Will health system M&A soar or dive?

The health system deal market heated up in 2023.


Big, industry-shaking acquisitions including Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser Permanente's purchase of Danville, Pa.-based Geisinger, could redefine healthcare delivery with an eye toward value. Regional deals, such as Detroit-based Henry Ford Health's planned joint venture with Ascension Michigan and St. Louis-based BJC HealthCare's plan to acquire Saint Luke's Health System to create a $10 billion organization, have also made waves.

There were 18 hospital and health system transactions announced in the third quarter, up from 10 transactions over the same time period in 2022, according to Kaufman Hall's third quarter M&A report. Financial pressures with inflation catapulting staffing and supply costs, and reimbursement rates growing much more slowly, have forced some systems to look for a buyer while others aim to increase market share. Academic health systems are also seeking community partners at a higher rate than in the past, according to the Kaufman Hall report.

But not all announced deals have gone according to plan.

The Federal Trade Commission is scrutinizing deals more closely than ever before to ensure costs don't increase after an acquisition in some cases. In other cases, the two partners aren't able to agree upon the details after announcing their plans. The dissolved merger between Sioux Falls, S.D.-based Sanford Health and Minneapolis-based Fairview Health Services fell apart amid contention in Minnesota, and West Des Moines, Iowa-based UnityPoint Health's plans to merge with Presbyterian Healthcare Services in Albuquerque, N.M., was halted without a publicly stated reason.

Will there be more or fewer health system deals in the next three years?

Seth Ciabotti, CEO of MSU Health Care at Michigan State University in East Lansing, thinks so, at least when it comes to academic medical centers.

"There will be more consolidation to mitigate risk," he told Becker's. "I believe we are heading down a path of having only a dozen or so non-academic medical centers/health systems being left in the near future in the U.S."

Mark Behl, president and CEO of NorthBay Health in Fairfield, Calif., has a similar outlook for the next three years.

"I suspect we will see more mergers and acquisitions with a continued desire to grow larger and remain relevant," he told Becker's. "Independent regional health systems will fight for relevance, and sometimes survival."

And health systems won't be the only buyers. Private equity, health insurers and non-traditional owners are on the hunt for health systems. General Catalyst has strengthened its healthcare presence recently and announced it plans to acquire a system in the near future.

"I believe that over the next three years, the landscape of acquisitions, divestitures and joint ventures will continue to reshape the healthcare industry," said Dennis Sunderman, system director of HR M&A, non-employee and provider services at CommonSpirit Health, told Becker's. "Current and proposed legislation, the continued evolution of ownership groups, nonprofit, for profit, and private equity, and the drive to hire and retain exceptionally talented teams, will lead to new innovations and an enhanced focus on the associates affected by the transaction."

Health systems will need to optimize their operations to expand their value-based care efforts and digital transformation, including telehealth and remote patient monitoring services. Not all systems have the expertise and resources to fully make this transition, but with the right partners and strategic alignments, they can accelerate care transformation.

"There will likely be more collaborations and partnerships to expand services and increase access versus brick and mortar acquisitions," said Cliff Megerian, MD, CEO of University Hospitals in Cleveland. "Innovative thinking is critical for success and quite frankly survival in our industry, so health systems should already be investing in growing in-house expertise dedicated to ideating new models of care, but in three years, these efforts should be producing tangible results."

Michelle Fortune, BSN, CEO of Atrium St. Luke's Hospital in Columbus, N.C., pointed to recent collaborations between Mercy, Microsoft and Mayo Clinic as examples of how health systems can partner on important initiatives such as improved data sharing, generative AI, digital transformation and more.

"I expect to see an increase in collaborations and connections between health systems to a degree that has never existed before as part of the focus on bringing the right care to people across the full continuum, when and where they need it," she said.

Kaufman Hall sees more minority ownership deals ahead, which allows the smaller system to maintain near-autonomy while benefiting from the resources of a larger system.

"Health systems are also engaging in creative transaction structures that allow partners to maintain their independence while building strategic alliances that enhance access to care," the report notes. "Announced transactions in Q3 included [Charlottesville, Va.-based] UVA Health's acquisition of 5% ownership interest in [Newport News, Va.-based] Riverside Health System as part of a strategic alliance design 'to expand patient access to innovative care for complex medical conditions, transplantation, and the latest clinical trials.'"

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