Archive for the ‘Post-Acute Care’ Category

Background

Like most issues about which I post, the topic of “Finding A Good Death” arose from a personal connection. In this case when a neighbor consulted me about his sister who was being referred to hospice care after battling cancer.  While not an expert in hospice care, I have long studied seniors housing and care and, for a time, I followed the publicly traded hospice companies as a stock analyst.  I also have some personal experience with hospice care.  My older brother (only four years my senior) utilized hospice care before his death in late 2014 from a degenerative neurological condition. To supplement my own knowledge for this blog post, I interviewed a friend and neighbor who is a long-time bereavement counselor volunteer at a large not-for-profit hospice in Baltimore and researched the topic on line.

John McCain’s death, which appeared to come quickly surrounded by friends and family after the Senator elected hospice care, also makes the subject of Finding A Good Death very relevant.

Even though we all die eventually, talking about death and planning for death, beyond making funeral arrangements, are taboo subjects for most Americans. We are culturally geared to want to live as long as possible and most physicians and patients have a strong bias toward utilizing the most expensive, invasive and technologically advanced medical procedures to prolong life, viewing death as failure rather than an inevitable part of the life cycle.

According to data from the Social Security Administration:

  • A man age 65 today can expect to live, on average, until age 84.3.
  • A woman age 65 today can expect to live, on average, until age 86.7.

About one out of every four 65-year-olds today will live past age 90, one out of 10 will live past age 95; and longevity estimates for 65 year olds continue to rise.   Also, these statistics are averages for the entire population, so healthy non-smokers and those with better health plans and medical care should expect to live longer. Once you reach 65, I would argue you already have a very good chance of living a long life and you and your family should be more concerned with the quality rather than quantity of the remaining life you lead, and with the quality of your death, the focus of this post.

A good death is generally understood to be one that comes quickly and peacefully and with minimal pain and suffering, ideally at home and with an opportunity for loved ones to say their goodbyes.

Understanding Hospice

English physician Dame Cicely Saunders first applied the term “hospice” to specialized care for dying patients in the UK in 1948. Hospice care was introduced to the U.S, in the mid-60s and did not become a Medicare eligible benefit until 1982. History of hospice care

As defined by Medicare, hospice is a program of care and support for people who are terminally ill (with a life expectancy of 6 months or less if the illness runs its normal course) and their families. Hospice helps people who are terminally ill live comfortably.

  • The focus is on comfort (palliative care), not on curing an illness.
  • A specially trained team of professionals and caregivers provide care for the “whole person,” including physical, emotional, social, and spiritual needs.
  • Services typically include physical care, counseling, medications for relief of pain and suffering, medical equipment, and supplies for the terminal illness and related conditions. Things like diapers are not covered by Medicare although catheters are.  Patients and their families should not expect 24/7 physical care from hospice unless the patient is receiving inpatient care.  Home health aides can be provided for bathing, etc. but cannot provide total care.
  • Care is generally given in the home.
  • Family caregivers can get support.

In order to qualify for Medicare’s hospice benefit, you must participate in Medicare Part A and

  • Your hospice doctor and your regular doctor (if you have one) certify that you’re terminally ill (you’re expected to live 6 months or less).
  • You accept palliative care (for comfort) instead of care to cure your illness.
  • You sign a statement choosing hospice care instead of other Medicare-covered treatments for your terminal illness and related conditions.

Medicare will cover the cost of a one-time hospice consultation even if you decide not to elect hospice care.   Once you elect hospice care, the first step in the process is development of an individualized care plan. Original Medicare will cover everything you need related to your terminal illness, but the care you get must be from a Medicare-approved hospice provider.

Hospice care is usually given in your home, but it also may be covered in a senior housing community, a nursing home or a specialized hospice inpatient facility. Depending on your terminal illness and related conditions, the plan of care your hospice team creates can include any or all of these services:

  • Doctor services
  • Nursing care
  • Medical equipment (like wheelchairs or walkers)
  • Medical supplies (like bandages and catheters)
  • Prescription drugs
  • Hospice aide and limited homemaker services. At Gilchrist, a large not-for-profit Baltimore area hospice, a volunteer may do light housekeeping but that is all
  • Physical and occupational therapy
  • Speech-language pathology services
  • Social worker services
  • Dietary counseling
  • Grief and loss counseling for you and your family
  • Short-term inpatient care (for pain and symptom management)
  • Short-term respite care
  • Any other Medicare-covered services needed to manage your terminal illness and related conditions, as recommended by your hospice team.

Note that the above list does not include the cost of room and board in a seniors housing or skilled nursing facility, so the patient or their family may have to cover this cost if routine hospice care cannot be provided at home.

If your usual caregiver (a family member or other caregiver) needs rest, a hospice patient can get inpatient respite care in a Medicare-approved facility (such as a hospice inpatient facility, hospital, or nursing home). Your hospice provider will arrange this for you. You can stay up to 5 days each time you get respite care. You can get respite care more than once, but only on an occasional basis.

Medicare pays the hospice provider for your hospice care.  There’s no deductible. You’ll pay:

  • Your monthly Medicare Part A (Hospital Insurance) and Medicare Part B (Medical Insurance) premiums.
  • A copayment of up to $5 per prescription for outpatient prescription drugs for pain and symptom management.
  • 5% of the Medicare-approved amount for inpatient respite care if used.

