Author: Tory Wolff

Recon takes an analytical look behind select developments in healthcare

Iora Agonistes: High-touch primary care in Medicare Advantage is no sure bet after all

Iora Health was one of the original primary care transformers offering a clinically capable, engagement-focused, and accountability-grounded care model.  After an initial foray into commercial, Iora pivoted in 2014 to Medicare Advantage (MA), an alliance with HUM and a global capitation-oriented strategy broadly similar to Oak Street or ChenMed. MA – whose members often have chronic conditions that respond to management and with a payment model that rewards quality (via stars) and patient intimacy (via risk coding) – is fertile ground for Iora’s high touch primary care.  And that terrain

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Four plausible rationales for incumbent hospitals to embrace hospital@home despite the potential to divert “heads from beds”

We identify four different business strategy rationales for hospital@home depending on each hospital’s specific market situation and each with clear predictive implications for local markets.  These are: on-demand capacity expansion, bed capacity rationalization, competitive matching and system consistency.  Almost all participants in CMS’s current Hospital@home program could find one of these four rationales applicable.  If these rationales become compelling business cases, the future of hospital@home is bright and it is time to start the healthcare ecosystem to prepare for its disruptive consequences. The cannibalization challenge Hospital@home uses innovative protocols, technology,

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WMT’s MeMD acquisition: too small a play to make the difference

Last week, WMT acquired MeMD, a virtual provider in Arizona. Per the press release, MeMD will “allow Walmart Health to provide access to virtual care across the nation including urgent, behavioral and primary care, complementing our in-person Walmart Health centers.”  Can MeMD rescue Walmart’s struggling clinic strategy?  I am skeptical. Virtual is a great complement to the clinics Adding virtual to the clinics could be a very good idea: Walmart’s clinics had the extraordinarily bad luck of rolling out during a pandemic.  More importantly, they are weighed down with unresolved

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How much are Humana’s value-based care models really taking out of utilization?

All that effort for only 0.4% savings Since 2014, HUM has reported on the performance of primary care in value-based arrangements (“VBA”) vs. traditional contracts (“non-VBA”)[1] in Medicare Advantage (MA).  One statistic regarding total medical expenditures (TME) is, at first blush, a stunner.  The most recent data (2019) shows PMPM TME of VBA members measured only 0.4% less than for non-VBA members.  Given HUM’s long-standing strategic commitment to value-based care, commentators are puzzled: is the whole value-based enterprise in vain? does healthcare transformation require quasi-geologic timeframes to deliver meaningful cost

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Walmart Health: Will the fifth attempt at clinics be the charm?

Eighteen months ago, WMT opened its first Walmart Health clinic attached to a supercenter in Dallas, GA.  The operation combined multiple services – primary/urgent care, dentistry, behavioral health, optometry, and audiology – with WMT’s Every Day Low Price philosophy (for example, $30 total for a primary care check-up, $40 for a sick visit) in one ~11K sq. ft. site. Boosted by typical supercenter traffic (~5K visits a day is our estimate), and a scarcity of primary and dental care in the local area[1], the clinic got to 2.3K visits-per-month within

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A tale of two cities: Referral networks of orthopedic surgeons in Miami and Seattle

Summary: We conducted a comparative analysis of the referral networks of orthopedic surgeons in King County (the area around Seattle, WA) and Miami-Dade County. Similarities Bigger systems are better at keeping referrals internal So, the level of fragmentation in the referral base is associated with the level of fragmentation in the specialty market structure Despite this, a consolidated referral base does not necessarily mean that systems are able to keep orthopedics referrals internal   Miami-Dade Independent physicians make a significant proportion of referrals (9.4%) So, independent surgeons receive a significant

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Buying kit for a leadership position in the @Home revolution? Implications of Optum’s acquisition of naviHealth

Summary NaviHealth is a leader in post-acute care management; since it manages but does not provide care, its impact is constrained by quality of available providers By aligning with Optum clinical and technology assets, naviHealth can raise the capabilities of post-acute providers, direct more cases to be discharged directly to the home and speed up the return home for others Given inpatient stays often mark the start of sustained needs for help in the home, a post-acute navigator like naviHealth could be well-positioned to orchestrate longer-term “aging-in-place” support Overview of

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Covid’s backhand blow: payer mix degradation and the threat of renewed payer/provider rate brawls

Among Covid’s many repercussions, the recession shock will drive a sustained degradation of provider payer mix.  I estimate that each 5% added to unemployment will incrementally reduce hospital[1] operating margin by 1.0-1.5% and hospitals would need to charge 3-4% more on commercial care to maintain margins[2].  Given that hospital costs make up 40-45% of commercial total cost of care and we are facing unemployment scenarios of 15-20% (per Robert Wood Johnson – see table and source notes), we could ultimately expect this hospital rate pressure – if not averted or moderated

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Medicare Advantage’s durable – but underexplained – post-acute care advantage

Health Affairs has put out another study – this one by Skopec and team (subscription access) – comparing post-acute care (PAC) among Medicare Advantage (MA) vs. traditional Medicare (FFS). And, once again (see earlier study here – subscription access), we learn that MA beneficiaries use a lot less PAC than FFS with no major differences in outcomes. The pattern varies by type of PAC: far fewer post-acute MA members spend time in an inpatient rehab facility (IRF) but, when they do, they stay just as long as their FFS counterparts;

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Bolting a full-risk engine onto an urgent care chassis in New York

Last month, Warburg Pincus closed on previously announced plans to acquire a major multi-specialty practice in northern New Jersey (Summit) and combine it with an urgent care network centered in the New York metro area (CityMD).  The deal reflects private equity’s recognition that, as the stand-alone urgent care business model is increasingly vulnerable, the valuations in accountable care are increasingly compelling. Urgent care’s evolution Early on, urgent care entrepreneurs focused on filling the gap between overscheduled primary care and expensive ERs. Ramp the visits per day high enough and the

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Choosing your customers wisely: are hospitals the right place to engineer the future of healthcare (and the software services to support it)?

