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Senior and Post-Acute Healthcare News and Topics

SNFs and Stranded Assets

Lately I’ve written rather extensively on what is occurring in the SNF sector to (rather) dramatically shift the fortunes for companies such as HCR/ManorCare, Kindred, Genesis, Signature, and a series of REITs that hold SNF assets (physical).  In addition to my writings, I’ve consulted/conversed with numerous investment firms concerned and interested in this shift.  Underlying all of my written thoughts and my discussions is a harsh reality check: A solid third of the industry today (SNF) has assets that I and other industry-watchers would consider/define as stranded.

I have embedded a link to a great article that covers the concept of “stranded assets”.  It is from the HFMA and the focus is on hospitals but the issues are directly analogous to SNF physical plants.  The link is here:

The underlying issues that created this unique asset status are as follows.

  • An SNF physical plant has value if the corresponding cash flow generated from the operations attached to the asset is positive with a margin.  The HFMA hospital reference point is an EBITDA margin of 6% or higher.  Depending on the age of physical plant, deferred maintenance and interest and tax costs, 6% is likely a “non-coverage” situation.  For SNFs owned by REITs, we are seeing EBITDAR equal to a coverage ratio of 1 or less (cash to pay or cover rent costs).  I contend that in this scenario, the asset (SNF) plant is now stranded.
  • Stranded effectively means that the asset (the SNF) has no strategic or business value in the current state (with an EBITDAR coverage equal to 1 or less).  Without significant changes to operations to increase the cash coverage margin, the value of the asset is impaired and by GAAP, should be written down.  NOTE: I am not an accountant/CPA so I will leave any further reasoning or discussion on GAAP requirements, asset impairment and write-downs to the accountancy profession.
  • Important to note about assets/SNFs that are stranded is that short-term advances/improvements in their cash flow may change this status by definition but the same is only temporary.  The market, health policy and other  business shifts away from certain types of institutional care and lower-rated providers is permanent.  SNFs not properly positioned from an asset and operating perspective for these market changes will return to stranded status again and rather quickly.  The point here is this: An asset that is stranded is characterized by,
    • An aged physical plant with deferred maintenance
    • A plant that is not current in terms of market expectations (private rooms, open dining, bistro areas, coffee bars, exercise and therapy gyms, etc.)
    • A plant that is inefficient from a staff and resource perspective (too many units, too spread out, etc.)
    • An asset with operations that have a poor history of compliance, rated below 3 stars, and with marginal to sub-par quality measures.

Today, the strategic value of the asset is tied directly to its ability, along with paired operations, to generate positive cash margins sufficient to cover debt payments or lease payments plus required capital improvements (funded or sequentially incurred period over period). If an asset is truly stranded, changing that position is a strategic and long-term endeavor: An approach that requires wholesale repositioning.  For many SNFs, this approach may not be feasible.

  • The dollars required to reposition the asset from a physical plant perspective are greater in total than the remaining Undepreciated Replacement Value of the plant.  In other words, the cost to reposition is greater than the value of the asset.
  • The return generated from the repositioning is insufficient from an ROI perspective (less than the cost of capital plus the imputed life-cycle cost of depreciation of the improvements).
  • The operations of the asset are also impaired such that the compliance history and Star ratings, etc. are poor (historically) and changing the same would/will require a long-term horizon whereby, the same does not net cash flow improvement during the process.  Referrals and permanent cash-flow improvements are the result of revenue model changes and the same can not occur overnight when Star ratings and compliance improvements are required.  Changing Star ratings from a 3 to 4 for example, can take twelve months or longer.

The take-away points for the industry are simple.  The industry has an abundance of buildings/assets that fit the stranded definition today and a good number reside in REIT portfolios.  These assets/buildings, because of the points above, literally and figuratively, cannot be repositioned.  Their value has shrunk precipitously and there is nothing regarding the circumstances that caused this shift that will change.  Repositioning to avoid or change the stranded status is improbable due to the facts at-hand;

  • The asset is old by current business-need standards, has moderate to significant deferred maintenance issues and improvement to the current standard will cost in-excess of the undepreciated replacement value of the asset.
  • The operations tied to the asset are not highly rated, with strong compliance history and exceptional quality measure performance.
  • The operations and asset together, are incorrectly matched within a market that has higher rated competitors with better outcomes and newer, better positioned physical plants.  The preferred referrals for quality payers has moved to these competitors and the drivers such as bundled payments, value-based purchasing, Medicare Advantage plans, etc., plus a movement away from institutional care (to shorter stays, fewer stays) has altered the demand factors within the market.

In all probability, the above foreshadows a shrinking scenario combined with a valuation-shift (negative) for the SNF industry.


June 21, 2017 Posted by | Skilled Nursing | , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

SNF Outlook, REITs, Kindred and Where to From Here

As the title of this post implies, a review of the status of the SNF industry is as much about current issues begat by past issues influenced by an outlook that is finally, starting to congeal.  Writing that (sentence) was convoluted enough and that is exactly, where the bulk of the industry issues are.  To begin, an operative “influences” framework is required.

  • Federal Conditions of Participation: After years of work and inaction, a final rule updating the Federal Conditions of Participation was released in September of 2016.  These Conditions haven’t updated (substantively) since the early 90s via implementation of OBRA and PPS.  Suffice to say, the update is sweeping; so much so that implementation of the revisions is in year over year phases.  Complying with all of the Conditions will cost SNFs tens of thousands of dollars, if not more.  Implementation and survey activity on the new Conditions begins November 2017.  Reference posts from this site are here:
  • Value-Based Purchasing: Pay for performance is coming (or almost here) as the measurement period for SNFs has occurred and the timeframe for making improvements in performance, particularly on avoidable readmissions is NOW.  For SNFs, this is about reducing or eliminating, avoidable hospital readmissions (within 30 days of SNF admission from a hospital).  The observation period has already concluded for payment adjustments (negative to positive), beginning in 2018.  The initial adjustment is 3% ranging to 8% in 2022.
  • IMPACT Act and QRP: This is all about the reporting of quality data and quality measures across all post-acute settings.  The implication for SNFs is the disclosure of these measures, tethered to a benchmark.  Performance below (the measurement period is past), the SNF is encouraged to improve to the benchmark.  Failure to improve nets a 2% reduction in Medicare payments.  High performers will receive an incentive payment.  Specifics are here:
  • Bundled Payments: Elective Hip and Knee replacement is up and running in 67 metropolitan regions.  In bundled payments, providers acute and post-acute are essentially paid based on an episode of care.  The episode is a benchmark for the region and provider costs based on billed charges, matched against the target.  Additionally, providers are tasked with quality measurements and satisfaction measurements.  The goal is to produce outcomes that are lower in cost than the benchmark  and at or above, desired quality levels.  Providers (hospitals initially) that can do so, will receive incentive payments.  The implication for SNFs is the need to control costs, provide high quality outcomes and potentially, participate in risk-sharing agreements with the hospital for a piece of the incentive “action”.  Cardiac and upper femur fracture bundled payments set to begin March 1 of this year are delayed to October 1.  More on this subject here:
  • Star Ratings: Because of the issues above, mostly influenced by Bundled Payments and readmission penalties for hospitals, Star ratings (the CMS Five Star system) matter.  Providers that have lower Star ratings (3 or less) are watching referrals for quality paying patients (primarily Medicare) dwindle.  In some cases, in markets with ample 4 and 5 Star providers, referrals patters have shifted by as much as 30% (away from 3 Star and lower facilities).
  • Market and Referral Shifts: Without question, there is a distinct movement away from institutional post-acute care.  In some markets, an abundance of SNF beds has led to an overall reduction of ten plus points in average occupancy (supply exceeding demand).  Home health is the biggest benefactor as patients previously sent to SNFs for lengthy rehab stays have shifted to home health for the entire stay or for the back-half or better of the traditional stay.  This has hurt occupancy.  Couple this effect with the issues noted before and market and referral pressures are enormous for many SNFs.  A five to seven point reduction in the quality mix occupancy is enough to erode margins from negative to positive.  With increasing cost pressure due to the new Conditions of Participation,, and limited revenue increases due to rate, the fortune for many SNFs is dim.
  • Possible New Payment System for Medicare: Within the past week, CMS floated a proposed rule for comment that would “gut” the current RUGs system, replacing it with a Resident Classification System.  The overall theme is to reduce the reward tied to maximizing therapy services and length of stay.  The new system would categorize residents based on overall needs, combine reimbursement for PT and OT and enhance payment for nursing related needs.  More to come on this topic.