Medicare won’t cover any of these once your hospice benefit starts:

  • Treatment intended to cure your terminal illness and/or related conditions. Talk with your doctor if you’re thinking about getting treatment to cure your illness. You always have the right to stop hospice care at any time.
  • Prescription drugs (except for symptom control or pain relief).
  • Care from any provider that wasn’t set up by the hospice medical team. You must get hospice care from the hospice provider you chose. All care that you get for your terminal illness and related conditions must be given by or arranged by the hospice team. You can’t get the same type of hospice care from a different hospice, unless you change your hospice provider. However, you can still see your regular doctor or nurse practitioner if you’ve chosen him or her to be the attending medical professional who helps supervise your hospice care.
  • Room and board. Medicare doesn’t cover room and board. However, if the hospice team determines that you need short-term inpatient or respite care services that they arrange, Medicare will cover your stay in the facility. You may have to pay a small copayment for the respite stay.
  • Care you get as a hospital outpatient (such as in an emergency room), care you get as a hospital inpatient, or ambulance transportation, unless it’s either arranged by your hospice team or is unrelated to your terminal illness and related condition.

The Medicare hospice benefit is paid by original fee-for-service Medicare.   To understand how the hospice benefit relates to Medicare Advantage plan, Part B or D coverage speak with Medicare or your hospice provider and you might consult the publication Medicare Hospice Benefits – Medicare Hospice Benefits

A Popular Benefit

Hospice care enjoys wide support from patients and patient advocates who are supportive of patients dying with dignity and having control over the final chapter of their lives.  It is supported by policy makers who believe hospice can save Medicare funds by having terminally ill patients avoid expensive procedures at the end of life that often provide little lasting benefit.  Mean medical spending during the last 12 months of life is reaching $80,000 in the U.S., with 44.2% spending for hospital care (57.6% is hospital spending during the final three months of life).   To the extent hospice care can reduce expensive end of life hospital care it has the potential to reduce growth in Medicare spending. Hospice Impact On Medical Spending

Hospice care is also viewed favorably by investors and for-profit healthcare companies who see it offering stable reimbursement, attractive margins and very attractive growth prospects as Baby Boomers age.   Because hospice reimbursement is designed to adequately fund small not-for-profit hospice providers, not-for-profit and for-profit operators with scale can generate an excess revenue/profits from spreading their overhead costs over a large number of patients, thereby generating reasonable margins from hospice reimbursement.

Electing Hospice Care

The key issue for patients and their families in electing hospice care is that doing so requires you to forgo additional curative treatment for the condition that is expected to lead to your death in order to receive funding for palliative care designed to give you a dignified death with minimal pain and suffering. As noted above, In order to qualify for hospice care a physician, typically your primary care doctor or a hospice doctor, certifies that you are expected to live no more than six months if your disease follows its typical progression.  With this physician’s certification and your election to shift from curative to hospice/palliative care you will qualify for Medicare hospice benefits or hospice benefits from a private insurer.  If you live more than six months in hospice care, the hospice benefit can be extended but Medicare manages this by penalizing operators that have average length of stays in hospice care.

Selecting A Hospice Provider

According to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) Medicare paid about 4,200 different hospice providers for services in 2015. About 60% of these hospice providers were profit-making companies and 40% are not-for-profit (Long-Term Care Providers and Services Users in the United States: Data From the National Study of Long-Term Care Providers, 2013–2014 Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control, Center for Health Statistics, February 2016 – CDC Report On Hospice Services

Hospice providers served approximately 1.3 million patients in 2013 with an average length of stay of 23 days – indicating an average daily census of about 14 patients per hospice.

The statistics above suggest two criteria for selecting a hospice provider 1) for-profit vs. not-for-profit and size.  Many hospice providers are small not- for-profit operations.   For-profit companies tend to be larger in size, as are some well established not-for-profit organizations, such as Gilchrist Hospice in Baltimore.    Smaller operations may offer more personalized care options but larger operations may have their own specially designed dedicated inpatient hospice units and greater resources to Invest in family grief counseling, for example.

Your physician or a social worker/discharge planner at a hospital should be able to recommend or refer you to one or more hospice providers.  A simple online search on “finding a hospice provider” results in links to larger for-profit and not-for-profit providers in your area (Heartland, Amedysis and Gilchrist in Baltimore) and links to referral services, such as A Place for Mom, an Internet focused senior housing and care referral company, and the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO). Keep in mind that referral services will only refer you to organizations that are members of that organization or agree to pay a referral fee.

The Medicare.gov/hospice compare website provides ratings for hospice providers with percentage scores for a number of objective and subjective measures including results from user surveys.  The site allows you to search for specific providers and provides near particular zip codes. See Medicare Hospice Compare.   Some of this data is likely self-reported but still appears useful for comparing providers.

Before committing to a particular hospice provider a prospective patient and their family should ideally meet with the provider to assess the staff who will oversee and deliver care to your loved one, share information about your family’s situation and discuss options for delivering hospice care in a way that best meets your families needs.   Care will most likely be delivered at home with family members engaged in the hospice care delivery process.  It can also be provided in a seniors housing or skilled nursing facility but this may require the family to pay for the coast of board. If required, typically right at the end of life when 24/7 oversight is needed, the location of care may be shifted to an inpatient hospice care facility and you should understand when and how such a facility might be used.   You may wish to check on the location and quality of the inpatient option.

I welcome comments and questions on this blog and hope it aids you finding a good death for you and your loved ones.

 

 

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Immigration and Senior Caregiving Linked

It has been several months since I updated my blog because I have gotten busy serving on the Board of Quality Care Properties (QCP) and with some consulting work.   I am also just back from a vacation in Costa Rica about which I hope to soon  do a post.