MSFT’s pathbreaking alliances in healthcare services are impressive and well designed to grow adoption of their Azure cloud over the medium term.  But if MSFT wants to be at the forefront of change and maintain a robust hold on healthcare cloud share in the long-term, their publicly disclosed partner set seems highly incomplete[1]. The two major alliances announced this year – Walgreens and Providence St. Joseph (PSJ) — are predictable outcomes of the emergence of the UNH, CVS/AET and CI/ESRX triumvirate.  Healthcare’s anxious mid-tier services players need enablement partners with

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Facing new vertically integrated competitors, WellSpan and Capital Blue Cross prepare for a long siege

Summary The Capital Region of Pennsylvania is shifting in “real time” from traditionally separate plan vs. plan competition and provider vs. provider competition to integrated vertical plan/provider vs. plan/provider competition Vertically integrated competition can initiate both arms races in delivery system capacity and new product and care management strategies The two big independents – WellSpan and Capital Blue Cross – are trying to match the disruptors with their own capital spend and a vertical alliance Once you cede decisions on terrain and timing to the competitor, you must make do

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OptumCare’s legacy entanglements could slow its site-of-service shift

By bringing together accountable-minded physicians, urgent care and ambulatory surgery centers (ASCs) on a national scale, OptumCare could prevent a lot of avoidable hospital care and move much of what remains to lower cost sites of service.  Wrap a capitation business model around it and you have a powerful “anti-system” – profitable for itself and toxic to hospital margins. OptumCare has a long way to go to put this theory into practice.  It is still in only ~35 of its target 75 markets.  And, within many of those 35 markets,

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Consider this speculative scenario on WMT-HUM: nibbling at the bottom and taking a slice off the top of the healthcare delivery pyramid

WMT is in talks with HUM about a relationship enhancement, possibly an acquisition. The two already know how to work together in alliances (narrow pharmacy network, marketing collaborations, points programs). If a new structure is needed, WMT and HUM must be considering a major expansion of scope or a set of operating models where contributions are difficult to attribute and reward (e.g. joint asset builds).  What is on their minds?  Beyond any interim incremental moves, what could be the endgame? Catching convergence fever Horizontal combinations among the top five health

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United’s Medicare Advantage footprint and OptumCare network do not overlap much (so far)

United’s OptumCare promises a lot of value for health plans.  An integrated system supported by Optum technology should be able to deliver consistent, analytically sophisticated care.  Its ambulatory-focused configuration (clinics plus urgent care plus ambulatory surgical centers or ASCs) should keep patients out of high-cost settings through mutually reinforcing referral loops (where it has density[1]). One obvious question is whether United can use OptumCare to materially advantage its own health plans.  Is a new, nationally-scaled Kaiser in the offing? If that is its endgame, United has a lot of work

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Google’s health insurance apprenticeship: some unicorns (maybe) but no masterpieces

Last month, word got out that Verily is in talks with health plans to “jointly bid” on care management contracts. Medicaid populations might be a reasonable surmised as the target given that (1) managed Medicaid requires bidding, (2) Medicaid contracts typically come in packets of hundreds of thousands of lives (which was the scale mentioned in the press reports) and (3) Verily had been considering (but decided against) bidding on Medicaid contracts using Oscar Health as a partner. It is curious, however, to see an organization seek collaboration with health

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What precisely lies behind UPMC’s $2B investment in three new specialty hospitals?

Last December, UPMC announced plans to spend $2B on three new specialty hospitals in downtown Pittsburgh. Each will abut an existing UPMC hospital currently serving as system center of excellence for the particular specialty: cancer will be located near Shadyside; cardiac and transplant near Presbyterian; eye and rehab near Mercy. Given inpatient’s declining share in care delivery, any new hospital construction in an over-bedded market with slow-moving demographics is a curiosity. Even if, as UPMC has promised, no net new beds will be added to the market, the new hospitals

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Amazon offering health insurance: a potential mistake

35%+ of consumers who purchased on Amazon over a 30-day period say they would be “open” to health insurance created by Amazon according to a new survey (see Becker’s headline and the LendEdu study description). Not surprisingly, interest varied depending on degree of commitment the consumer had to Amazon: 62% of the sample were Amazon Prime customers, and, of them, 42% were open to the idea. That implies that 26% of non-Prime customers were open. This data point is a fine example of the kind of freebie thinking Amazon can

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Consider this speculative Amazon scenario in your strategic planning

Amazon has many puzzled about its plans for healthcare. Arguably, Amazon is just as puzzled, but is – in effect — running a massive Delphi process to sort out the plan. Amazon is, after all, the Breaker of Industries, Destroyer of Margins. Allow rumors to float, hire some people, have meetings, seek a few regulatory approvals, start a vaguely missioned non-profit with other business titans. Fear and greed do the rest. Stock prices gyrate as investors bet and counter bet on who is vulnerable, incumbent CEOs promise cooperation or competitive

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How can Optum be in only 35 out of 75 target markets while also being available to 70%+ of the US population? An analytical speculation

During the UnitedHealth quarterly earnings call earlier this month, Larry Renfro, CEO of Optum, offered some additional color on the growth of OptumCare: “Combined with [Davita], OptumCare will be in 35 local care delivery markets, nearly one-half of the 75 markets targeted for engagement or development. And these market operations are still in the early stages of growth and development” (per transcript on SeekingAlpha). Yet, based on our data, we think OptumCare (including Davita Medical Group and its MedExpress and Surgical Care Affiliates components) is already present in Hospital Referral

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