With the above headwinds, none of which are all that new or “newsworthy”, the industry is quaking or trembling or at least fifty plus percent is.  Consider the following as reasons;

  • Medicaid remains the dominant payer for skilled nursing care.  With the likelihood of continued rate pressure state by state for providers (Medicaid structural funding issues), the prospect of enhanced payment now or in the near future is ZERO. Fifty plus percent of the SNFs in the industry have a census that is predominantly, Medicaid (50 plus percent).  The net Medicaid margin (negative) for most providers is 20%. For higher quality providers, the margin (negative) is 30%.
  • The make-whole relief has come from Medicare and to a lesser extent, private pay.  In effect, providers have subsidized their Medicaid losses via Medicare.  The loss offset plus margin has come from maximizing Medicare census and Medicare reimbursement, via higher therapy utilization and length of stay.  The net difference per patient day between Medicare and Medicaid (on average) is $275 per day (varies state to state).  For most providers with large Medicaid census, a Medicare day is worth 1.7 Medicaid days (one Medicare is 1.7 times more “revenue” valuable than a Medicaid day).  Illustrated a bit more: A 100 bed facility with 50 Medicaid needs 29.4 Medicare residents to offset the Medicaid loss.  Add a few private pay, and a margin is possible.
  • With VBP, QRP, bundled payments and census pressure, the ability to attract the Medicare volume to offset the Medicaid losses for a growing number of facilities has eroded.  Facilities at or below the 3 Star level in most major metropolitan markets are seeing referral “shrinkage” and thus, census reductions.  The effect is directly on the Medicare census.
  • The outlook as result of new Conditions of Participation is for steadily rising costs to comply, at least in the short to near term.  New regulations drive costs up.
  • A future that includes a payment system overhaul focused less on therapy and RUGs maximization, more on classifying residents’ needs globally, foretells great peril for the sector of the industry that has relied heavily on maximizing therapy volumes and related RUGs as margin subsidy.  These SNFs need a new revenue and business model and time for the same is not on their side.

Given the above and the factors operative, it is no wonder Kindred has decided to abandon the SNF market and potentially, explore a sale for their entire business.  The Kindred reality is/was for their SNF business, a portfolio heavily occupied by Medicaid, facilities with aged, inefficient and out-scale physical plants, so-so market locations, and virtually all subject to leases to Ventas and other REITs.  Combine these factors with an average Star rating at 3 or lower (not a lot of 4 and 5 star facilities) and the outlook is challenging.   There simply was and is, no business justification to invest millions upon millions of dollars (literally hundreds of millions likely) to upgrade physical plants (plants that were too old and improperly scaled) and to embark on a census development and Star improvement strategy, none of which will/would bear fruit for at least 5 years if not more. And of course, the fruit that is produced is insufficient in net margin to justify the original expenditure and meet ROI (Return on Investment) requirements.

The Kindred news that it may seek a sale of the entire business is a strategic, preemptive hedge to what has occurred (is occurring) to Brookdale. The parts of Kindred in certain cases may be worth more than the whole.  Overall, the revenue pressure (down) on the post-acute industry is heavy with the heaviest pressure set to bear on institutional providers; particularly those with aged and improperly positioned/scoped assets.  Revitalizing these assets is expensive, in some cases more so than rebuilding the asset properly, in its entirety.  In short, Kindred is asset wealthy but the cash flow future from the heavy institutional element is marginally poor.

Transitioning to REITs that hold large SNF portfolios, the same or an analogous picture is operative.  The bulk of REIT holdings are three Star and lower.  Quality mix has eroded for these facilities along with census.  As cash flow pressure has increased, the  need has arisen to restructure lease payments (lower).  Lower lease payments reduce REIT earnings.  Without a large volume of facilities that are four and five Star, there simply is no place to shift rate and thus, earnings pressure.  Four and five Star facilities can and generally do, have enough cash flow to pay leases with coverage ratios at 1.2 and better.  Below the three Star level, the pressure today is for leases to move to 1.1 or 1 – not a good future for a REIT’s earnings.

A concomitant problem for REITs is the value decline of the SNF assets they hold.  While industry Cap rates have been decent, the deal volume is very small and the deals done, cash flow focused – typified by four and five Star rated providers or newer assets.  REIT assets tend to be older buildings, larger buildings and parts of chain or system organizations such as LifeCare and Manor Care.  Simply stated: Without a quality mix, strong cash flow, good market location and solid to better assets (not too large, primarily private room, modern, etc.), the underlying brick and mortar value is minimal.  There are not buyers today for these types of assets and the operators willing to assume these assets with leases are disappearing as well.

Given all of these issues, challenges, etc., one could surmise an outlook for the SNF industry that is rather bearish.  My view is a bit bifurcated.  For a large portion of the industry, I am bearish;

  • Older physical plant that is larger, not fundamentally all private rooms, inefficient to staff, not having modern dining and therapy space, etc.
  • Rated at three Stars or less
  • Medicaid census at 40 percent or higher of total bed capacity
  • Debt or lease payments greater than 20% of net revenue
  • In rural locations, unaffiliated with a larger parent or provider organization (staffing is difficult at best)

For providers that don’t fit this profile, there is a decent future if they stay ahead of the trends.  Consider the following;

  • Quality referrals are migrating aggressively to four and five Star providers
  • Payment incentives for strong quality outcomes are forthcoming (next year to three)
  • In good market locations, these providers will be able to negotiate terms in narrow networks and with Medicare Advantage plans as the other providers fall-off.
  • Properly capitalized with a good capital structure and cash flow sufficient to keep physical plant from aging (depreciating) via proper maintenance and investment

Granted, the number of providers that meet this profile is not large in number and almost entirely today, non-profit, health system affiliated or regional, privately held.  The real challenge is to be nimble and constantly vigilant on quality.  The movement as I have written and publicly stated in speeches and lectures, is to pay only for high quality and efficiently determined outcomes.  Providers that can deliver this level of care will succeed and win in the new “environment”.  Those that aren’t at this level yet have likely, run out of time.  Three Star or lower ratings take a long time today to convert to four and five Stars.  By the time the conversion has occurred, the referral patterns in the market will have permanently changed.

