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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.