An article in today’s (January 23, 2018) Wall Street Journal prompted me to do this post.  The WSJ article is entitled  “How Immigration Could Affect Grandma’s Care”  and is in the “Capital Journal” commentary by Gerald F. Seib.  Key points include:

  • American is getting older.  A fifth of the population will be over 65 by 2050 and 4% will be over 85, both records in terms of absolute numbers and as a percentage of the population.
  • A study by PHI, an organization that works with the long term care and home care industry, estimates there are 860,000 immigrants holding “direct care” giving jobs in senior care and perhaps as many as one million when workers providing care independently for families are included.
  • The largest share of these workers come from Mexico, the Philippines, Jamaica, Haiti and the Dominican Republic; the very countries in the crosshairs of the immigration debate.
  • Restrictions on immigration may drive up wages for what are often low paying jobs providing direct care to seniors and this may draw more people into the industry.
  • But forcing dedicated, qualified people from other countries to leave, many of who have lived in the U.S. for years, will be a blow to many including seniors who rely on these immigrants for care.

As you consider you position on immigration policy, you should also consider who will care for your parents and eventually yourself and your peers as you age.

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The Cost of Care

Raw Cost of Care

The chart below shows the average monthly cost of care for skilled nursing (nursing home), memory care (dementia), assisted living and independent living facilities in the Baltimore/Washington region for 2015.    It also shows the cost for 24 hour / 7 day a week home health aide care and 24/7 home health aide care supplemented by 7 hours each week of registered nursing (RN) and licensed practical nursing (LPN) care in an attempt to replicate the level of care an individual might receive in an assisted living or skilled nursing facility.  cost-of-care

The monthly cost in 2015 of facility-based care in the Baltimore/Washington region ranges from $2,912 in an independent living facility to $5,659 in a one bedroom unit in an assisted living facility to $6,234 in a memory care facility, and $9,990 to $11,270 for care in a skilled nursing facility (nursing home) in either a semi-private or private room.   For a resident needing assistance with three or more activities of daily living (bathing, transferring, etc.), or with any significant degree of dementia, an independently living facility would probably not provide adequate care without supplemental home healthcare, so the effective range for the monthly cost of care for a senior needing a moderate to significant level of assistance in a specialized seniors housing and care facility in the Baltimore/Washington region in 2015 was $5,659 to $11,270.

To see description of the various types of senior housing and care facilities see my page Senior Housing Options http://wp.me/P64zBK-w.

Home health aides cost $21.73 per hour in 2015, and would cost $14,603 monthly if provided on a 24/7 basis assuming no differential for night shifts.   A licensed practical nurse was $53.94 per hour and a registered nursing was $77.88 per hour.   In the above example, I assumed an hour a day of both LPN and RN care in addition to 24/7 home health aide care to estimate the monthly cost of care equivalent to that delivered in a skilled nursing facility to be approximately $18,294 per month.   Many families care for seniors with a combination of care by family members supplemented with limited time by home health aides or other paid caregivers.   While this type of arrangement can result in lower cost than facility-based care, it is clear that the cost to provide 24/7 aid and nursing care at home far exceeds the cost of obtaining such care in an assisted living, memory care or skilled nursing facility.    Even when less than 24/7 paid care is provided the cost of facility-based vs. home care is often closer than families expect once the cost of utilies,  home upkeep and forgone rent or sales proceeds are considered.

The other big advantage to facility-based care over 24/7 home care, even if you can afford it, that I believe many families overlook, is socialization.   Seniors being treated at home, even by the most dedicated family caregivers and aides, spend a lot of time isolated from human interaction.   At well-run senior housing and care facilities, interaction among the residents and between residents a diverse group of staff provide more interpersonal and intellectual interaction and stimulation than can be achieved at home, which can be very important for a seniors’ mental health and emotional well being.

Planning For The Future Cost of Care

If the raw cost of care and learning that the government will not help you pay for it (See prior post “The Government Will Not Pay For You Long Term Care”) are not sobering enough, seniors and families trying to plan for long term care need to understand the probability of needing such care, the likely duration of such care, and its future cost.   I hope to explore these issues more fully in a future post on long term care insurance and other financing options.  But to illustrate the future cost of care for planning purposes here, I have assumed an average length of stay (LOS) for skilled nursing and assisted living  care of 24 month, 36 months in memory care and 39 months in independent living.  I have then assumed 2.5% inflation for 35 years because the average entry age in to an assisted living or skilled nursing facility is about 85 and the time many people start seriously considering long term care insurance is age 50.

future-cost-of-care

In the table above, the average monthly costs for 2015 in the Baltimore/Washington Region are mutiplied by an assumed LOS in months to get the cost for an expected episode of care.    The future value of this expected episode of care is then calculated for 2050 assuming you are thinking about this today at age 50 and planning for costs when you are 85 and are more likely to enter an assisted living or skilled nursing facility.   The LOS assumed above are averages and at two years probably a bit high for long-stay custodial skilled nursing care.  The average LOS are about right for assisted living and independent living based on actual turnover rates in buildings today.    I did not find good data on memory care facility LOS but it is widely recognized to be higher than assisted living because some residents enter at younger ages with early onset Alzheimers and are in better physical condition.   When planning for an individual’s need to finance long term care it may be appropriate to plan for longer or shorter lengths of stays and look at the probabities of  these  but I believe  these averages are useful to illustrate the order of magnitude of possible future long term care costs.

I assume 2.5% inflation to estimate the future cost of long term care.   The 2.5% inflation factor is about where costs have been increasing in recent years but with increasing wage pressure and inflation expectations higher now that Donald Trump is President-elect, other higher inflation assumptions may be appropriate.

The bottom line is that a 50 year old today might reasonably plan for between $300,000 and $600,000 of long term care costs (an average of $516,483 for AL through private room skilled nursing) and expected to spend this amount over a two – three year period beginning around 2050.