May 4, 2017 Posted by | Policy and Politics - Federal, Skilled Nursing | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Hospice, Hospital Readmissions and Penalty Implications

Late yesterday, a reader (who also happens to be a client from time to time), posed this question to me. “When hospitals discharge to hospice and if the hospice has to readmit to the hospital, the hospital doesn’t get penalized for the readmit?  Is this true?”  Since this question is not one that I have been asked, to my recollection, ever before my guess is that others may have a similar query or interest.  My answer to him/the question, follows.

The short answer is that the readmission penalty issue is not applicable for a hospice to acute hospital transfer/admission.  There is one single caveat that must be present, however: The patient in question must be on the Medicare Hospice benefit rather than traditional Part A and receiving services under some other Hospice offered program such as a Palliative Care program (a home health care style offering).  Below is the reason and regulatory/legal construct why the readmission penalty is not applicable.

  • When a patient elects and is qualified under the Medicare Hospice benefit, the patient opts (effectively) out of his/her traditional Medicare benefit structure – including the assumed coverage for inpatient hospital coverage offered under Medicare Part A.
  • The issue or applicability for readmission penalties for hospitals is only under traditional Medicare fee-for-service or qualified Medicare Advantage plans  It is also only applicable to certain originating DRGs (not all readmissions qualify for a penalty).
  • When a patient enrolls in the Medicare Hospice benefit, the assumptive relationship under Medicare with regard to the patient and his/her provider relationship changes.  The assumption becomes that the patient is effectively, now the “property” (bad word choice but illustrative nonetheless) of the Hospice.  This is so much so that no patient can receive the Hospice benefit under Medicare without becoming a patient of a qualified, certified Hospice provider. Unlike the relationship under traditional or managed Medicare, the patient care is thus the property and coordinated responsibility of the Hospice.  Prior to enrollment, the patient had no connective relationship to any provider – free (for the most part) to seek care from any qualified provider (Med Advantage networks notwithstanding).
  • By his/her enrollment in the Hospice benefit with a Hospice, the patient agrees to a set of covered benefits tied to his/her end-of-life care needs.  He/she also elects to have his/her care effectively provided by or through the Hospice exclusively.  In fact, the patient can’t really show-up at a hospital for an admission and expect to be admitted, without the approval of the Hospice.  The only option a patient has to receive care in this fashion is to “opt out” of the Hospice benefit.
  • Once a patient is enrolled in Hospice, there effectively is no “hospital” benefit left.  The use of a hospital by a Hospice patient is through the Hospice exclusively and any hospital or inpatient use is (only) technically via a GIP or other contracted event/need.  In fact, the hospital has no DRG or admission code nor records the GIP stay as a “hospital” admission.  It (the hospital) can’t create a bill to Medicare for this event and must seek all payment through the Hospice.  As no bill is generated to Medicare Part A with a corresponding DRG and billing code, no inpatient admission occurred and thus, no readmission occurs either applicable (or not) for a penalty.

Like most things Medicare, you won’t find a succinct “memo” to this effect.  Instead, you have to know and go through the detail on the program benefit side and understand how billing, coding and benefit eligibility/program payments work for each provider segment.


April 20, 2017 Posted by | Hospice | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Health Systems, Hospitals and Post-Acute Providers: Making Integration Work

Early into the Trump presidency and health care/health policy is front and center.  The first “Obamacare repeal and replace” attempt crashed and burned.  The upcoming roll-out of the next round of bundled payments (cardiac and femur fracture) is delayed to October from the end-of-March target date.  Logically, one can question is a landscape shift forming? Doubtful.  Too many current realities such as the need to slow spending growth plus find new and innovative population health and payment models are still looming. These policy realities beget other realities. One such reality is that hospitals and health systems must find ways to partner with and integrate with, the post-acute provider industry.

In late 2016, Premier, Inc. (the national health care improvement organization) released the results of a study indicating that 85% of health system leaders were interested in creating expanded affiliations with post-acute providers.  Interestingly, 90% of the same group said they believed challenges to do so would exist (Premier conducted the survey in summer of 2016 via 52 C-suite, health system executives).  Most of the challenges?  The gaps that exist “known and unknown” between both provider segments (acute and post-acute) and the lack of efficient communication interfaces (software) between the segments.

On the surface, bundled payments notwithstanding, the push for enhanced integration is driven by a number of subtle but tactile market and economic shifts.

  1. Inpatient hospital lengths of stay are dropping, driven by an increasing number of patients covered by managed care.  Today, the largest payer source contributor of inpatient days, Medicare, is 30.6% “managed”…and growing.  Medicaid is 62.7% and commercial, nearly 100% (99%). Source:
  2. Payment at the hospital end is increasingly tied to discharge experience – what happens after the inpatient stay.  The onus today is on the hospital (and growing) for increasing numbers of patient types (DRG correlated) to discharge the patient properly such that the same does not beget a readmission to the hospital.  Too many readmissions equal payment reductions.
  3. Population health, focused-care models such as ACOs are evolving.  Their evolution is all about finding the lowest cost, highest quality centers of care.  Other BPCI (bundled payment) initiative projects such as Model 3, focus directly on the post-acute segment of care.  Unlike CJR (and the recently delayed cardiac bundles), the BPCI demonstration that began in 2013 covers 48 episodes of care (DRG based) and has participating providers (voluntarily) operating programs in all four model phases, nationwide.
  4. Patient preference continues to demand more care opportunities at-home.  Never mind the increased risk of complication with longer inpatient hospital stays (the risk of infection, pressure injuries, weight loss, delirium, etc. increases as stays increase), it is patient preference to discharge quickly and preferably, to home with services (aka home care).

Regardless the fate of Obamacare now or in the near future, these trends are unlikely to change as they have been moving separate from Obamacare.  Arguably, the ACA/Obamacare accelerated some of them.  Nonetheless, the baked-in market forces that have emanated from ACOs and care episode payments illustrate that even in infancy, these different models produce (generally) more efficient care, lower costs and improved patient satisfaction and outcomes.

As with any integration approach such as a merger for example, cultural differences are key.  The culture of post-acute care is markedly different from that of acute/hospital care.  For hospitals to appreciate this difference, look no farther than the two key determinants of post-acute culture: regulation and payment.  The depth and breadth plus the scope of survey and enforcement activity is substantially greater on the post-acute side than the acute side.  As an example, observe the SNF industry and how enforcement occurs.  Hospitals are surveyed for re-accreditation once every three years.  The typical SNF is visited no less than four times annually: annual certification and three complaint surveys.

In terms of payment, the scope is drastically different.  While hospitals struggle to manage far more payers than a post-acute provider, the amount that is paid to a hospital is substantially larger than that paid to a post-acute provider.  At one point years back, the differences were substantiated largely by acuity differences across patients.  While a gap still exists, it has narrowed substantially with the post-acute provider world seeing an increase in acuity yet lacking a concomitant payment that matches this increase.

Given this cultural framework, post-acute providers can struggle with translating hospital expectations and of course, vice-versa.  Point-of-fact, there is no real regulatory framework in an SNF under federal law for “post-acute” patients.  The rules are identical for a patient admitted for a short-stay or for the rest of his/her life.  Despite the fact that the bulk of SNF admissions today are of the post-acute variety, the regulations create conformity for residency, presumptively for the long-term.  Taking the following into consideration, a challenge such as minimizing a post-acute SNF stay to eight days for a knee replacement (given by a hospital to an SNF) is logical but potentially fraught with the peril presented by the federal SNF Conditions of Participation.  The SNF cannot dictate discharge.  A patient/resident that wishes to remain has rights under the law and a series of appeal opportunities, etc. that can slow the process to a crawl.  At minimum, a dozen or more such landmines exist in analogous scenarios.

