It's true, politics slowed hospital population health spending

Report confirms that fierce debate over the Affordable Care Act kept providers from investing in key technology in first part of 2017.
By Tom Sullivan
03:34 PM
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Senator McCain gives a thumbs-down not to repeal the ACA on the Senate floor in the early hours of July 28. But the uncertainty leading up to the vote prompted hospitals to scale back their spending.

Plenty of people have speculated that all the back-and-forth concerning repealing or replacing the Affordable Care Act was causing hospitals to tighten their IT budgets and new research has determined that, at least when it comes to population health management spending, they may have been right.

Here’s what happened.

“General sentiment from vendors was that the first quarter of the year was very soft due to uncertainty in relation to U.S. healthcare legislative reform,” according to Signify Research, a health IT market intelligence firm. “As the Trump administration pushed ahead with its agenda to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, providers, payers and other buyers of PHM solutions delayed purchasing decisions.”

Signify explained that healthcare organizations had increased the amount they spent on pop health products every quarter for the previous eight. Until the first part of 2017, that is. Pop health vendors reported a 7.1 percent decline in revenues when compared to the fourth quarter of 2016.

It’s worth explaining that this data points to a correlation between pop health spending and political wrangling, rather than actual causation, though it would make sense for hospital executives to do a little IT belt-tightening when legislative talks about the ACA grow tumultuous in Washington, D.C.

Signify also pointed to a fragmented PHM space, with the top five vendors gobbling up 35 percent of marketshare and recent consolidation, notably Allscripts buying McKesson, Optum swallowing the Advisory Board, NextGen grabbing EagleDream Health, and Medecision buying AxisPoint.

“Expect more to follow in the coming years,” the firm advised.

In the rest of 2017, meanwhile, Signify expects many of the deals that were pushed back in the first part of 2017 to close.

“The short-term uncertainty experienced earlier in 2017 has partially subsided and to some extent, the industry has started to catch up,” Signify said. ”Year-over-year growth of 12 percent is forecast for the full year in 2017, a solid performance considering the uncertain environment, but still down on the high teens growth seen in 2016.”

Looking a bit further into the future, Signify estimated a 16 percent compound annual growth rate between 2016 and 2021. 

But it’s still difficult to predict what approach hospitals will take to IT spending when lawmakers come back around to healthcare and resurrect chants of repeal and replace all over again. 

Twitter: SullyHIT
Email the writer: tom.sullivan@himssmedia.com