Technical Notes

New York Life, which is a long term care insurance provider affiliated with AARP, has an online cost of care calculator that is updated annually.   New York Life’s 2015 Cost of Care Survey was designed and implemented by Long-Term Care Group (LTCG), the nation’s leader in long-term care administration services. Each year LTCG surveys thousands of Skilled Nursing Home, Home Health Care and Assisted Living Facility providers to collect cost of care data. The cost of care averages are calculated from over 30,000 different providers at the national, state and metropolitan statistical area level.   Other cost of care calculators, including one from Genworth Financial, are also available online.

The figures above are for the Washington / Baltimore Region and are somewhat higher than the national average.   I supplemented and verified the LTCG survey data with information from the National Investment Center for the Seniors Housing and Care Industry’s NIC-MAP database, which surveys seniors housing and nursing care properties on a quarterly basis (see http://www.nic.org).   I used NIC-MAP data for the Baltimore region, which shows the cost for skilled nursing facility care and care in an assisted living facility 7% – 8% lower than the LTCG survey but similar enough to confirm the LTCG survey data.    NIC-MAP is also able to provide pricing data for independent living and memory care / dementia facilities, which I incorporated in my analysis.

 

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The Government Will Not Pay For Your Long Term Care

Too many middle and upper income consumers still believe that Medicare, Medicaid or some other government program will pay for their long term care or the long term care of other elderly family members.

Medicare, the Federal healthcare program for those age 65 and over, pays for hospital care (Part A), physician care (Part B) and prescription drugs (Part D) and is often combined with private Medicare supplemental insurance to help cover copays. Some consumers opt for a Medicare Advantage (MA) /managed care plan (Part C) in lieu of Fee for Service Medicare that combines A, B and D benefits and may add other benefits in exchange for a restricted network of providers. Medicare will cover home health care or care in a skilled nursing or other post-acute care facility but only after a three-day inpatient hospital visit (observation status doesn’t count). While some MA plans may waive the mandatory 3-day hospital visit and provide home health or skilled nursing care to avoid a hospital stay, Medicare only pays for home health or skilled nursing care on a short-term basis to avoid or recover from an inpatient hospital visit. The basic Medicare Fee For Service benefit for skilled nursing care is for a maximum of 100 days in a given year only after a 3-day inpatient hospital stay, with only 20 days fully funded and the remainder with a 20% co-pay and only as long as the patient is progressing toward recovery. Long term custodial care for a senior who needs assistance with the activities of daily living, at home or in a facility, is not covered by Medicare.

Under the Medicare hospice benefit, Medicare will provide comprehensive palliative care but only for those (1) whose hospice doctor and regular doctor (if you have one) certify that you’re terminally ill (with a life expectancy of 6 months or less) (2) accept palliative care (for comfort) instead of care to cure their illness and (3) who sign a statement choosing hospice care instead of other Medicare-covered treatments for your terminal illness and related conditions.   Hospice care is provided under the Medicare Fee for Service Part A even if you are a member of a MA plan.    The Medicare hospice benefit offer comprehensive in-home or in-institution care for those expected to live six months or less.  It is an extremely valuable, and still somewhat underused, benefit but it does not provide long term custodial care.

Medicaid, the joint Federal / State program that pays for medical care for the poor will pay for long term care in a skilled nursing facility or in a home and community based setting, which in some states includes assisted living facilities. However, there are strict income and asset tests for Medicaid, which in Maryland are an individual income of approximately $12,000 or less ($16,000 or less for a couple) and assets of no more than $4,000, $6,000 for a couple. A spouse is generally allowed to exclude a home from the asset test and his/her retirement savings but all joint savings and investments would have to be spent down to at least $6,000 before Medicaid benefits can be used and states have become increasingly good about looking back at least three years to see that assets have not been distributed to other family members to meet the asset test. These tests effectively exclude middle and upper income individuals and families from using Medicaid for long term care without first exhausting the large majority of their savings. Medicaid may also limit which facilities and programs you can use since not all assisted living facilities or home health agencies accept Medicaid patients.

With this post, I hope to kick of a series of posts on the issue of Paying for Care that will provide information on the cost of care and strategies for funding it through savings or long term care insurance.

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Ten Takeaways From NIC Conference

The Fall conference of the National Investment Center for the Seniors Housing and Care Industry (NIC – www.nic.org) was held in Washington, DC from September 14 to September 16, 2016.   This is the largest industry conference for seniors housing and care.

I moderated a panel entitled “Somewhere Over The Rainbow: Where Winning Post Acute Strategies Attract Investors. “   Panelists included: Benjamin Breier, President & CEO, Kindred Healthcare, Inc.; Larry Cohen, CEO, Capital Senior Living Corporation; George V. Hager, Jr., CEO, Genesis HealthCare, LLC and Andy Smith, President & CEO, Brookdale Senior Living.

When I served as an equity analyst I would spend almost my entire time at NIC conferences in private meetings with companies and investors.   As a retired analyst, blogger on seniors housing and care and session moderator, I had many informal conversations with operators, industry organization staff, lenders and investors, a few scheduled meetings and attended more of the actual conference sessions.