Making integration work between post-acute and acute providers is a process of identifying the “gaps” between the two worlds and then developing systems and education that bridge such gaps. Below is my list (experiential) of the gaps and some brief notes/comments on what to do bridge the same.  NOTE: This list is generally applicable regardless of provider type (e.g., SNF, HHA, etc.).

  • Information Tech/Compatibility: True interoperability does not yet exist.  Sharing information can be daunting, especially at the level required between the provider segments for good care coordination.  The simple facts are that the two worlds are quite different in terms of paper work, billing requirements, documentation, etc.  Focus on the stuff that truly matters such as assessments, diagnoses, physician notes, plans of care, treatment records, medications, diagnostics, patient advance directives and demographics.  Most critical is to tie information for treating physicians so that duplication is avoided, if possible.
  • Regulatory Frameworks: This is most critical, hospital/physician side to the post-acute side, less so the other way.  Earlier I mentioned just one element regarding an SNF and discharge.  There are literally, dozens more.  I often hear hospitals frustrated by HHAs and SNFs regarding the “rules” for accepting patients and what can/cannot be done in terms of physician orders, how fast, etc. For example, it might be OK in the hospital to provide “Seroquel for sleep or inpatient delirium” but it is not OK in the SNF.  HHAs need physician face-to-face encounters just to begin to get care moving, including orders for DME, etc.  There is no short-cut.  Creating a pathway for the discharging hospital and the physician components to and through the post-acute realm is critical to keep stays short and outcomes high… as well as minimize delays in care and readmissions.
  • Resource Differences: Understanding the resource capacities of post-acute, including payment, is necessary for smooth integration.  What this means is that the acute and physician world needs to recognize that stay minimization is important but so is overall care minimization or better, simplification.  Unnecessary care via duplicative or unnecessary medications, tests, etc. can easily eat away at the meager margins that are operative for SNFs and HHAs.  For example, I have seen all too many times where a patient has an infection and is discharged to an SNF on a Vancomycin IV with orders for continued treatment for four more days.  Those four days are likely negative margin for the SNF.  A better alternative?  If possible, a less expensive antibiotic or send the remaining Vancomycin doses to the SNF.  Too many tests, too many medications, too much redundancy erodes post-acute margin quickly.  Finding common ground between providers with shared resource opportunities is important for both segments to achieve efficiency and still provide optimal care.
  • Language Differences: In this case, I don’t mean dialect.  Industry jargon and references are different.  I often recommend cheat-sheets between providers just to make sure that everyone can have a “hospital to SNF to HHA” dictionary.  Trust me, there is enough difference to make a simple working dictionary worth the effort.
  • Education/Knowledge: The gap between staff working in different environments can be wide, particularly as the same relates to how and why things are done the way they are.  For example, therapy.  Physical therapy in a hospital for the acute stay is markedly different than the physical therapy in a home health setting or a SNF setting.  Care planning is different, treatments similar but session length and documentation requirements are vastly different.  The clinical elements are surprisingly similar but the implementation elements, markedly different.  The notion that one staff level is clinically superior to another is long dispelled.  SNF nurses can face as many clinical challenges and perhaps more due to no/minimal immediate physician coverage, as a hospital nurse.  True, there are specialty differences (CCU, Neuro ICU, Trauma, etc.) but at the level where patients flow through acute to post-acute, the clinical elements are very similar.  The aspect of care differences and the how and why certain things are done in certain settings is where interpretation and education is required.
  • System and Care Delivery: While the diagnosis may follow, assuring proper integration among the various levels or elements of care requires systematic care delivery. The best language: clinical pathways and algorithms.  Developing these across settings for an episode of care creates a recipe or roadmap that minimizes redundancy, misinterpretation, and lack of preparation (all of which create bad outcomes).  With these in-place, common acute admissions that beget post-acute discharges, places every care aspect within the same “playbook”.


March 28, 2017 Posted by | Home Health, Policy and Politics - Federal, Skilled Nursing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Seniors Housing/CCRC Outlook plus Lessons from Brookdale

Now that the real estate dynamics have shifted on-balance to par or better (majority of markets can liquidate inventory at stable or rising prices with constant or modestly increasing demand), the outlook for Seniors Housing (IL, AL and CCRC) is less murky. The recessionary of the last 7 to 8 years has lifted.  What is visible, while still fairly complex market to market, is a picture that is illustrative for the next ten or so years – ample to adequate supply and average to slightly soft overall demand.  Perhaps, this is the Brookdale lesson?

Amplifying the above; what we know statistically is that demand has globally peaked and now, flattened.  Recall that Seniors Housing is very much local and regionally biased/impacted so some markets may be hotter in terms of demand than others.  By example, in 2010 (full recession impact), occupancy in the sector was 86.7%.  By the end of 2014 and since, occupancy has recovered but only to an average of 90% (per the National Investment Center).  During this same later period, new unit production has increased to an average of 3,200 per quarter (trailing seven quarters since end of 2016).  This is a 50% increase over the prior eight quarters.  The cause? Less about occupancy reality, more about a growing optimistic economic outlook, improving real estate dynamics (the leading cause) and more accessible capital, particularly as nontraditional sources have entered the sector with vigor (private equity).  A quick translation is for an increase of approximately 5,000 additional units in the top 31 MSAs (could be as much as 6,000 depending on where the units are in the development cycle).  This additional inventory is entering a market that is showing signs of over-supply (again, is there a Brookdale lesson here?).


In multiple articles, I have written about phantom or perhaps more accurate, misunderstood economic and demographic trends.  Seniors housing global demand is very elastic, particularly for IL and CCRC projects that are at or above market (where the bulk of the industry is).  Demand elasticity exists where and when, price directly impacts the number of and the willingness of, consumers to consume a particular good or service. As price rises, the number decreases.  As price falls, the number increases.  For seniors housing, the elasticity wanes and trends toward inelastic demand when the price mirrors “rent controlled or modest income” housing.  In this case, demand is constant and actually inverse proportionately (more demand than supply). Better real estate economic conditions and improved investment market conditions (stock market, investment returns, etc.) influence to a lesser extent, the demand outlook as stronger or stable wealth profiles for consumers reduces the anxiety of purchase, especially where entrance fee models are concerned.

From a demographic perspective, the issue at bear is the actual or real number of seniors in the target age range with an economic wherewithal to consume (have the financial capacity).  Only (approximately) ten percent of all seniors 75 and above reside in seniors housing specifically (IL or CCRC) and a slightly larger (aggregate)number now reside in quasi-seniors housing projects (age limited housing developments ala Del Webb).  Between 2010 and 2016, the 75 plus population grew at an anemic rate of 1.8%.  The expected rate of growth for this cohort over the next five years increases to 3.8%.  More telling, for this same period, the subset of 75-79 grows at a rate of 5.7%.  These numbers present a bit of optimism but in real terms, the demand change (within the demographic) doesn’t create sufficient opportunities for absorption of the inventory growth, if the same remains at its present pace.  The demographic fortune doesn’t really begin to change dramatically until 2021 and beyond.  At 2021, the group turning 75 represent the start of the baby boomers (2021 -75 = 1946).  Prior to this point, the demographics of seniors 75 and above still reflect the World War II trend of birth suppression.

