SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION
Washington, D.C. 20549
|☑||ANNUAL REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934.|
For the fiscal year ended December 31, 2020.
|☐||TRANSITION REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934.|
For the transition period from to .
Commission file number: 001-33757
THE ENSIGN GROUP, INC.
(Exact Name of Registrant as Specified in Its Charter)
|(State or Other Jurisdiction of||(I.R.S. Employer|
|Incorporation or Organization)||Identification No.)|
29222 Rancho Viejo Road, Suite 127
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675
(Address of Principal Executive Offices and Zip Code)
(Registrant’s Telephone Number, Including Area Code)
Securities registered pursuant to Section 12(b) of the Act:
|Title of each class||Trading Symbol(s)||Name of each exchange on which registered|
|Common Stock, par value $0.001 per share||ENSG||NASDAQ Global Select Market|
Securities registered pursuant to Section 12(g) of the Act:
|Indicate by check mark:|
|if the registrant is a well-known seasoned issuer, as defined in Rule 405 of the Securities Act.||þ||Yes||☐||No|
|if the registrant is not required to file reports pursuant to Section 13 or Section 15(d) of the Act.||☐||Yes||þ||No|
|whether the registrant (1) has filed all reports required to be filed by Section 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to file such reports), and (2) has been subject to such filing requirements for the past 90 days.||þ||Yes||☐||No|
|whether the registrant has submitted electronically, every Interactive Data File required to be submitted pursuant to Rule 405 of Regulation S-T (§232.405 of this chapter) during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to submit such files).||þ||Yes||☐||No|
|whether the registrant is a large accelerated filer, an accelerated filer, non-accelerated filer, a smaller reporting company, or an emerging growth company. See the definitions of “large accelerated filer,” “accelerated filer,” “smaller reporting company,” and "emerging growth company" in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act:|
|Large accelerated filer||þ||Accelerated filer||☐||Non-accelerated filer||☐||Smaller reporting company||☐||Emerging growth company||☐|
|If an emerging growth company, indicate if the registrant has elected not to use the extended transition period for complying with any new or revised financial accounting standards provided pursuant to Section 13(a) of the Exchange Act.||☐||Yes||☐||No|
|Whether the registrant has filed a report on and attestation to its management's assessment of the effectiveness of its internal control over financial reporting under Section-404(b) of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (15 U.S.C. 7262(b)) by the registered public accounting firm that prepared or issued its audit report.||☑||Yes||☐||No|
|whether the registrant is a shell company (as defined in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act).||☐||Yes||þ||No|
|As of June 30, 2020, the aggregate market value of the Registrant's Common Stock held by non-affiliates was: |
The aggregate market value of Common Stock was computed by reference to the closing price as of the last business day of the registrant's most recently completed second fiscal quarter. Shares of Common Stock held by each executive officer, director and each person owning more than 10% of the outstanding Common Stock of the registrant have been excluded (in the amount of $809,280,000) in that such persons may be deemed to be affiliates of the registrant. This determination of affiliate status is not necessarily a conclusive determination for other purposes.
As of January 29, 2021, 54,695,662 shares of the registrant’s common stock, $0.001 par value, were outstanding.
DOCUMENTS INCORPORATED BY REFERENCE:
Part III of this Form 10-K incorporates information by reference from the Registrant's definitive proxy statement for the Registrant's 2021 Annual Meeting of Stockholders to be filed within 120 days after the close of the fiscal year covered by this annual report.
THE ENSIGN GROUP, INC.
INDEX TO ANNUAL REPORT ON FORM 10-K
FOR THE FISCAL YEAR ENDED DECEMBER 31, 2020
TABLE OF CONTENTS
CAUTIONARY NOTE REGARDING FORWARD-LOOKING STATEMENTS
This Annual Report on Form 10-K contains forward-looking statements, which include, but are not limited to our expected future financial position, results of operations, cash flows, financing plans, business strategy, budgets, capital expenditures, competitive positions, growth opportunities and plans and objectives of management. Forward-looking statements can often be identified by words such as “anticipates,” “expects,” “intends,” “plans,” “predicts,” “believes,” “seeks,” “estimates,” “may,” “will,” “should,” “would,” “could,” “potential,” “continue,” “ongoing,” similar expressions, and variations or negatives of these words. These statements are subject to the safe harbors under Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. These statements are not guarantees of future performance and are subject to risks, uncertainties and assumptions that are difficult to predict. Additionally, many of these risks and uncertainties are currently, and in the future may continue to be, amplified by surges in the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Therefore, our actual results could differ materially and adversely from those expressed in any forward-looking statements as a result of various factors, some of which are listed under the section “Risk Factors” in Part I, Item 1A of this Annual Report on Form 10-K. Accordingly, you should not rely upon forward-looking statements as predictions of future events. These forward-looking statements speak only as of the date of this Annual Report, and are based on our current expectations, estimates and projections about our industry and business, management's beliefs, and certain assumptions made by us, all of which are subject to change. We undertake no obligation to revise or update publicly any forward-looking statement for any reason, except as otherwise required by law.
As used in this Annual Report on Form 10-K, the words, "Ensign," Company," “we,” “our” and “us” refer to The Ensign Group, Inc. and its consolidated subsidiaries. All of our operating subsidiaries, the Service Center (defined below) and our wholly owned captive insurance subsidiary (the Captive) are operated by separate, wholly-owned, independent subsidiaries that have their own management, employees and assets. References herein to the consolidated “Company” and “its” assets and activities, as well as the use of the terms “we,” “us,” “our” and similar terms in this Annual Report on Form 10-K is not meant to imply, nor should it be construed as meaning, that The Ensign Group, Inc. has direct operating assets, employees or revenue, or that any of the subsidiaries are operated by The Ensign Group.
The Ensign Group, Inc. is a holding company with no direct operating assets, employees or revenues. In addition, certain of our wholly-owned independent subsidiaries, collectively referred to as the Service Center, provide centralized accounting, payroll, human resources, information technology, legal, risk management and other centralized services to the other operating subsidiaries through contractual relationships with such subsidiaries. In addition, the Captive provides some claims-made coverage to our operating subsidiaries for general and professional liability, as well as for certain workers' compensation insurance liabilities.
We were incorporated in 1999 in Delaware. The Service Center address is 29222 Rancho Viejo Rd Suite 127, San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675, and our telephone number is (949) 487-9500. Our corporate website is located at www.ensigngroup.net. The information contained in, or that can be accessed through, our website does not constitute a part of this Annual Report on Form 10-K.
EnsignTM is our United States trademark. All other trademarks and trade names appearing in this annual report are the property of their respective owners.
Item 1. BUSINESS
Founded in 1999, The Ensign Group, Inc. ("Ensign") is a holding company with subsidiaries that provide skilled nursing, senior living and rehabilitative services, as well as other ancillary businesses (including mobile diagnostics and medical transportation), in 13 states. As part of our investment strategy, we also acquire, lease and own healthcare real estate to service the post-acute care continuum through acquisition and investment opportunities in healthcare properties. For the year ended December 31, 2020, we generated approximately 95.2% of our revenue from our skilled nursing facilities. The remainder of our revenue is primarily generated from our real estate properties, senior living services and other ancillary services.
As of December 31, 2020, we offered skilled nursing, senior living and rehabilitative care services through 228 skilled nursing and senior living facilities. Of the 228 facilities, we operated 164 facilities under long-term lease arrangements, and have options to purchase 11 of those 164 facilities. Our real estate portfolio includes 94 owned real estate properties, which included 64 operations we operated and managed, the real estate associated with 31 senior living operations that were leased to and operated by The Pennant Group, Inc. (Pennant) as part of the Spin-Off (defined below), and the Service Center location. Of the 31 real estate operations leased to Pennant, two senior living operations are located on the same real estate properties as skilled nursing facilities that the Company owns and operates.
Our Unique Approach and Structure
The name "Ensign" is synonymous with a "flag" or a "standard" and refers to our goal of setting the standard by which all others in our industry are measured. We believe that through our efforts and leadership, we can foster a new level of patient care and professional competence at our affiliated operating subsidiaries, and set a new industry standard for each patient we service. We view healthcare services primarily as a local business. We believe our success is largely driven by our proven ability to build strong relationships with key stakeholders in local healthcare communities, in part, by leveraging our reputation for providing superior care. Accordingly, our brand strategy and organizational structure promotes the empowerment of local leadership and staff to make their facility the “operation of choice” in their community. This is accomplished by allowing local leadership to discern and address the unique needs and priorities of healthcare professionals, customers and other stakeholders in the local community or market, and then work to create a superior service offering for, and reputation in, their particular community. This local empowerment is unique within the healthcare services industry.
We believe that our localized approach encourages prospective customers and referral sources to choose or recommend the operation. In addition, our leaders are enabled and motivated to share real-time operating data and otherwise benchmark clinical and operational performance against their peers in order to improve clinical care, enhance patient satisfaction and augment operational efficiencies, promoting the sharing of best practices.
We organize our operating subsidiaries into portfolio companies, which we believe has enabled us to maintain a local, field-driven organizational structure, attract additional qualified leadership talent, and to identify, acquire, and improve operations at a generally faster rate. Each of our portfolio companies has its own leader. These leaders, who are generally taken from the ranks of operational CEOs, serve as leadership resources within their own portfolio companies, and have the primary responsibility for recruiting qualified talent, finding potential acquisition targets, and identifying other internal and external growth opportunities. We believe this organizational structure has improved the quality of our recruiting and will continue to facilitate successful acquisitions.
Since we spun-off our owned real estate properties into a public real estate investment trust (REIT) in 2014, we have continued to expand our real estate portfolio. Following the real estate spin-off, we have acquired and currently own 94 real estate properties, including 31 real estate properties that are leased to a third party under triple-net long-term leases. We manage and operate the remaining real estate properties, including the Service Center location. We are committed to growing our real estate portfolio, which we believe will further enhance our earnings and maximize long-term shareholder value.
On October 1, 2019, we completed the separation of our home health and hospice operations and substantially all of our senior living operations into Pennant, a separate and publicly traded company, through a tax-free distribution of all of the outstanding shares of common stock of Pennant to Ensign stockholders on a pro rata basis (the Spin-Off). For further details on the Spin-Off, refer to Note 21, Spin-Off Of Subsidiaries, in Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements of this Annual Report on Form 10-K.
In the fourth quarter of 2020, we began reporting the results of our real estate portfolio as a new segment due to our expanding real estate investment strategy. We now have two reportable segments: (1) transitional and skilled services, which includes the operation of skilled nursing facilities and rehabilitation therapy services; and (2) real estate, which is primarily comprised of properties owned by us and leased to skilled nursing and senior living operations, including our own operating subsidiaries and third-party operators and are subject to triple-net long-term leases. Prior to this new segment structure, we had one reportable segment, transitional and skilled services.
We also report an “all other” category that includes operating results from our senior living operations, mobile diagnostics, transportation and other ancillary operations. Our senior living, mobile diagnostics, transportation and other ancillary operations are neither significant individually, nor in aggregate and therefore do not constitute a reportable segment. Our Chief Executive Officer, who is our chief operating decision maker, or CODM, reviews financial information at the operating segment level. We have presented our segment results in this Annual Report on Form 10-K on a comparative basis to conform to the new segment structure. For more information about our operating segment, as well as financial information, see Part II Item 7. Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations and Note 7, Business Segments of the Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements.
Transitional and Skilled Services
As of December 31, 2020, our skilled nursing companies provided skilled nursing care at 219 operations, with 23,172 operational beds, in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, Nevada, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin. We provide short and long-term nursing care services for patients with chronic conditions, prolonged illness, and the elderly. Our residents are often high-acuity patients that come to our facilities to recover from strokes, cardiovascular and respiratory conditions, neurological conditions, joint replacements, and other muscular or skeletal disorders. We use interdisciplinary teams of experienced medical professionals to provide services prescribed by physicians. These medical professionals provide individualized comprehensive nursing care to our short-stay and long-stay patients. Many of our skilled nursing facilities are equipped to provide specialty care, such as on-site dialysis, ventilator care, cardiac and pulmonary management. We also provide standard services such as room and board, special nutritional programs, social services, recreational activities, entertainment, and other services. We are dedicated to ensuring our residents are happy, comfortable, and motivated to achieve their health goals through the provision of quality care. We generate our transitional and skilled services revenue from Medicaid, Medicare, managed care, commercial insurance, and private pay. During the year ended December 31, 2020, approximately 45.3% and 31.8% of our transitional and skilled services revenue was derived from Medicaid and Medicare programs, respectively.
We engage in the acquisition and leasing of skilled nursing and senior living properties. As of December 31, 2020, our owned real estate portfolio was comprised of 94 real estate properties located in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Nebraska, Nevada, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin. Of these properties, 64 are leased to affiliated skilled nursing facilities, wholly-owned and managed by the Company, 31 are leased to senior living operations, wholly-owned and managed by Pennant, and our Service Center location. The Service Center real estate is leased to our Service Center and numerous third-parties for commercial office space. Of the 31 real estate operations leased to Pennant, two senior living operations are located on the same real estate properties as skilled nursing facilities that the Company owns and operates.
We generate real estate revenue primarily by leasing post-acute care properties we have acquired, to healthcare operators, including our own operating subsidiaries, under triple-net lease arrangements whereby the tenant is solely responsible for the costs related to the property, including property taxes, insurance and maintenance and repair costs, subject to certain exceptions. During the year ended December 31, 2020, we generated rental revenue of $61.3 million, of which $46.1 million was derived from affiliated wholly-owned healthcare facilities. Intercompany rental revenue is eliminated in consolidation, along with corresponding intercompany rent expenses of related healthcare facilities.
Revenue from our senior living operations, mobile diagnostics and other ancillary operations comprise approximately 4.1% of our annual revenue.
Senior Living. As of December 31, 2020, we had an aggregate of 2,254 senior living units across 33 operations, of which 24 are located on the same site location as our skilled nursing care operations. Our senior living communities located in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, Texas, and Utah, provide residential accommodations, activities, meals, housekeeping and assistance in the activities of daily living to seniors who are independent or who require some support, but not the level of nursing care provided in a skilled nursing operation. Our independent living units are non-licensed independent living apartments in which residents are independent and require no support with the activities of daily living.
Substantially all our senior living operations were contributed to Pennant as part of the Spin-Off. Thus, our remaining senior living operations are not significant to our consolidated operations, only comprising approximately 2.0% of our annual revenue. We generate revenue at these units primarily from private pay sources, with a small portion derived from Medicaid or other state-specific programs. Specifically, during the year ended December 31, 2020, approximately 72.3% of our senior living revenue was derived from private pay sources.
Ancillary. As of December 31, 2020, we held a majority membership interest of ancillary operations located in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Texas, Utah and Washington. We have invested in and are exploring new business lines that are complementary to our existing transitional and skilled services and senior living services. These new business lines consist of mobile ancillary services, including digital x-ray, ultrasound, electrocardiograms, laboratory services, sub-acute services and patient transportation to people in their homes or at long-term care facilities. To date these businesses were not meaningful contributors to our operating results.
We have an established track record of successful acquisitions. Much of our historical growth can be attributed to implementing our expertise in acquiring real estate or leasing both under-performing and performing post-acute care operations and transforming them into market leaders in clinical quality, staff competency, employee loyalty and financial performance. With each acquisition, we apply our core operating expertise to improve these operations, both clinically and financially. In years where pricing has been high, we have focused on the integration and improvement of our existing operating subsidiaries while limiting our acquisitions to strategically situated properties.
From January 1, 2010 through December 31, 2020, we acquired 205 facilities, which added 15,017 operational skilled nursing beds and 5,797 senior living units to our operating subsidiaries, which included the operations that were contributed to Pennant. The following table summarizes cumulative skilled nursing and senior living operation, operational skilled nursing bed and senior living unit counts at the end of 2010 and each of the last five years to reflect our growth over a ten year period and 5 year period as a result of the acquisition of these facilities:
| ||December 31,|
|Cumulative number of skilled nursing and senior living operations||82 ||210 ||230 ||244 ||223 ||228 |
|Cumulative number of operational skilled nursing beds||8,548 ||17,724 ||18,870 ||19,615 ||22,625 ||23,172 |
|Cumulative number of senior living units||791 ||4,450 ||5,011 ||5,664 ||2,154 ||2,254 |
(1) Included in our 2016-2019 number of operational beds and number of operations are operational beds and operations that we no longer operated in 2016, 2017 and 2019. The number of operations and operational beds do not include the closed facilities beginning in the year of their closures.
(2) Included in the 2010 and 2016-2018 number of operational units and number of operations are the operational units and operations of senior living facilities that we transferred to Pennant as part of the 2019 Spin-Off transaction. In 2019, the number of operations and operational units do not include operations transferred to Pennant.
Much of our historical growth can be attributed to our expertise in acquiring real estate or leasing both under-performing and performing post-acute care operations and transforming them into market leaders in clinical quality, staff competency, employee loyalty and financial performance. We have also invested in new business lines that are complementary to our existing businesses, such as ancillary services. We plan to continue to grow our revenue and earnings by:
•continuing to grow our talent base and develop future leaders;
•increasing the overall percentage or “mix” of higher-acuity patients;
•focusing on organic growth and internal operating efficiencies;
•continuing to acquire additional operations in existing and new markets;
•expanding and renovating our existing operations, and
•strategically investing in and integrating other post-acute care healthcare businesses.
New Market CEO and New Ventures Programs. In order to broaden our reach into new markets, and in an effort to provide existing leaders in our company with the entrepreneurial opportunity and challenge of entering a new market and starting a new business, we established our New Market CEO program in 2006. Supported by our Service Center and other resources, a New Market CEO evaluates a target market, develops a comprehensive business plan, and relocates to the target market to find talent and connect with other providers, regulators and the healthcare community in that market, with the goal of ultimately acquiring businesses and establishing an operating platform for future growth. In addition, this program includes other lines of business that are closely related to the skilled nursing industry. For example, we entered into the home health and hospice industry as part of this program, which was a part of the Spin-Off. The New Ventures program encourages our local leaders to evaluate service offerings with the goal of establishing an operating platform in new markets and new businesses. We believe that this program will not only continue to drive growth, but will also provide a valuable training ground for our next generation of leaders, who will have experienced the challenges of growing and operating a new business.
During the year ended December 31, 2020, we expanded our operations through a combination of long-term leases and real estate purchases, with the addition of five stand-alone skilled nursing operations, one stand-alone senior living operation, and one campus operation. A campus represents a facility that offers both skilled nursing and senior living services. The addition of these operations added a total of 507 operational skilled nursing beds and 298 operational senior living units to be operated by our affiliated operating subsidiaries. The aggregate purchase price for these acquisitions was approximately $25.0 million.
Subsequent to December 31, 2020, we expanded our operations through long-term leases with the addition of four stand-alone skilled nursing operations. The addition of these operations added 447 operational skilled nursing beds to be operated by our operating subsidiaries. We did not acquire any material assets or assume any liabilities other than the tenant's post-assumption rights and obligations under the long-term leases. We entered into a separate operations transfer agreement with the prior operator as part of each transaction.
For further discussion of our acquisitions, see Note 8, Acquisitions in the Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements.
QUALITY OF CARE MEASURES
Improvement in Acquired Facilities. In December 2008, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) introduced the Five-Star Quality Rating System to help consumers, their families and caregivers compare nursing homes more easily. The Five-Star Quality Rating System gives each skilled nursing operation a rating between one and five stars in various categories. We have a strong history of quickly improving the quality of care in the facilities we acquire. Thus, as new assessments are conducted post-acquisition, the star ratings see consistent improvement. At the time of acquisition, the majority of our facilities have 1 and 2-Star ratings.
Over the last few years, CMS had modified the Star rating requirements. These changes have been significant and made it more difficult to achieve a 4 or 5-Star rating. The 2019 changes resulted in nursing centers losing stars in their "Quality" and "Staffing" ratings, which negatively impacted the "Overall" ratings. Nevertheless, we continue to demonstrate strong performance in the Five-Star Quality Rating System. We believe compliance and quality outcomes are precursors to outstanding financial performance. Thus, we strive to aggressively increase quality and compliance in every facility we acquire, and to adjust our overall policies to adapt to CMS’s changing criteria for the Five-Star Quality Rating System. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, CMS temporarily waived certain reporting timeframes and suspended certain inspections that impacted the underlying data used for calculating star-ratings. This resulted in CMS freezing affected quality measures by only using data collected for periods not impacted by the COVID-19 waivers. The star-rating calculations resumed on January 27, 2021.
The table below summarizes the number of our facilities with 4 and 5-Star ratings since 2016:
| ||As of December 31,|
|4 and 5-Star Quality Rated skilled nursing facilities||86 ||100 ||91 ||102 ||116 |
Above-Average Ratings. Additionally, despite the fact that Ensign’s acquisition of facilities with 1 or 2-Star ratings skews our company-wide ratings, our mean score on the Five-Star Quality Rating System is 53.2%, which exceeds the national average score of 48.6%.
The post-acute care industry has evolved to meet the growing demand for post-acute and custodial healthcare services generated by an aging population, increasing life expectancies and the trend toward shifting of patient care to lower cost settings. The industry has evolved in recent years, which we believe has led to a number of favorable improvements in the industry, as described below:
•Shift of Patient Care to Lower Cost Alternatives. The growth of the senior population in the United States continues to increase healthcare costs, often faster than the available funding from government-sponsored healthcare programs. In response, federal and state governments have adopted cost-containment measures that encourage the treatment of patients in more cost-effective settings such as skilled nursing facilities, for which the staffing requirements and associated costs are often significantly lower than acute care hospitals, and other post-acute care settings. As a result, skilled nursing facilities are generally serving a larger population of higher-acuity patients than in the past.
•Significant Acquisition and Consolidation Opportunities. The skilled nursing industry is large and highly fragmented, characterized predominantly by numerous local and regional providers. Due to the increasing demands from hospitals and insurance carriers to implement sophisticated and expensive reporting systems, we believe this fragmentation provides significant acquisition and consolidation opportunities for us.
•Improving Supply and Demand Balance. The number of skilled nursing facilities has declined modestly over the past several years. We expect that the supply and demand balance in the skilled nursing industry will continue to improve due to the shift of patient care to lower cost settings, an aging population and increasing life expectancies.