My ten takeaways from the 2016 Fall NIC Conference are:

  1. Record Attendance – Guarded Optimism – NIC’s Fall Conference at the Marriott Marquis Hotel next to the Washington Convention Center had a record reported attendance of 2,700. Senior housing operators are guardedly optimistic, with asset prices still high, reasonably positive operating metrics and only spotty reports of rising labor costs.   There is some caution about overbuilding but that threat may be receding (see below).   Skilled nursing and post-acute care operators are struggling with top-line revenue pressure and big transition to value-based purchasing.
  2. Capital Plentiful But Diversifying – Capital for seniors housing property acquisitions and renovation remains readily available as does investment capital for experienced senior housing operators to grow their businesses.   HUD financing is still very attractive for skilled nursing but, with the underperformance of some skilled nursing and post-acute care operators, REITs are diversifying to limit their exposure to these subsectors. Ventas led this charge with its CCP spinoff and new investments in hospitals and university-tied biotech. HCP has announced its intension to spin off its skilled nursing holdings into QCP and Welltower has also announced a desire to reduce its exposure to Genesis.
  3. Construction Lending Standards Tightening – NIC’s in-house economist Beth Mace and NIC’s bluebook featuring key industry trends note a tightening of lending standards for new seniors housing construction as reported by surveys of loan officers.   If true, this may help limit widespread overbuilding of assisted living properties, about which I have expressed concern.   Other conversations I had during the Conference seemed to support NIC’s view that underwriting standards for new seniors housing projects are tightening.   Some finance types I spoke believe the cutback in senior housing construction lending is driven by a broader cutback in lending for multi-family construction projects rather than lenders making a specific determination that seniors housing is becoming overbuilt.
  4. Good and Some Less Good Development Continues – Despite the cutback in lending, many seasoned senior housing operator/builders are continuing to develop projects in markets in which is it is difficult to develop and for which the approval process may have been 3-5 years.   There appear to be a smaller number of projects still being developed by inexperienced players with money from community banks and smaller equity investors and hopefully tightening lender standards will further weed out more of these types of projects in the future.
  5. NIC Continues to Built Its Value For Skilled Nursing & Post-Acute Care – Since adding skilled nursing data to its NIC-MAP data service a number of years ago and adding a Spring conference with more skilled nursing focus, NIC continues to build its data and content for skilled nursing and post-acute care providers and is at the forefront of educating senior housing operators about the convergence of seniors housing and post-acute care.   As post-acute care transitions from a fee-for-service to value-based purchasing, NIC appears well positioned to help educate investors and attract investment capital for this portion of the industry, as it has previously done for seniors housing.
  6. Post-Acute & Senior Housing Providers Have Opportunity to be “Strategic Aggregators” – Former HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt opened the NIC Conference by providing an overview of the broad changes occurring in the U.S. healthcare system with a focus on the shift to value-based purchasing.   Mr. Leavitt believes the shift to value-based purchasing increases the risk that senior housing and post-acute care providers become commoditized fee-for-service price-takers.   But Leavitt also believes that senior housing and post acute care companies that serve significant numbers of patients in their facilities and programs have the opportunity to aggregate patient lives and serve as general contractors making value-based purchases themselves rather than just being price-takers in a value-based payment world.   While the shift to value-based payment is slow and fragmented, Mr. Leavitt quoted Bill Gates as saying, “Don’t overestimate what will happen in the next two years or underestimate what will happen in the next 10.”   He foresees continued consolidation through both mergers and acquisitions and additional joint ventures among operators.
  7. Major Post-Acute Operators Generally Agree With Leavitt – The four publicly traded senior housing and post-acute care operators who participated in my panel are clearly frustrated as they function in a fee-for-service world (Only 1-2% of their revenue is now truly value-based) while pivoting their organizations to profit from value-based payments.   These large operators are pursuing a wide range of strategies to provide post-acute care and adapt to value-based payments (from senior housing operators contracting out all post-acute services, to focusing on being the preferred provider for a few segments of post-acute care, to being a comprehensive provider of all services – LTACHs, IRFs, SNFs, home health, rehab therapy and even hospice – in select markets).   Two common themes appear, however.   Major post acute care providers are positioning themselves to be strategic aggregators and value-based purchasers and major senior housing operators believe offering post-acute services within their buildings themselves or through third parties will be key in continuing to attract and retain senior housing residents.   Most operators are also looking to increase their concentration in select markets.
  8. Managed Medicare Rate Pressure Slowing – NIC reports that the downward pressure on Medicare managed care (Medicare MA) rates to skilled nursing operators slowed in 2Q16 and it will be interesting to see if relentless downward pressure on SNF rates and length of stay from Medicare managed care providers is really beginning to subside. This would be very good news for skilled nursing operators.
  9. Importance of Data/Information Systems Growing – Both post-acute care operators and senior housing operators providing, or contracting with others to provide, post-acute care within their facilities are seeing an increased need for data to measure outcomes in order to make the case to ACOs and other bundlers of post-acute patients and in order to take a more active role themselves in managing patient lives.     Data to predict future performance of facilities in a value-based purchasing world is also key to underwriting future investments for sophisticated investors, like Formation Capital, since past performance alone of a skilled nursing or post-acute care facility may be a poor predictor of how it will perform in a broader value-based purchasing environment.
  10. NIC-Map Making Some Important Strides – NIC-MAP has expanded to an additional forty metro markets for its traditional data reporting and is adding two important products – actual monthly rent, occupancy and turnover information for a national sample of 250,000 senior housing properties and actual monthly rates by payer source and occupancy for a smaller but growing sample of skilled nursing properties.   These are national surveys electronically reported from operator’s actual month end data and NIC hopes to grow these samples.   This will allow NIC to be much more accurate and timing on rent and other key financial metrics on a national basis and provide benchmarking data to participating operators and other industry participants.
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On Tuesday, May 17, 2015 I was featured in a question and answer session over breakfast with subscribers of Senior Care Investor, moderated by its editor Steve Monroe. We covered a wide range of topics.   I summarize below key takeaways from my Senior Care Investor interview and provide a link to the nearly one hour webcast.