To Brookdale. The operative lesson is that Brookdale has far too much supply for the real organic demand that exists for plus market rate, congregate seniors housing. In my outlook comments below, readers will note how the demand around seniors housing and the congregate model is actually shifting slightly which has negatively impacted Brookdale. The acquisition of Emeritus has since offered proof of some age-old adages regarding Seniors Housing: local, not conforming to retail outlet strategies, very elastic demand, tough to price inflate for earnings and margin, asset intense and thus capital re-investment sensitive, and of course, full of me-too projects that are difficult to brand differentiate.  In the Emeritus acquisition, economies of scale and cultural assimilation proved difficult but frankly, such is always the case. The real crux is that the retail outlets (the Emeritus properties) were not accretive -seniors housing doesn’t quite work that way.  While the asset value of Brookdale skyrocketed, the earnings on those assets retrenched.  With soft demand and a lot of congregate projects highly similar and no room at the ceiling for price elevation, a fate accompli occurred.  The lesson?  Certain types of Seniors Housing is about played out (vanilla, above market projects) and a heavy concentration of this in a portfolio will evidence occupancy challenges and rental income return challenges (no price inflation).  Demand is also soft for reasons mentioned above, primarily demographic but also still, economic in some instances.  Similarly, as I mentioned above, seniors housing is very local.  A retail brand strategy simply (the Wal-Mart concept) won’t work.  Residents identify brand to local or at best regional – national means nothing.  If the market isn’t supportive regardless of who or what it is, the project will be challenged.  Emeritus brought too many of these projects into the Brookdale portfolio.

Below are my key outlook points for 2017 and the next five or so years for IL and CCRCs (non-affordable housing).

  • Demand across most property types will remain soft to stagnant.  This means 90% occupied is a good target or number.  Of course, rent controlled projects will continue to experience high demand, particularly if the projects are well located and well-managed.  Regional and local demand can and will vary significantly.  The projects that will experience the softest demand are above market, congregate, non-full continuum (non-CCRC).  Projects with the best demand profile contain mix-use, mix-style accommodations with free-standing and villa style properties.  While highly amenitized projects will attract traffic, demand isn’t necessarily better due to price elasticity in the segment.
  • Improving economic conditions/outlook will undergird and help bolster demand, though the demographics still trump (no pun intended). Some notes to consider.
    • The real estate economy can benefit, even with a slightly higher interest rate trend, if employment and wages continue to strengthen and de-regulation of some current lending constraints occur.  I think the latter two points offset any interest rate increases in the near to moderate term.
    • Rising interest rate fortunes help seniors more than stock market returns, though this trend is changing as seniors have been forced to equities to bolster return.  Still, most seniors are highly exposed to fixed income investments and a somewhat improving interest rate market will improve income outlooks.  Better or improved income does psychologically impact the consumption equation, “positively”.
    • Capital access will remain favorable/positive and banking de-regulation to a certain extent, may push banks back to the sector (they have been shy to seniors housing for the last 5 to 8 years).
    • Even with improved economic conditions, the mismatch between demand and supply (discussed earlier) will restrain rent increases in the near term.  This could present some modest operating challenges for the sector as price inflation on wages, etc. will occur before any opportunity to raise fees/rent.  The net effect is a modest erosion in margin.  I don’t see much opportunity to fight this effect with increased occupancy.
  • Increasing occupancy or in some cases, staying at current occupancy levels will continue to require incentives.  Incentives negatively impact revenue in the short-run.
  • The average age for residency on admission and across the product profile will continue to move up as a general rule.  In addition, the resident profile will continue to slide toward additional infirmity and debility.  Providers will continue to work to find ways to keep projects occupied by offering aging-in-place services.  While this is a good strategy to a certain extent, the same does harm or impact negatively, the ability to market and sales-convert, units to a more independent resident profile.  I liken this to a “rob Peter to pay Paul” approach.  It works but not without side-effects and perhaps, unintended consequences that can be very deleterious “down-the-road”.
  • The additional inventory that is coming into the sector won’t slow down for another two or so years.  This is in-spite of a weak to stagnant demand.  Some investors and developers are willing to be somewhat ahead of the baby-boomer curve even though I believe this is unwise (see next point).
  • The reason I believe the baby-boomer impact for the sector will be modest and actually, disheartening is that the demographic shift doesn’t equate to product demand directly.  Boomers have an increasingly different view of the world and a different set of housing and lifestyle expectations plus economic capacity.
    • The first group of Boomers was hurt the hardest by the most recent recession.  They lost a great deal of wealth and income profile as many were the first displaced as jobs eroded (oldest employees, highest paid). They also have less employment time to recoup any income/savings losses.
    • Generationally, their savings rate is significantly less than their parents.  These folks, while still more modest in comparison to Boomers born five to ten years later, didn’t delay gratification or extravagance the way their recession-influenced parents did.  Less overall wealth negatively impacts their ability to afford higher-end seniors housing.
    • Congregate living (apartments) is less their style.  They are the first age group (Boomers) used to a more expansive living arrangement.  While they’ll move eventually, they will not see 1,200 sq. feet at $4,000 a month as attractive (not even at $3,000). They will have unfortunately, mismatched expectations in terms of “size” versus cost.  They’ll want larger but for less rent than realistic.
    • They are generally healthier with a different view of age related to retirement and retirement residency.  Don’t look for 75 year older Boomers to be horribly interested in a CCRC or Seniors Housing development, particularly if their health is good.  They’ll wait until 80 or older to trigger a move.
    • Boomers are more mobile and more detached than their parents.  This means in-market moves and the traditional radius markets/math will be less applicable year-over-year with Boomers.  They will be willing to shop broader and do so more for value and price – more for less or at least, a perception of the same.  They are nowhere near as homogeneous by social construct as their parents.
  • Greater pricing flexibility will continue to evolve.  This means different entry-fee options, monthly service options with/without amenities, more ala carte, etc.  Service infrastructure for certain communities may suffer as residents will continue to want more choice but less bundle (won’t pay inflated fees for what they perceive as things they don’t use or want).
  • Because the sector is highly influenced and trended local, some markets will continue to thrive while others will continue to struggle, regardless of national trends.


March 3, 2017 Posted by | Senior Housing | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Five-Star Quality Rating Guide

A new book was just released – The Five-Star Quality Rating System Technical Users’ Guide.  Readers may find this resource exceptionally valuable, particularly in-light of how important the Five Star system is today (Value Based Purchasing, Quality Reporting, Bundled Payments, Network participation/formation, etc.).  For disclosure purposes, I am co-author along with Maureen McCarthy, RN.  The link to purchase/learn more about the book is below.


February 27, 2017 Posted by | Policy and Politics - Federal, Skilled Nursing | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

IMPACT Act, VBP, Care Coordination and the SNF Landscape

Now into February, its time to take stock of the Post-Acute/SNF landscape, particularly as the same pertains to the evolutionary policy initiatives in-play and moving forward.  To start, there is little evidence on the horizon of an all-out retreat on the policy changes begat by the ACA.  While some framework is building to “Repeal and Replace” the ACA/Obamacare, the same will leave fundamentally intact, the changes started and wrought by Bundled Payments, Value-Based Purchasing, and the IMPACT Act.  The Republican majority, a smattering of Democrats, and the incoming Secretary of HHS have signaled support for these initiatives.  Should a Repeal strategy move forward any time soon, these elements, skeletal perhaps or whole in-flesh, will likely remain.

