bhre

Image result for attention walmart shoppers

Retail giant Walmart is upping its efforts to hand-pick which physicians are most likely to reduce healthcare spending on employees, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Five things to know:

1. Large companies like Walmart are examining data from public records and their own health plans, and tapping consultants, to compare individual physician costs. 

2. The top physicians Walmart chooses sport the best results at the most competitive costs. The company excludes or shies away from others with poor performance metrics.

3. More than 5,000 Walmart health plan members have visited hand-selected physicians. The company’s health plan covers travel and medical costs to pair employees with these top physicians for procedures like surgery and cancer care. 

4. Lisa Woods, senior director of U.S. healthcare at Walmart, told WSJ that the results from choosing top physicians have made the strategy vital. While health plans have narrowed provider networks for their plans, the selection has largely focused on hospitals and physician groups rather than specific physicians.

5. The efforts are paying off for retailers: Walmart, Lowe’s and McKesson Corp. saved about $19.4 million in 2017 when their employees saw specific spine and joint surgeons picked by the employers, according to the Harvard Business Review.

 

 

 

Walmart drops price of virtual visits from $40 to $4

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/telehealth/walmart-drops-price-of-virtual-visits-from-40-to-4.html

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Walmart is offering employees a 90 percent discount on telemedicine, dropping the price of a virtual visit from $40 to $4, The Denver Post reports.

The retailer reduced the cost of telemedicine services Jan. 1 to increase options for employees seeking care, a spokesperson confirmed to Becker’s Hospital Review. Walmart’s health benefits currently cover more than 1 million people enrolled it its Associates’ Medical Plan. Through this plan, virtual visits through the Doctor On Demand app are covered like a normal physician’s office visit.

Walmart is one of many employers to offer telemedicine benefits to workers. Eighty percent of large and midsize companies offered the benefit in 2018, according to the report. However, factors like emotion, forgetfulness and preference have kept utilization down. Just 8 percent of employees at large and midsize companies used telemedicine benefits in 2017, according to the report.

Read more here.  

Harbinger of things to come as the Healthcare Landscape becomes Dominated by Massive, Vertically-Integrated Competitors

https://www.cnbc.com/2019/01/18/walmart-cvs-health-hammer-out-new-pbm-pharmacy-network-deal–.html

Subs: CVS Pharmacy exterior

Verticals gonna vertical

As we wrote last week, the recent dust-up between CVS’s pharmacy benefit management (PBM) subsidiary Caremark and Walmart, during which the retail giant threatened to sever its relationship with CVS over a dispute regarding reimbursement levels before finally coming to a settlement, is a harbinger of things to come as the healthcare landscape becomes dominated by massive, vertically-integrated competitors.

new investigative piece from The Columbus Dispatch this week seems to confirm this view. Examining previously-undisclosed data about CVS’s drug plan pricing practices as part of Ohio’s Medicaid program, the article reveals that CVS paid its own retail pharmacies much higher reimbursement rates than it offered to key competitors Walmart and Kroger to provide generic drugs to Medicaid beneficiaries. According to the article, CVS would have had to pay Walmart pharmacies 46 percent more, and Kroger pharmacies 25 percent more, to match the levels of reimbursement it paid its own retail pharmacies, data that are cited in a state report on the Medicaid pharmacy program that CVS is engaged in a court battle to keep secret. The reimbursement differential is “startling information”, according to a former Justice Department antitrust official quoted in the article. A spokesman for CVS maintained that the PBM’s payment rates are “competitive” and influenced by a complex range of factors. Underscoring the opaque and complicated methodology drug plans use to determine payments to retail pharmacies, independent pharmacy operators were paid more than CVS stores, as were Walgreens stores. A separate analysis of PBM pricing behavior in New York uncovered similar evidence, according to Bloomberg.