•Increased Demand Driven by Aging Populations. As seniors account for an increasing percentage of the total U.S. population, we believe the demand for skilled nursing and senior living services will continue to increase. According to the census projection released by the U.S. Census Bureau in early 2018 and revised in early 2020, between 2016 and 2060, the number of individuals over 65 years old is projected to be one of the fastest growing segments of the United States population, growing from 15% to 23%. The Bureau expects this segment to increase approximately 92% to 75 million, as compared to the total U.S. population which is projected to increase by 25% over that time period. Furthermore, the generation currently retiring has accumulated less savings than prior generations, creating demand for more affordable senior housing and skilled nursing services. As a high quality provider in lower cost settings, we believe we are well-positioned to benefit from this trend.
•Transition to Value-Based Payment Models. In response to rising healthcare spending in the United States, commercial, government and other payors are generally shifting away from fee-for-service payment models towards value-based models, including risk-based payment models that tie financial incentives to quality, efficiency and coordination of care. We believe that patient-centered, outcome driven reimbursement models will continue to grow in prominence. Many of our operations already receive value-based payments, and as valued-based payment systems continue to increase in prominence, it is our view that our strong clinical outcomes will be increasingly rewarded.
•Accountable Care Organizations and Reimbursement Reform. A significant goal of U.S. federal health care reform is to transform the delivery of health care by changing reimbursement to reflect and support the quality and safety of care that providers deliver, increasing efficiency, and reducing growth in spending. Reimbursement models that provide financial incentives to encourage efficiency, affordability, and high-quality care have been developed and implemented by government and commercial third-party payers. The most prolific of these models, the Accountable Care Organization (ACO) model, incentivizes groups of providers to share in savings that are achieved through the coordination of care and chronic disease management of an assigned patient population. Reimbursement methodology reform includes Value-Based Purchasing (VBP), in which a portion of provider reimbursement is redistributed based on relative performance, or improvement on designated economic, clinical quality, and patient satisfaction metrics. In addition, CMS has implemented Episode-based demonstration, voluntary and mandatory payment initiatives that bundle acute care and post-acute care reimbursement. These bundled payment models incentivize cross-continuum care coordination and include financial and performance accountability for episodes of care. These reimbursement methodologies and similar programs are likely to continue and expand, both in government and commercial health plans. Many of our operations already participate in ACOs. With our focus on quality care and strong clinical outcomes, Ensign is well-positioned to benefit from these outcome-based payment models.
We believe the post-acute industry has been and will continue to be impacted by several other trends. The use of long-term care insurance is increasing among seniors as a means of planning for the costs of skilled nursing services. In addition, as a result of increased mobility in society, reduction of average family size, and the increased number of two-wage earner couples, more residents are looking for alternatives outside the family for their care.
We derive revenue primarily from the Medicaid and Medicare programs, managed care and commercial insurance payors, and private pay patients. The majority of our revenue is derived from skilled nursing, which is highly dependent upon the Medicaid and Medicare programs. Thus, any changes to payment models, reimbursements and budgets impact our revenue, some positively and some negatively. A detailed discussion of the regulatory framework impacting our business is found in the Government Regulation section below. See also, Item 1.A., Risk Factors.
A brief overview of each of our revenue sources is as follows:
Medicaid. Medicaid is a program financed by state funds and matching federal funds administered by the states and their political subdivisions, and often go by state-specific names, such as Medi-Cal in California and the Arizona Healthcare Cost Containment System in Arizona. Medicaid programs generally provide health benefits for qualifying individuals, and may supplement Medicare benefits for the disabled and for persons aged 65 and older meeting financial eligibility requirements. Medicaid reimbursement formulas are established by each state with the approval of the federal government in accordance with federal guidelines. Seniors who enter skilled nursing facilities as private pay clients can become eligible for Medicaid once they have substantially depleted their assets. Medicaid is generally the largest source of funding for most skilled nursing facilities.
Medicaid reimbursement varies from state to state and is based upon a number of different systems, including cost-based, prospective payment; case mixed adjusted payments and negotiated rate systems. Rates are subject to a state’s annual budgetary requirements and funding, statutory and regulatory changes and interpretations and rulings by individual state agencies and State Plan Amendments approved by CMS.
Medicaid typically covers patients that require standard room and board services and provides reimbursement rates that are generally lower than rates earned from other sources. We monitor our payor mix to measure the level received from each payor across each of our business units. We intend to continue to focus on enhancing our care offerings to accommodate more high acuity patients.
Approximately 79.2% of our Medicaid revenue comes from Arizona, California, Texas, and Utah. In California, the state enacted legislation expanding their Medicaid program, which in recent years has continued to see budget increases. It is projected that California General Fund spending on California Medicaid will increase by about $1.5 billion (7.0%) in 2020‑2021, to a total of $23.5 billion. Further, the 2021-2022 estimated California General Fund will increase to a total of $28.4 billion. In California, reimbursement rates for long term care facilities are calculated based upon the median rate of each peer group, which results in varying reimbursement rates among facilities. Texas is one of the remaining states that has not expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Texas lawmakers have, in the past, underfunded Medicaid, requiring an infusion of state and federal funds. Funding for the 2020-2021 Texas biennium includes $25.5 billion in general revenue funds, which is a decrease of $1.4 billion in general funds from the 2018-2019 biennium amounts. In Arizona, the state enacted legislation expanding their Medicaid program in 2013 but has seen decreased Medicaid enrollments in recent years. Their 2020 budget for the state Medicaid program included $1.7 billion from the general fund, and the 2021 budget rose to over $1.9 billion.
Medicare. Medicare is a federal program that provides healthcare benefits to individuals who are 65 years of age or older or are disabled. To achieve and maintain Medicare certification, a skilled nursing facility must sign a Medicare provider agreement and meet the CMS “Conditions of Participation” on an ongoing basis, as determined in periodic facility inspections or “surveys” conducted primarily by the state licensing agency in the state where the facility is located. Medicare pays for inpatient skilled nursing facility services under the prospective payment system (PPS). Under PPS, facilities are paid a predetermined amount per patient, per day, for certain services. Medicare Part A skilled nursing facility coverage is limited to 100 days per episode of illness for those beneficiaries who require daily care following discharge from an acute care hospital.
For Medicare beneficiaries who qualify for the Medicare Part A coverage, rehabilitation services are included in the per diem payment. For beneficiaries who do not meet the coverage criteria for Part A services, rehabilitation services may qualify for the services to be provided under Medicare Part B.
Managed Care and Private Insurance. Managed care patients consist of individuals who are insured by certain third-party entities, or who are Medicare beneficiaries who have assigned their Medicare benefits to a senior managed care organization plan. Another type of insurance, long-term care insurance, is also becoming more available to consumers, but is not expected to contribute significantly to industry revenues in the near term.
Private and Other Payors. Private and other payors consist primarily of individuals, family members or other third parties who directly pay for the services we provide.
Rental Revenue. Real estate rental revenue is generated by leasing post-acute care properties that we acquired to healthcare operators under triple-net lease arrangements, whereby the tenant is solely responsible for the costs related to the property, including property taxes, insurance, and maintenance and repair costs, subject to certain exceptions.
The following charts sets forth our total service revenue by payor source generated by our consolidated operations and transitional and skilled services segment as a percentage of total revenue for the years ended December 31, 2020 and 2019, respectively:
CONSOLIDATED SERVICE REVENUE BY PAYOR
TRANSITIONAL AND SKILLED SERVICES REVENUE BY PAYOR
Payor Sources as a Percentage of Skilled Nursing Services. The following table sets forth our percentage of skilled nursing patient days by payor source:
| ||Year Ended December 31,|
|Percentage of Skilled Nursing Days:|
|Medicare||15.6 ||%||12.0 ||%|
|Managed care||11.2 ||12.2 |
|Other skilled||4.9 ||4.8 |
|Skilled mix||31.7 ||29.0 |
|Private and other payors||10.9 ||12.1 |
|Medicaid||57.4 ||58.9 |
|Total skilled nursing||100.0 ||%||100.0 ||%|
REIMBURSEMENT FOR SPECIFIC SERVICES
Reimbursement for Skilled Nursing Services. Skilled nursing facility revenue is primarily derived from Medicaid, Medicare, managed care and private payors. Our skilled nursing operations provide Medicaid-covered services to eligible individuals consisting of nursing care, room and board and social services. In addition, states may, at their option, cover other services such as physical, occupational and speech therapies.
Historically, adjustments to reimbursement under Medicare and Medicaid have had a significant effect on our revenue and results of operations. Recently enacted, pending and proposed legislation and administrative rulemaking at the federal and state levels could have similar effects on our business. Efforts to impose reduced reimbursement rates, greater discounts and more stringent cost controls by government and other payors are expected to continue for the foreseeable future and could adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations. Additionally, any delay or default by the federal or state governments in making Medicare and/or Medicaid reimbursement payments could materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Reimbursement for Rehabilitation Therapy Services. Rehabilitation therapy revenue is primarily received from private pay, managed care and Medicare for services provided at skilled nursing operations and senior living operations. The payments are based on negotiated patient per diem rates or a negotiated fee schedule based on the type of service rendered.
Reimbursement for Senior Living. Senior living facility revenue is primarily derived from private pay patients at rates we established, with only a small portion of such revenue derived from state-specific programs such as Medicaid.
Reimbursement for Other Ancillary Services. Other ancillary revenue, such as mobile diagnostics and medical transportation, is primarily derived from Medicare Part B, Medicaid, managed care and private payors at rates we establish based upon the services we provide and market conditions in the area of operation.
Rental revenue from third party rental property tenants. Owned properties are leased pursuant to non-cancelable operating leases, generally with an initial term of 10 to 15 years. All of the post-acute care healthcare properties leased to third parties contain renewal options. The leases provide for fixed minimum base rent during the initial and renewal periods. The majority of our leases contain provisions for specified annual increases over the rents of the prior year and those increases are generally computed on a calculation based on the Consumer Price Index.
Each lease is a triple net lease which requires the lessee to pay all taxes, insurance, maintenance and repairs, capital and non-capital expenditures and other costs necessary in the operations of the facilities. In addition, our leases with third-parties are typically structured as master leases. The master leases consist of multiple leases, each with its own pool of properties, that have varying maturities and diversity in property geography.
If a lessee makes payments for taxes and insurance directly to a third-party on our behalf, we are required to exclude these payments from variable payments and from revenue recognition in our consolidated statements of income. Otherwise, tenant reimbursements paid to us for taxes and insurance are classified as additional rental revenue recognized by us on a gross basis.
Rental revenue from Ensign-affiliated tenants. Rental revenue from Ensign-affiliated operations is based on mutually agreed-upon base rents that are subject to change from time to time. Intercompany revenue is eliminated in consolidation, along with the corresponding intercompany rent expenses of the related healthcare facilities.
The post-acute care industry is highly competitive, and we expect that the industry will become increasingly competitive in the future. The industry is highly fragmented and characterized by numerous local and regional providers, in addition to large national providers that have achieved geographic diversity and economies of scale. Our operating subsidiaries also compete with inpatient rehabilitation facilities and long-term acute care hospitals. Increasingly, we are competing with home health and community-based providers who have developed programs designed to provide services to seniors outside a facility-based setting, potentially decreasing the time they need the higher level of care provided in a skilled nursing facility. Competitiveness may vary significantly from location to location, depending upon factors such as the number of competing facilities, availability of services, expertise of staff, and the physical appearance and amenities of each location. We believe that the primary competitive factors in the post-acute care industry are:
•ability to attract and to retain qualified management and caregivers;
•reputation and achievements of quality healthcare outcomes;
•attractiveness and location of facilities;
•the expertise and commitment of the management team and employees; and
•community value, including amenities and ancillary services.
We seek to compete effectively in each market by establishing a reputation within the local community as the “operation of choice.” This means that the operation leaders are generally free to discern and address the unique needs and priorities of healthcare professionals, customers and other stakeholders in the local community or market, and then create a superior service offering and reputation for that particular community or market that is calculated to encourage prospective customers and referral sources to choose or recommend the operation.
Increased competition could limit our ability to attract and retain patients, maintain or increase rates or to expand our business. Some of our competitors have greater financial and other resources than we have, may have greater brand recognition and may be more established in their respective communities than we are. Competing companies may also offer newer facilities or different programs or services than we offer, and may therefore attract individuals who are currently patients of our facilities, potential patients of our facilities, or who are otherwise receiving our healthcare services. Other competitors may have lower expenses or other competitive advantages than us and, therefore, provide services at lower prices than we offer.
Our other services, such as senior living facilities and other ancillary services, also compete with local, regional, and national companies. The primary competitive factors in these businesses are similar to those for our skilled nursing facilities and include reputation, cost of services, quality of clinical services, responsiveness to patient/resident needs, location and the ability to provide support in other areas such as third-party reimbursement, information management and patient recordkeeping.
Our real estate segment competes for real property investments with healthcare providers, healthcare-related REITs, real estate partnerships, banks, private equity funds, venture capital funds and other investors. Some of these competitors are significantly larger and have greater financial resources and lower costs of capital than us. Our ability to compete successfully for real property investments will be determined by numerous factors, including our ability to identify suitable acquisition targets, our ability to negotiate acceptable terms for any such acquisition and our cost of capital in the event an acquisition requires debt or equity financing.
OUR COMPETITIVE STRENGTHS
We believe that we are well positioned to benefit from the ongoing changes within our industry. We believe that our ability to acquire, integrate and improve our facilities is a direct result of the following key competitive strengths:
Experienced and Dedicated Employees. We believe that our operating subsidiaries' employees are among the best in their respective industries. We believe each of our operating subsidiaries is led by an experienced and caring leadership team, including dedicated front-line care staff, who participates daily in the clinical and operational improvement of their individual operations. We have been successful in attracting, training, incentivizing and retaining a core group of outstanding business and clinical leaders to spearhead our operating subsidiaries. These leaders operate as separate local businesses. With broad local control, these talented leaders and their care staffs are able to quickly meet the needs of their patients and residents, employees and local communities, without waiting for permission to act or being bound to a “one-size-fits-all” corporate strategy.
Unique Incentive Programs. We believe that our employee compensation programs are unique within the industry. Employee stock options and performance bonuses, based on achieving target clinical quality, cultural, compliance and financial benchmarks, represent a significant component of total compensation for our operational leaders. We believe that these compensation programs assist us in encouraging our leaders and key employees to act with a shared ownership mentality. Furthermore, our leaders are motivated to help local operations within a defined “cluster” and "market," which is a group of geographically-proximate operations that share clinical best practices, real-time financial data and other resources and information.
Staff and Leadership Development. We have a company-wide commitment to ongoing education, training and professional development. Accordingly, our operational leaders participate in regular training. Most participate in training sessions at Ensign University, our in-house educational system. Other training opportunities are generally offered via on-demand training tools, including podcasts. In addition, we offer weekly cultural and interactive educational topics including leadership development, our values, updates on Medicaid and Medicare billing requirements, updates on new regulations or legislation, infection control, COVID-19 clinical and regulations, emerging healthcare service alternatives and other relevant clinical, business and industry specific coursework. Additionally, we encourage and provide ongoing education classes for our clinical staff to maintain licensing and increase the breadth of their knowledge and expertise. We believe that our commitment to, and substantial investment in, ongoing education will further strengthen the quality of our operational leaders and staff, and the quality of the care they provide to our patients and residents.
Innovative Service Center Approach. We do not maintain a corporate headquarters; rather, we operate a Service Center to support the efforts of each operation. Our Service Center is a dedicated service organization that acts as a resource and provides centralized information technology, human resources, accounting, payroll, legal, risk management, educational and other back office support services, so that local leaders can focus on delivering top-quality care and efficient business operations. Our Service Center approach allows individual operations to function with the strength, synergies and economies of scale found in larger organizations, but without what we believe are the disadvantages of a top-down management structure or corporate hierarchy. We believe our Service Center approach is unique within the industry, and allows us to preserve the “one-operation-at-a-time” focus and culture that has contributed to our success.
Proven Track Record of Successful Acquisitions. We have established a disciplined acquisition strategy that is focused on selectively acquiring operations within our target markets. Our acquisition strategy is driven by our operations team. Prospective leaders are included in the decision-making process and compensated as these acquired operations reach pre-established clinical quality and financial benchmarks, helping to ensure that we only undertake acquisitions that key leaders believe can become clinically sound and contribute to our financial performance.
As of December 31, 2020, we have expanded to 228 facilities with an aggregate of 23,172 operational skilled nursing beds and 2,254 senior living units, through both long-term leases and purchases. We believe our experience in acquiring these operations and our demonstrated success in significantly improving their operations enables us to consider a broad range of acquisition targets. In addition, we believe we have developed expertise in transitioning newly-acquired operations to our unique organizational culture and systems, which enables us to acquire operations with limited disruption to patients, residents and operating staff, while significantly improving quality of care. We have also constructed new facilities to target demand, which exists for high-end healthcare facilities when we determine that market conditions justify the cost of new construction in some of our markets.
Successful Real Estate Investment Strategy. We maintain a portfolio of long-term healthcare facilities of high-quality assets diversified by geographic location and operated by a diverse group of established healthcare providers. We are focused on selectively acquiring real estate properties based on our industry experience and opportunistic strategy, which we believe provides us with greater investment and purchasing opportunities. Due to our credit strength, we have the ability to acquire large portfolios of real estate properties; a portion of which can be managed and operated by our Ensign affiliated established healthcare leaders and a portion of which can be leased to third parties.
As of December 31, 2020, we have expanded to 94 owned facilities, which include properties leased to and operated by third parties and properties we managed and operated. We believe our real estate investment strategy has allowed us to accumulate a portfolio that aids our healthcare operators in improving performance and generating additional returns through leases with third parties.
Reputation for Quality Care. We believe that we have achieved a reputation for high-quality and cost-effective care and services to our patients and residents within the communities we serve. We believe that our achievement of quality outcomes enhances our reputation for quality, that when coupled with the integrated services that we offer, allows us to attract patients that require more intensive and medically complex care and generally result in higher reimbursement rates than lower acuity patients.
Community Focused Approach. We view our services primarily as a local, community-based business. Our local leadership-centered management culture enables each operation's nursing support staff and leaders to meet the unique needs of their patients and local communities. We believe that our commitment to this “one-operation-at-a-time” philosophy helps to ensure that each operation, its patients, their family members and the community will receive the individualized attention they need. By serving our patients, their families, the community and our fellow healthcare professionals, we strive to make each individual business the operation of choice in its local community.
We further believe that when choosing a healthcare provider, consumers usually choose a person or people they know and trust, rather than a corporation or business. Therefore, rather than pursuing a traditional organization-wide branding strategy, we actively seek to develop the operations brand at the local level, serving and marketing one-on-one to caregivers, our patients, their families, the community and our fellow healthcare professionals in the local market.
Investment in Information Technology. We utilize information technology that enables our operational leaders to access, and to share with their peers, both clinical and financial performance data in real time. Armed with relevant and current information, our operation leaders and their management teams are able to share best practices and the latest information, adjust to challenges and opportunities on a timely basis, improve quality of care, mitigate risk and improve both clinical outcomes and financial performance. We have also invested in specialized healthcare technology systems to assist our nursing and support staff. We have installed software and touch-screen interface systems in each operation to enable our clinical staff to more efficiently monitor and deliver patient care and record patient information. We believe these systems have improved the quality of our medical and billing records, while improving the productivity of our staff.
OUR GROWTH STRATEGY
We believe that the following strategies are primarily responsible for our growth to date, and will continue to drive the growth of our business:
Grow Talent Base and Develop Future Leaders. Our primary growth strategy is to expand our talent base and develop future leaders. A key component of our organizational culture is our belief that strong local leadership is a primary key to the success of each operation. While we believe that significant acquisition opportunities exist, we have generally followed a disciplined approach to growth that permits us to acquire an operation only when we believe, among other things, that we will have qualified leadership for that operation. To develop these leaders, we have a rigorous “CEO-in-Training Program” that attracts proven business leaders from various industries and backgrounds, and provides them the knowledge and hands-on training they need to successfully lead one of our operating subsidiaries. We generally have between 25 and 30 prospective administrators progressing through the various stages of this training program, which is generally much more rigorous, hands-on and intensive than the minimum 1,000 hours of training mandated by the licensing requirements of most states where we do business. Once administrators are licensed and assigned to an operation, they continue to learn and develop in our operational Chief Executive Officer Program (CEO Program), which facilitates the continued development of these talented business leaders into outstanding operational chief executive officers, through regular peer review, our Ensign University and on-the-job training.
In addition, our Chief Operating Officer Program (COO Program) recruits and trains highly-qualified Directors of Nursing to lead the clinical programs in our operations. Working together with their operational CEO and/or administrator, other key operational leaders and front-line staff, these experienced nurses manage delivery of care and other clinical personnel and programs to optimize both clinical outcomes and employee and patient satisfaction.
Increase Mix of High Acuity Patients. Many skilled nursing facilities are serving an increasingly larger population of patients who require a high level of skilled nursing and rehabilitative care, whom we refer to as high acuity patients, as a result of government and other payors seeking lower-cost alternatives to traditional acute-care hospitals. We generally receive higher reimbursement rates for providing care for these medically complex patients. In addition, many of these patients require therapy and other rehabilitative services, which we are able to provide as part of our integrated service offerings. Where higher complex services are medically necessary and prescribed by a patient's physician or other appropriate healthcare professional, we generally receive additional revenue in connection with the provision of those services. By making these integrated services available to such patients, and maintaining established clinical standards in the delivery of those services, we are able to increase our overall revenues. We believe that we can continue to attract high acuity patients to our operations by maintaining and enhancing our reputation for quality care and continuing our community focused approach.
Focus on Organic Growth and Internal Operating Efficiencies. We plan to continue to grow organically by focusing on increasing patient occupancy within our existing operations. Although some of the facilities we have acquired were in good physical and operating condition, the majority have been clinically and financially troubled, with some facilities having had occupancy rates as low as 30% at the time of acquisition. Additionally, we believe that incremental operating margins on the last 20% of our beds/units are significantly higher than on the first 80%, offering opportunities to improve financial performance within our existing facilities. Our overall occupancy is impacted significantly by the number of facilities acquired and the operational occupancy on the acquisition date. Therefore, consolidated occupancy will vary significantly based on these factors. Our average occupancy rates for our skilled nursing facilities was 73.5% and 79.2% for the years ended December 31, 2020 and 2019, respectively. Our average occupancy rate in 2020 has been negatively impacted by surges in COVID-19 outbreaks.
