Healthcare Revenue Cycle Management, ICD-10, Claims Reimbursement, Medicare, Medicaid

Practice Management News

Hospital Revenue Unstable Despite Outpatient Volume Growth

Payer mix shifts, increases in self-pay, and lower Medicaid revenue per case are troubling hospital revenue despite a 2.4 percent boost in outpatient volume.

Hospital revenue and outpatient volume

Source: Thinkstock

By Jacqueline LaPointe

- Hospitals recently saw increases in national inpatient and outpatient volumes. However, net hospital revenue continues to be unstable for non-profit organizations, according to a new analysis from the public accounting, consulting, and technology firm Crowe.

“As many health systems expand their portfolio of services (more outpatient facilities, entrees into insurance products, and other ancillary investments), stability of hospital-based net revenue becomes more important to financial decisions,” the analysis stated. “Unfortunately, instability appears to be the current trend, forcing many CFOs of not-for-profit healthcare systems to study operations and budget them on a monthly or quarterly financial performance basis, in the same manner that their peers in for-profit organizations do.”

The consulting firm analyzed data from its revenue cycle analytics solution for 622 hospitals in Medicaid expansion states and 389 hospitals in non-expansion states. The analysis of data from January through September of 2017 and 2018 revealed some positive results for 2018.

Inpatient volume is up 0.6 percent in 2018, and gross revenue per case also increased 5.3 percent during the period.

At the same time, outpatient volume rose 2.4 percent and gross revenue per case increased 7.1 percent on the outpatient side.

READ MORE: Key Ways to Start A Hospital Revenue Cycle Turnaround Process

Hospitals may be reaping the benefits of higher volumes. However, net revenue per case demonstrated greater volatility on the inpatient and outpatient sides, the firm pointed out. Net revenue per inpatient case only increased 1.6 percent between 2017 and 2018 and net revenue per outpatient case rose 5.5 percent during the same period.

“It is important to consider that these trends do not hold true across all payers. As a result, some hospitals may be more exposed to diminishing growth in net revenue per case,” the analysis stated. “Although an increase in net revenue appears to be good news for hospitals, the manner in which revenue is increasing follows some troublesome trends.”

The “troublesome trends” identified by Crower researchers included a significant shift in payer mix. Medicare managed care, self-pay, and other payers (i.e., third-party liability and worker’s compensation) increased by 1.6 percent for inpatient and 1.1 percent for outpatient overall, the firm reported.

“In addition to these payer classes having a lower net realization overall, they also challenge finance leadership’s ability to forecast net revenue, as seasonality and patient engagement vary by facility,” the analysis explained.

Increases in self-pay accounts particularly contributed to hospital revenue instability, Crowe added. Self-pay increased 16.1 percent by 2018, representing six percent of the average hospital’s payer mix. Self-pay accounts continue to be the most difficult to collect, suggesting a growing obstacle for hospital revenue.

READ MORE: Tracking Key Hospital Revenue Cycle Metrics to Up Profitability

Medicaid net revenue also fell from 2017 to 2018, the analysis showed. Net revenue per case for both traditional and managed care Medicaid decreased 6.9 percent for inpatient and 1.1 percent for outpatient.

Hospitals that treated a greater number of Medicaid beneficiaries will continue to see their Medicaid revenue drop under new regulatory changes, researchers predicted.

For example, CMS finalized a new policy that will change the methodology for determining Medicaid Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) payments. Medicaid offers DSH payments to hospitals that treat a greater proportion of low-income and vulnerable patients and bases the payment amount on the hospital’s uncompensated care costs.

The new policy will clarify that uncompensated care costs include only the costs for Medicaid-eligible patients with payments remaining after accounting for the reimbursement to the hospital by or on behalf of Medicaid-eligible individuals, including Medicare and third-party payments.

A federal judge vacated the new policy’s implementation on a national level in March 2018, arguing that changing the policy exceeded CMS’ authority because the Medicaid Act specifically identifies what constitutes uncompensated care costs. Several states have also challenged the policy in court.

READ MORE: Key Ways to Boost Collection of Patient Financial Responsibility

CMS is currently challenging the rulings.

New rules for the 340B Drug Pricing Program could also further decrease Medicaid revenue for hospitals, the analysis stated. CMS recently finalized $1.6 billion in hospital payment reductions for 340B covered drugs.

The American Hospital Association (AHA) and several other groups sued CMS over the payment cuts. But a federal judge ruled that CMS can enforce the billions of dollars in payment reductions.

Additionally, the Crowe analysis uncovered a decrease in final denial write-offs, or patient bills that were not paid by payers. Final denial write-offs for outpatient services fell by almost 15 percent from 2017 to 2018, the data showed.

While a drop in final denial write-offs indicates business office improvements, researchers noted that recent changes in managed care contracting may challenge denial rates going forward. Contracts for outpatient diagnostic imaging are likely to see the greatest challenge to denial rates, they reported.

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