Last week, the Nashville Health Care Council hosted its first-ever virtual panel discussion, “Election 2020 and the Future of Health Care,” for more than 215 Council members who tuned in via video conference. The event addressed the impact of the upcoming presidential election and COVID-19 on health care and included discussions about policy and regulatory changes and the outlook for private equity investments.
The conversation was moderated by Blake Farmer, senior health care reporter, Nashville Public Radio, and included Paul Keckley, Ph.D., managing editor, the Keckley Report; Zac McCrary, partner, ALG Research; and Susan C. Winckler, RPh, Esq, chief risk management officer, Leavitt Partners.
McCrary initiated the conversation with an overview of public opinion on the election and COVID-19. Concern about the coronavirus has increased dramatically over the last six weeks, from 40% of voters showing extreme, intense concern to now more than 80%, he said. At the forefront of the concern are the health risks and economic impact of the disease. According to a recent Gallup survey, 60% of Americans support President Donald Trump’s efforts to combat COVID-19, though they believe his administration was too slow to act against the pandemic.
Looking ahead to the 2020 election, McCrary shared the states to watch during the remaining primaries. “Everything is up in the air, now more than we’ve seen in quite some time,” he said. “It’s a coin flip. We need to pay attention to the rust belt and some new states in the sun belt that have the opportunity to be swing states, like Arizona, Georgia and Texas. The safe bet is if you know what’s happening in the rust belt and some of these sun belt states, that will tell you what you need to know about who will win this race.”
Keckley predicted the U.S. health system will continue to flex its muscles and grow by 5.7% each year throughout the decade, but that sector margins will shrink because they’re not sustainable. He voiced his concern about the state of our economy following COVID-19 and leaned on his experience to look ahead: “How are we going to stabilize an economy that is now forecast to be in the negative range through the end of the third quarter if not later? Long-term, how do we manage the economy effectively? How will our government absorb more debt? Based on what I’ve seen in my career in the White House, Medicare becomes a pretty easy target for cuts.”
Keckley also estimated the U.S. will feel the effects of COVID-19 until 2022. “We’ve experienced three pandemics across two administrations for which elegant reports were written and models were developed,” he said. “Our country was encouraged to address infectious disease public health more aggressively, and we didn’t make the necessary changes. Hopefully before we have another pandemic, policymakers will come together and decide we need to take this seriously.”
Winckler shared insight into private equity activity from the first quarter of the year and the evolution of investor interest amidst COVID-19. In January, investors were paying close attention to the election climate, she said. By February, they were aware of the coronavirus in China, but still had enthusiasm about multiple health care subsectors, including innovators in health care IT, revenue cycle management, and pharmaceutical and biotechnology products and services. They were also monitoring consolidators such as behavioral health, physicians, dental and rehabilitation practices, and home health and hospice agencies. In March, the COVID-19 reality set in, and now investors are acting more carefully, preferring to focus and stabilize their current portfolios.
“Moving forward, I think we’ll see a short-term pause [in investments] through April and slow movement for the rest of 2020. How the virus makes its way through the nation will have a big impact,” Winckler said. “If I had to bet, I would say pandemic concerns will last 12 to18 months. Long term, I believe we’ll see a shift in investment strategy as private equity funds try to navigate the new normal. This will likely include increased desire for supply chain redundancy and visualization; as well as analyzing if this time period will normalize telemedicine — I think telehealth will continue to evolve and COVID-19 is certainly increasing our exposure to it.”
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to unfold, the Nashville Health Care Council plans to offer more virtual content to help its members understand and navigate the changing health care environment while maintaining safe social distance in accordance with CDC and government recommendations.
“We understand the many challenges our members are facing during this difficult time, and we are here to be a resource for continued learning, growth and connection,” said Council President Hayley Hovious. “We thank our panelists for their flexibility in making this virtual event possible, and we look forward to more conversations in the future.”