We also believe we can generate organic growth by improving operating efficiencies and the quality of care at the patient level. By focusing on staff development, clinical systems and the efficient delivery of quality patient care, we believe we are able to deliver higher quality care at lower costs than many of our competitors.
Historically, we have achieved incremental occupancy and revenue growth by creating or expanding clinical service offerings in existing operations. For example, by expanding clinical programs to provide outpatient therapy services in many markets, we are able to increase revenue while spreading the fixed costs of maintaining these programs over a larger patient base. Outpatient therapy has also proven to be an effective marketing tool, raising the visibility of our facilities in their local communities and enhancing the reputation of our facilities with short-stay rehabilitation patients.
Add New Facilities and Expand Existing Facilities. One of our growth strategies includes the acquisition of new and existing facilities from third parties and the expansion and upgrade of current facilities. In the near term, we plan to take advantage of the fragmented skilled nursing industry by acquiring operations within select geographic markets and may consider the construction of new facilities. In addition, we have targeted facilities that we believed were performing and operations that were underperforming, and where we believed we could improve service delivery, occupancy rates and cash flow. With experienced leaders in place at the community level, and demonstrated success in significantly improving operating conditions at acquired facilities, we believe that we are well positioned for continued growth. While the integration of underperforming facilities generally has a negative short-term effect on overall operating margins, these facilities are typically accretive to earnings within 12 to 18 months following their acquisition. For the 201 facilities that we acquired from 2001 through 2019, the aggregate EBITDAR as a percentage of revenue improved from 10.8% during the first full three months of operations to 14.5% during the thirteenth through fifteenth months of operations.
Real Estate Portfolio Growth. An important part of our business strategy is to continue to expand and diversify our real estate portfolio through accretive acquisition and investment opportunities in healthcare properties. Our execution of this strategy hinges on our ability to successfully identify, secure and consummate beneficial transactions. We have a proven track record of acquiring properties that we have determined are investment opportunities and develop these into thriving properties that are well-suited for operational purposes. We then use these properties for our skilled nursing or assisted living operations or we lease the properties to other long-term care facility operators.
The operation of our skilled nursing and senior living facilities requires a large number of highly skilled healthcare professionals and support staff. At December 31, 2020, we had approximately 24,400 full-time equivalent employees who were employed by our Service Center and our operating subsidiaries. For the year ended December 31, 2020, approximately 60% of our total expenses were payroll related. Periodically, market forces, which vary by region, require that we increase wages in excess of general inflation or in excess of increases in reimbursement rates we receive. We believe that we staff appropriately, focusing primarily on the acuity level and day-to-day needs of our patients and residents. In most of the states where we operate, our skilled nursing facilities are subject to state mandated minimum staffing ratios, so our ability to reduce costs by decreasing staff, notwithstanding decreases in acuity or need, is limited and subject to government audits and penalties in some states. We seek to manage our labor costs by improving staff retention, improving operating efficiencies, maintaining competitive wage rates and benefits and reducing reliance on overtime compensation and temporary nursing agency services.
The healthcare industry as a whole has been experiencing shortages of qualified professional clinical staff. We believe that our ability to attract and retain qualified professional clinical staff stems from our ability to offer attractive wage and benefits packages, a high level of employee training, an empowered culture that provides incentives for individual efforts and a quality work environment.
Healthcare is an area of extensive and frequent regulatory change. Changes in the law or new interpretations of existing laws may have a significant impact on our revenue, costs and the way we operate our business. Our subsidiaries that provide healthcare services are subject to federal, state and local laws relating to, among other things, licensure, delivery, quality and adequacy of care, physical plant requirements, life safety, personnel and operating policies. In addition, our provider subsidiaries are subject to federal and state laws that govern billing and reimbursement, relationships with vendors and business relationships with physicians. Such laws include the Anti-Kickback Statue, the federal False Claims Act (FCA), the Stark Law and state corporate practice of medicine statutes.
Governmental and other authorities periodically inspect our skilled nursing facilities, senior living facilities and outpatient rehabilitation agencies to verify that we continue to comply with the applicable regulations and standards. We must pass these inspections to remain licensed under state laws and to comply with our Medicare and Medicaid provider agreements. We can only participate in these third-party payment programs if inspections by regulatory authorities reveal that our operations are in substantial compliance with applicable requirements. In the ordinary course of business, we may receive notices from federal or state regulatory authorities alleging deficiencies in certain regulatory practices. These statements of deficiency may require us to take corrective action to regain and maintain compliance. In some cases, federal or state regulators may impose other remedies including imposition of civil monetary penalties, temporary payment bans, loss of certification as a provider in Medicare or Medicaid program, or revocation of a state operating license.
We believe that the regulatory environment surrounding the healthcare industry subjects providers to intense scrutiny. In the ordinary course of business, providers are subject to inquiries, investigations and audits by federal and state agencies related to compliance with participation and payment rules under government payment programs. These inquiries may originate from the HHS Office of the Inspector General (OIG) audits, state Medicaid agencies, local and state ombudsman offices and CMS Recovery Audit Contractors, among other agencies. In response to the inquiries, investigations and audits, the federal and state governments continue to impose citations for regulatory deficiencies and other regulatory penalties, including demands for refund of overpayments, expanded civil monetary penalties that extend over long periods of time and date back to incidents long before surveyor visits, Medicare and Medicaid payment bans and terminations from the Medicare and Medicaid programs. We vigorously contest each such matter when appropriate; however, there are significant legal and other expenses involved that consume our financial and personnel resources. Expansion of enforcement activity could adversely affect our business, financial condition or the results of our operations.
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted economies around the globe, including the markets in which we operate. The rapid spread of the virus has led to the implementation of various responses, including federal, state and local government-imposed quarantines, shelter-in-place mandates, sweeping restrictions on travel, and other public health safety measures, as well as adverse impacts on healthcare resources, facilities and providers. In March, 2020, the outbreak was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization, and the Health and Human Services Secretary declared a public health emergency in the United States. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has stated that older adults are at a higher risk for serious illness from the coronavirus. In an effort to promote efficient care delivery and to decrease the spread of COVID-19, federal, state and local regulators have both implemented new regulations and waived certain existing regulations, including those set forth below.
Temporary suspension of certain patient coverage criteria and documentation and care requirements - The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act of 2020 (the CARES Act) and a series of temporary waivers and guidance issued by CMS suspended various Medicare patient coverage criteria to ensure patients continue to have adequate access to care, notwithstanding the burdens placed on healthcare providers as related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of these regulatory waivers were issued pursuant to Section 1135 of the Social Security Act, which authorizes the HHS Secretary to temporarily waive or modify Medicare and Medicaid requirements for affected health care providers and facilities following the declaration of a public health emergency (Section 1135 Waivers). HHS also waived requirements specific to skilled nursing facilities pursuant to its authority under Section 1812(f) of the Social Security Act (Section 1812(f) Waiver, and together with the Section 1135 Waivers, the Emergency Waivers). The Emergency Waivers are expected to last throughout the duration of the COVID-19 public health emergency.
Examples of requirements that have been waived since the COVID-19 emergency declaration include the following: (1) approving temporary expansion sites to ensure that local hospitals and health systems have the capacity to handle a potential surge of COVID-19 patients (e.g. CMS Hospital Without Walls); (2) removing barriers for physicians, nurses, and other clinicians from the community or from other states to allow healthcare systems to provide clinical and workforce support where needed; (3) increasing access to telehealth and corresponding reimbursement through Medicare to ensure patients have access to healthcare while remaining safe at home; (4) expanding in-place COVID-19 testing to allow for more testing at home or in community based settings; and (5) temporarily waiving certain documentation, reporting and audit requirements to allow providers, health care facilities, Medicare Advantage and Part D plans, and states to focus on the provision of care (e.g., Patients Over Paperwork). Many states have also waived regulations to ease regulatory burdens on the healthcare industries. It remains uncertain when federal and state regulators will resume enforcement of those regulations, which are waived or otherwise not being enforced during the public health emergency. We believe these regulatory actions could contribute to an increase in skilled mix that may not otherwise occur.
Pursuant to the Emergency Waivers, CMS also authorized temporary waivers on medical review requirements, effective March 1, 2020, for the duration of the public health emergency. In addition, CMS is re-prioritizing scheduled program audits and contract-level Risk Adjustment Data Validation audits for MA organizations, Part D sponsors, Medicare-Medicaid Plans, and Programs of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly organizations. Re-prioritizing these audit activities will allow providers, CMS and organizations to focus on patient care.
In July 2020, CMS updated their COVID-19 Provider Burden Relief Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) related to claim audit waivers for multiple services. On March 30, 2020, CMS suspended most Medicare Fee-For-Service (FFS) medical reviews because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This included pre-payment medical reviews conducted by Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs) under the Targeted Probe and Educate program and post-payment reviews conducted by the MACs, Supplemental Medical Review Contractors (SMRC) reviews and Recovery Audit Contractors (RAC). CMS authorized MACs to resume these audit activities beginning on August 3, 2020, regardless of the status of the public health emergency. All reviews will be conducted in accordance with statutory and regulatory provisions, as well as related billing and coding requirements. Available waivers and flexibilities for the claims selected for review will also be applied.
Under the Emergency Waivers, CMS is also allowing skilled nursing facilities to provide a skill-in-place program for Medicare beneficiaries who are residents of the skilled nursing facilities that meet the skill-in-place criteria, foregoing the usual three-day qualifying hospital stay. As patients qualify for skill-in-place for Medicare Part A stays, we could see a decrease in long-term care Medicare Part B programs. This waiver remains valid for the duration of the COVID-19 public health emergency.
On August 24, 2020, CMS released a Medicaid Informational Bulletin providing guidance to states on flexibilities that are available to increase reimbursement for nursing facilities implementing specific infection control practices.
Resuming visitation and resident rights - CMS has issued guidance to facilities throughout the public health emergency regarding patients’ rights to visitors. In March 2020, CMS issued guidance directing that facilities restrict visitation to only compassionate care situations. Then, in May 2020, CMS issued further guidance for facilities to follow based upon local phases of reopening. In June 2020, CMS expanded on alternative modes of visitation including outdoor visits, compassionate care situations, and communal activities. In September 2020, CMS issued additional guidance on reasonable ways in which nursing facilities can safely facilitate in-person visitation to address the psychosocial needs of residents. CMS has since indicated that a facility’s failure to facilitate visitation, without adequate reason related to clinical necessity or resident safety, could result in citations for violating resident rights.
Testing requirements - Beginning in April 2020, authorities in several states in which we operate began to mandate widespread COVID-19 testing at all nursing home and long-term care facilities. This came after the CDC stated that older adults are at a higher risk for serious illness from the coronavirus and issued updated testing guidelines for nursing homes. On July 22, 2020, CMS announced that nursing homes in states with a 5% or greater positivity rate for COVID-19 will be required to test all nursing home staff each week. On August 26, 2020, CMS issued new parameters for testing, requiring routine monthly testing of all facility staff if the facility’s county positivity rate is less than 5%; weekly testing if the county positivity rate is between 5% and 10%; and twice weekly testing if the county positivity rate exceeds 10%. These testing requirements are in addition to obligations to screen staff each shift, residents daily, and all persons entering the facility for signs and symptoms of COVID-19. Facilities must test any staff or resident who has signs or symptoms of COVID-19. In the event of a COVID-19 outbreak in the facility, all staff and residents must be tested at regular intervals until repeat testing identifies no new cases of COVID-19 infection among staff or residents for a 14-day period. In addition to CMS's testing mandates, some states have imposed their own testing requirements for residents and staff. Non-compliance with state or federal mandates may result in imposition of fines or other administrative action.
Reporting requirements - Effective May 8, 2020, CMS published an interim final rule requiring skilled nursing facilities to report information related to COVID-19 cases among facility residents and staff directly to the CDC National Health Safety Network no less than weekly. In addition, skilled nursing facilities are required to inform residents, their families and representatives of confirmed or suspected COVID-19 cases in their facilities. This resident/family/representative notification is required to take place by 5:00 p.m. (local time) the next calendar day following the occurrence of: (1) a single confirmed infection of COVID-19, or (2) three or more residents or staff with new-onset of respiratory symptoms that occur within 72 hours of one another. The data collected as a result of the CDC National Health Safety Network reporting is publicly available on a dedicated website. CMS may initiate enforcement activities and/or assess civil monetary penalties for not meeting these reporting requirements. We do not believe these reporting requirements will have a material impact on our Consolidated Financial Statements.
Survey Activity and Enforcement - On March 20, 2020, CMS announced the initiation of focused infection control surveys intended to assess long-term care facility compliance with infection control requirements in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic. CMS prioritized infection control surveys over annual recertification and complaint surveys at the non-immediate jeopardy level, confirming its commitment to infection prevention and control in the skilled nursing industry. Effective August 17, 2020, CMS provided guidance authorizing resumption of traditional survey activity.
On June 1, 2020, CMS introduced an enhanced enforcement program with respect to infection control deficiencies. The program contemplates more significant remedies against facilities with a prior history of infection control deficiencies, and imposes more stringent penalties with deficiencies identified at a higher scope and severity. The spectrum of remedies available to CMS for imposition on skilled nursing facilities in connection with this enhancement includes increased monetary fines, shortened time periods to return to compliance, and other administrative penalties.
In addition, on January 4, 2021, CMS issued revisions to the previous Guidance of June 1, 2020, modifying the criteria requiring states to conduct focused infection control surveys due to the increased availability of resources for the testing of residents and staff, and factors related to the quality of care. In addition, CMS provided Frequently Asked Questions related to health, emergency preparedness and life-safety code surveys.
Independent Commission on Safety and Quality in Nursing Homes - On April 30, 2020, CMS announced that it would be convening an independent commission to conduct comprehensive assessments of nursing home responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. This Commission on Safety and Quality in Nursing Homes (Commission) was intended to identify opportunities for improvement to initiate immediate and future actions. On September 16, 2020, the Commission issued its final report and recommendations to CMS. Based upon these recommendations, CMS may implement additional measures to combat COVID-19 in nursing facilities.
Federal COVID-19 Vaccination Program - On December 11, 2020, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued the first emergency use authorization (EUA) for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for the prevention of COVID-19, followed by the second EUA for the use of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine on December 28, 2020. Vaccine distribution to all 50 states began Monday, December 14, 2020. The CDC recommended that the initial phase of the COVID-19 vaccination program prioritize administration to healthcare personnel and residents of long-term care facilities, with states having the ultimate authority to decide who will receive the vaccine. As the vaccines became available, including through the Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Program, our residents and staff were able to begin receiving vaccinations, and we anticipate continued participation in COVID-19 vaccination programs.
Medicare presently accounts for approximately 31.8% of our transitional and skilled nursing services year-to-date revenue, being our second-largest payor. The Medicare program and its reimbursement rates and rules are subject to frequent change. These include statutory and regulatory changes, rate adjustments (including retroactive adjustments), administrative or executive orders and government funding restrictions, all of which may materially adversely affect the rates at which Medicare reimburses us for our services. Budget pressures often lead the federal government to reduce or place limits on reimbursement rates under Medicare. Implementation of these and other types of measures has in the past, and could in the future, result in substantial reductions in our revenue and operating margins.
Patient-Driven Payment Model (PDPM)
The Skilled Nursing Facility Prospective Payment System (SNF PPS) Rule became effective October 1, 2019. The SNF PPS Rule includes a new case-mix model that focuses on the patient’s condition (clinically relevant factors) and resulting care needs, rather than on the volume of care provided, to determine Medicare reimbursement. The case mix-model is called the Patient-Driven Payment Model (PDPM), which utilizes clinically relevant factors for determining Medicare payment by using ICD-10 diagnosis codes and other patient characteristics as the basis for patient classification. PDPM utilizes five case-mix adjusted payment components: physician therapy, occupational therapy, speech language pathology, nursing and social services and non-therapy ancillary services. It also uses a sixth non-case mix component to cover utilization of skilled nursing facilities resources that do not vary depending on resident characteristics.
PDPM replaces the existing case-mix classification methodology, Resource Utilization Groups, Version IV. The structure of PDPM moves Medicare towards a more value-based, unified post-acute care payment system. For example, PDPM adjusts Medicare payments based on each aspect of a resident’s care, thereby more accurately addressing costs associated with medically complex patients. PDPM also removes therapy minutes as the basis for therapy payment. Finally, PDPM adjusts the skilled nursing facilities per diem payments to reflect varying costs throughout the stay, through the physician therapy, occupational therapy and non-therapy ancillary services components.
In addition, PDPM is intended to reduce paperwork requirements for performing patient assessments. Under the new SNF PPS PDPM system, the payment to skilled nursing facilities and nursing homes is based heavily on the patient’s condition rather than the specific services provided by each skilled nursing facility.
Skilled Nursing Facility - Quality Reporting Program (SNF QRP)
The Improving Medicare Post-Acute Care Transformation Act of 2014 (IMPACT Act) imposed new data reporting requirements for certain Post-Acute-Care (PAC) providers. The IMPACT Act requires that each skilled nursing facility submit their quality measures data. Beginning with fiscal year 2018, and each subsequent year, if a skilled nursing facility does not submit required quality data, their payment rates are reduced by 2.0% for each such fiscal year. Application of the 2.0% reduction may result in payment rates for a fiscal year being less than the preceding fiscal year. In addition, reporting-based reductions to the market basket increase factor will not be cumulative; they will only apply for the fiscal year involved. A skilled nursing facility will receive a notification letter from its Medicare administrator contractor if it was non-compliant with the Quality Reporting Program reporting requirements and is subject to the payment reduction.
Updated performance measures mandated for the SNF QRP for fiscal year 2020 were established in the final SNF PPS rule adopted on August 8, 2019 (FY 2020 SNF PPS Rule). The final rule continues implementation of the SNF QRP measures to improve program interoperability, operational quality and safety. Specifically, the rule adopts a number of standardized patient assessment data elements. The SNF QRP applies to freestanding skilled nursing facilities, skilled nursing facilities affiliated with acute care facilities, and all non-critical access hospital swing-bed rural hospitals. Under the SNF QRP, a skilled nursing facility’s annual market basket percentage is reduced by 2.0% if the skilled nursing facility does not submit quality measure data in accordance with thresholds set by the IMPACT Act. Skilled nursing facilities that do not meet the SNF QRP requirements for a program year will receive a notice of non-compliance.
Beginning in March 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, CMS issued a temporary suspension of SNF QRP reporting requirements effective until June 30, 2020. This effectively gave skilled nursing facilities discretion as to whether to report data from the fourth quarter (October 1, 2019 – December 31, 2019), and removed reporting requirements entirely for the first and second quarters of 2020 (January 1, 2020 – June 30, 2020). Skilled nursing facilities were required to resume timely quality data collection and submission of measure and patient assessment data effective June 30, 2020.
Medicare Annual Market Basket
CMS is required to calculate an annual Medicare market-basket update to the payment rates. On July 31, 2020, CMS issued a final rule for fiscal year 2021 that updates the Medicare payment rates and the quality programs for skilled nursing facilities. Under the final rule, effective October 1, 2020, the aggregate payments to skilled nursing facilities increased by 2.2% for fiscal year 2021, compared to fiscal year 2020. This estimated increase is attributable to a 2.2% market basket increase factor.
Sequestration of Medicare Rates
The Budget Control Act of 2011 requires a mandatory, across the board reduction in federal spending, called a sequestration. Medicare Fee-For-Service (FFS) claims with dates of service or dates of discharge on or after April 1, 2013 incur a 2.0% reduction in Medicare payments. All Medicare rate payments and settlements have incurred this mandatory reduction and it will continue to be in place through at least 2023, unless Congress takes further action. In response to COVID-19, the CARES Act temporarily suspended the automatic 2.0% reduction of Medicare claim reimbursements for the period of May 1, 2020 through December 31, 2020. On December 27, 2020, the Consolidated Appropriations Act further suspended the 2.0% payment adjustment through March 31, 2021.
Skilled Nursing Facility Value-Based Purchasing (SNF-VBP) Program
The SNF-VBP Program rewards skilled nursing facilities with incentive payments based on the quality of care they provide to Medicare beneficiaries, as measured by a hospital readmissions measure. CMS annually adjusts its payment rules for skilled nursing facilities using the SNF-VBP Program. Effective October 1, 2018, CMS began withholding 2.0% to fund the SNF-VBP incentive payment pool and will redistribute 60% of the withheld payments back to skilled nursing facilities through the program. The FY 2020 SNF PPS Rules estimate an economic impact of the SNF-VBP Program to be a reduction of $213.6 million in aggregate payments to skilled nursing facilities during fiscal year 2020. The Rule also introduced two new quality measures to assess how health information is shared and adopted a number of standardized patient assessment data elements that assess factors such as cognitive function and mental status, special services, and social determinants of health.
Part B Rehabilitation Requirements
Some of our revenue is paid by the Medicare Part B program under a fee schedule. Part B services are limited with a payment cap by combined speech-language pathology services (SLP) and physical therapy (PT) services and a separate annual cap for occupational therapy (OT) services. These caps were implemented under the authority of the Balanced Budget Amendments of 1997. These amounts were previously associated with the financial limitation amounts. The Bipartisan Budget Act (BBA) of 2018 repealed those caps while retaining and adding additional limitations to ensure appropriate therapy services. This policy does not limit the amount of medically necessary Medicare Part B therapy services a beneficiary may receive. The BBA establishes coding modifier requirements to obtain payments beyond the updated KX modifier thresholds, discussed below, and reaffirms the specific $3,000 claim audit threshold requirements for the Medicare Administrative Contractors. For PT and SLP combined the threshold for coding modifier requirements is $2,080 for 2020 compared to $2,040 in 2019. The threshold is the same for OT services.
During the fourth quarter of 2020, CMS published the annual update to the per-beneficiary incurred expenses amounts, now called the KX modifier thresholds, and related policy for fiscal year 2021. For fiscal year 2021, the KX modifier threshold amounts are $2,110 for PT and SLP services combined, and $2,110 for OT services.