The Ohio and New York pharmacy stories are yet more evidence that, as healthcare companies continue to expand their control over greater segments of the “value chain”—combining, for example, insurance, distribution, and care delivery—they are able to flex their market power in ways that look increasingly anti-competitive. Hospitals that “own” their referral sources, insurers that “own” the delivery of care, and pharmacies that “own” drug benefit managers all edge closer to creating closed, proprietary platforms that can lock out competitors in any one segment.

That’s a feature, not a bug—indeed, much of the logic of population health is predicated on “network integrity”: keeping consumers inside a fully-controlled ecosystem of care to enable better coordination and reduce duplication and inefficiencies. Yet as giant healthcare corporations turn themselves into Amazon-style “everything stores”, we need to keep a watchful eye on competition.

Red flags to watch for: using the courts to maintain secret agreements or block the free flow of talent or information, “vertical tying” behavior that requires all-or-nothing contracting, and pricing strategies that leverage market power in one segment to raise prices in another.

The biggest flaw in using “market competition” to lower the cost of care: most companies hate actually competing in the marketplace—a problem made even more vexing by vertical integration.

 

 

 

Walmart looks to add health clinics in its parking lots

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/finance/walmart-looks-to-add-health-clinics-in-its-parking-lots.html

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Walmart stores in several states are transforming extra parking lot space into “town centers,” some of which could include health clinics, according to Business Insider.

“The Walmart Town Center concept is an exciting approach to how we serve our customers by moving beyond the store’s four walls and reimagining how we use our unique assets — our existing stores and the surrounding land — to transform how customers experience Walmart,” a Walmart spokesperson told Business Insider.

Walmart provides details about a few of the new hubs on a website established for the projects. The Atlanta Business Chronicle reports that Walmart is evaluating whether to add health clinics in some of the new “town centers.”

“We envision a more robust and dynamic shopping experience that combines entertainment venues, curated local food vendors, health and fitness services as well as recreational opportunities in a way that connects and engages with the community,” a Walmart spokesperson told Business Insider.

Walmart has established its position as a one-stop shop, but the retailer may be redefining what that means by surrounding its stores with a variety of complementary tenants, according to the report.

 

How hospitals protect high prices

https://www.axios.com/newsletters/axios-vitals-5af4f54b-8427-48c2-b638-933a1ae4883a.html?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=newsletter_axiosvitals&stream=top

Large hospital systems don’t command high prices just because patients like them, or just because they have strong market share. There’s also another big reason: their contracts with insurance companies actively prohibit the sort of competitive pressures a free market is supposed to support.

“The free market has been distorted in an unhealthy way,” health care consultant Stuart Piltch told the Wall Street Journal’s Anna Wilde Mathews for this deep dive into hospitals’ pricing practices.

How it works: Hospital systems are consolidating rapidly and buying up physicians’ practices (which charge higher prices once they’re part of a hospital).

On top of that, per WSJ: Hospitals’ deals with insurance companies “use an array of secret contract terms to protect their turf and block efforts to curb health-care costs.”

  • Some hospitals do not allow their prices to be posted on the comparison-shopping sites insurers provide to their customers.
  • They often require insurers to cover every facility or doctor the hospital owns, and prohibit insurers from offering incentives — like lower copays — for patients to use less expensive competitors.
  • When Walmart, the country’s biggest private employer, wanted to exclude the lowest-quality 5% of providers from its network, its insurers couldn’t do so because of their hospital contracts.

The other side: Hospital executives told the Journal that mergers don’t drive higher prices, and reiterated their position that hospitals have to collect higher payments from private insurance to make up for the lower rates they get from Medicare and Medicaid.

My thought bubble: High-deductible health plans are increasingly popular, in part, because of the idea that patients will use their purchasing power to drive a more efficient system overall.

  • But if Walmart doesn’t have enough market power to actually penalize low-quality providers, you and I definitely don’t, either — especially if we can’t find out what the prices are, and especially if we only have one hospital to choose from in the first place.

Go deeper: Think drug costs are bad? Try hospital prices