Key Takeaways

The public markets are much less important for seniors housing and post-acute care than they were twenty years ago when there were as many as 30 public companies including operators and health care REITs.   If you review the investment history of seniors housing and post-acute care there have been a number of “pivot points” where stocks in these sectors experienced significant sell offs and then rebounded strongly.   These pivot point were driven by overbuilding and reimbursement and operating problems that in some cases led to operator bankruptcies.  If you got the timing right, these pivot points provided very attractive investment opportunities in the stocks of private pay senior housing operators, post-acute care operators and health care REITs, with the stocks within each of these industry groups moving on somewhat different events and at somewhat different times.

I see current industry conditions again creating pivot points for investments in senior housing, post-acute care and health care real estate and believe it is the right time for investors to be studying these sectors and deciding when it makes sense to invest.

Private-Pay Seniors Housing – Overbuilding, few publicly traded investment options and operating issues at the largest publicly traded operator, Brookdale Senior Living, Inc. (BKD), have caused most public market institutional investors to flee the private-pay seniors housing space.   I don’t see a quick pivot in private-pay seniors housing because capital remains plentiful for new construction, underlying demand from older seniors (80+) is slower than it was before 2010 (see Slow 80+ Pop Growth, Elevated Construction Spark Concern For Seniors Housing on this blog), and issues at Brookdale will take some time to resolve. I also believe private equity investors will await a more receptive market before bringing other quality operators public.

Post-Acute Care – Post-acute care currently has more publicly traded operators with scale than private-pay seniors housing, but deteriorating operating fundamentals and high leverage have also driven public market institutional investors away from publicly-traded post-acute care operators.   Major REITs, such as Ventas (VTR) and HCP (HCP) spinning off skilled nursing assets has underlined the risks investors see in this space.     Increased use of Medicare and Medicaid managed care and ever expanding use of bundled payments are reducing lengths of stay (LOS), pressuring post-acute care rates and volumes and eroding operator revenue and EBITDA.   However, because baby boomers are now beginning to turn 70, the pool of post-acute care patients should grow dramatically over the next 5 – 10 years while the supply of post-acute care facilities and beds is flat or declining and quality operators should be able to attract higher volumes of patients from hospitals if they care demonstrate quality outcomes.   A mild flu season and high operator leverage exacerbated poor 1Q16 financial performance.  I anticipate pressures on rates and LOS stabilizing and volume growth providing upside for post-acute care operators over a 1 – 2 year period while operators are rationalizing their delivery systems and paying down debt.   I believe these factors put post-acute care closer to a performance pivot point than private pay seniors housing.

Health Care REITs – Health care REIT share prices have been buffeted by some of the same issues affecting private pay seniors housing and post-acute care operators but health care REIT share price performance has been much more mixed than that of the operators. Many health care REITs are well diversified, have strong lease coverage and are less exposed to overbuilding and revenue pressures than the operators themselves.   Health care REIT stock performance is also significantly influenced by investor’s views on interest rates and overall economic growth.   Some healthcare REITs, with more significant exposure to seniors housing or post-acute care issues, such as HCP, presumably its future SpinCo, and CCP, have been more directly impacted by the industry and operator issues noted above.   These REITs, and some others, offer larger cap, more liquid investment vehicles than seniors housing or post-acute care operators but likely also have potential for upside from the industry pivot points described above.

Having retired as an equity analyst who followed seniors housing, post-acute care and health care REITs for 15 years, I no longer make Buy, Sell, Hold recommendations.   I do recognize that there are significant risks for private pay senior housing operators and particularly for highly leveraged post-acute care operators. However, experience in the 1999 – 2002 crash of private-pay seniors housing and post-acute care and other sell-offs driven by operating underperformance, reimbursement cuts and regulatory issues show that these sell-offs have often proven to be great investment opportunities and have absolutely been a time to look harder at these sectors and develop an investment strategy and timetable rather than to flee the space.

For a more in depth discussion of these issues, listen to the Senior Care Investor webcast by clicking on the link below. Comments, including those with opposing viewpoints, welcome.

 

 

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Beware Of Observation Status At Hospitals

The Affordable Care Act includes a number of measures intended to rein in unnecessary or wasteful spending by Medicare.    These are generally grouped under the label “value-based purchasing”.    One key element of value-based purchasing are penalties for hospitals that have high levels of readmissions after discharge that went into effect in 2012.    The penalties, which gradually ramp up to 3% of inpatient Medicare reimbursement to a hospital, are designed as an incentive for hospitals to provide quality care while in the hospital and to assure that the patient is provided with a smooth handoff to quality post-acute care after a hospital visit.

Hospital readmissions are down significantly since excessive readmission penalties have come into effect but according to an article in the Wall Street Journal on December 2, 2015 entitled “U.S. Rules Reshape Hospital Admissions” http://www.wsj.com/articles/medicare-rules-reshape-hospital-admissions-1449024342 the new rules have also prompted hospitals to reclassify many more hospital visits as “observations” rather than “admissions”.    In most cases, a stay of even a few days may be classified as “observation” rather than an inpatient “admission” and a patient can be on “observation” status even though given a room.    Medicare treats “observation” visits as lower cost outpatient treatment and they do not trigger a readmission penalty because they don’t count as an admission or readmission.

So if you or your loved one is cared for in a hospital on “observation” status rather than as an inpatient “admission”, gets a room and receives the same level of care, why should you care about how the hospital classifies the visit?   The big risk for a patient and patient’s family in an observation visit is that Medicare does not treat an observation visit as a three-day hospital stay that triggers Medicare payments for post-acute care.    As a result, a patient treated for three or four days in a hospital on “observation” status who then needs rehabilitation care or time to recover in a skilled nursing facility would be fully responsible for these costs rather than Medicare fully paying for up to 20 days of skilled nursing care and partially paying for up to 100 days of skilled nursing care if the patient needs that much care and is still making progress toward recovery.     The WSJ article cites families being on the hook for $20,000 of skilled nursing care because a hospital classified a four-day visit as “observation” rather than an inpatient “admission”.