Consistent with CMS’ “Patients over Paperwork” initiative, the agency has also been moving toward eliminating burdensome claims-based functional reporting requirements for Part B therapy services. For example, beginning in January 2019, skilled nursing facilities are no longer required to append selected G-codes or the severity modifiers on outpatient therapy claims. This reduces the reporting burden on therapists providing outpatient services and increases the amount of time that therapists can spend with their patients. Effective January 1, 2021, CMS rescinded 21 problematic National Correct Coding Initiative edits impacting outpatient therapy services, including services furnished under Medicare Part B primarily related to PT and OT services. These code edits were previously implemented on October 1, 2020 and required additional documentation
and claim modifier coding burden when procedure codes representing many PT or OT evaluation codes or treatment codes performed under a PT, OT, or SLP plan of care was billed on the same date. This additional burden is no longer required.
On November 1, 2019, CMS issued the calendar year 2020 Physician Fee Schedule (PFS) Final Rule establishing that therapy assistant claim modifiers will be required starting in calendar year 2020. This rule is consistent with the requirement of the Balanced Budget Act (BBA) of 2018, which requires a 15% payment reduction when a physical therapist assistant (PTA) or occupational therapy assistant (OTA) provides services “in whole or in part” on a given day. While the modifiers are required to be applied to the claims beginning in calendar year 2020, the 15% therapist assistant payment reduction will not be applied until calendar year 2022. The final rule clarified that “in whole or in part” means when 10% or more of the services are provided by a PTA or OTA.
On December 1, 2020, CMS issued the calendar year 2021 PFS Final Rule, which reduced the conversion factor (i.e. the number by which CMS determine all current procedural terminology code payments) by 10.2%. These changes will effectively lower the reimbursement rate for therapy Medicare Part B specialty providers, specific to our industry by 9% for PT and OT and by 6% for SLP Codes.
The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 (CAA, also referred to as The Omnibus Appropriations Law) was signed into law on December 27, 2020. The CAA includes three components relevant to the Medicare Part B PFS. First, the CAA incorporates a rate relief of approximately 3.75% for fiscal year 2021. Additionally, the CAA incorporates a freeze to the payment for the physician add-on code for three years which would effectively create relief on the initial cuts through 2023. Finally, the relief calls for the 2% sequester to not be applied to the Medicare Part B program for the first quarter of 2021 (January-March 2021). CMS incorporated the first and second components of the CAA relief into the fiscal year 2021 PFS files which were published on January 5, 2021. While the 2021 PFS Final Rule reduced the fiscal year 2021 factor to $32.4085, subsequently, the CAA restored part of the reductions resulting in the final FY 2021 conversion factor of $34.8931. These rates do not include the 2% sequester which will also qualify as temporary relief for the first quarter of 2021.
The Multiple Procedure Payment Reduction (MPPR) continues at a 50% reduction, which is applied to therapy procedures by reducing payments for practice expense of the second and subsequent procedures when services provided beyond one unit of one procedure are provided on the same day. The implementation of MPPR includes (1) facilities that provide Medicare Part B speech-language pathology, occupational therapy, and physical therapy services and bill under the same provider number; and (2) providers in private practice, including speech-language pathologists, who perform and bill for multiple services in a single day.
On May 27, 2020, pursuant to its authority under the Emergency Waivers, CMS added physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech-language pathology to list of approved telehealth Providers for the Medicare Part B programs provided by a skilled nursing facility. This waiver allows the reimbursement of certain HCPCS codes delivered by PT, OT, SLP through telehealth through the end of the public health emergency. Subsequently, the calendar year 2021 PFS Final Rule added certain of these PT and OT services to the list of Medicare telehealth services on a temporary basis through the end of the calendar year in which the COVID-19 public health emergency ends. The PFS Final Rule also increased the frequency limitation on nursing facility telehealth visits from once every 30 days to once every fourteen days. These services have been used to provide some services to community based outpatients from our skilled nursing facilities that are eligible through local rules to provide community-based outpatient services.
Pursuant to the Emergency Waivers, CMS is allowing for the facility to bill an originating site fee to CMS for telehealth services provided to Medicare Part B beneficiary residents of the facility when the services are provided by a physician from an alternate location, effective March 6, 2020 through the end of the public health emergency, which is currently in effect through April 21, 2021. Our facilities are utilizing this waiver as physicians elect to provide telehealth visits to Medicare Part B beneficiaries residing in the skilled nursing facility.
On December 31, 2020, CMS announced the annual update to the list of codes that describe Medicare Part B outpatient therapy services, effective January 1, 2021. Several existing and new codes introduced during the COVID-19 public health emergency impacting skilled nursing facilities providers for use under physical therapy, occupational therapy, or speech-language pathology plans of care were recently made permanent including several telehealth codes. CMS designated all these new HCPCS/CPT codes as “sometimes therapy,” to permit physicians and certain non-physician practitioners, including nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and clinical nurse specialists, to render these services outside a therapy plan of care when appropriate. “Sometimes Therapy” codes will not have the MPPR applied.
Programs of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly
CMS issued a final rule on June 3, 2019, which updates the requirements for the Programs of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) under the Medicare and Medicaid programs. The regulation is intended to provide greater operational flexibility, remove redundancies and outdated information and codify existing programs. Such flexibility includes, (i) more lenient standards applicable to the current requirement that the PACE organization be monitored for compliance with the PACE program requirements during and after a 3-year trial period and (ii) relieving certain restrictions placed upon the interdisciplinary team that comprehensively assesses and provides for the individual needs of each PACE participant by allowing one person to fill two roles and permitting secondary participation in the PACE program. Further, non-physician primary care providers can provide certain services in place of primary care physicians.
Preadmission Screening and Resident Review
On February 20, 2020, CMS published a proposed rule which would modernize requirements for the Preadmission Screening and Resident Review process. This process assesses the needs of individuals with mental illness or intellectual disability that are applying to or residing in Medicaid-certified nursing facilities. The proposed rule, if enacted as currently drafted, would impose additional resident review requirements that are not reflected in current regulations, authorize the use of telehealth, and simplify the list of information that must be collected during evaluations.
Decisions Regarding Skilled Nursing Facility Payment
Medicare reimbursement rates and rules are subject to frequent change. Historically, adjustments to reimbursement under Medicare have had a significant effect on our revenue. The federal government and state governments continue to focus on efforts to curb spending on healthcare programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. We are not able to predict the outcome of the legislative process. We also cannot predict the extent to which proposals will be adopted or, if adopted and implemented, what effect, if any, such proposals and existing new legislation will have on us. Efforts to impose reduced allowances, greater discounts and more stringent cost controls by government and other payors are expected to continue and could adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
These include statutory and regulatory changes, rate adjustments (including retroactive adjustments), administrative or executive orders and government funding restrictions, all of which may materially adversely affect the rates at which Medicare reimburses us for our services. Budget pressures often lead the federal government to reduce or place limits on reimbursement rates under Medicare. Implementation of these and other types of measures has in the past, and could in the future, result in substantial reductions in our revenue and operating margins. For a discussion of historic adjustments and recent changes to the Medicare program and related reimbursement rates, see Part I, Item 1A Risk Factors under the headings Risks Related to Our Business and Industry - “Our revenue could be impacted by federal and state changes to reimbursement and other aspects of Medicaid and Medicare,” “Our future revenue, financial condition and results of operations could be impacted by continued cost containment pressures on Medicaid spending,” “We may not be fully reimbursed for all services for which each facility bills through consolidated billing, which could adversely affect our revenue, financial condition and results of operations” and “Reforms to the U.S. healthcare system will impose new requirements upon us and may lower our reimbursements.”
Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act
Various healthcare reform provisions became law upon enactment of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the Healthcare Education and Reconciliation Act (collectively, the ACA). The reforms contained in the ACA have affected our operating subsidiaries in some manner and are directed in large part at increased quality and cost reductions. Several of the reforms are very significant and could ultimately change the nature of our services, the methods of payment for our services and the underlying regulatory environment. These reforms include modifications to the conditions of qualification for payment, bundling of payments to cover both acute and post-acute care and the imposition of enrollment limitations on new providers. The recent Congressional elections in the United States and policies implemented by the former Presidential administration have resulted in significant changes in legislation, regulation, implementation of Medicare, Medicaid, and government policy. The recent 2020 Presidential and Congressional elections may significantly alter the current regulatory framework and impact our business and the health care industry. We continually monitor these developments so we can respond to the changing regulatory environment impacting our business.
Requirements of Participation
CMS has requirements that providers, including skilled nursing facilities and other long-term care (LTC) facilities must meet in order to participate in the Medicare and Medicaid Programs. Some requirements can be burdensome and costly, and in recent years, CMS has modified these requirements. For example, beginning in 2016, skilled nursing facilities were required to comply with emergency preparedness requirements, which requirements have since been strengthened via promulgation of additional rules.
Another relevant change is a 2019 final rule that removed the prohibition on the use of pre-dispute, binding arbitration agreements by LTC facilities. The rule imposed specific requirements on the use of these agreements, including requiring the use of plain language in drafting; that facilities post a notice in plain language that describes the policy on the use of agreements for binding arbitration in an area that is visible to residents and visitors; that admission to the facility not be conditioned on the signing of an arbitration agreement; and that the facility expressly inform the resident or his/her representative of the right not to sign the agreement as a condition of admission.
Civil and Criminal Fraud and Abuse Laws and Enforcement
Various complex federal and state laws exist which govern a wide array of referrals, relationships and arrangements, and prohibit fraud by healthcare providers. Governmental agencies are devoting increasing attention and resources to such anti-fraud efforts. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), and the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 (BBA) expanded the penalties for healthcare fraud. Additionally, in connection with our involvement with federal healthcare reimbursement programs, the government or those acting on its behalf may bring an action under the FCA, alleging that a healthcare provider has defrauded the government by submitting a claim for items or services not rendered as claimed, which may include coding errors, billing for services not provided, and submitting false or erroneous cost reports. The Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act of 2009 (FERA) expanded the scope of the FCA by, among other things, creating liability for knowingly and improperly avoiding repayment of an overpayment received from the government and broadening protections for whistleblowers. The FCA clarifies that if an item or service is provided in violation of the Anti-Kickback Statute, the claim submitted for those items or services is a false claim that may be prosecuted under the FCA as a false claim. Civil monetary penalties under the FCA range from approximately $11,665 to $23,331 and are adjusted each January for inflation. Under the qui tam or “whistleblower” provisions of the FCA, a private individual with knowledge of fraud may bring a claim on behalf of the federal government and receive a percentage of the federal government’s recovery. Due to these whistleblower incentives, lawsuits have become more frequent. Many states also have a false claim prohibition that mirrors or tracks the federal FCA. Federal law also provides that OIG has the authority to exclude individuals and entities from federally funded health care programs on a number of grounds, including, but not limited to, certain types of criminal offenses, licensure revocations or suspensions, and exclusion from state or other federal healthcare programs. And, CMS can recover overpayments from health care providers up to five years following the year in which payment was made.
In November 2019, the OIG released a report of its investigation into overpayments to hospitals that did not comply with Medicare’s post-acute-care transfer policy. Hospitals violating this policy transferred patients to certain post-acute-care settings, such as skilled nursing facilities, but claimed the higher reimbursements associated with discharges to homes. A similar OIG audit report, released in February 2019, focused on improper payments for skilled nursing facility services when the Medicare three-day inpatient hospital stay requirement was not met. These investigatory actions by OIG demonstrate their increased scrutiny into post-hospital skilled nursing facility care provided to beneficiaries and may encourage additional oversight or stricter compliance standards.
On numerous occasions, CMS has indicated its intent to vigilantly monitor overall payments to skilled nursing facilities, paying particular attention to facilities that have high reimbursements for ultra-high therapy, therapy resource utilization groups with higher activities of daily living scores, and long average lengths of stay. The OIG recognizes that there is a strong financial incentive for facilities to bill for higher levels of therapies, even when not needed by patients. We cannot predict the extent to which the OIG's recommendations to CMS will be implemented and, what effect, if any, such proposals would have on us. Our business model, like those of some other for-profit operators, is based in part on seeking out higher-acuity patients whom we believe are generally more profitable, and over time our overall patient mix has consistently shifted to higher-acuity in most facilities we operate. We also use specialized care-delivery software that assists our caregivers in more accurately capturing and recording services in order to, among other things, increase reimbursement to levels appropriate for the care actually delivered. These efforts may place us under greater scrutiny with the OIG, CMS, our fiscal intermediaries, recovery audit contractors and others.
Federal Healthcare Reform
In 2015, CMS released a final rule addressing, among other things, implementation of certain provisions of Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015, which changes the way physicians are paid who participate in Medicare through implementation of the Quality Payment Program. Quality Payment Program creates two tracks for physician payment: (1) the Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) that streamlines multiple quality programs; and (2) Alternative Payment Models that give bonus payments for participation in eligible Alternative Payment Models. The final rule also excluded services furnished in skilled nursing facilities from the definition of primary care services for purposes of the Shared Savings Program.
The Five-Star Quality Rating system includes a rating of one to five in various categories including the use of antipsychotics in calculating the star ratings, modified calculations for staffing levels, reflect higher standards for nursing homes to achieve a high rating on the quality measure dimension, the rate of hospitalization, emergency room use, community discharge, improvements in function, independently worsened and anxiety or hypnotic medication among nursing home residents. In 2018, (i) a freeze of the Health Inspection Five Star Ratings; (ii) the addition of Payroll Based Journals (PBJ) data to calculate the staffing ratings in the Nursing Home Five Star Quality Rating System; and (iii) the addition of two claims data measures: Medicare spending per beneficiary and rate of successful return to home or community from a skilled nursing facility for quality measures. In 2019, (i) the addition of separate ratings for short stay and long stay care; (ii) changes in staffing thresholds; and (iii) modifications to put more emphasis on registered nurse (RN) staffing, including a set rating for nursing homes that report four or more days in the quarter with no RN on site.
In 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, a temporary freeze of Skilled Nursing Facilities Quality Reporting Program data, Staffing Data, and Health Inspection data on the Nursing Home Compare website to account for the suspended reporting and inspection obligations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
CMS predicted that the 2019 changes would result in 47% of all nursing centers to lose stars in their "Quality" ratings, 33% to lose stars in their "Staffing" ratings and some 36% to lose stars in their "Overall" ratings. Unsurprisingly, these changes resulted in a reduction in Ensign’s number of facilities with four or five Star ratings in 2019. In April 2020, CMS began increasing quality measure thresholds by 50% of the average rate of improvement of QM scores every six months. This means if there is an average rate of improvement of 2%, the quality measure threshold will be raised 1%. This frequent adjustment is intended to avoid larger adjustments to thresholds in the future. However, CMS acknowledges that some facilities may see a decline in their overall five Star rating absent any new inspection information. This change could further affect star ratings across the industry.
On April 27, 2016, CMS added six new quality measures to its consumer-based Nursing Home Compare website. These quality measures include the rate of rehospitalization, emergency room use, community discharge, improvements in function, independent worsening of ability to move, and use antianxiety or hypnotic medication among nursing home residents. Beginning in July 2016, CMS incorporated all these measures, except for the antianxiety/hypnotic medication measure, into the calculation of the Nursing Home Five-Star Quality Ratings. In 2018, CMS added PBJ data to be used to calculate the staffing ratings in the Nursing Home Five Star Quality Rating System. In 2019, CMS updated thresholds for assigning stars for both the staffing and quality components of the system and added measures of long-stay hospitalizations and long-stay ED visits were added to the quality measure rating. Since the standards for performance are more difficult to achieve, the number of our 4 and 5 Star facilities could be reduced.
Additionally, in April of 2019, CMS announced a new framework for informing CMS’s work related to the safety and quality in America’s nursing homes. The approach includes the following pillars: Strengthening Oversight, Enhancing Enforcement, Increasing Transparency, Improving Quality, and Putting Patients over Paperwork. As part of the Transparency Pillar, beginning on October 23, 2019 on the Nursing Home Compare website, CMS began displaying a consumer alert icon next to nursing homes that have been cited for incidents of abuse, neglect, or exploitation. The icon will be updated monthly, at the same time CMS inspection results are updated. In February 2020, CMS announced that part of its Enhancing Enforcement efforts would include improved oversight of state survey agencies (SSA) and revisions to the State Performance Standards System, which is the program used to access SSA performance.
In responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, CMS announced a new, targeted inspection plan to focus on urgent patient safety threats and infection control, therefore causing a shift in the number of nursing homes inspected and how the inspections are conducted. As this change would disrupt the inspections conducted as part of the Nursing Home Five Star Quality Rating System, results of inspections conducted on or after March 4, 2020 were not used to calculate a nursing home’s health inspection star ratings. CMS will resume calculating nursing homes' health inspection ratings on January 27, 2021. In addition, beginning on July 29, 2020, data used to calculate staffing measures in the Five Star Quality ratings system for the first and second quarters of 2020 was frozen based upon the waiver of the requirement for facilities to submit staffing data through the PBJ system. This waiver ended in June 2020 for the third and fourth quarters of 2020, and staffing data is expected to be reflected in the Five Star ratings started in January 2021.
Another impact of the COVID-19 pandemic to the Nursing Home Five-Star Quality Rating System is CMS’s decision to make submission of the minimum data set assessment data optional for the fourth quarter of 2019 and excepted for the first and second quarters of 2020. Due to the gap in reported data, CMS is not including the two quality measures that are based on the minimum data set assessment-based data in its quality measure ratings in January 2021.
Monitoring Compliance in Our Facilities
Governmental agencies and other authorities periodically inspect our facilities to assess our compliance with various standards, rules and regulations. The robust regulatory and enforcement environment continues to impact healthcare providers, especially in connection with responses to any alleged noncompliance identified in periodic surveys and other inspections by governmental authorities. Unannounced surveys or inspections generally occur at least annually and may also follow a government agency's receipt of a complaint about a facility. We must pass these inspections to maintain our licensure under state law, to obtain or maintain certification under the Medicare and Medicaid programs, to continue participation in the Veterans Administration program at some facilities, and to comply with our provider contracts with managed care clients at many facilities. From time to time, we, like others in the healthcare industry, may receive notices from federal and state regulatory agencies alleging that we failed to substantially comply with applicable standards, rules or regulations. These notices may require us to take corrective action, may impose civil monetary penalties for noncompliance, and may threaten or impose other operating restrictions on skilled nursing facilities such as admission holds, provisional skilled nursing license or increased staffing requirements. If our facilities fail to comply with these directives or otherwise fail to comply substantially with licensure and certification laws, rules and regulations, we could lose our certification as a Medicare or Medicaid provider, or lose our state licenses to operate the facilities.
Facilities with otherwise acceptable regulatory histories generally are normally given an opportunity to correct deficiencies and continue their participation in the Medicare and Medicaid programs by a certain date, usually within nine months, although where denial of payment remedies are asserted, such interim remedies go into effect much sooner. Facilities with deficiencies that immediately jeopardize patient health and safety and those that are classified as poor performing facilities, however, are not generally given an opportunity to correct their deficiencies prior to the imposition of remedies and other enforcement actions. Moreover, facilities with poor regulatory histories continue to be classified by CMS as poor performing facilities notwithstanding any intervening change in ownership, unless the new owner obtains a new Medicare provider agreement instead of assuming the facility's existing agreement. However, new owners (including us, historically) nearly always assume the existing Medicare provider agreement due to the difficulty and time delays generally associated with obtaining new Medicare certifications, especially in previously certified locations with sub-par operating histories. Accordingly, facilities that have poor regulatory histories before we acquire them and that develop new deficiencies after we acquire them are more likely to have sanctions imposed upon them by CMS or state regulators.
In addition, CMS has increased its focus on facilities with a history of serious quality of care problems through the special focus facility (SFF) initiative. A facility's administrators and owners are notified when it is identified as a special focus facility. This information is also provided to the general public. The SFF designation is based in part on the facility's compliance history typically dating before our acquisition of the facility. Local state survey agencies recommend to CMS that facilities be placed on special focus status. SFFs receive heightened scrutiny and more frequent regulatory surveys. Failure to improve the quality of care can result in fines and termination from participation in Medicare and Medicaid. A facility “graduates” from the program once it demonstrates significant improvements in quality of care that are continued over time. Furthermore, in November 2020, The Nursing Home Reform Modernization Act of 2020 (Modernization Act) was proposed. If approved, the Modernization Act would expand oversight to SFF that currently do not receive it, increase educational resources for underperforming facilities, develop rankings for nursing homes from low to high and establish an independent Advisory Council to inform the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services how best to foster quality improvements.
Moreover, sanctions such as denial of payment for new admissions often are scheduled to go into effect before surveyors return to verify compliance. Generally, if the surveyors confirm that the facility is in compliance upon their return, the sanctions never take effect. However, if they determine that the facility is not in compliance, the denial of payment goes into effect retroactive to the date given in the original notice. This possibility sometimes leaves affected operators, including us, with the difficult task of deciding whether to continue accepting patients after the potential denial of payment date, thus risking the retroactive denial of revenue associated with those patients' care if the operators are later found to be out of compliance, or simply refusing admissions from the potential denial of payment date until the facility is actually found to be in compliance. In the past and from time to time, some of our affiliated facilities have been or will be in denial of payment status due to findings of continued regulatory deficiencies, resulting in an actual loss of the revenue associated with the Medicare and Medicaid patients admitted after the denial of payment date. Additional sanctions could ensue and, if imposed, these sanctions, entailing various remedies up to and including decertification.
CMS has undertaken several initiatives to increase or intensify Medicaid and Medicare survey and enforcement activities, including federal oversight of state actions. CMS is taking steps to focus more survey and enforcement efforts on facilities with findings of substandard care or repeat violations of Medicaid and Medicare standards, and to identify multi-facility providers with patterns of noncompliance. In addition, HHS has adopted a rule that requires CMS to charge user fees to healthcare facilities cited during regular certification, recertification or substantiated complaint surveys for deficiencies, which require a revisit to assure that corrections have been made. CMS is also increasing its oversight of state survey agencies and requiring state agencies to use enforcement sanctions and remedies more promptly when substandard care or repeat violations are identified, to investigate complaints more promptly, and to survey facilities more consistently.
