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Will Regulatory Scrutiny Impact Private Equity Investment in Healthcare?

Private Equity in Healthcare

Over the past decade, private equity investors have shown a particular interest in acquiring or investing in various healthcare providers and services. This includes physician practices across multiple sub-specialties, home healthcare providers, behavioral healthcare clinics, skilled nursing facilities, urgent care clinics, and other specialty clinics. This trend is driven by the attractive returns that healthcare investments have generated, fueled by factors such as a fragmented market, industry growth due to an aging population, technological advancements, and evolving healthcare needs. 

Overall, the increasing dominance of private equity in healthcare is a testament to the sector’s robust growth potential and the strategic opportunities it offers for investment and value creation. However, this trend also raises questions about the implications for patient care, costs, and the overall structure of the healthcare industry, which stakeholders must carefully consider. The focus on attractive returns promised by healthcare investments, along with a breakdown of factors such as market fragmentation, demographic shifts, technological advancements, and evolving healthcare needs, offers a comprehensive understanding of why private equity firms are drawn to this sector.

According to S&P Capital IQ, the percentage of healthcare providers and services acquisitions with private equity involvement increased from 16 percent in 2013 to 27 percent in 2021 and 2022 before dropping slightly to 25 percent in 2023.

Private Equity’s Play in Healthcare and Why Providers Are Interested 

The healthcare sector’s appeal to private equity investors stems from its fragmented nature and the opportunities it presents for achieving scale, enhancing efficiency, and reducing costs, all while potentially improving the quality of patient care. 

On the physician practice side, private equity seeks to consolidate multiple physician practices to create a larger entity. The typical approach involves acquiring a large “platform” physician practice, followed by a series of smaller “add-on” acquisitions to achieve scale. This strategy enables private equity investors to derive value through several key elements:

  • Leveraging scale to negotiate more favorable reimbursement contracts with insurance providers;
  • Reducing  overhead costs through consolidation of back office and administrative functions and negotiating  better terms with suppliers;
  • Improving efficiencies through standardization of staffing ratios, enhancing revenue cycle management to increase collection rates and faster collection cycles, and leveraging the expertise of an experienced management team;
  • Investing capital to upgrade infrastructure, providing additional patient access, and expanding ancillary revenue streams.

Likewise, healthcare providers are increasingly interested in collaborating with private equity firms. In many cases, the motivations for providers may be similar to the reasons for entering a transaction with a private equity investor, including access to capital, the reduction of administrative responsibilities for the physicians allowing more time for patient care, and an improved bargaining power with payers and vendors. Private equity buyouts frequently offer providers an opportunity to retain partial ownership, allowing them an initial cash payout, diminished risk compared to operating independently, and the potential to share in the financial rewards of any subsequent transactions.

Private equity can also accelerate the transition to value-based care by injecting capital investments in data analytics and care coordination initiatives. Private equity capital can unlock potential technological advancements, such as interoperable electronic medical records systems and artificial intelligence, which can drive better workflows, patient access, and care coordination. These innovations can help providers reduce the cost of care, avoid duplicative services, and improve population health management.

Despite the growing trend of private equity investments in the healthcare sector, there are significant obstacles that challenge this continued expansion.

Increasing Scrutiny From Regulatory Agencies

On March 5, 2024, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) hosted a virtual workshop titled "Private Capital, Public Impact: An FTC Workshop on Private Equity in Health Care." The workshop brought together prominent figures, including FTC Chair Lina M. Khan, Department of Justice (DOJ) Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Kanter, Health & Human Services (HHS) Inspector General Christi Grimm, and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) COO Jonathan Blum, among others, to discuss the impact of the increasing role of private equity in healthcare.

The workshop emphasized the need for competition, transparency, and protection of community interests in healthcare. A significant concern raised during the discussions was the mismatch between the short-term investment horizon of private equity firms and the inherently long-term commitment required for healthcare provision. The discussion cited examples in which healthcare providers faced financial difficulties or even closures after being acquired by private equity, illustrating the potential risks of prioritizing profit over patient care. The panelists repeatedly referred to private equity as “corporate profiteering in healthcare” and accused private equity investors of “reducing healthcare to a spreadsheet.”