I would urge any patient or family of a patient to strongly advocate to be formally admitted to a hospital for any serious injury or condition and to use right to appeal to Medicare if you or your loved one is not admitted or is admitted but is being discharged in less than three days to skilled nursing care.  It is unfortunate that the stress of any hospital visit for a patient or a loved one needs to be further complicated by worrying about “observation” vs. “admission” status but the downstream costs can be dramatically higher for one vs. the other.

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Observations from NIC 25th National Conference

The National Investment Center for Seniors Housing and Care (NIC) http://www.nic.org held its 25th National Conference this week at the Gaylord National Harbor, just south of Washington.   I attended the first NIC Conference, which was a much smaller affair at a hotel in Crystal City, also just south of Washington but on the Virginia side of the Potomac.    Having spent much of my career in seniors housing and care as a real estate analyst, stock analyst, investment banker and now occasional consultant, it was very gratifying to see how much the industry has grown and matured in 25 years.

My only official role at the conference was to address the Future Leader’s Council (FLC), which is a carefully selected group that goes through three years of NIC leadership development activities before “graduating”, with a third of the group rotating each year.    I was impressed with the FLC members with whom I interacted and with the thoughtful way NIC is helping talented professionals grow into leadership roles at their organizations and in the industry.

My address to the FLC group was entitled “Back To The Future” and focused on lessons learned about the impacts of overbuilding and higher interest rates in the severe 1999/2000 industry downturn.   Most FLC members were still in primary or secondary school when this downturned occurred.

I would say the overall atmosphere of the industry at NIC’s 25th National Conference was “nervous optimism”.

The nervousness comes from:

  • generally unsettled economic conditions in the U.S. and around the world that could lead to higher interest rates and growing wage pressures on an industry for which labor is 50% or more of costs,
  • recent softness in private-pay senior housing occupancy,
  • a increase in the number of units being developed (particularly assisted living and memory care) and signs of overbuilding in select markets,
  • integration stumbles at the largest and largest publicly traded senior housing operator, Brookdale Senior Living (BKD),
  • some signs of a plateau in senior housing property capitalization rates and pricing,
  • a late summer sell off in healthcare REITs and generally unsettled conditions in the equity and debt markets, which appear to be driving the pause or potentially a backup in cap rate compression.

The optimism comes from:

  • a 15 year rebound in fundamentals from the last major industry downturn,
  • generally outperforming other real estate sectors through the Great Recession,
  • still strong consumer acceptance of newly open properties, particularly in high barrier to entry markets,
  • plentiful availability and still growing interest in the industry from both debt and equity capital providers, if perhaps at higher prices that were seen a year ago,
  • knowing that the industry continues to get closer to the holy grail of  75M + Baby Boomers becoming seniors housing and care customers (although still 10 – 15 years away).

Unless you are concerned about substantial overbuilding in private-pay seniors housing, which most thoughtful insiders are not (there will be some), the recent pullback in both healthcare REIT and operator pricing is making me more interested in investing in publicly traded healthcare REITs and private pay operators but there are few publicly traded operators to buy.    On the care side of seniors housing and care, there has also been a pull back that makes skilled nursing and post acute care company stocks attractive from a valuation standpoint.    Here, however, the slow evolution of a more integrated healthcare delivery system and new value-base purchasing and an uncertain political situation through the next Presidential election may keep a lid on valuations for another year or two.    Either way, it feels like a time to be considering investments in seniors housing and care for the long term investor.   I will leave it to those still working as equity analysts in the space to recommend specific stocks.

There are also signs at the conference that innovations in technology, property location and design are alive and well.  At least two efforts are underway to develop new senior housing properties in Manhattan.   The most interesting new building model I saw at the conference is a mid-rise product located in an urban main street location that looks more like an upscale yuppie rental project or W hotel, with services delivered on demand by the likes of Uber, Amazon Fresh and online home health providers.     This project is being developed by Smart Living 360 and Federal Realty Trust (FRT) in Rockville, MD and is scheduled to open in the Spring of 2016.   See website http://www.thestories.com/ for more information.

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Layman’s Guide To Post Acute Care

I had a conversation with a friend today who has a relative that is comatose after a surgical procedure.   The patient has recently been shifted from a feeding tube though the nose to one connected to the stomach and is about to be transitioned from oxygen through a breathing tube to a ventilator connected directly to the throat via a tracheotomy.   This progression is typical for someone who is unable to eat or breath on their own because temporary breathing and feeding tubes over time begin irritate the throat and must be replaced with more direct connections.     Once these more permanent breathing and feeding connections are completed, the patient will likely be transitioned from an ICU to a transitional care unit within the hospital and then the hospital and Medicare or a private insurer will likely soon want the patient relocated to from the hospital, which is designed to provide short-term acute care.

While hospital discharge planners or social workers and the patient’s health insurance provider may all have suggestions or recommendations or preferences about where the patient’s post-acute care should be provided, under Medicare and some types of private health insurance the family will have a choice about where post-acute care is provided.    This short guide summarizes the options to help you achieve the best result for a loved-one at a stressful time for all concerned.

Types of Facilities – There are four types of post-acute care options, which are typically stand-alone facilities but can also be co-located within a general acute care hospital in some cases.   The four types of post-acute care facilities are:

  1. Rehab Hospital, also called an IRF- Inpatient Rehabilitation Facility
  2. Long Term Acute Care Hospital, LTAC, sometimes LTACH
  3. Nursing Home, also called a SNF – Skilled Nursing Facility or in some cases a Transitional Care Facility, which is essentially a SNF located within a hospital
  4. Hospice, which can be provided in a specialized hospice facility, within a SNF or other medical facility or in someone’s home.