Regulations Regarding Financial Arrangements
We are also subject to federal and state laws that regulate financial arrangement by healthcare providers, such as the federal and state anti-kickback laws, the Stark laws, and various state anti-referral laws.
The Anti-Kickback Statute, Section 1128B of the Social Security Act (Anti-Kickback Statute) prohibits the knowing and willful offer, payment, solicitation, or receipt of any remuneration, directly or indirectly, overtly or covertly, in cash or in kind, to induce the referral of an individual, in return for recommending, or to arrange for, the referral of an individual for any item or service payable under any federal healthcare program, including Medicare or Medicaid. The OIG has issued regulations that create “safe harbors” for certain conduct and business relationships that are deemed protected under the Anti-Kickback Statute. In order to receive safe harbor protection, all of the requirements of a safe harbor must be met. The fact that a given business arrangement does not fall within one of these safe harbors, however, does not render the arrangement per se illegal. Business arrangements of healthcare service providers that fail to satisfy the applicable safe harbor criteria, if investigated, will be evaluated based upon all facts and circumstances and risk increased scrutiny and possible sanctions by enforcement authorities.
Violations of the Anti-Kickback Statute can result in criminal penalties of up to $100,000 and ten years imprisonment. Violations of the Anti-Kickback Statute can also result in civil monetary penalties of up to $100,000 per violation and an assessment of up to three times the total amount of remuneration offered, paid, solicited, or received. Violation of the Anti-Kickback Statute may also result in an individual's or organization's exclusion from future participation in federal healthcare programs. State Medicaid programs are required to enact an anti-kickback statute. Many states in which we operate have adopted or are considering similar legislative proposals, some of which extend beyond the Medicaid program, to prohibit the payment or receipt of remuneration for the referral of patients regardless of the source of payment for the care. We believe that business practices of providers and financial relationships between providers have become subject to increased scrutiny as healthcare reform efforts continue on the federal and state levels.
Additionally, Section 1877 of the Social Security Act, commonly known as the “Stark Law,” provides that a physician may not refer a Medicare or Medicaid patient for a “designated health service” to an entity with which the physician or an immediate family member has a financial relationship unless the financial arrangement meets an exception under the Stark Law or its regulations. Designated health services include inpatient and outpatient hospital services, PT, OT, SLP, durable medical equipment, prosthetics, orthotics and supplies, diagnostic imaging, enteral and parenteral feeding and supplies, home health services, and clinical laboratory services. Under the Stark Law, a “financial relationship” is defined as an ownership or investment interest or a compensation arrangement. If such a financial relationship exists and does not meet a Stark Law exception, the entity is prohibited from submitting or claiming payment under the Medicare or Medicaid programs or from collecting from the patient or other payor. Many of the compensation arrangements exceptions permit referrals if, among other things, the arrangement is set forth in a written agreement signed by the parties, the compensation to be paid is set in advance, is consistent with fair market value and is not determined in a manner that takes into account the volume or value of any referrals or other business generated between the parties. Exceptions may have other requirements. Any funds collected for an item or service resulting from a referral that violates the Stark Law are not eligible for payment by federal healthcare programs and
must be repaid to Medicare or Medicaid, any other third-party payor, and the patient. Violations of the Stark Law may result in the imposition of civil monetary penalties, including, treble damages. Individuals and organizations may also be excluded from participation in federal healthcare programs for Stark Law violations. Many states have enacted healthcare provider referral laws that go beyond physician self-referrals or apply to a greater range of services than just the designated health services under the Stark Law.
Regulations Regarding Patient Record Confidentiality
We are also subject to laws and regulations enacted to protect the confidentiality of patient health information. For example, HHS has issued rules pursuant to HIPAA, including the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act which governs our use and disclosure of protected health information of patients. We have established policies and procedures to comply with HIPAA privacy and security requirements at our affiliated facilities and operating subsidiaries. We maintain a company-wide HIPAA compliance plan, which we believe complies with the HIPAA privacy and security regulations. The HIPAA privacy and security regulations have and will continue to impose significant costs on our facilities in order to comply with these standards. There are numerous other laws and legislative and regulatory initiatives at the federal and state levels addressing privacy and security concerns. Our operations are also subject to any federal or state privacy-related laws that are more restrictive than the privacy regulations issued under HIPAA. These laws vary and could impose additional penalties for privacy and security breaches. Healthcare entities are also required to afford patients with certain rights of access to their health information under HIPAA. Recently, the Office of Civil Rights, the agency responsible for HIPAA enforcement, has targeted investigative and enforcement efforts on violations of patients’ rights of access, imposing significant fines for violations largely initiated from patient complaints.
We are also subject to federal and state antitrust laws. Enforcement of the antitrust laws against healthcare providers is common, and antitrust liability may arise in a wide variety of circumstances, including third party contracting, physician relations, joint venture, merger, affiliation and acquisition activities. In some respects, the application of federal and state antitrust laws to healthcare is still evolving, and enforcement activity by federal and state agencies appears to be increasing. At various times, healthcare providers and insurance and managed care organizations may be subject to an investigation by a governmental agency charged with the enforcement of antitrust laws, or may be subject to administrative or judicial action by a federal or state agency or a private party. Violators of the antitrust laws could be subject to criminal and civil enforcement by federal and state agencies, as well as by private litigants.
American with Disabilities Act
Our facilities must also comply with the American with Disabilities Act, or the ADA, and similar state and local laws to the extent that such facilities are "public accommodations" as defined in those laws. The obligation to comply with the ADA and other similar laws is an ongoing obligation, and we continue to assess our facilities and make appropriate modifications.
REGULATIONS SPECIFIC TO SENIOR LIVING COMMUNITIES
As previously mentioned, senior living services revenue is primarily derived from private pay residents, with a small portion of senior living revenue (approximately 0.5% of total revenue) derived from Medicaid funds. Thus, some of the regulations discussed above applicable to Medicaid providers, also apply to senior living. However, the following provides a brief overview of the regulatory framework applicable specifically to senior living.
A majority of states provide, or are approved to provide, Medicaid payments for personal care and medical services to some residents in licensed senior living communities under waivers granted by or under Medicaid state plans approved by CMS. State Medicaid programs control costs for senior living and other home and community-based services by various means such as restrictive financial and functional eligibility standards, enrollment limits and waiting lists. Because rates paid to senior living community operators are generally lower than rates paid to skilled nursing facility operators, some states use Medicaid funding of senior living services as a means of lowering the cost of services for residents who may not need the higher level of health services provided in skilled nursing facilities. States that administer Medicaid programs for services in senior living communities are responsible for monitoring the services at, and physical conditions of, the participating communities. As a result of the growth of senior living in recent years, states have adopted licensing standards applicable to assisted living communities. Most state licensing standards apply to senior living communities regardless of whether they accept Medicaid funding.
Since 2003, CMS has commenced a series of actions to increase its oversight of state quality assurance programs for senior living communities and has provided guidance and technical assistance to states to improve their ability to monitor and improve the quality of services paid for through Medicaid waiver programs. CMS is encouraging state Medicaid programs to expand their use of home and community-based services as alternatives to facility-based services, pursuant to provisions of the ACA, and other authorities, through the use of several programs.
The types of laws and statutes affecting the regulatory landscape of the post-acute industry continue to expand. In addition to this changing regulatory environment, federal, state and local officials are increasingly focusing their efforts on the enforcement of these laws. In order to operate our businesses, we must comply with federal, state and local laws relating to licensure, delivery and adequacy of medical care, distribution of pharmaceuticals, equipment, personnel, operating policies, fire prevention, rate-setting, billing and reimbursement, building codes and environmental protection. Additionally, we must also adhere to anti-kickback statues, physician referral laws, the ADA, and safety and health standards set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Changes in the law or new interpretations of existing laws may have an adverse impact on our methods and costs of doing business.
Our operating subsidiaries are also subject to various regulations and licensing requirements promulgated by state and local health and social service agencies and other regulatory authorities. Requirements vary from state to state and these requirements can affect, among other things, personnel education and training, patient and personnel records, services, staffing levels, monitoring of patient wellness, patient furnishings, housekeeping services, dietary requirements, emergency plans and procedures, certification and licensing of staff prior to beginning employment, and patient rights. These laws and regulations could limit our ability to expand into new markets and to expand our services and facilities in existing markets.
Our business is subject to a variety of federal, state and local environmental laws and regulations. As a healthcare provider, we face regulatory requirements in areas of air and water quality control, medical and low-level radioactive waste management and disposal, asbestos management, response to mold and lead-based paint in our facilities and employee safety.
As an owner or operator of our facilities, we also may be required to investigate and remediate hazardous substances that are located on and/or under the property, including any such substances that may have migrated off, or may have been discharged or transported from the property. Part of our operations involves the handling, use, storage, transportation, disposal and discharge of medical, biological, infectious, toxic, flammable and other hazardous materials, wastes, pollutants or contaminants. In addition, we are sometimes unable to determine with certainty whether prior uses of our facilities and properties or surrounding properties may have produced continuing environmental contamination or noncompliance, particularly where the timing or cost of making such determinations is not deemed cost-effective. These activities, as well as the possible presence of such materials in, on and under our properties, may result in damage to individuals, property or the environment; may interrupt operations or increase costs; may result in legal liability, damages, injunctions or fines; may result in investigations, administrative proceedings, penalties or other governmental agency actions; and may not be covered by insurance.
We believe that we are in material compliance with applicable environmental and occupational health and safety requirements. However, we cannot assure you that we will not encounter liabilities with respect to these regulations in the future, and such liabilities may result in material adverse consequences to our operations or financial condition.
We are subject to the reporting requirements under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended (the Exchange Act). Consequently, we are required to file reports and information with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), including reports on the following forms: annual reports on Form 10-K, quarterly reports on Form 10-Q, current reports on Form 8-K, and amendments to those reports filed or furnished pursuant to Section 13(a) or 15(d) of the Exchange Act. These reports, proxy and information statements and other information concerning our company may be accessed through the SEC's website at http://www.sec.gov.
You may also find on our website at http://www.ensigngroup.net, electronic copies of our annual reports on Form 10-K, quarterly reports on Form 10-Q, current reports on Form 8-K and amendments to those reports filed or furnished pursuant to Section 13(a) or 15(d) of the Exchange Act. Such filings are placed on our website as soon as reasonably possible after they are filed with the SEC. All such filings are available free of charge. Information contained in our website is not deemed to be a part of this Annual Report on Form 10-K.
Item 1A. RISK FACTORS
We are providing the following summary of the risk factors contained in our Form 10-K to enhance the readability and accessibility of our risk factor disclosures. We encourage our stockholders to carefully review the risk factors contained in this Form 10-K in their entirety for additional information regarding the risks and uncertainties that could cause our actual results to vary materially from recent results or from our anticipated future results.
Risks Related to our Business and Industry
•We face numerous risks related to the continued COVID-19 public health emergency, which could individually or in the aggregate have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition, liquidity, results of operations and prospects.
•Changes to reimbursement rates and rules and other aspects of Medicare and Medicaid could have a material, adverse effect on our revenues, financial condition and results of operations.
•Our revenue could be impacted by a shift to value-based reimbursement models, such as PDPM.
•Reforms to the U.S. healthcare system, including the Patient Protection and the ACA, continue to impose new requirements upon us and may lower our reimbursements.
•The results of recent U.S. Presidential and Congressional elections may create significant changes to regulatory framework, enforcements, and reimbursements.
•We are subject to various government reviews, audits and investigations that could adversely affect our business, including an obligation to refund amounts previously paid to us, potential criminal charges, the imposition of fines, and/or the loss of our right to participate in Medicare and Medicaid programs.
•Failure to comply with applicable laws and regulations, or if these laws and regulations change, could cause us to incur significant expenses and/or change our operations in order to bring our facilities and operations into compliance.
•Public and government calls for increased survey and enforcement efforts toward long-term care facilities could result in increased scrutiny by state and federal survey agencies. Potential sanctions and remedies based upon alleged regulatory deficiencies could negatively affect our financial condition and results of operations.
•Future cost containment initiatives undertaken by third-party payors may limit our revenue and profitability.
•Changes in Medicare reimbursements for physician and non-physician services could impact reimbursement for medical professionals, which could have a negative effect on our business, financial condition or results of operations.
•We may be subject to increased investigation and enforcement activities related to HIPAA violations if we fail to adopt and maintain business procedures and systems designed to protect the privacy, security and integrity of patients’ individual health information.
•Security breaches and other cyber-security incidents could violate security laws and subject us to significant liability.
•If we are not fully reimbursed for all services for which each facility bills through consolidated billing, our revenue, financial condition and results of operations could be adversely affected.
•Increased competition for, or a shortage of, nurses and other skilled personnel could increase our staffing and labor costs and subject us to monetary fines resulting from a failure to maintain minimum staffing requirements.
•Annual caps and other cost-reductions for outpatient therapy services may reduce our future revenue and profitability or cause us to incur losses.
•Increased scrutiny of our billing practices by the Office of the Inspector General or other regulatory authorities may result in an increase in regulatory monitoring and oversight, decreased reimbursement rates, or otherwise adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
•State efforts to regulate or deregulate the healthcare services industry or the construction or expansion of healthcare facilities could impair our ability to expand our operations, or could result in increased competition.
•Changes to federal and state employment-related laws and regulations could increase our cost of doing business.
•Required regulatory approvals could delay or prohibit transfers of our healthcare operations, which could result in periods in which we are unable to receive reimbursement for such properties.
•Compliance with federal and state fair housing, fire, safety and other regulations may require us to incur unexpected expenses, which could be costly to us.
•We depend largely upon reimbursement from third-party payors, and our revenue, financial condition and results of operations could be negatively impacted by any changes in the acuity mix of patients in our affiliated facilities as well as payor mix and payment methodologies.
•We are subject to litigation that could result in significant legal costs and large settlement amounts or damage awards.
•If our regular internal investigations into the care delivery, recordkeeping and billing processes of our operating subsidiaries detect instances of noncompliance, efforts to correct such non-compliance could materially decrease our revenue.
•We may be unable to complete future facility or business acquisitions at attractive prices or at all, or may elect to dispose of underperforming or non-strategic operating subsidiaries, either of which could decrease our revenue.
•We may not be able to successfully integrate acquired facilities and businesses into our operations, or we may be exposed to costs, liabilities and regulatory issues that may adversely affect our operations.
•If we do not achieve or maintain competitive quality of care ratings from CMS or private organizations engaged in similar monitoring activities, our business may be negatively affected.
•If we are unable to obtain insurance, or if insurance becomes more costly for us to obtain, our business may be adversely affected, and our self-insurance programs may expose us to significant and unexpected costs and losses.
•The geographic concentration of our affiliated facilities could leave us vulnerable to economic downturn, regulatory changes or acts of nature in those areas.
•The actions of a national labor union that has pursued a negative publicity campaign criticizing our business in the past may adversely affect our revenue and our profitability.
•We lease the majority of our affiliated facilities, and risks associated with leased property, could adversely affect our business, financial position or results of operations.
•Failure to generate sufficient cash flow to cover required payments or meet operating covenants under our long-term debt, mortgages and long-term operating leases could result in defaults under such agreements and cross-defaults under other debt, mortgage or operating lease arrangements, which could harm our operating subsidiaries and cause us to lose facilities or experience foreclosures.
•Move-in and occupancy rates may remain unpredictable even after the COVID-19 pandemic is over.
•A housing downturn could decrease demand for senior living services.
•As we continue to acquire and lease real estate assets, we may not be successful in identifying and consummating these transactions.
•As we expand our presence in other relevant healthcare industries, we would become subject to risks in a market in which we have limited experience.
•If our referral sources fail to view us as an attractive skilled nursing provider, or if our referral sources otherwise refer fewer patients, our patient base may decrease.
•We may need additional capital to fund our operating subsidiaries and finance our growth, and we may not be able to obtain it on terms acceptable to us, or at all, which may limit our ability to grow.
•The condition of the financial markets, could limit the availability of debt and equity financing sources to fund the capital and liquidity requirements of our business, as well as negatively impact or impair the value of our current portfolio of cash, cash equivalents and investments.
•Delays in reimbursement may cause liquidity problems.
•Compliance with the regulations of the Department of Housing and Urban Development may require us to make unanticipated expenditures which could increase our costs.
•Failure to safeguard our patient trust funds may be subject us to citations, fines and penalties.
•We are a holding company with no operations and rely upon our multiple independent operating subsidiaries to provide us with the funds necessary to meet our financial obligations. Liabilities of any one or more of our subsidiaries could be imposed upon us or our other subsidiaries.
•We may incur operational difficulties or be exposed to claims and liabilities as a result of the separation of Pennant, including if the Spin-Offs are not tax-free for U.S. federal income tax purposes.
•We may not achieve some or all of the anticipated benefits of the Spin-Off, which may adversely affect our business.
•The Spin-Off and related transactions may expose us to potential liabilities arising out of state and federal fraudulent conveyance laws and legal distribution requirements.
•Certain directors who serve on our Board of Directors also serve as directors of Pennant, and ownership of shares of Pennant common stock by our directors and executive officers may create, or appear to create, conflicts of interest.
•Changes in the method of determining LIBOR, or the replacement of LIBOR with an alternative reference rate, may adversely affect interest rates on our current or future indebtedness and may otherwise adversely affect our financial condition and results of operations.
Risks Related to Ownership of our Common Stock
•We may not be able to pay or maintain dividends and the failure to do so would adversely affect our stock price.
•Our amended and restated certificate of incorporation, amended and restated bylaws and Delaware law contain provisions that could discourage transactions resulting in a change in control, which may negatively affect the market price of our common stock.
You should carefully consider each of the following risk factors and all other information set forth in this information statement. The risk factors generally have been separated into three categories: risks relating to our business and our industry, risks relating to the Spin-Off and risks relating to our common stock. Based on the information currently known to us, we believe that the following information identifies the most significant risk factors affecting our company in each of these categories of risks. However, the risks and uncertainties we face are not limited to those set forth in the risk factors described below. Additional risks and uncertainties not presently known to us or that we currently believe to be immaterial may also adversely affect our business. In addition, past financial performance may not be a reliable indicator of future performance and historical trends should not be used to anticipate results or trends in future periods.
If any of the following risks and uncertainties develops into actual events, these events could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition or results of operations. In such case, the trading price of our common stock could decline. You should carefully read the following risk factors, together with the financial statements, related notes and other information contained in this Annual Report on Form 10-K. This Annual Report on Form 10-K contains forward-looking statements that contain risks and uncertainties. Please refer to the section entitled "Cautionary Note Regarding Forward-Looking Statements" on page 1 of this Annual Report on Form 10-K in connection with your consideration of the risk factors and other important factors that may affect future results described below.
Risks Related to Our Business and Industry
We face numerous risks related to the continued COVID-19 public health emergency, which could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition, liquidity, results of operations and prospects.
The extent to which the COVID-19 public health emergency will continue impacting our operations will depend on future developments, which are highly uncertain and cannot be predicted with confidence, including the duration of the outbreak, federal vaccination program efforts, additional or modified government actions, new information which may emerge concerning the severity of the virus and efficacy of vaccinations, and the actions taken to contain the virus or treat its impact, among others. Some of the risks of COVID-19 are being mitigated as a result of the federal vaccination program, including vaccinations of nursing facility staff and residents, but there remains uncertainty as to when the pandemic will officially end,
As discussed in Item 1., under Government Regulation, federal, state and local regulators have implemented new regulations and waived existing regulations to promote care delivery during the COVID-19 public health emergency. While the majority of these changes are beneficial by reducing regulatory burdens, these accommodations may also have an adverse effect through increased legal and operational costs related to compliance and monitoring. Additionally, most of the accommodations are limited in duration and tied to the COVID-19 public health emergency declaration, thus there may be significant operational change requirements on short notice. Also, the reinstatement of waived state and federal regulations may not occur simultaneously, requiring heightened monitoring to ensure compliance.
Other factors from the continuation of the COVID-19 pandemic that could have an adverse effect on our business, financial condition, liquidity, results of operations and prospects, include:
•potential for increased government regulations and restrictions to combat COVID-19 as a result of the recent Presidential and Congressional elections;
•significantly reduced occupancy as a result of government-imposed orders;
•lower census due to general decline in all hospital procedures, including elective/non-urgent procedures;
•increased costs and staffing requirements related to additional CDC protocols and related isolation procedures, including obligations to test patients and staff for COVID-19;
•limitations on availability of staff due to COVID-19 related illness exposure;
•disruptions to supply chains which could negatively impact consistent and reliable delivery of personal protective equipment, sanitizing supplies, food, pharmaceuticals, utilities and other goods to our affiliated facilities, resulting in our inability to obtain on reasonable terms, or at all, personal protective equipment, sanitizing supplies, food, pharmaceuticals, utilities and other goods;
•incurrence of additional expenditures to comply with COVID-19 isolation procedures, including temporary construction or purchase of additional equipment;
•increased scrutiny by regulators of infection control and prevention measures, including increased reporting requirements related to suspected and confirmed COVID-19 diagnoses of residents and staff, which may result in fines or other sanctions related to non-compliance;
•new state requirements or pressure from state officials to accept post-discharge patients from hospitals facing overcrowding, which increases the potential spread of COVID-19 within our facilities;
•increased risk of litigation and related liabilities arising in connection with patient or staff illness, hospitalization and/or death; and
•negative impacts on our patients' ability or willingness to pay for healthcare services and our third parties' ability or willingness to pay rents.
The extent and duration of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our stock price is uncertain, our stock price may be more volatile, and our ability to raise capital could be impaired.
Our revenue could be impacted by federal and state changes to reimbursement and other aspects of Medicare.
We derived 30.5% and 24.6% of our revenue from the Medicare programs for the year ended December 31, 2020 and 2019, respectively. In addition, many other payors may use published Medicare rates as a basis for reimbursements. Accordingly, if Medicare reimbursement rates are reduced or fail to increase as quickly as our costs, if there are changes in the rules governing the Medicare program that are disadvantageous to our business or industry, or if there are delays in Medicare payments, our business and results of operations will be adversely affected.
