Value-based Care

Insurers, Private Equity Firms Are Buying Up Home Care Providers

Health insurers are taking over home health care providers: Most notably, the two largest Medicare Advantage health insurers, UnitedHealth Group and Humana Inc., have each moved to acquire sizable home care providers in the last year. Health care insiders tell AIS Health, a division of MMIT, that home health deals by insurers will become more frequent as plans hope to avoid reimbursing long-term hospital stays by treating members at home — even as private equity firms make inroads into the home health space with an eye toward increasing margins across the industry.

UnitedHealth on March 29 said it plans to spend approximately $6 billion in cash to purchase LHC Group, Inc., a home health care company. In August 2021, Humana completed its acquisition of Kindred at Home, which it has since begun to fold into its CenterWell provider brand. In a recent earnings call, Humana CEO Bruce Broussard said that the carrier is looking for still more home care providers to purchase.

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Stakeholders Seek Ways to Accelerate Risk Sharing in MA

Although Medicare Advantage is outpacing other payer types in the move from volume to value, there are still ways the program could hasten the shift to value-based care, experts agreed during a recent panel of the AHIP 2022 National Conference on Health Policy and Government Programs. These range from the increased use of Z-codes to document social determinants of health to the adoption of a Star Ratings measure that would influence more risk sharing between MA organizations and their providers.

According to the Health Care Payment & Learning Action Network survey, which is conducted in partnership with AHIP and the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, 58% of MA payments to providers in 2020 were through an Alternative Payment Model (APM) such as the Shared Savings Program or an episodic/bundled care payment model, and 29.3% of such payments were for a risk-bearing arrangement. That’s compared with nearly 43% of payments through APMs in Traditional Medicare and roughly 35% in both commercial and Medicaid plans.

CMMI Director Shares Vision for More Physician Accountability

Aligning with the Biden administration’s goal of improving health equity, the CMS Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) last year unveiled a “strategy refresh” that included health equity as a key objective in testing models of care for Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries. Another strategic goal was to increase the number of beneficiaries in a care relationship where the provider is accountable for quality and total cost of care, with the objective of having all Medicare beneficiaries aligned with accountable entities by 2030.

Addressing a few recent changes to existing models, CMMI Director Elizabeth Fowler, Ph.D., said the agency’s goal in redesigning the Global and Professional Direct Contracting (GPDC) Model was to reorient it toward provider participants and respond to feedback from stakeholders. The model had been criticized for furthering the privatization of Medicare and allowing for-profit entities to manage fee-for-service (FFS) Medicare beneficiaries without their full knowledge and consent.

Revamped Direct Contracting Model Still Holds Promise for MAOs

After progressive Democratic lawmakers urged CMS to shut down a fee-for-service Medicare model aimed at fostering more value-based care arrangements, the agency’s Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) on Feb. 24 unveiled a revamped version that it said more closely aligns with its “vision of creating a health system that achieves equitable outcomes through high quality, affordable, person-centered care.” While the three types of Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) that may participate starting next year appear to largely mirror the Direct Contracting Entities (DCEs) of the current Global and Professional Direct Contracting (GPDC) Model, CMS aims to ensure that participants in the new model operate as provider-led organizations, have a proven track record of providing care in underserved communities and will not be shifting any enrollees into Medicare Advantage — a key concern expressed by lawmakers and advocates.

Will High Prices Follow Private Equity Investment in Primary Care?

Primary care practices are consolidating at a rapid pace: Independent physician practices are combining on their own, and growth-oriented, outside investors — such as private equity funds, health insurers and health systems — are taking stakes in practices or buying them outright. Experts tell AIS Health, a division of MMIT, that the impact of such deals will vary, but warn that consolidation and investment by private equity firms has raised prices across the board in other areas of health care.

According to a July 2021 report by investment bank Provident Healthcare Partners, 41 primary care transactions worth over $2 billion closed in 2020, a higher deal volume than any year since 2010. Meanwhile, 2019 set a record for capital invested, with $5.1 billion spread across 26 primary care deals. At the time, investors were on pace to shatter both records in 2021: 31 primary care deals worth $4.8 billion had been announced when the report was published. A February 2022 Provident report made note of several major transactions in the last quarter of 2021:

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Experts Discuss Pros, Cons of Risk-Based Payment in Primary Care

As transactions and outside investment in primary care become more common, many health care insiders see an opportunity to shift primary care reimbursement toward risk-based payment — but experts warn that value-based contracting can’t solve all of primary care’s problems on its own.

Primary care practices (PCPs) operating on a fee-for-service basis faced a crisis in 2020, when the pandemic discouraged patients from making routine visits to the doctor’s office. Many PCPs turned to outside financing to fund capital investments or make payroll. Others combined horizontally with other PCPs or sold to health systems.

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Anthem Reports Solid End to 2021, Offers Initial Look at 2022

Health insurer Anthem, Inc., reported solid fourth-quarter results on Jan. 26, with some numbers in line with expectations and others hitting above or below expectations. The company also indicated it’s bracing for medical costs to rise above normal levels this year amid the ongoing COVID-19 crisis — though perhaps not as much as in 2021.

Anthem reported $5.14 in adjusted earnings per share (EPS) for the quarter, beating the consensus of $5.11. “EPS appears to be aided by better-than-expected investment income to the tune of $0.42, which grew $23% [year over year],” Jefferies analyst David Windley wrote in a Jan. 26 note to investors.

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2022 Outlook: Health Care Investment Boom Is Likely to Continue This Year

In 2021, investors poured a record amount of capital into health care, and industry insiders say that the flood of cash is likely to continue flowing in 2022. Experts predict that investments in health tech, which drew the highest level of investment of any health care sector last year, will continue to grow — and carriers may want to make a splash in new areas of business.

According to a white paper prepared by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), deals in the U.S. health care sector increased by 56%, for a total volume of $203 billion, through Nov. 15, 2021, compared to the same period in 2020. Meanwhile, a report by Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) found that venture capital funding of health care startups in the U.S. and Europe hit $80 billion, “beating 2020’s record by more than 30%.”

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PACE Is Poised for Expansion as COVID Highlights Home Needs

As Congressional lawmakers consider additional funding for home and community-based services (HCBS) in Medicaid and the pandemic underscores the importance of enhanced support for community-dwelling seniors, a small but growing segment of the Medicare market is experiencing a resurgence. Programs of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) are designed to support frail, elderly Americans who require a nursing home level of care by providing comprehensive medical care and social supports to help them remain at home, and sources tell AIS Health that PACE competition is heating up as more venture capital firms look to invest in PACE organizations and as multiple states expand their programs.

Optum Dominates UnitedHealth’s Investor Day, Growth Strategy

UnitedHealth Group’s Investor Day presentation, Wall Street analysts came away with the distinct impression that the company’s Optum division — which now comprises 52% of its overall earnings — was the “star of the show.”

UnitedHealth’s annual investor day “featured a heavy dose of the integration and collaboration” between Optum and UnitedHealthcare, the company’s health insurance division, to drive its long-term target of 13% to 16% earnings per share (EPS) growth, Citi analyst Ralph Giacobbe wrote in a Nov. 30 note to investors.

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