Reviewing thematically, these policy initiatives are centered on an intentional focal shift from episodic, fee-for-service payments to payments based upon performance.  Performance in each element is tied to cost and quality.  The objective is to create better outcomes (quality) in a more efficient manner.  Because these things are government policy, they are clunky – less than simple.  In some cases such as with Value Based Purchasing and readmission measures, the methodology is so cumbersome and disjointed (some diagnoses are OK, some are not) that a layman, even one well-educated, could have a hard time qualifying and quantifying an appropriate readmission (by diagnoses, by risk, etc.).

Below is a quick review of the current policy initiatives and what they mean for 2017 for SNFs.

IMPACT Act: The purpose of the Act is to create standardized reporting of quality measures and cost measures across the post-acute domain (HHAs, SNFs, LTCaH, IRF).  The objectives are to reduce avoidable readmissions to acute care settings and to create standardized, comparable quality measures to identify federal policy improvements and payment consistencies.  CMS of course, uses more floral language regarding the objectives and intent.  Ultimately, the translation of the standardized data allows CMS to target regulatory changes and payment initiatives that reward provider performance and streamline (a bit oxymoronic for government) payment systems (rate equalization models).  Below are the pertinent domains under the IMPACT Act

Quality Measures

  • Skin integrity and changes in skin integrity
  • Functional status, cognitive function, and changes in function and cognitive function
  • Medication reconciliation
  • Incidence of major falls
  • Transfer of health information and care preferences when an individual transitions

Resource Use and Other Measures

  • Resource use measures, including total estimated Medicare spending per beneficiary
  • Discharge to community
  • All-condition risk-adjusted potentially preventable hospital readmissions rates


  • Functional status
  • Cognitive function and mental status
  • Special services, treatments, and interventions
  • Medical conditions and co-morbidities
  • Impairments
  • Other categories required by the Secretary

As is common in current health policy, reimbursement policy and other policy interweaves with laws such as the IMPACT Act.  Value Based Purchasing and  Quality Reporting for SNFs, integrates quality measure reporting and results along with readmission performance with incentives or penalties imputed via Medicare reimbursement for 2018.  Beginning in October of 2016, SNFs began to submit QRP (Quality Reporting) data via the MDS.  The first data collection period concluded on 12/31/16.  The Quality Measures reported and applicable under the IMPACT Act (cross setting measures) are:

  • Part A stays with one or more falls with major injury (fracture, joint dislocation, concussion, etc.)
  • Percent of residents with new or worsened pressure injuries
  • Percent of Long-Term Care Hospital patients with an Admission and Discharge Functional Assessment and a Care Plan that addresses function

The Claims Measures are:

  • Discharge to community
  • Potential preventable, 30 day post SNF discharge, readmission to hospital events
  • SNF Medicare spending per beneficiary

The Quality Measures are the elements that impute, based on performance, a reimbursement penalty in 2018 up to 2% of Medicare payments via a reduction in the SNFs reimbursement (rate) update.

Value Based Purchasing (VBP): SNFs are a tad late to this party as other providers such as hospitals, physicians and home health agencies already have reporting and measurement elements impacting their reimbursement.  Hospitals for example, have DRG specific readmission penalties (penalties applicable to common admitting diagnoses).  For HHAs, a nine state demonstration project is under way linking a series of measures (process, outcomes, claims) from the OASIS with customer satisfaction from the HHCAHPS to reimbursement via an accumulation tied to a Total Performance Score.  The measurement years (data gathered) beget payment changes (plus or minus) in outlying years – 2016 data nets payment adjustments in 2018.  The payment graduation increases over time (2018 = 3%, 2022 = 8%).

For SNFs, the VBP measure is 30 day, all cause, unplanned readmissions to a hospital. The measurement reflects a 30 day window that begins at the point of SNF admission from a hospital.  The 30 day window of measurement spans place of care meaning that the patient need not reside in the SNF for this measurement to still have an impact.  For example, a patient admitted to an SNF, subsequently discharged after 14 days to a HHA and then  readmitted to the hospital on day 22 (post hospital discharge) is considered a “readmission” for SNF VBP purposes.  CMS has offered guidance here regarding diagnoses that are excluded from the readmission measure.  Readers that wish this additional information can contact me via my email (on the Author page of this site) or via a comment to this post.  In either case, please provide a valid email that I can use to forward the information.

To avoid getting too technical in this post, a quick summary of how VBP will work is below (readers with greater interest can contact me as provided above for a copy of a Client Alert our/my firm produced last fall on VBP).

  • A SNFs readmission rate is calculated in separate calendar year periods – 2015 and 2017.  The 30 day readmissions (rate) applicable to an SNF is subtracted from the number 1 to achieve the SNFRM (Skilled Nursing Facility Readmission Measure).
  • The 2015 rate is called the Improvement Score and the 2017 rate is called the Performance Score.  Both scores are compared against a benchmark for the period applicable.
  • The benchmark equals 100 points.  The difference between the two (Improvement and Achievement) correlate to points plotted on a range – the Achievement range and the Improvement range.  The higher of the two scores is used to calculate reimbursement incentives or withholds – performance score.
  • Performance scores in terms of points correlate to reimbursement incentives/ withhold.  The maximum reduction or withhold is 2%.  CMS has yet to identify the incentive amount but under law, the amount must be equal in total value to 50-70% of the total withheld.  In effect, we envision a system that imputes a floor of minus 2% with points up to the threshold limit equaling a net of zero (plus 2%) and then climbing above the threshold to the benchmark (national SNF best readmission (average) decile).  This maximum level (and above) is likely to equal 100% of the available incentive.

The 2015 data is already “baked” but 2017 is just beginning. SNFs need to be diligent on monitoring their readmissions as this window is the Improvement opportunity.  Reimbursement impact isn’t until 2019.

Care Coordination: This catch-all phrase is now in “vogue” thanks to the IMPACT Act and VBP, along with the recently released, new Conditions of Participation.  The implication or applicability for Care Coordination is found in the new COPs.  Care Coordination elements are located in 483.21 (a new section) titled Comprehensive Resident-Centered Care Plans.  Specifically, the references to  Discharge Planning (Care Coordination) in this section are implementation elements for the IMPACT Act requirements.  Below are the regulation elements for Care Coordination.

  • Requires documentation in the care plan of the resident’s goals for admission, assessment of discharge potential and discharge plan as applicable
  • Requires the resident’s discharge summary to include medication reconciliation of discharge meds to admission meds (including OTC)
  • Discharge plan must incorporate  a summary of arrangements for post-discharge care including medical and non-medical services plus place of residence
  • All policies pertaining to admission, transfer, discharge, etc. must be uniform, regardless of payer source
  • Requires the facility to provide to resident/resident’s representative, data from IMPACT Act quality measures to assist in decision-making regarding selection of post-acute providers

The above elements are in Phase 1 meaning providers should be in-compliance by now (regulation took effect 11/28/16).