The Medicare program and its reimbursement rates and rules are subject to frequent change. These include statutory and regulatory changes, rate adjustments (including retroactive adjustments), annual caps that limit the amount that can be paid (including deductible and coinsurance amounts) administrative or executive orders and government funding restrictions, all of which may materially adversely affect the rates at which Medicare reimburses us for our services. Budget pressures often lead the federal government to reduce or place limits on reimbursement rates under Medicare. Implementation of these and other types of measures has in the past and could in the future result in substantial reductions in our revenue and operating margins. For example, see Item 1., under Government Regulation, Sequestration of Medicare Rates.
Additionally, Medicare payments can be delayed or declined due to determinations that certain costs are not reimbursable or reasonable because either adequate or additional documentation was not provided or because certain services were not covered or considered medically necessary. Additionally, revenue from these payors can be retroactively adjusted after a new examination during the claims settlement process or as a result of post-payment audits. New legislation and regulatory proposals could impose further limitations on government payments to healthcare providers.
In addition, CMS often changes the rules governing the Medicare program, including those governing reimbursement. Changes to the Medicare program that could adversely affect our business include:
•administrative or legislative changes to base rates or the bases of payment;
•limits on the services or types of providers for which Medicare will provide reimbursement;
•changes in methodology for patient assessment and/or determination of payment levels;
•the reduction or elimination of annual rate increases (See also, Item 1., under Government Regulation); or
•an increase in co-payments or deductibles payable by beneficiaries.
Among the important statutory changes that are being implemented by CMS are provisions of the IMPACT Act. This law imposes a stringent timeline for implementing benchmark quality measures and data metrics across post-acute care providers (long stay hospitals, IRFs, skilled nursing facilities and home health agencies). The enactment also mandates specific actions to design a unified payment methodology for post-acute providers. CMS continues to promulgate regulations to implement provisions of this enactment. Depending on the final details, the costs of implementation could be significant. The failure to meet implementation requirements could expose providers to fines and payment reductions.
Reductions in reimbursement rates or the scope of services being reimbursed could have a material, adverse effect on our revenue, financial condition and results of operations or even result in reimbursement rates that are insufficient to cover our operating costs. Additionally, any delay or default by the government in making Medicare reimbursement payments could materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Reductions in Medicaid reimbursement rates or changes in the rules governing the Medicaid program could have a material, adverse effect on our revenue, financial condition and results of operations.
A significant portion of reimbursement for skilled nursing services comes from Medicaid. In fact, Medicaid is our largest source of revenue, accounting for 44.0% and 46.0% of our revenue for the year ended December 31, 2020 and 2019, respectively. Medicaid is a state-administered program financed by both state funds and matching federal funds. Medicaid spending has increased rapidly in recent years, becoming a significant component of state budgets, which has led both the federal government and many states to institute measures aimed at controlling the growth of Medicaid spending, and in some instances reducing aggregate Medicaid spending. Since a significant portion of our revenue is generated from our skilled nursing operating subsidiaries in California, Texas and Arizona, any budget reductions or delays in these states could adversely affect our net patient service revenue and profitability. Despite present state budget surpluses in many of the states in which we operate, we can expect continuing cost containment pressures on Medicaid outlays for skilled nursing facilities, and any such decline could adversely affect our financial condition and results of operations.
The Medicaid program and its reimbursement rates and rules are subject to frequent change at both the federal and state level. These include statutory and regulatory changes, rate adjustments (including retroactive adjustments), administrative or executive orders and government funding restrictions, all of which may materially adversely affect the rates at which our services are reimbursed by state Medicaid plans. To generate funds to pay for the increasing costs of the Medicaid program, many states utilize financial arrangements commonly referred to as provider taxes. Under provider tax arrangements, states collect taxes from healthcare providers and then use the revenue to pay the providers as a Medicaid expenditure, which allows the states to then claim additional federal matching funds on the additional reimbursements. Current federal law provides for a cap on the maximum allowable provider tax as a percentage of the provider's total revenue. There can be no assurance that federal law will continue to provide matching federal funds on state Medicaid expenditures funded through provider taxes, or that the current caps on provider taxes will not be reduced. Any discontinuance or reduction in federal matching of provider tax-related Medicaid expenditures could have a significant and adverse effect on states' Medicaid expenditures, and as a result could have a material and adverse effect on our business, financial condition or results of operations.
Our revenue could be impacted by a shift to value-based reimbursement models, including PDPM.
As discussed in more detail in Item 1., under Government Regulation, CMS implemented a final rule in October 2019 to replace the existing case-mix classification system, Resource Utilization Groups, Version IV, with a new case-mix classification system, PDPM, that focuses more on the clinical condition of the patient and less on the volume of services provided. Payments under PDPM for FY 2021 are estimated to remain largely unchanged from FY 2020, but there remains risk that CMS may make future adjustments to reimbursement levels as it continues to monitor the impact of PDPM on patient outcomes and budget neutrality. With the increased focus on therapy utilization under RUGs IV, there is concern as to the accuracy of the parity adjustment and how closely it will reflect the data that will be captured under PDPM where the focus is on the clinical condition of the patient in lieu of resource utilization. In addition, the entire parity adjustment could be removed by CMS and this would cause a drastic reduction in payments.
Reforms to the U.S. healthcare system continue to impose new requirements upon us and may lower our reimbursements.
The ACA included sweeping changes to how healthcare is paid for and furnished in the U.S. Applicable to our business, as discussed in greater detail in Item 1., under Government Regulation, the ACA has resulted in significant changes to our operations and reimbursement models for services we provide. CMS continues to issue rules to implement the ACA. Courts continue to interpret and apply the ACA’s provisions.
The efficacy of the ACA is the subject of much debate among members of Congress and the public. Additionally, a number of lawsuits have been filed challenging various aspects of the ACA and related regulations with inconsistent outcomes - some expand the ACA while others limit the ACA. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on November 10, 2020, arising out of a constitutional challenge from the Fifth Circuit, and a decision is not expected until spring 2021. In the event that the ACA is repealed or materially amended, particularly any elements of the ACA that are beneficial to our business or that cause changes in the health insurance industry, including reimbursement and coverage by private, Medicare or Medicaid payers, our business, operating results and financial condition could be harmed. Thus, the future impact of the ACA on our business is difficult to predict and its continued uncertain future may negatively impact our business. However, any material changes to the ACA or its implementing regulations may negatively impact our operations.
We cannot predict what effect future reforms to the U.S. healthcare system will have on our business, including the demand for our services or the amount of reimbursement available for those services. However, it is possible these new laws may lower reimbursement or increase the cost of doing business and adversely affect our business.
The results of recent U.S. Presidential and Congressional elections may create significant changes to regulatory framework, enforcements and reimbursements.
The recent Presidential and Congressional elections in the United States could result in significant changes in, and uncertainty with respect to, legislation, regulation, implementation or repeal of laws and rules related to government health programs, including Medicare and Medicaid. Democratic proposals for Medicare for All or significant expansion of Medicare, could significantly impact our business and the healthcare industry if implemented. Further, if proposed policies specific to nursing facilities are implemented, these may result in significant regulatory changes, increased survey frequency and scope, and increased penalties for non-compliance.
We continually monitor these developments in order to respond to the changing regulatory environment impacting our business. While it is not possible to predict whether and when any such changes will occur, specific proposals discussed during and after the election, including a repeal or material amendment of the ACA, could harm our business, operating results and financial condition. If we are slow or unable to adapt to any such changes, our business, operating results and financial condition could be adversely affected.
Our business may be materially impacted if certain aspects of the ACA are amended, repealed, or successfully challenged.
A number of lawsuits have been filed challenging various aspects of the ACA and related regulations. In addition, the efficacy of the ACA is the subject of much debate among members of Congress and the public. On December 14, 2018, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas held the individual mandate provision, and therefore the entirety of the ACA, unconstitutional. This ruling was appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which issued its decision on December 18, 2019, partially affirming the district court’s decision, finding the individual mandate to be unconstitutional and remanding the case to the district court for additional analysis on whether the individual mandate provision was severable from the remainder of the ACA. The case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard arguments November 10, 2020, and a decision is expected spring 2021. Other unrelated cases challenging the ACA or related rules have had inconsistent outcomes - some expand the ACA while others limit the ACA. Thus, the future impact of the ACA on our business is difficult to predict. The uncertainty as to the future of the ACA may negatively impact our business, as will any material changes to the ACA.
Presidential and Congressional elections in the United States could result in significant changes to, and uncertainty with respect to, legislation, regulation, implementation or repeal of the ACA, and other federal health program policy that could significantly impact our business and the healthcare industry. In the event that legal challenges are successful or the ACA is repealed or materially amended, particularly any elements of the ACA that are beneficial to our business or that cause changes in the health insurance industry, including reimbursement and coverage by private, Medicare or Medicaid payers, our business, operating results and financial condition could be harmed. While it is not possible to predict whether and when any such changes will occur, specific proposals discussed during and after the election, including a repeal or material amendment of the ACA, could harm our business, operating results and financial condition. In addition, even if the ACA is not amended or repealed, the President and the executive branch of the federal government, as well as CMS and HHS have a significant impact on the implementation of the provisions of the ACA, and a new administration could make changes impacting the implementation and enforcement of the ACA, which could harm our business, operating results and financial condition. If we are slow or unable to adapt to any such changes, our business, operating results and financial condition could be adversely affected.
We are subject to various government reviews, audits and investigations that could adversely affect our business, including an obligation to refund amounts previously paid to us, potential criminal charges, the imposition of fines, and/or the loss of our right to participate in Medicare and Medicaid programs.
As a result of our participation in the Medicaid and Medicare programs, we are subject to various governmental reviews, audits and investigations to verify our compliance with these programs and applicable laws and regulations. We are subject to regulatory reviews relating to Medicare services, billings and potential overpayments resulting from Recovery Audit Contractors, Zone Program Integrity Contractors, Program Safeguard Contractors, Unified Program Integrity Contractors, Supplemental Medical Review Contractors and Medicaid Integrity Contractors programs, (collectively referred to as Reviews), in which third party firms engaged by CMS conduct extensive reviews of claims data and medical and other records to identify potential improper payments under the Medicare programs. Private pay sources also reserve the right to conduct audits. We believe that billing and reimbursement errors and disagreements are common in our industry. We are regularly engaged in reviews, audits and appeals of our claims for reimbursement due to the subjectivities inherent in the process related to patient diagnosis and care, record keeping, claims processing and other aspects of the patient service and reimbursement processes, and the errors and disagreements those subjectivities can produce. An adverse review, audit or investigation could result in:
•an obligation to refund amounts previously paid to us pursuant to the Medicare or Medicaid programs or from private payors, in amounts that could be material to our business;
•state or federal agencies imposing fines, penalties and other sanctions on us;
•loss of our right to participate in the Medicare or Medicaid programs or one or more private payor networks;
•an increase in private litigation against us; and
•damage to our reputation in various markets.
In 2004, our Medicare administrative contractors began to conduct selected reviews of claims previously submitted by and paid to some of our affiliated facilities. While we have always been subject to post-payment audits and reviews, more intensive “probe reviews” appear to be a permanent procedure with our fiscal intermediaries. All findings of overpayment from CMS contractors are eligible for appeal through the CMS defined continuum. With the exception of rare findings of overpayment related to objective errors in Medicare payment methodology or claims processing, we utilize all defenses reasonably available to us to demonstrate that the services provided meet all clinical and regulatory requirements for reimbursement.
In cases where claim and documentation review by any CMS contractor results in repeated poor performance, an operation can be subjected to protracted oversight. This oversight may include repeat education and re-probe, extended pre-payment review, referral to recovery audit or integrity contractors, or extrapolation of an error rate to other reimbursement outside of specifically reviewed claims. Sustained failure to demonstrate improvement towards meeting all claim filing and documentation requirements could ultimately lead to Medicare decertification. As of December 31, 2020, four of our independent operating subsidiaries had Reviews scheduled, on appeal, or in a dispute resolution process, either pre or post-payment. We anticipate that these Reviews could increase in frequency in the future.
Additionally, both federal and state government agencies have heightened and coordinated civil and criminal enforcement efforts as part of numerous ongoing investigations of healthcare companies and, in particular, skilled nursing facilities. The focus of these investigations includes, among other things:
•cost reporting and billing practices;
•quality of care;
•financial relationships with referral sources; and
•medical necessity of services provided.
On May 31, 2018, we received a Civil Investigative Demand (CID) from the DOJ stating that it is investigating the Company to determine whether we have violated the FCA or the Anti-Kickback Statute with respect to the relationships between certain of our skilled nursing facilities and persons who served as medical directors, advisory board participants or other referral sources. The CID covered the period from October 3, 2013 through 2018 and was limited in scope to ten of our Southern California skilled nursing facilities. In October 2018, the Department of Justice made an additional request for information covering the period of January 1, 2011 through 2018, relating to the same topic. As a general matter, our operating entities maintain policies and procedures to promote compliance with the FCA, the Anti-Kickback Statute, and other applicable regulatory requirements. We are fully cooperating with the U.S. Department of Justice to promptly respond to the requests for information. However, we cannot predict when the investigation will be resolved, the outcome of the investigation or its potential impact on the Company.
If we should agree to a settlement of, claims or obligations under federal Medicare statutes, the federal FCA, or similar state and federal statutes and related regulations, our business, financial condition and results of operations and cash flows could be materially and adversely affected, and our stock price could be adversely impacted. Among other things, any settlement or litigation could involve the payment of substantial sums to settle any alleged civil violations and may also include our assumption of specific procedural and financial obligations going forward under a corporate integrity agreement or other arrangement with the government.
If the government or court were to conclude that errors and deficiencies constitute criminal violations, concluded that such errors and deficiencies resulted in the submission of false claims to federal healthcare programs, or if it were to discover other problems in addition to the ones identified by the probe reviews that rose to actionable levels, we and certain of our officers might face potential criminal charges and civil claims, administrative sanctions and penalties for amounts that could be material to our business, results of operations and financial condition. In addition, we or some of the key personnel of our operating subsidiaries could be temporarily or permanently excluded from future participation in state and federal healthcare reimbursement programs such as Medicaid and Medicare.
If any of our affiliated facilities is decertified or loses its licenses, our revenue, financial condition or results of operations would be adversely affected. In addition, the report of such issues at any of our affiliated facilities could harm our reputation for quality care and lead to a reduction in the patient referrals of our operating subsidiaries and ultimately a reduction in occupancy at these facilities. Also, responding to auditing and enforcement efforts diverts material time, resources and attention from our management team and our staff, and could have a materially detrimental impact on our results of operations during and after any such investigation or proceedings, regardless of whether we prevail on the underlying claim.
We are subject to extensive and complex laws and government regulations. If we are not operating in compliance with these laws and regulations or if these laws and regulations change, we could be required to make significant expenditures or change our operations in order to bring our facilities and operations into compliance.
We, along with other companies in the healthcare industry, are required to comply with extensive and complex laws and regulations at the federal, state and local government levels relating to, among other things:
•licensure and certification;
•adequacy and quality of healthcare services;
•qualifications of healthcare and support personnel;
•quality of medical equipment;
•confidentiality, maintenance and security issues associated with medical records and claims processing;
•relationships with physicians and other referral sources and recipients;
•constraints on protective contractual provisions with patients and third-party payors;
•operating policies and procedures;
•addition of facilities and services; and
•billing for services.
The laws and regulations governing our operations, along with the terms of participation in various government programs, regulate how we do business, the services we offer, and our interactions with patients and other healthcare providers. These laws and regulations are subject to frequent change. We believe that such regulations may increase in the future and we cannot predict the ultimate content, timing or impact on us of any healthcare reform legislation. Changes in existing laws or regulations, or the enactment of new laws or regulations, could negatively impact our business. If we fail to comply with these applicable laws and regulations, we could suffer civil or criminal penalties and other detrimental consequences, including denial of reimbursement, imposition of fines, temporary suspension of admission of new patients, suspension or decertification from the Medicaid and Medicare programs, restrictions on our ability to acquire new facilities or expand or operate existing facilities, the loss of our licenses to operate and the loss of our ability to participate in federal and state reimbursement programs. Additionally, in the future, different interpretations or enforcement of these laws and regulations could subject our current or past practices to allegations of impropriety or illegality or could require us to make changes in our facilities, equipment, personnel, services, capital expenditure programs and operating expenses.
As discussed in greater detail in Item 1., under Government Regulation, we are subject to federal and state laws intended to prevent healthcare fraud and abuse, including the federal FCA, state false claims acts, the illegal remuneration provisions of the Social Security Act, the Anti-Kickback Statute, state anti-kickback laws, the Civil Monetary Penalties Law and the federal “Stark” law. Among other things, these laws prohibit kickbacks, bribes and rebates, as well as other direct and indirect payments or fee-splitting arrangements that are designed to induce the referral of patients to a particular provider for medical products or services payable by any federal healthcare program and prohibit presenting a false or misleading claim for payment under a federal or state program. They also prohibit some physician self-referrals. Possible sanctions for violation of any of these restrictions or prohibitions include loss of eligibility to participate in federal and state reimbursement programs and civil and criminal penalties. If we fail to comply, even inadvertently, with any of these requirements, we could be required to alter our operations, refund payments to the government, enter into a corporate integrity agreement, deferred prosecution or similar agreements with state or federal government agencies, and become subject to significant civil and criminal penalties.
These anti-fraud and abuse laws and regulations are complex, and we do not always have the benefit of significant regulatory or judicial interpretation of these laws and regulations. While we do not believe we are in violation of these prohibitions, we cannot assure you that governmental officials charged with the responsibility for enforcing these prohibitions will not assert that we are violating the provisions of such laws and regulations. The Company is currently aware of another investigation by the DOJ related to allegations some of our California facilities may have violated the FCA or the Anti-Kickback Statute with respect to the relationships between certain of our skilled nursing facilities and persons who served as medical directors, advisory board participants or other referral sources. While our operating entities maintain policies and procedures to promote compliance with the FCA, the Anti-Kickback Statute, and other applicable regulatory requirements, we cannot predict when the investigation will be resolved, the outcome of the investigation or its potential impact on the Company.
We are unable to predict the future course of federal, state and local regulation or legislation, including Medicare and Medicaid statutes and regulations related to fraud and abuse, the intensity of federal and state enforcement actions or the extent and size of any potential sanctions, fines or penalties. Changes in the regulatory framework, our failure to obtain or renew required regulatory approvals or licenses or to comply with applicable regulatory requirements, the suspension or revocation of our licenses or our disqualification from participation in federal and state reimbursement programs, or the imposition of other enforcement sanctions, fines or penalties could have a material adverse effect upon our business, financial condition or results of operations. Furthermore, should we lose licenses or certifications for a number of our facilities or other businesses as a result of regulatory action or legal proceedings, we could be deemed to be in default under some of our agreements, including agreements governing outstanding indebtedness.
Public and government calls for increased survey and enforcement efforts toward long-term care facilities could result in increased scrutiny by state and federal survey agencies. In addition, potential sanctions and remedies based upon alleged regulatory deficiencies could negatively affect our financial condition and results of operations.
As CMS turns its attention to enhancing enforcement of long-term care facilities, as discussed in Item 1., under Government Regulation, state survey agencies will have more accountability for their survey and enforcement efforts. As discussed in Item 1., under Government Regulation, from time to time in the ordinary course of business, we receive deficiency reports from state and federal regulatory bodies resulting from such inspections or surveys. The focus of these deficiency reports tends to vary from year to year and state to state. Although most inspection deficiencies are resolved through an agreed-upon plan of corrective action, the reviewing agency typically has the authority to take further action against a licensed or certified facility, which could result in the imposition of fines, imposition of a license to a conditional or provisional status, suspension or revocation of a license, suspension or denial of payment for new admissions, loss of certification as a provider under state or federal healthcare programs, or imposition of other sanctions, including criminal penalties. In the past, we have experienced inspection deficiencies that have resulted in the imposition of a provisional license and could experience these results in the future.
Furthermore, in some states, citations in one Company facility could negatively impact other Company facilities in the same state. Revocation of a license at a given facility could therefore impair our ability to obtain new licenses or to renew existing licenses at other facilities, which may also trigger defaults or cross-defaults under our leases and our credit arrangements, or adversely affect our ability to operate or obtain financing in the future. If state or federal regulators were to determine, formally or otherwise, that one facility's regulatory history ought to impact another of our existing or prospective facilities, this could also increase costs, result in increased scrutiny by state and federal survey agencies, and even impact our expansion plans. Therefore, our failure to comply with applicable legal and regulatory requirements in any single facility could negatively impact our financial condition and overall of operations results.
For example, in 2016, we elected to voluntarily close one operating subsidiary as a result of multiple regulatory deficiencies in order to avoid continued strain on our staff and other resources and to avoid restrictions on our ability to acquire new facilities or expand or operate existing facilities. In addition, from time to time, we have opted to voluntarily stop accepting new patients pending completion of a new state survey, in order to avoid possible denial of payment for new admissions during the deficiency cure period, or simply to avoid straining staff and other resources while retraining staff, upgrading operating systems or making other operational improvements. If we elect to voluntary close any operations in the future or to opt to stop accepting new patients pending completion of a state or federal survey, it could negatively impact our financial condition and results of operation.
We have received notices of potential sanctions and remedies based upon alleged regulatory deficiencies from time to time, and such sanctions have been imposed on some of our affiliated facilities. We have had affiliated facilities placed on special focus facility status in the past, continue to have some facilities on this status currently and other operating subsidiaries may be identified for such status in the future. We currently have no facilities placed on special focus facility status. Other operating subsidiaries may be identified for such status in the future.
Future cost containment initiatives undertaken by private third-party payors may limit our revenue and profitability.
Our non-Medicare and non-Medicaid revenue and profitability are affected by continuing efforts of third-party payors to maintain or reduce costs of healthcare by lowering payment rates, narrowing the scope of covered services, increasing case management review of services and negotiating pricing. In addition, sustained unfavorable economic conditions may affect the number of patients enrolled in managed care programs and the profitability of managed care companies, which could result in reduced payment rates. There can be no assurance that third party payors will make timely payments for our services, or that we will continue to maintain our current payor or revenue mix. We are continuing our efforts to develop our non-Medicare and non-Medicaid sources of revenue and any changes in payment levels from current or future third-party payors could have a material adverse effect on our business and consolidated financial condition, results of operations and cash flows.
Changes in Medicare reimbursements for physician and non-physician services could impact reimbursement for medical professionals.
