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Analysis

Further Medicare Expansion Could Diminish Hospital Revenues, But Action Required

By Jack O'Brien  
   March 15, 2019

Potential Medicare expansion plans would drastically impact the financial standing of health systems, though some may be more pragmatic solutions than others.

Hospital and health systems should remain aware of the financial impact that several Medicare expansion proposals could have on their respect organizations, according to a Navigant study released Friday afternoon.

Fresh off the 2018 midterm elections where healthcare played a critical role in the electoral shift that saw Democrats retake the House of Representatives, 2020 presidential candidates are heralding sweeping policy proposals to expand coverage through Medicare. 

While several versions of Medicare for All legislation exist, other policy proposals such as 'Medicare for more' or the public option have drawn consideration from lawmakers as potentially more viable or pragmatic solutions to America's healthcare problems. 

Related: Progressives Tout 'Medicare-For-All' But States Eye 'Medicaid Buy-In'

In its analysis, Navigant found a medium-sized, nonprofit, multi-hospital system with revenues of more than $1 billion and a current operating margin of 2.3% would endure vastly different financial implications under several proposed federal healthcare policy changes.

Medicare for All would reduce revenues by around $330 million, a margin drop of just over 22%, the public option proposal would cause revenue declines in the neighborhood of $153 million, a margin impact of -6.3%, and the 'Medicare for more' expansion plan is estimated to have a neutral impact compared to the status quo.

Still, Navigant's study points out that if Congress does not act on Medicare expansion until after the next presidential election, hospitals could face a scenario with a financial impact comparable to the public option proposal.

Using the model health system as an example, status quo projections without any cost reduction initiatives would see the organization's net margin decline from 2.3% to negative 6.2% from 2018 to 2023, with operating costs rising between 4.5% to 5% per year and revenues growing at 2.5% to 3% per year. 

"There's going to be a need to control hospital cost structures going forward, regardless of whether it's in the status quo with baby boomers aging into Medicare and payer mix shifts occurring, or in a scenario that has limited expansion, moderate expansion, or robust Medicare for All," Jeff Leibach, director at Navigant, told HealthLeaders in an interview. "There are obviously varying degrees of impact on hospitals, but all of them are going to require a level of attention and and management of revenue strategy and cost structure that I think hospital CFOs are struggling with today and will benefit from through continued focus on performance improvement and revenue strategy."

Plans, details, and impact:

'Medicare for more'

  • Voluntary buy-in at age 50 and over
  • In one scenario, choice between employer coverage and Medicare
  • No Medicare payment relief
  • No reduction in revenue cycle management operations compared to the status quo
  • 15% reduction in current disproportionate share hospital payments 

Public option

  • All lives covered regardless of age 
  • Choice between employer coverage and Medicare
  • Range from no Medicare payment relief to payments at 110% of Medicare rate
  • 1.5% reduction in revenue cycle management operations compared to the status quo
  • 70% reduction in current disproportionate share hospital payments 

Medicare for All

  • All lives covered regardless of age 
  • Single payer healthcare coverage
  • Range from no Medicare payment relief to payments at 120% of Medicare rate
  • 2.5% reduction in revenue cycle management operations compared to the status quo
  • 100% reduction in current disproportionate share hospital payments 

Related: Seema Verma Links Medicare for All to 'Failed Socialist Healthcare'

Leibach said that the analysis arrives at the early part of the conversation surrounding widespread Medicare expansion at the federal level, which makes it difficult to gauge how health system leaders will react to Navigant's findings.

Some may be hesistant to support plans that are projected to create such a negative material impact on their respective bottom lines, but others may be willing to consider a policy proposal that significant decreases or even eliminates bad debt costs associated with a large uninsured population.

Even before the report was released, however, the American Hospital Association declined to voice support for Medicare for All late last month. 

Related: With Industry Backing, AHA CEO Rebuffs 'Medicare-for-All'

Leibach added that he was surprised by the "nominal impact" of the voluntary buy-in plan, arguing that could hospital leaders may rally around that proposal as a compromise to expanding Medicare without fully deteriorating their financial standing.

This approach would also be the least disruptive to the commercial insurance market, according to Leibach, assuming that the Medicare for All proposal would be a true single-payer platform that eliminates private insurers.

Jack O'Brien is the finance editor at HealthLeaders. 


KEY TAKEAWAYS

Implementing Medicare for All as a single payer healthcare system is estimated to create a 22.1% negative impact on a mid-size regional provider's net margin.

However, a voluntary buy-in plan, also known as 'Medicare for more,' might result in only a slight dip to the net margin compared to the status quo. 

Regardless, some amount of legislative action regarding Medicare expansion will be necessary in the next five years, according to the study's authors.


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