February 15, 2017 Posted by | Policy and Politics - Federal, Skilled Nursing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

SNF M&A: The Provider Number Trap

Over my career, I have done a fair amount of M&A work….CCRCs, SNFs, HHAs, Physician practices, hospice, etc. While each “deal” has lots of nuances, issues, etc. none can be as confusing or as tricky to navigate as the federal payer issues; specifically, the provider number.  For SNFs, HHAs, and hospices, an acquisition not properly vetted and structured can bite extremely hard post-closing, if provider liabilities existed pre-close and were unknown and/or unknowable.  Even the best due diligence cannot ferret out certain provider number related liabilities.

The Medicare provider number is the unique reference number assigned to each participating provider.  When initially originating as a provider, the organization must apply for provider status, await some form of accreditation (for SNFs it is via a state survey and for HHAs and hospice, via private accreditation) and then ultimate approval by Medicare/DHHS.  As long as the provider that has obtained the number, remains in good standing with CMS (hasn’t had its provider status/agreement revoked), the provider may participate in and bill, Medicare and Medicaid (as applicable).

Provider numbers are assignable under change of control, providing the assuming party is eligible to participate in the Medicare program (not banned, etc.).  Change of control requires change of ownership or control at the PROVIDER level, not the facility or building level.  The building in the case of an SNF, is not the PROVIDER – the operator of the SNF is.  For example, if Acme SNF is owned and operated by Acme, Inc., then Acme, Inc. is the Provider so long as the SNF license in Acme’s state is to Acme, Inc.  Say Acme decides to sell the SNF property to Beta REIT and in turn, Beta leases the facility back to Acme.  Acme no longer owns the building but remains the Provider as it continues to hold the license, etc. consistent with the operations of the SNF.  Carrying this one step further.  Acme decides it no longer wants to run the SNF but wishes to keep the building.  It finds Zeta, LLC, an SNF management/operating company, to operate the SNF and leases the operations to Zeta.  Zeta receives a license from the state for the SNF and now Zeta is the PROVIDER, even though Acme, Inc. continues to own the building.

In the example above regarding Zeta, the typical process in such a change of control involving the operations of a SNF is for Zeta to assume the provider number of Acme.  The paperwork filed with CMS is minimal and occurs concurrent to the closing creating change of control (sale, lease, etc.).  What Zeta has done is avoid a lengthier, more arduous process of obtaining a new provider number, leaving Acme’s number with Acme and applying as a new provider at the Acme SNF location. While taking this route seems appealing and quick, doing so comes with potential peril and today, the peril is expansive and perhaps, business altering.

When a provider assumes the provider number of another entity at change of control, the new provider assumes all of the former provider’s related liabilities, etc. attached to the number.  CMS does not remove history or “cleanse” the former provider’s history. The etc. today is the most often overlooked;

  • Star ratings
  • Quality measures including readmission history
  • Claim error rate
  • MDS data (submitted)
  • Federal survey history
  • Open ADRs
  • Open or pending, probes and RAC audits

The above is in addition to, any payments owed to the Federal government and any fines, forfeitures, penalties, etc.  The largest liability is or relates to, the False Claims Act and/or allegations of fraud.  These events likely preceded the change of control by quite a distance and are either impossible to know at change of control or discoverable with only great, thorough due diligence.  The former in my experience such as whistleblower claims may not arise or be known until many months after the whistleblower’s allegation.  During the interim, silence is all that is heard.  Under Medicare and federal law, no statute of limitation exists for fraud or False Claims.  While it is possible via indemnification language in the deal, to arrest a False Claims Act charge and ultimately unravel the “tape” to source the locus of origin and control at the time of the provider number, the same is not quick and not without legal cost.  Assuming the former provider is even around or can be found (I have seen cases where no such trail exists), winning an argument with CMS that the new provider is blameless/not at fault is akin to winning the Battle of Gettysburg – the losses incalculable.  Remember, the entity that a provider is dealing with is the Federal government and as such, responsive and quick aren’t going to happen.  Check the current status of the administrative appeal backlog as a reference for responsive and quick.

Assuming no payment irregularities occur, the list preceding is daunting enough for pause.  Assuming an existing provider number means assuming all that goes with it.  On the Federal side, that is a bunch.  The assuming party gets the compliance history of the former provider, including the Star rating (no, the rating is not on the SNF facility but on the provider operating the SNF).  As I have written before, Star ratings matter today.  Inheriting a two Star rating means inheriting a “dog that doesn’t hunt” in today’s competitive landscape.  It also means that any work that is planned to increase the Star rating will take time especially if the main “drag” is survey history.  The survey history comes with the provider number.  That history is where RAC auditors visit and surveyors start whenever complaints arise and/or annual certification surveys commence.

The Quality Measures of the former provider beget those of the assuming provider.  This starts the baseline for Value Based Purchasing.  It also sets the bar for readmission risk expectations, network negotiations and referral pattern preference under programs such as Bundled Payments.   Similarly, all of the previous MDS data submissions come with that same provider number, including those that impact case-mix rates under Medicaid (if applicable).  And, not exhaustively last but sufficient for now, all claims experience transfers.  This includes the precious error rate that if perilously close to the limit, can trip with one more error to a pre-payment probe owned, by the assuming provider.  Only extreme due diligence can discover the current error rate – perhaps.

Avoiding the peril of all of the above and rendering the pursuit or enforcement of indemnification (at the new provider’s expense) a moot issue is simple: Obtain a new provider number.  It is a bit time-consuming and does come with a modicum of “brain damage” (it is a government process) but in comparison to what can (and does) happen, a very, very fractional price to pay.  In every transaction I have been directly involved with, I have obtained a new provider number.  In more than one, it has saved a fair amount of go-forward headache and hassle, particularly on the compliance end.  Today, I’d shudder to proceed without a new provider number as the risks of doing so are enormous, particularly in light of the impact of Star ratings, quality measures and survey history.  Additionally, the government has never been more vigilant in scrutinizing claims and generating ADRs.  Inheriting someone else’s documentation and billing risks genuinely isn’t smart today.

While inappropriate for this post, I could list a plethora of examples and events where failure to obtain a new provider number and status has left the assuming provider with an absolute mess.  These stories are now, all too common.  Even the best due diligence (I know because my firm does it), cannot glean enough information to justify such a sweeping assumption of risk. Too much cannot be known and even that which can, should be rendered inconsequential by changing provider status.  Reliance on a definitive agreement and litigation to sort responsibilities and liabilities is not a prudent tactic. Time and resources are (always) better spent, applying for and receiving, a new provider number and provider status.

February 1, 2017 Posted by | Home Health, Hospice, Policy and Politics - Federal, Skilled Nursing | , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Post Acute Resolutions for 2017

With a new year upon us and (perhaps) the most amount of free-flowing health policy changes happening or about to happen in decades, it seems appropriate to create some simple resolutions for the year ahead.  Similar to the personal resolutions most people make (get healthy, lose weight, clean closets, etc.), the following are about “improvements” in the business/operating environments.  They are not revolutionary; more evolutionary. Importantly, these are about doing things different as the environment we are in and moving toward is all about different.