As discussed in greater detail in Item 1., under Government Regulation, MACRA revised the payment system for physician and non-physician services. Section 1 of that law, the sustainable growth rate repeal and Medicare Provider Payment Modernization will impact payment provisions for medical professional services. That enactment also extended for two years provisions that permit an exceptions process from therapy caps imposed on Medicare Part B outpatient therapy. There was a combined cap for PT and SLP and a separate cap for OT services that apply subject to certain exceptions. On February 9, 2018, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 was signed into law, which provides for the repeal of all therapy caps retroactively to January 1, 2018. The law also reduced the monetary threshold that triggers a manual medical review (MMR), in certain instances (from $3,700 to $3,000). The reduction in the MMR threshold will likely result in increased number of reviews, which could in turn have a negative effect on our business, financial condition or results of operations.
We may be subject to increased investigation and enforcement activities related to HIPAA violations.
We are required to comply with numerous legislative and regulatory requirements at the federal and state levels addressing patient privacy and security of health information, as discussed in greater detail in Item 1., under Government Regulation. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), as amended by the Health Information Technology for Clinical Health Act of 2009 (HITECH Act) requires us to adopt and maintain business procedures and systems designed to protect the privacy, security and integrity of patients' individual health information. States also have laws that apply to the privacy of healthcare information. We must comply with these state privacy laws to the extent that they are more protective of healthcare information or provide additional protections not afforded by HIPAA. If we fail to comply with these state and federal laws, we could be subject to criminal penalties, civil sanctions, litigation, and be forced to modify our policies and procedures. Additionally, if a breach under HIPAA or other privacy laws were to occur, remediation efforts could be costly and damage to our reputation could occur.
In addition to breaches of protected patient information, under HIPAA, healthcare entities are also required to afford patients with certain rights of access to their health information. Recently, the Office of Civil Rights, the agency responsible for HIPAA enforcement, has targeted investigative and enforcement efforts on violations of patients’ rights of access, imposing significant fines for violations largely initiated from patient complaints. If we fail to comply with our obligations under HIPAA, we could face significant fines.
Security breaches and other cyber-security incidents could violate security laws and subject us to significant liability.
Healthcare businesses are increasingly targets of cyberattacks whereby hackers disrupt business operations or obtain protected health information, often demanding large ransoms. Our business is dependent on the proper functioning and availability of our computer systems and networks. While we have taken steps to protect the safety and security of our information systems and the patient health information and other data maintained within those systems, we cannot assure you that our safety and security measures and disaster recovery plan will prevent damage, interruption or breach of our information systems and operations. Because the techniques used to obtain unauthorized access, disable or degrade service, or sabotage systems change frequently and may be difficult to detect, we may be unable to anticipate these techniques or implement adequate preventive measures. In addition, hardware, software or applications we develop or procure from third parties may contain defects in design or manufacture or other problems that could unexpectedly compromise the security of our information systems. Unauthorized parties may attempt to gain access to our systems or facilities, or those of third parties with whom we do business, through fraud or other forms of deceiving our employees or contractors.
On occasion, we have acquired additional information systems through our business acquisitions, and these acquired systems may expose us to risk. We also license certain third-party software to support our operations and information systems. Our inability, or the inability of third-party software providers, to continue to maintain and upgrade our information systems and software could disrupt or reduce the efficiency of our operations. In addition, costs and potential problems and interruptions associated with the implementation of new or upgraded systems and technology or with maintenance or adequate support of existing systems also could disrupt or reduce the efficiency of our operations.
A cyber security attack or other incident that bypasses our information systems security could cause a security breach which may lead to a material disruption to our information systems infrastructure or business and may involve a significant loss of business or patient health information. If a cyber security attack or other unauthorized attempt to access our systems or facilities were to be successful, it could result in the theft, destructions, loss, misappropriation or release of confidential information or intellectual property, and could cause operational or business delays that may materially impact our ability to provide various healthcare services. Any successful cyber security attack or other unauthorized attempt to access our systems or facilities also could result in negative publicity which could damage our reputation or brand with our patients, referral sources, payors or other third parties and could subject us to a number of adverse consequences, the vast majority of which are not insurable, including but not limited to disruptions in our operations, regulatory and other civil and criminal penalties, fines, investigations and enforcement actions (including, but not limited to, those arising from the SEC, Federal Trade Commission, Office of Civil Rights, the OIG or state attorneys general), fines, private litigation with those affected by the data breach, loss of customers, disputes with payors and increased operating expense, which either individually or in the aggregate could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial position, results of operations and liquidity.
We may not be fully reimbursed for all services for which each facility bills through consolidated billing, which could adversely affect our revenue, financial condition and results of operations.
Skilled nursing facilities are required to perform consolidated billing for certain items and services furnished to patients and residents. The consolidated billing requirement essentially confers on the skilled nursing facility itself the Medicare billing responsibility for the entire package of care that its patients receive in these situations. The BBA also affected skilled nursing facility payments by requiring that post-hospitalization skilled nursing services be “bundled” into the hospital's diagnostic related group (DRG) payment in certain circumstances. Where this rule applies, the hospital and the skilled nursing facility must, in effect, divide the payment which otherwise would have been paid to the hospital alone for the patient's treatment, and no additional funds are paid by Medicare for skilled nursing care of the patient. Although this provision applies to a limited number of DRGs, it has a negative effect on skilled nursing facility utilization and payments, either because hospitals are finding it difficult to place patients in skilled nursing facilities which will not be paid as before or because hospitals are reluctant to discharge the patients to skilled nursing facilities and lose part of their payment. This bundling requirement could be extended to more DRGs in the future, which would accentuate the negative impact on skilled nursing facility utilization and payments. We may not be fully reimbursed for all services for which each facility bills through consolidated billing, which could adversely affect our revenue, financial condition and results of operations.
Increased competition for, or a shortage of, nurses and other skilled personnel could increase our staffing and labor costs and subject us to monetary fines.
Our success depends upon our ability to retain and attract nurses and other skilled personnel, such as Certified Nurse Assistants, social workers and speech, physical and occupational therapists. Our success also depends upon our ability to retain and attract skilled management personnel who are responsible for the day-to-day operations of each of our affiliated facilities. Each facility has a facility leader responsible for the overall day-to-day operations of the facility, including quality of care, social services and financial performance. Depending upon the size of the facility, each facility leader is supported by facility staff that is directly responsible for day-to-day care of the patients and marketing and community outreach programs. Other key positions supporting each facility may include individuals responsible for physical, occupational and speech therapy, food service and maintenance. We compete with various healthcare service providers, including other skilled nursing providers, in retaining and attracting qualified and skilled personnel.
We operate one or more affiliated skilled nursing facilities in the states of Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, Nevada, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin. With the exception of Utah, which follows federal regulations, each of these states has established minimum staffing requirements for facilities operating in that state. Failure to comply with these requirements can, among other things, jeopardize a facility's compliance with the conditions of participation under relevant state and federal healthcare programs. In addition, if a facility is determined to be out of compliance with these requirements, it may be subject to a notice of deficiency, a citation, or a significant fine or litigation risk. Deficiencies (depending on the level) may also result in the suspension of patient admissions and the termination of Medicaid participation, or the suspension, revocation or nonrenewal of the skilled nursing facility's license. If the federal or state governments were to issue regulations which materially change the way compliance with the minimum staffing standard is calculated or enforced, our labor costs could increase and the current shortage of healthcare workers could impact us more significantly, including the increased scrutiny on staffing at the state and federal levels as a result of the COVID-19 virus.
Increased competition for, or a shortage of, nurses or other trained personnel, or general inflationary pressures may require that we enhance our pay and benefits packages to compete effectively for such personnel. We may not be able to offset such added costs by increasing the rates we charge to the patients of our operating subsidiaries. Turnover rates and the magnitude of the shortage of nurses or other trained personnel vary substantially from facility to facility. An increase in costs associated with, or a shortage of, skilled nurses, could negatively impact our business. In addition, if we fail to attract and retain qualified and skilled personnel, our ability to conduct our business operations effectively could be harmed.
Annual caps and other cost-reductions for outpatient therapy services may reduce our future revenue and profitability or cause us to incur losses.
As discussed in detail in Item 1., under Government Regulation, sub-heading Part B Rehabilitation Requirements, several government actions have been taken in recent years to try and contain the costs of rehabilitation therapy services provided under Medicare Part B, including the MPPR, institution of annual caps, mandatory medical reviews for annual claims beyond a certain monetary threshold, and a reduction in reimbursement rates for therapy assistant claim modifiers. Of specific concern is CMS's decision to lower Medicare Part B reimbursement rates for outpatient therapy services by 9%, beginning in January 1, 2021. Such cost-containment measures and ongoing payment changes could have an adverse effect on our revenue.
The Office of the Inspector General or other regulatory authorities may choose to more closely scrutinize billing practices in areas where we operate or propose to expand, which could result in an increase in regulatory monitoring and oversight, decreased reimbursement rates, or otherwise adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
As discussed in greater detail in Item 1., under Government Regulation, Civil and Criminal Fraud and Abuse Laws and Enforcement, the OIG regularly conducts investigations regarding certain payment or compliance issues within various healthcare sectors. Following, the OIG publishes these reports, in part, to educate involved stakeholders and signal future enforcement focus. Reports published in 2019 and 2020 demonstrate the OIG’s increased scrutiny on post-hospital skilled nursing facility care and billing. This may impact the skilled nursing facility industry by motivating additional reviews and stricter compliance in the areas outlined in the recent reports, expending material time and resources.
Additionally, OIG reports published in 2010 and 2015 show the OIG’s concerns related to the billing practices of skilled nursing facilities based on Medicare Part A claims and financial incentives for facilities to bill for higher levels of therapies, even when not needed by patients. Also, in its fiscal year 2014 work plan, and again in 2017, OIG specifically stated that it will continue to study and report on questionable Part A and Part B billing practices amongst skilled nursing facilities.
Our business model, like those of some other for-profit operators, is based in part on seeking out higher-acuity patients whom we believe are generally more profitable, and over time our overall patient mix has consistently shifted to higher-acuity and higher-resource utilization patients in most facilities we operate. We also use specialized care-delivery software that assists our caregivers in more accurately capturing and recording activities of daily living services, among other things. These efforts may place us under greater scrutiny with the OIG, CMS, our fiscal intermediaries, recovery audit contractors and others.
State efforts to regulate or deregulate the healthcare services industry or the construction or expansion of healthcare facilities could impair our ability to expand our operations, or could result in increased competition.
Some states require healthcare providers, including skilled nursing facilities, to obtain prior approval, known as a certificate of need, for: (i) the purchase, construction or expansion of healthcare facilities; (ii) capital expenditures exceeding a prescribed amount; or (iii) changes in services or bed capacity.
In addition, other states that do not require certificates of need have effectively barred the expansion of existing facilities and the establishment of new ones by placing partial or complete moratoria on the number of new Medicaid beds they will certify in certain areas or in the entire state. Other states have established such stringent development standards and approval procedures for constructing new healthcare facilities that the construction of new facilities, or the expansion or renovation of existing facilities, may become cost-prohibitive or extremely time-consuming. In addition, some states the acquisition of a facility being operated by a non-profit organization requires the approval of the state Attorney General.
Our ability to acquire or construct new facilities or expand or provide new services at existing facilities would be adversely affected if we are unable to obtain the necessary approvals, if there are changes in the standards applicable to those approvals, or if we experience delays and increased expenses associated with obtaining those approvals. We may not be able to obtain licensure, certificate of need approval, Medicaid certification, Attorney General approval or other necessary approvals for future expansion projects. Conversely, the elimination or reduction of state regulations that limit the construction, expansion or renovation of new or existing facilities could result in increased competition to us or result in overbuilding of facilities in some of our markets. If overbuilding in the skilled nursing industry in the markets in which we operate were to occur, it could reduce the occupancy rates of existing facilities and, in some cases, might reduce the private rates that we charge for our services.
Changes to federal and state employment-related laws and regulations could increase our cost of doing business.
Our operating subsidiaries are subject to a variety of federal and state employment-related laws and regulations, including, but not limited to, the U.S. Fair Labor Standards Act which governs such matters as minimum wages, overtime and other working conditions, the Americans with Disabilities Act and similar state laws that provide civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities in the context of employment, public accommodations and other areas, the National Labor Relations Act, regulations of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, regulations of the Office of Civil Rights, regulations of state Attorneys General, family leave mandates and a variety of similar laws enacted by the federal and state governments that govern these and other employment law matters. Because labor represents such a large portion of our operating costs, changes in federal and state employment-related laws and regulations could increase our cost of doing business.
The compliance costs associated with these laws and evolving regulations could be substantial. For example, all of our affiliated facilities are required to comply with the ADA. The ADA has separate compliance requirements for “public accommodations” and “commercial properties,” but generally requires that buildings be made accessible to people with disabilities. Compliance with ADA requirements could require removal of access barriers and non-compliance could result in imposition of government fines or an award of damages to private litigants. Further legislation may impose additional burdens or restrictions with respect to access by disabled persons. In addition, federal proposals to introduce a system of mandated health insurance and flexible work time and other similar initiatives could, if implemented, adversely affect our operations. We also may be subject to employee-related claims such as wrongful discharge, discrimination or violation of equal employment law. While we are insured for these types of claims, we could experience damages that are not covered by our insurance policies or that exceed our insurance limits, and we may be required to pay such damages directly, which would negatively impact our cash flow from operations.
Required regulatory approvals could delay or prohibit transfers of our healthcare operations, which could result in periods in which we are unable to receive reimbursement for such properties.
The operations of our operating subsidiaries must be licensed under applicable state law and, depending upon the type of operation, certified or approved as providers under the Medicare and/or Medicaid programs. In the process of acquiring or transferring operating assets, our operations must receive change of ownership approvals from state licensing agencies, Medicare and Medicaid as well as third party payors. If there are any delays in receiving regulatory approvals from the applicable federal, state or local government agencies, or the inability to receive such approvals, such delays could result in delayed or lost reimbursement related to periods of service prior to the receipt of such approvals, which could negatively impact our cash position.
Compliance with federal and state fair housing, fire, safety and other regulations may require us to make unanticipated expenditures, which could be costly to us.
We must comply with the federal Fair Housing Act and similar state laws, which prohibit us from discriminating against individuals if it would cause such individuals to face barriers in gaining residency in any of our affiliated facilities. Additionally, the Fair Housing Act and other similar state laws require that we advertise our services in such a way that we promote diversity and not limit it. We may be required, among other things, to change our marketing techniques to comply with these requirements.
In addition, we are required to operate our affiliated facilities in compliance with applicable fire and safety regulations, building codes and other land use regulations and food licensing or certification requirements as they may be adopted by governmental agencies and bodies from time to time. Like other healthcare facilities, our affiliated skilled nursing facilities are subject to periodic surveys or inspections by governmental authorities to assess and assure compliance with regulatory requirements. Surveys occur on a regular (often annual or biannual) schedule, and special surveys may result from a specific complaint filed by a patient, a family member or one of our competitors. We may be required to make substantial capital expenditures to comply with these requirements.
We depend largely upon reimbursement from third-party payors, and our revenue, financial condition and results of operations could be negatively impacted by any changes in the acuity mix of patients in our affiliated facilities as well as payor mix and payment methodologies.
Our revenue is affected by the percentage of the patients of our operating subsidiaries who require a high level of skilled nursing and rehabilitative care, whom we refer to as high acuity patients, and by our mix of payment sources. Changes in the acuity level of patients we attract, as well as our payor mix among Medicaid, Medicare, private payors and managed care companies, significantly affect our profitability because we generally receive higher reimbursement rates for high acuity patients and because the payors reimburse us at different rates. For the year ended December 31, 2020 and 2019, 74.5% and 70.6% of our revenue was provided by government payors that reimburse us at predetermined rates. If our labor or other operating costs increase, we will be unable to recover such increased costs from government payors. Accordingly, if we fail to maintain our proportion of high acuity patients or if there is any significant increase in the percentage of the patients of our operating subsidiaries for whom we receive Medicaid reimbursement, our results of operations may be adversely affected.
Initiatives undertaken by major insurers and managed care companies to contain healthcare costs may adversely affect our business. Among other initiatives, these payors attempt to control healthcare costs by contracting with healthcare providers to obtain services on a discounted basis. We believe that this trend will continue and may limit reimbursements for healthcare services. If insurers or managed care companies from whom we receive substantial payments were to reduce the amounts they pay for services, we may lose patients if we choose not to renew our contracts with these insurers at lower rates.
We are subject to litigation that could result in significant legal costs and large settlement amounts or damage awards.
The skilled nursing business involves a significant risk of liability given the age and health of the patients and residents of our operating subsidiaries and the services we provide. The industry has experienced an increased trend in the number and severity of litigation claims, due in part to the number of large verdicts, including large punitive damage awards. These claims are filed based upon a wide variety of claims and theories, including deficiencies under conditions of participation under certain state and federal healthcare programs. Plaintiffs' attorneys have become increasingly more aggressive in their pursuit of claims against healthcare providers, including skilled nursing providers, employing a wide variety of advertising and solicitation activities to generate more claims. The defense of lawsuits has in the past, and may in the future, result in significant legal costs, regardless of the outcome. Additionally, increases to the frequency and/or severity of losses from such claims and suits may result in increased liability insurance premiums or a decline in available insurance coverage levels, which could materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
We have in the past been subject to class action litigation involving claims of violations of various regulatory requirements. While we have been able to settle these claims without an ongoing material adverse effect on our business, future claims could be brought that may materially affect our business, financial condition and results of operations. Other claims and suits, including class actions, continue to be filed against us and other companies in our industry. For example, there has been an increase in the number of wage and hour class action claims filed in several of the jurisdictions where we are present. Allegations typically include claimed failures to permit or properly compensate for meal and rest periods, or failure to pay for time worked. If there were a significant increase in the number of these claims or an increase in amounts owing should plaintiffs be successful in their prosecution of these claims, this could have a material adverse effect to our business, financial condition, results of operations and cash flows.
In addition, we contract with a variety of landlords, lenders, vendors, suppliers, consultants and other individuals and businesses. These contracts typically contain covenants and default provisions. If the other party to one or more of our contracts were to allege that we have violated the contract terms, we could be subject to civil liabilities which could have a material adverse effect on our financial condition and results of operations.
Were litigation to be instituted against one or more of our subsidiaries, a successful plaintiff might attempt to hold us or another subsidiary liable for the alleged wrongdoing of the subsidiary principally targeted by the litigation. If a court in such litigation decided to disregard the corporate form, the resulting judgment could increase our liability and adversely affect our financial condition and results of operations.
Congress has repeatedly considered, without passage, a bill that would require, among other things, that agreements to arbitrate nursing home disputes be made after the dispute has arisen rather than before prospective patients move in, to prevent nursing home operators and prospective patients from mutually entering into a pre-admission pre-dispute arbitration agreement. We use arbitration agreements, which have generally been favored by the courts, to streamline the dispute resolution process and reduce our exposure to legal fees and excessive jury awards. If we are not able to secure pre-admission arbitration agreements, our litigation exposure and costs of defense in patient liability actions could increase, our liability insurance premiums could increase, and our business may be adversely affected.
We conduct regular internal investigations into the care delivery, recordkeeping and billing processes of our operating subsidiaries. These reviews sometimes detect instances of noncompliance which we attempt to correct, which can decrease our revenue.
As an operator of healthcare facilities, we have a program to help us comply with various requirements of federal and private healthcare programs. Our compliance program includes, among other things, (i) policies and procedures modeled after applicable laws, regulations, government manuals and industry practices and customs that govern the clinical, reimbursement and operational aspects of our subsidiaries; (ii) training about our compliance process for all of the employees of our operating subsidiaries, our directors and officers, and training about Medicare and Medicaid laws, fraud and abuse prevention, clinical standards and practices, and claim submission and reimbursement policies and procedures for appropriate employees; and (iii) internal controls that monitor, for example, the accuracy of claims, reimbursement submissions, cost reports and source documents, provision of patient care, services, and supplies as required by applicable standards and laws, accuracy of clinical assessment and treatment documentation, and implementation of judicial and regulatory requirements (i.e., background checks, licensing and training).
From time to time our systems and controls highlight potential compliance issues, which we investigate as they arise. Historically, we have, and would continue to do so in the future, initiated internal inquiries into possible recordkeeping and related irregularities at our affiliated skilled nursing facilities, which were detected by our internal compliance team in the course of its ongoing reviews.
Through these internal inquiries, we have identified potential deficiencies in the assessment of and recordkeeping for small subsets of patients. We have also identified and, at the conclusion of such investigations, assisted in implementing, targeted improvements in the assessment and recordkeeping practices to make them consistent with the existing standards and policies applicable to our affiliated skilled nursing facilities in these areas. We continue to monitor the measures implemented for effectiveness, and perform follow-up reviews to ensure compliance. Consistent with healthcare industry accounting practices, we record any charge for refunded payments against revenue in the period in which the claim adjustment becomes known.
If additional reviews result in identification and quantification of additional amounts to be refunded, we will accrue additional liabilities for claim costs and interest, and repay any amounts due in normal course. Furthermore, failure to refund overpayments within required time frames (as described in greater detail above) could result in FCA liability. If future investigations ultimately result in findings of significant billing and reimbursement noncompliance which could require us to record significant additional provisions or remit payments, our business, financial condition and results of operations could be materially and adversely affected and our stock price could decline.
We may be unable to complete future facility or business acquisitions at attractive prices or at all, which may adversely affect our revenue; we may also elect to dispose of underperforming or non-strategic operating subsidiaries, which would also decrease our revenue.
To date, our revenue growth has been significantly impacted by our acquisition of new facilities and businesses. Subject to general market conditions and the availability of essential resources and leadership within our company, we continue to seek both single-and multi-facility acquisition and business acquisition opportunities that are consistent with our geographic, financial and operating objectives.
We face competition for the acquisition of facilities and businesses and expect this competition to increase. Based upon factors such as our ability to identify suitable acquisition candidates, the purchase price of the facilities, prevailing market conditions, the availability of leadership to manage new facilities and our own willingness to take on new operations, the rate at which we have historically acquired facilities has fluctuated significantly. In the future, we anticipate the rate at which we may acquire facilities will continue to fluctuate, which may affect our revenue.