FTC Chair Khan specifically noted that private equity roll-ups have historically escaped much of the agency’s scrutiny due to the disparate nature of the acquisitions. This strategy has allowed private equity investors to consolidate into large entities that, in the FTC’s view, have stifled competition. These comments suggest a heightened degree of scrutiny from the regulatory agencies going forward.

A related discussion took place on April 3, 2024, during a U.S. Senate Committee hearing titled “When Health Care Becomes Wealth Care: How Corporate Greed Puts Patient Care and Health Workers at Risk.” The discussion centered around private equity’s tendency to reduce overhead costs to boost profits and how these practices can potentially negatively impact the quality of patient care. Senator Elizabeth Warren warned that “when private equity gets hold of healthcare providers, it is literally a matter of life and death,” pointing to the dire consequences of prioritizing financial returns over quality of care. 

Looking Ahead: Navigating the Future of Private Equity in Healthcare

As the healthcare landscape continues to evolve, the role of private equity in this sector is a subject that will persistently attract both interest and controversy. The trajectory of private equity’s role in healthcare will be influenced by several key considerations:

  • Impact on Healthcare Quality and Access: There is a growing concern among stakeholders about the potential impact of private equity investments on the quality of healthcare services and patient access. While some argue that private equity can bring about much-needed efficiency and innovation, others worry that the profit-driven nature of such investments might compromise patient care and access, especially in underserved communities.
  • Regulatory Oversight and Transparency: Recent activities, such as the FTC workshop and various congressional hearings, underscore the trend towards increased regulatory oversight and scrutiny of private equity transactions in healthcare. 
  • Impact on Investment Strategies: The increasing regulatory focus may lead private equity firms to adapt their investment strategies in healthcare to focus on a more long-term approach. This reevaluation seems imperative as the traditional short-term exit strategies of private equity, typically spanning three to five years, clash with the demand for longer-term commitment in healthcare investments. A viable path forward might involve a shift towards investments that are more closely aligned with the goals of improving healthcare delivery and patient outcomes, such as value-based care.

In conclusion, the future of private equity investment in healthcare is likely to be characterized by a more cautious approach, with a greater emphasis on regulatory compliance, transparency, and the alignment of investment activities with the broader goals of healthcare improvement. Reflecting on the insights from the FTC workshop and Senate Committee hearings, it is clear that private equity firms will need to navigate this landscape with a mindset that prioritizes long-term impact over immediate financial gains.

About Ankura Transaction Advisory Services

Investors, regulators, and auditors demand transparency and enhanced governance on the valuation of assets, investments, and transactions. At the same time, governments around the world are increasing the regulatory standards around what is considered valid and admissible. Obtaining accurate and reliable valuations requires a trusted advisor who can deliver an independent, objective, and unbiased view.

Clients depend upon Ankura to provide insightful and thorough valuations that support strategic and informed decision-making. We offer a full range of transaction advisory and valuation services from valuing complex and intangible assets in a proposed transaction, conducting financial due diligence and quality of earnings analyses to delivering expert testimony and fairness opinions.

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In the current, fast-changing healthcare and life sciences environment, participants are presented with an unprecedented number of growth opportunities. However, given the highly regulated nature of these industries, participants must also mitigate enterprise and reputational risk.
Ankura has a specialized valuation and transaction advisory team attuned to the unique considerations of the healthcare and life sciences industries. Our professionals provide a full range of valuation and transaction advisory services to help our clients pursue growth while navigating a dynamic regulatory and business environment. Clients leverage our insightful and thorough analyses to enable informed business decisions concerning merger and acquisition (M&A), regulatory compliance, tax compliance, divestitures, joint ventures, financial reporting, litigation support, compensation, and other critical motivations.

© Copyright 2024. The views expressed herein are those of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of Ankura Consulting Group, LLC., its management, its subsidiaries, its affiliates, or its other professionals. Ankura is not a law firm and cannot provide legal advice.


article, f-transformation, transactions, healthcare & life sciences, financial services, healthcare compliance, healthcare operations, valuation advisory, healthcare & life sci advisory

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