First, a quick overview or framework for where health care is and where it is going.  A political shift in Washington from one party to another foretells of differences forthcoming.  It also tells us that much will not change and what will is likely less radical than most think.  Trump and the Republicans can’t create system upheaval as most of what the industry is facing is begat by policy and law well settled.  Similarly, no political operatus can change organically or structurally, the economic realities present – namely an aging society, a burgeoning public health care/entitlement bill, and a system today, built on a fee-for-service paradigm.  Movement toward a different direction, an insight of a paradigmatic shift, is barely visible and growing, while slow, more tangible.  In short: where we left 2016 begins the path through 2017 and beyond.

The road ahead has certain new “realities” and potholes abundant of former realities decaying.  The new realities are about quality, economic efficiency and patient satisfaction/patient focus.  The former realities are about fee-for-service, Medicare maximization, and more is better or warranted. The signs of peril and beware for the former is evident via today’s RAC activity and False Claim Act violations pursuit.  Ala Scrooge, this is the Ghost of Christmas Future – scary and a harbinger to change one’s behavior or face the certainty of the landscape portrayed by the Specter.

So, resolution time.  Time to think ahead, heed the warnings, realize the future portrayal and make plans for a different 2017.

Resolution 1: The future is about measurable, discernible quality.  No post-acute provider, home health or SNF, can survive (much) longer without having 4 or higher Star ratings and a full-blown, operational focus on continuous quality improvement.  The deliverable must be open, clear and transparent, visible in quality measures and compliance history.  FOCUS ON QUALITY AND IN SPECIFICS INCLUDING HAVING A FULL-BLOWN, FULLY INTEGRATED QAPI PROGRAM.

Resolution 2: The future is about patient preference and satisfaction.  For too many decades, patients have gotten farther detached from what health care providers did and how they (providers) did it.  No longer.  Compliance and new Conditions of Participation will require providers to stop paying lip-service to patient centered-care and start now, to deliver it.  The new environment is no longer just what the provider thinks the patient wants or should have but WHAT the patient thinks he/she wants and should have.  TIP: Brush-up on the Informed Consent protocols! FOCUS ON PATIENT PREFERENCES IN HOW CARE IS DELIVERED, WHAT PATIENT GOALS ARE, AND THEIR FEEDBACK/SATISFACTION WITH SERVICE. 

Resolution 3: Efficiency matters going forward.  This isn’t about cost.  It is about tying quality to cost and to a better outcome that is more economically efficient.  The measurement here is multi-faceted.  The first facet is utilization oriented meaning length-of-stay matters.  The quicker providers can efficiently, effectively and safely move patients from higher cost settings to lower costs settings, is the new yardstick.  The second facet is reductions in non-necessary or avoidable expenditures such as via Emergency Room transfers and hospitalizations/rehospitalizations.  NOTE: This ties back to the first resolution about quality. MANAGE EACH ENCOUNTER TO MAKE CERTAIN THAT EACH OF LENGTH OF STAY IS OPTIMAL, AT EACH LEVEL, FOR THE NEEDS OF THE PATIENT AND THAT ANY COMPLICATIONS AND AVOIDABLE ISSUES (FALLS, INFECTIONS, CARE TRANSITIONS) IS MINIMIZED.

Resolution 4: The new world going forward demands that we begin to transition from a fee-for-service mindset to a global payment reality.  This transition period will represent some heretical demands. While fee-for-service dies slowly as we know it, its death will include interstitial periods of pay-for-performance aka Value-Based Purchasing.  Similarly and simultaneously, new models such as bundled payments will enter the landscape.  Our revenue reality is moving and thus, a whole new set of skills and ideas about revenue capture and management must evolve. RESOLVE TO STOP LOOKING AT HOW TO EXPAND AND MAXIMIZE EACH MEDICARE ENCOUNTER.  THE NEW REALITY IS TO LOOK AT EACH PATIENT ENCOUNTER IN TERMS OF QUALITY AND EFFICIENCY FIRST, THEN TIE THE SAME BACK TO THE PAYMENT SYSTEM.  REVENUE TODAY WILL FOLLOW AND BE TIED TO PATIENT OUTCOMES, ETC.

Resolution 5: To effectuate any kind of permanent change, new competencies need development.  Simultaneous, old habits non-effective or harmful, need abandoning.  The new competencies required are care management, care coordination, disease management, and advanced care planning.  Reward going forward will require providers to be good at each of these.  Each ties to risk management, outcome/quality production, and transition efficiency.  Remember, our rewards in the future are tied to efficiency and quality outcomes.  Advanced Care Planning for example, covers both.  Done well, it minimizes hospitalizations while focusing on moving patients through and across higher cost settings to lower cost settings. THIS IS THE YEAR OF BUILDING.  RESOLVE TO CREATE CORE COMPETENCIES IN ADVANCE CARE PLANNING, CARE COORDINATION AND THE DEVELOPMENT AND IMPLEMENTATION OF BEST-PRACTICE, DISEASE MANAGEMENT ALGORITHMS AND CARE ALGORITHMS IN AND ACROSS COMMON DIAGNOSES AND RISK AREAS (e.g., falls, skin/wound, heart failure, pneumonia, infections, etc.).

Resolutions 6: The world of post-acute is changing.  To change or adapt with it requires first and foremost, knowledge.  Too many providers and often, leadership within don’t understand the dynamics of the environment and what is shifting, how and when.  Denial cannot be operative and as Pasteur was famed to say, “chance favors the prepared mind”.  Opportunity is abundant for those providers and organizations that are up-to-speed, forward thinking and understand how to use the information available to them.  RESOLVE TO EDUCATE YOURSELF AND THE ORGANIZATION.  KNOW HOW THE 5-STAR SYSTEM WORKS.  KNOW WHAT VALUE-BASED PURCHASING IS ALL ABOUT.  KNOW THE MARKET AREA YOUR ORGANIZATION IS IN AND HOW YOUR ORGANIZATION COMPARES FROM A QUALITY PERSPECTIVE (MEASURED) TO OTHERS.  KNOW THE HOSPITAL PLAYERS AND THE NETWORKS.  KNOW YOUR ORGANIZATION’S STRENGTHS AND WHAT IMPROVEMENTS NEED TO BE MADE.

Happy 2017!  The beauty of a New Year is that somehow, we get a re-start; a chance to do and be different than what we were in the prior year.  For me, I like the CQI approach best which is more about constant evolution than a wholesale, got to change now, approach.  Success is about doing things different as realities and paradigms shift.  We are certainly, from a health care and post-acute industry perspective, in a paradigm shift.  Take 2017 and brand it as the Year to Become Different!  The Year of Metamorphosis!

January 4, 2017 Posted by | Home Health, Policy and Politics - Federal, Skilled Nursing | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Presentation Available: New Conditions of Participation for SNFs – Phase 1 Implementation

On the Reports and Other Documents page ( ), I have uploaded a Power Point presentation my firm has made available to clients covering the new Federal Conditions of Participation for SNFs and the implementation elements that are part of Phase 1 (titled “New COPS for SNFs Phase 1”).  The presentation covers what is happening in terms of the new regulations arising out of the law, focused on Phase 1 requirements which began November 28.  The presentation will also alert providers, etc. to Phase 2 issues as applicable.

Additional background information on the Phases and the Rule can be found on this site at these post references:

As always, questions, etc. can be forwarded to me via a comment accompanying this post or via e-mail (contact information on the Author page).  Remember, if you wish a reply/response, please include a valid e-mail address/contact with your post or question.

Happy Holidays!


December 19, 2016 Posted by | Policy and Politics - Federal, Skilled Nursing | , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments