Tenet, HCA, Optum compete for market share in emerging battleground

Health systems are ramping up investments in ambulatory surgery centers and forming joint ventures with outpatient partners to accelerate the development of new centers. The trend is picking up steam as complex procedures increasingly move to ASCs, which are steadily growing as the preferred site of service for physicians, patients and payers. 

Tenet Healthcare, one of the largest for-profit health systems in the country, has been paying close attention to outpatient migration for years and has cemented itself as the leader in the ASC space. It now operates more than 445 ASCs — the most of any health system — and 24 surgical hospitals, according to its first-quarter earnings report. 

United Surgical Partners International, Tenet's ASC company, strengthened its footing in the ASC market after its $1.2 billion acquisition of Towson, Md.-based SurgCenter Development and its more than 90 ASCs in December 2021. Over the next several years, USPI will inject more than $250 million into ASC mergers and acquisitions and work with SurgCenter to develop at least 50 more ASCs, according to terms of the transaction. 

The SurgCenter acquisition was completed shortly after Tenet sold five Florida hospitals to Dallas-based Steward Health Care for $1.1 billion. In 2022, Tenet also acquired Dallas-based Baylor Scott & White Health's 5 percent equity position in USPI to own 100 percent of the company's voting shares and paid $78 million to acquire ownership of eight Compass Surgical Partners ASCs.

These ASC investments and hospital sales make it clear that CEO Saum Sutaria, MD, sees surgery centers to become Tenet's main growth driver in the coming years. Dr. Sutaria has described USPI as the company's "gem for the future," and aims to have 575 to 600 ASCs by the end of 2025.

While Tenet continues to increase its ASC market share, its closest competitor is Deerfield, Ill.-based SCA Health, which UnitedHealth Group's Optum acquired for $2.3 billion several years ago. 

SCA has more than 320 ASCs, but has expanded its focus on value-based care under Optum and is doubling down on supporting physicians across the specialty care continuum rather than operating as an ASC company "singularly focused on partnering with surgeons in their ASCs," SCA CEO Caitlin Zulla told Becker's.

While Tenet may operate the most ASCs among health systems, it lags behind Optum in terms of the number of physicians it employs. Optum is now affiliated with more than 70,000 physicians, making it the largest employer of physicians in the country, and is continuing to add to that through mergers and acquisitions.

Nashville, Tenn.-based HCA Healthcare, another for-profit system, employs or is affiliated with more than 47,000 physicians, but is also ramping up its surgery center portfolio. HCA comprises 2,300 ambulatory care facilities, including more than 150 ASCs, freestanding emergency rooms, urgent care centers and physician clinics, according to its first-quarter earnings report. 

Like Tenet and Optum, HCA is heavily focused on expanding its outpatient portfolio. The company ended 2021 with 125 ASCs, four more than it had at the end of 2020, and added more than 25 ASCs last year. It is focused on both developing and acquiring surgery centers in the coming years. 

The other big ASC operators include Nashville, Tenn.-based AmSurg, with more than 250 surgery centers, and Brentwood, Tenn.-based Surgery Partners, with more than 120 centers. Surgery Partners spent about $250 million on ASCs acquisitions last year and recently signed collaboration agreements with two large health systems —- Salt Lake City-based Intermountain Health and Columbus-based OhioHealth. 

Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser Permanente has 62 freestanding ASCs and outpatient surgery departments on its hospital campuses, a spokesperson for the health system told Becker's

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