A Rehab Hospital or IRF is designed to provide post-acute care for patients who require and are physically able to participate in a minimum of three hours a day of physical therapy (PT), occupational therapy (OT), and/or speech therapy at least five days per week.   Requirements for IRFs call for registered nurse (RN) oversight and availability 24 hours a day and between five and seven and a half nursing hours per patient per day, while the standard for nursing homes is usually between two and a half and four nursing hours per patient per day.   IRFs are also going to have regular physician visits and supervision and extensive rehabilitation gyms and specialized rehab equipment and staff.     So IRFs generally offer a higher level of care than nursing homes but only those patients who are able to handle at least three hours of therapy per day are able to transition to a IRF.   Medicare and most private insurers will pay for IRF care for patient who needs and can tolerate relatively intense therapy following an episode of care in a general acute care hospital.

A Long Term Acute Care Hospital (LTAC) is licensed as a acute care hospital but is designed to care for patients with a 25 – 30 day average length of stay versus less than 5 days in a general acute-care hospital.   Typical LTAC patients have multiple co-morbidities, multi organ system failure, and significant loss of independence, most following a traditional hospital stay.   LTACs are designed to care for critically ill patients who require specialized, aggressive, goal-directed care over an extended recovery period.   So patients on feeding tubes, with tracheotomies and complex, difficult to treat medical conditions are well-suited for care in an LTAC provided there are expectations that the patient’s condition can improve or that their condition needs to be stabilized before stepping down to another setting offer less intense care, such as a SNF or home healthcare.  Medicare and most private insurers will pay for LTAC care for medically complex patients who need ICU level care for an extended period following an episode of care in a general acute care hospital and have some prospect for recovery or being stabilized so they can ultimately be cared for at home or in a SNF.

A Nursing Home or Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF) in most cases offers two types of care.    One is true post-acute care that includes therapy services similar to what is provided in an IRF and some may accommodate complex patients including patients with tracheotomies similar to what may be provided in an LTAC.   Some nursing homes have extensive rehab gyms and therapy staff and will have 24/7 RN care and attending physicians.  But not all nursing homes provide post-acute care services or take medically complex patients and requirements for nursing hours and physician supervision are typically lower in a SNF than an IRF or LTAC.    Nursing homes also offer longer-term nursing care, sometimes call custodial care, for patients who have health conditions that require enough nursing care to make care at home infeasible or who do not have a home or family situation that will allow care at home.    Custodial patients may staff for years and there is little expectation that they will recover and return home.    Medicare and private insurers will generally pay for a limited period of post-acute care in a SNF following an episode of care in an acute care hospital.  But the amount of time for which Medicare will fully cover SNF care is 20 days, after which a co-pay kicks in, and Medicare will not cover long-term custodial care for a patient who is not making progress toward recovery.   For patients without long term care insurance the only option for paying for long-term custodial care in a SNF is Medicaid, which generally will only cover payments after all of a patient’s own funds are exhausted.

Home Healthcare is non-facility based option that provides post-acute care for some patients.   It can deliver wound care, PT, OT and speech therapy and other types of skilled care but will not provide 24/7 patient monitoring and generally requires support from family members in order for this to be a viable option immediately following a general acute care hospital treatment.   Home healthcare often comes into the picture is to provide followup therapy or nursing care after a patient transitions from an IRF, LTAC or SNF to home but is only relatively healthy patients with supportive living situations and families are typically able to get all of their post-acute care from home healthcare.   Medicare and private insurances will pay for home healthcare but only for specific skill nursing and therapy services.

Hospice Care provided in a specialized facility, within a senior housing, nursing home or other health facility, or in one’s own home, is intended for patients who are expected to live for six months are less.    The care is design to keep the patient comfortable and free from pain and to help family member cope with a loved-ones impending death.   While most healthcare providers are reluctant to conclude that additional medical treatment will not allow a patient to get better, hospice care is a very good option once the family and their healthcare providers reach this conclusion.  Medicare and most private insurers will pay for hospice care in a variety of settings.

Deciding Where a Love-One Should Receive Post-Acute Care – Important factors to consider include: the type and level of care the patient needs, the quality and location of the facility.     The type of care that each facility offers is summarized above and you can discuss the appropriate placement with the care team at the hospital including your physicians, nurses, discharge planners and social workers who usually take primary responsibility for transitioning a patient to post-acute care.    There is a tendency to favor facilities offering the highest level of care, such as an LTAC or rehab facility over a nursing home.   However, if the patient will does not need or will not be able to tolerate the level of therapy these facilities can provide it may be better to to directly to a nursing home rather than spend a few days or a week in another type of facility and have to move the patient a second time.    Many patients will prefer home healthcare to facility-based care but it is important to be realistic about whether the physical conditions of the home and the amount of support family members can provide make this the best first post-acute care option.    Location matters because it is important for family members to visit during what may be a multiple week or month period of post-acute care and family members are more likely to visit if a facility is conveniently located.     Finally, quality can be assessed by visiting a facility, speaking with discharge planners and social workers, checking online (The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has a 5-star quality rating system that isn’t perfect but can help – https://www.medicare.gov/nursinghomecompare) and in the case of skilled nursing, check with the state Office of Aging ombudsman about any prior complaints.

It will be much easier to evaluate and find space in a facility of your choice if you start looking before your loved-one is about to be discharged.    However, if you need more time it is possible to appeal a hospital discharge and generally buy yourself one-three days if you need more time to evaluate and decide upon your best option for post-acute care (see appeals on the Medicare.gov website).
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