We have also historically acquired a few facilities, either because they were included in larger, indivisible groups of facilities or under other circumstances, which were or have proven to be non-strategic or less desirable, and we may consider disposing of such facilities or exchanging them for facilities which are more desirable. To the extent we dispose of such a facility without simultaneously acquiring a facility in exchange, our revenue might decrease.
We may not be able to successfully integrate acquired facilities and businesses into our operations, and we may not achieve the benefits we expect from any of our facility acquisitions.
We may not be able to successfully or efficiently integrate new acquisitions of facilities and businesses with our existing operating subsidiaries, culture and systems. The process of integrating acquisitions into our existing operations may result in unforeseen operating difficulties, divert management's attention from existing operations, or require an unexpected commitment of staff and financial resources, and may ultimately be unsuccessful. Existing operations available for acquisition frequently serve or target different markets than those that we currently serve. We also may determine that renovations of acquired facilities and changes in staff and operating management personnel are necessary to successfully integrate those acquisitions into our existing operations. We may not be able to recover the costs incurred to reposition or renovate newly operating subsidiaries. The financial benefits we expect to realize from many of our acquisitions are largely dependent upon our ability to improve clinical performance, overcome regulatory deficiencies, rehabilitate or improve the reputation of the operations in the community, increase and maintain occupancy, control costs, and in some cases change the patient acuity mix. If we are unable to accomplish any of these objectives at the operating subsidiaries we acquire, we will not realize the anticipated benefits and we may experience lower than anticipated profits, or even losses.
During the year ended December 31, 2020, we expanded our operations through a combination of long-term leases and real estate purchases, with the addition of five stand-alone skilled nursing operations, one stand-alone independent living operation and one campus operation. This growth has placed and will continue to place significant demands on our current management resources. Our ability to manage our growth effectively and to successfully integrate new acquisitions into our existing business will require us to continue to expand our operational, financial and management information systems and to continue to retain, attract, train, motivate and manage key employees, including facility-level leaders and our local directors of nursing. We may not be successful in attracting qualified individuals necessary for future acquisitions to be successful, and our management team may expend significant time and energy working to attract qualified personnel to manage facilities we may acquire in the future. Also, the newly acquired facilities may require us to spend significant time improving services that have historically been substandard, and if we are unable to improve such facilities quickly enough, we may be subject to litigation and/or loss of licensure or certification. If we are not able to successfully overcome these and other integration challenges, we may not achieve the benefits we expect from any of our acquisitions, and our business may suffer.
In undertaking acquisitions, we may be adversely impacted by costs, liabilities and regulatory issues that may adversely affect our operations.
In undertaking acquisitions, we also may be adversely impacted by unforeseen liabilities attributable to the prior providers who operated those facilities, against whom we may have little or no recourse. Many facilities we have historically acquired were underperforming financially and had clinical and regulatory issues prior to and at the time of acquisition. Even where we have improved operating subsidiaries and patient care at affiliated facilities that we have acquired, we still may face post-acquisition regulatory issues related to pre-acquisition events. These may include, without limitation, payment recoupment related to our predecessors' prior noncompliance, the imposition of fines, penalties, operational restrictions or special regulatory status. Further, we may incur post-acquisition compliance risk due to the difficulty or impossibility of immediately or quickly bringing non-compliant facilities into full compliance. Diligence materials pertaining to acquisition targets, especially the underperforming facilities that often represent the greatest opportunity for return, are often inadequate, inaccurate or impossible to obtain, sometimes requiring us to make acquisition decisions with incomplete information. Despite our due diligence procedures, facilities that we have acquired or may acquire in the future may generate unexpectedly low returns, may cause us to incur substantial losses, may require unexpected levels of management time, expenditures or other resources, or may otherwise not meet a risk profile that our investors find acceptable.
In addition, we might encounter unanticipated difficulties and expenditures relating to any of the acquired facilities, including contingent liabilities. For example, when we acquire a facility, we generally assume the facility's existing Medicare provider number for purposes of billing Medicare for services. If CMS later determines that the prior owner of the facility had received overpayments from Medicare for the period of time during which it operated the facility, or had incurred fines in connection with the operation of the facility, CMS could hold us liable for repayment of the overpayments or fines. We may be unable to improve every facility that we acquire. In addition, operation of these facilities may divert management time and attention from other operations and priorities, negatively impact cash flows, result in adverse or unanticipated accounting charges, or otherwise damage other areas of our company if they are not timely and adequately improved.
We also incur regulatory risk in acquiring certain facilities due to the licensing, certification and other regulatory requirements affecting our right to operate the acquired facilities. For example, in order to acquire facilities on a predictable schedule, or to acquire declining operations quickly to prevent further pre-acquisition declines, we frequently acquire such facilities prior to receiving license approval or provider certification. We operate such facilities as the interim manager for the outgoing licensee, assuming financial responsibility, among other obligations for the facility. To the extent that we may be unable or delayed in obtaining a license, we may need to operate the facility under a management agreement from the prior operator. Any inability in obtaining consent from the prior operator of a target acquisition to utilizing its license in this manner could impact our ability to acquire additional facilities. If we were subsequently denied licensure or certification for any reason, we might not realize the expected benefits of the acquisition and would likely incur unanticipated costs and other challenges which could cause our business to suffer.
If we do not achieve or maintain competitive quality of care ratings from CMS or private organizations engaged in similar monitoring activities, our business may be negatively affected.
CMS, as well as certain private organizations engaged in similar monitoring activities, provides comparative public data, rating every skilled nursing facility operating in each state based upon quality-of-care indicators. CMS’s system is the Five-Star Quality Rating System, introduced in 2008, to help consumers, their families and caregivers compare nursing homes more easily. The Five-Star Quality Rating System gives each nursing home a rating of between one and five stars in various categories, and the ratings are available on a consumer-facing website, Nursing Home Compare. In cases of acquisitions, the previous operator's clinical ratings are included in our overall Five-Star Quality Rating. Over the years, the Five-Star Quality Rating System has been modified, with the most recent changes being implemented in 2018 and 2019. Additionally, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and CMS’s suspension of certain inspection and reporting requirements, the data used to calculate the star ratings of facilities was interrupted. CMS temporarily froze certain data on the Nursing Home Compare website through January 2021. Other data related to quality-reporting measures will not be factored into star calculations until 2022 and will not be reflected on the Nursing Home Compare website until April 2022, The temporary adjustments due to COVID-19 could impact facilities that might have less favorable Five-Star Ratings from being able to demonstrate improvements on the public-facing website through mid-2022. For more information on these changes, see Item 1., under Government Regulation.
CMS continues to increase quality measure thresholds, making it more difficult to achieve upward ratings. CMS acknowledges that some facilities may see a decline in their overall five-star rating absent any new inspection information. This change could further affect star ratings across the industry. Additionally, on the Nursing Home Compare website, CMS recently began displaying a consumer alert icon next to nursing homes that have been cited on inspection reports for incidents of abuse, neglect, or exploitation. See Item 1., under Government Regulation.
Providing quality patient care is the cornerstone of our business. We believe that hospitals, physicians and other referral sources refer patients to us in large part because of our reputation for delivering quality care. If we should fail to achieve our internal rating goals or fail to exceed the national average rating on the Five-Star Quality Rating System, or have facilities displaying a consumer alert icon for incidents of abuse, neglect, or exploitation, it may affect our ability to generate referrals, which could have a material adverse effect upon our business and consolidated financial condition, results of operations and cash flows.
If we are unable to obtain insurance, or if insurance becomes more costly for us to obtain, our business may be adversely affected.
It may become more difficult and costly for us to obtain coverage for resident care liabilities and other risks, including property and casualty insurance. For example, the following circumstances may adversely affect our ability to obtain insurance at favorable rates:
•we experience higher-than-expected professional liability, property and casualty, or other types of claims or losses;
•we receive survey deficiencies or citations of higher-than-normal scope or severity;
•we acquire especially troubled operations or facilities that present unattractive risks to current or prospective insurers;
•insurers tighten underwriting standards applicable to us or our industry; or
•insurers or reinsurers are unable or unwilling to insure us or the industry at historical premiums and coverage levels.
If any of these potential circumstances were to occur, our insurance carriers may require us to significantly increase our self-insured retention levels or pay substantially higher premiums for the same or reduced coverage for insurance, including workers compensation, property and casualty, automobile, employment practices liability, directors and officers liability, employee healthcare and general and professional liability coverages.
In some states, the law prohibits or limits insurance coverage for the risk of punitive damages arising from professional liability and general liability claims or litigation. Coverage for punitive damages is also excluded under some insurance policies. As a result, we may be liable for punitive damage awards in these states that either are not covered or are in excess of our insurance policy limits. Claims against us, regardless of their merit or eventual outcome, also could inhibit our ability to attract patients or expand our business, and could require our management to devote time to matters unrelated to the day-to-day operation of our business.
With few exceptions, workers' compensation and employee health insurance costs have also increased markedly in recent years. To partially offset these increases, we have increased the amounts of our self-insured retention and deductibles in connection with general and professional liability claims. We also have implemented a self-insurance program for workers compensation in all states, except Washington, and elected non-subscriber status for workers' compensation in Texas. In Washington, the insurance coverage is financed through premiums paid by the employers and employees. If we are unable to obtain insurance, or if insurance becomes more costly for us to obtain, or if the coverage levels we can economically obtain decline, our business may be adversely affected.
Our self-insurance programs may expose us to significant and unexpected costs and losses.
We have maintained general and professional liability insurance since 2002 and workers' compensation insurance since 2005 through a wholly owned subsidiary insurance company, Standardbearer Insurance Company, Ltd., to insure our self-insurance reimbursements and deductibles as part of a continually evolving overall risk management strategy. We establish the insurance loss reserves based on an estimation process that uses information obtained from both company-specific and industry data. The estimation process requires us to continuously monitor and evaluate the life cycle of the claims. Using data obtained from this monitoring and our assumptions about emerging trends, we, along with an independent actuary, develop information about the size of ultimate claims based on our historical experience and other available industry information. The most significant assumptions used in the estimation process include determining the trend in costs, the expected cost of claims incurred but not reported and the expected costs to settle or pay damages with respect to unpaid claims. It is possible, however, that the actual liabilities may exceed our estimates of loss. We may also experience an unexpectedly large number of successful claims or claims that result in costs or liability significantly in excess of our projections. For these and other reasons, our self-insurance reserves could prove to be inadequate, resulting in liabilities in excess of our available insurance and self-insurance. If a successful claim is made against us and it is not covered by our insurance or exceeds the insurance policy limits, our business may be negatively and materially impacted.
Further, because our self-insurance reimbursements under our general and professional liability and workers compensation programs applies on a per claim basis, there is no limit to the maximum number of claims or the total amount for which we could incur liability in any policy period.
We also self-insure our employee health benefits. With respect to our health benefits self-insurance, our reserves and premiums are computed based on a mix of company specific and general industry data that is not specific to our own company. Even with a combination of limited company-specific loss data and general industry data, our loss reserves are based on actuarial estimates that may not correlate to actual loss experience in the future. Therefore, our reserves may prove to be insufficient and we may be exposed to significant and unexpected losses.
The frequency and magnitude of claims and legal costs may increase due to the COVID-19 pandemic or our related response efforts.
The geographic concentration of our affiliated facilities could leave us vulnerable to an economic downturn, regulatory changes or acts of nature in those areas.
Our affiliated facilities located in Arizona, California, and Texas account for the majority of our total revenue. As a result of this concentration, the conditions of local economies, changes in governmental rules, regulations and reimbursement rates or criteria, changes in demographics, state funding, acts of nature and other factors that may result in a decrease in demand and/or reimbursement for skilled nursing services in these states could have a disproportionately adverse effect on our revenue, costs and results of operations. Moreover, since over 21% of our affiliated facilities are located in California, we are particularly susceptible to revenue loss, cost increase or damage caused by natural disasters such as fires, earthquakes or mudslides.
In addition, our affiliated facilities in Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, South Carolina, Washington and Texas are more susceptible to revenue loss, cost increases or damage caused by natural disasters including hurricanes, tornadoes and flooding. These acts of nature may cause disruption to us, the employees of our operating subsidiaries and our affiliated facilities, which could have an adverse impact on the patients of our operating subsidiaries and our business. In order to provide care for the patients of our operating subsidiaries, we are dependent on consistent and reliable delivery of food, pharmaceuticals, utilities and other goods to our affiliated facilities, and the availability of employees to provide services at our affiliated facilities. If the delivery of goods or the ability of employees to reach our affiliated facilities were interrupted in any material respect due to a natural disaster or other reasons, it would have a significant impact on our affiliated facilities and our business. Furthermore, the impact, or impending threat, of a natural disaster may require that we evacuate one or more facilities, which would be costly and would involve risks, including potentially fatal risks, for the patients. The impact of disasters and similar events is inherently uncertain. Such events could harm the patients and employees of our operating subsidiaries, severely damage or destroy one or more of our affiliated facilities, harm our business, reputation and financial performance, or otherwise cause our business to suffer in ways that we currently cannot predict.
The actions of a national labor union that has pursued a negative publicity campaign criticizing our business in the past may adversely affect our revenue and our profitability.
We continue to maintain our right to inform the employees of our operating subsidiaries about our views of the potential impact of unionization upon the workplace generally and upon individual employees. With one exception, to our knowledge the staff at our affiliated facilities that have been approached to unionize have uniformly rejected union organizing efforts. If employees decide to unionize, our cost of doing business could increase, and we could experience contract delays, difficulty in adapting to a changing regulatory and economic environment, cultural conflicts between unionized and non-unionized employees, strikes and work stoppages, and we may conclude that affected facilities or operations would be uneconomical to continue operating.
Because we lease the majority of our affiliated facilities, we are subject to risks associated with leased real property, including risks relating to lease termination, lease extensions and special charges, any of which could adversely affect our business, financial position or results of operations.
As of December 31, 2020, we leased 164 of our 228 affiliated facilities. Most of our leases are triple-net leases, which means that, in addition to rent, we are required to pay for the costs related to the property (including property taxes, insurance, and maintenance and repair costs). We are responsible for paying these costs notwithstanding the fact that some of the benefits associated with paying these costs accrue to the landlords as owners of the associated facilities.
Each lease provides that the landlord may terminate the lease for a variety of reasons, including the default in any payment of rent, taxes or other payment obligations or the breach of any other covenant or agreement in the lease. Termination of a lease could result in a default under our debt agreements and could adversely affect our business, financial position or results of operations. There can be no assurance that we will be able to comply with all of our obligations under the leases in the future.
Failure to generate sufficient cash flow to cover required payments or meet operating covenants under our long-term debt, mortgages and long-term operating leases could result in defaults under such agreements and cross-defaults under other debt, mortgage or operating lease arrangements, which could harm our operating subsidiaries and cause us to lose facilities or experience foreclosures.
We maintain a revolving credit facility under the Third Amended and Restated Credit Agreements, dated as of October 1, 2019, between the Company and a lending consortium arranged by Truist Financial Corporation (Truist) (formerly known as SunTrust Bank, Inc.) with a revolving line of credit of up to $350.0 million in aggregate principal amount (the Credit Facility). As of December 31, 2020, we have no outstanding debt under our Credit Facility. Nineteen of our subsidiaries are under mortgage loans insured with Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for an aggregate amount of $113.9 million, which subjects these subsidiaries to HUD oversight and periodic inspections. The terms of the mortgage loans range from 25- to 35-years. We also had two outstanding promissory notes of approximately $3.9 million as of December 31, 2020. The terms of the notes are 12 years and 10 months. Because these mortgage loans are insured with HUD, our borrower subsidiaries under these loans are subject to HUD oversight and periodic inspections.
In addition, we had $1.7 billion of future operating lease obligations as of December 31, 2020. We intend to continue financing our operating subsidiaries through mortgage financing, long-term operating leases and other types of financing, including borrowings under our lines of credit and future credit facilities we may obtain.
We may not generate sufficient cash flow from operations to cover required interest, principal and lease payments. In addition, our outstanding Credit Facility and mortgage loans contain restrictive covenants and require us to maintain or satisfy specified coverage tests on a consolidated basis and on a facility or facilities basis. These restrictions and operating covenants include, among other things, requirements with respect to occupancy, debt service coverage, project yield, net leverage ratios, minimum interest coverage ratios and minimum asset coverage ratios. These restrictions may interfere with our ability to obtain additional advances under our existing Credit Facility or to obtain new financing or to engage in other business activities, which may inhibit our ability to grow our business and increase revenue.
From time to time, the financial performance of one or more of our mortgaged facilities may not comply with the required operating covenants under the terms of the mortgage. Any non-payment, noncompliance or other default under our financing arrangements could, subject to cure provisions, cause the lender to foreclose upon the facility or facilities securing such indebtedness or, in the case of a lease, cause the lessor to terminate the lease, each with a consequent loss of revenue and asset value to us or a loss of property. Furthermore, in many cases, indebtedness is secured by both a mortgage on one or more facilities, and a guaranty by us. In the event of a default under one of these scenarios, the lender could avoid judicial procedures required to foreclose on real property by declaring all amounts outstanding under the guaranty immediately due and payable, and requiring us to fulfill our obligations to make such payments. If any of these scenarios were to occur, our financial condition would be adversely affected. For tax purposes, a foreclosure on any of our properties would be treated as a sale of the property for a price equal to the outstanding balance of the debt secured by the mortgage. If the outstanding balance of the debt secured by the mortgage exceeds our tax basis in the property, we would recognize taxable income on foreclosure, but would not receive any cash proceeds, which would negatively impact our earnings and cash position. Further, because our mortgages and operating leases generally contain cross-default and cross-collateralization provisions, a default by us related to one facility could affect a significant number of other facilities and their corresponding financing arrangements and operating leases.
Because our term loans, promissory notes, bonds, mortgages and lease obligations are fixed expenses and secured by specific assets, and because our revolving loan obligations are secured by virtually all of our assets, if reimbursement rates, patient acuity mix or occupancy levels decline, or if for any reason we are unable to meet our loan or lease obligations, we may not be able to cover our costs and some or all of our assets may become at risk. Our ability to make payments of principal and interest on our indebtedness and to make lease payments on our operating leases depends upon our future performance, which will be subject to general economic conditions, industry cycles and financial, business and other factors affecting our operating subsidiaries, many of which are beyond our control. If we are unable to generate sufficient cash flow from operations in the future to service our debt or to make lease payments on our operating leases, we may be required, among other things, to seek additional financing in the debt or equity markets, refinance or restructure all or a portion of our indebtedness, sell selected assets, reduce or delay planned capital expenditures or delay or abandon desirable acquisitions. Such measures might not be sufficient to enable us to service our debt or to make lease payments on our operating leases. The failure to make required payments on our debt or operating leases or the delay or abandonment of our planned growth strategy could result in an adverse effect on our future ability to generate revenue and sustain profitability. In addition, any such financing, refinancing or sale of assets might not be available on terms that are economically favorable to us, or at all.
Move-in and occupancy rates may remain unpredictable even after the COVID-19 pandemic is over.
Occupancy levels at skilled nursing facilities are likely to remain vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19 even after the pandemic is over. Facilities experiencing decreases in move-in rates in the fourth quarter of 2020 cite resident or family member concerns as the basis for such decreases. These and other similar concerns may continue to impact our ability to attract new residents and our ability to retain existing residents.
A housing downturn could decrease demand for senior living services.
Seniors often use the proceeds of home sales to fund their admission to senior living facilities. A downturn in the housing markets could adversely affect seniors’ ability to afford our resident fees and entrance fees. If national or local housing markets enter a persistent decline, our occupancy rates, revenues, results of operations and cash flow could be negatively impacted.
As we continue to acquire and lease real estate assets, we may not be successful in identifying and consummating these transactions.
As part of, and subsequent to, the Spin-Off, we lease 31 of our properties to Pennant’s senior living operations. In the future, we might expand our leasing property portfolio to additional Pennant operations or other unaffiliated tenants. We have very limited control over the success or failure of our tenants’ and operators’ businesses and, at any time, a tenant or operator may experience a downturn in its business that weakens its financial condition. If that happens, the tenant or operator may fail to make its payments to us when due. Although our lease agreements give us the right to exercise certain remedies in the event of default on the obligations owing to us, we may determine not to do so if we believe that enforcement of our rights would be more detrimental to our business than seeking alternative approaches.
An important part of our business strategy is to continue to expand and diversify our real estate portfolio through accretive acquisition and investment opportunities in healthcare properties. Our execution of this strategy by successfully identifying, securing and consummating beneficial transactions is made more challenging by increased competition and can be affected by many factors, including our relationships with current and prospective tenants, our ability to obtain debt and equity capital at costs comparable to or better than our competitors and our ability to negotiate favorable terms with property owners seeking to sell and other contractual counterparties. Our competitors for these opportunities include healthcare REITs, real estate partnerships, healthcare providers, healthcare lenders and other investors, including developers, banks, insurance companies, pension funds, government-sponsored entities and private equity firms, some of whom may have greater financial resources and lower costs of capital than we do. If we are unsuccessful at identifying and capitalizing on investment or acquisition opportunities, our growth and profitability in our real estate investment portfolio may be adversely affected.
Investments in and acquisitions of healthcare properties entail risks associated with real estate investments generally, including risks that the investment will not achieve expected returns, that the cost estimates for necessary property improvements will prove inaccurate or that the tenant or operator will fail to meet performance expectations. Income from properties and yields from investments in our properties may be affected by many factors, including changes in governmental regulation (such as licensing and government payment), general or local economic conditions (such as fluctuations in interest rates, senior savings, and employment conditions), the available local supply of and demand for improved real estate, a reduction in rental income as the result of an inability to maintain occupancy levels, natural disasters (such as hurricanes, earthquakes and floods) or similar factors. Furthermore, healthcare properties are often highly customized and the development or redevelopment of such properties may require costly tenant-specific improvements. As a result, we cannot assure you that we will achieve the economic benefit we expect from acquisition or investment opportunities.
As we expand our presence in other relevant healthcare industries, we would become subject to risks in a market in which we have limited experience.
The majority of our affiliated facilities have historically been skilled nursing facilities. As we expand our presence in other relevant healthcare service, our existing overall business model will continue to change and expose our company to risks in markets in which we have limited experience. We expect that we will have to adjust certain elements of our existing business model, which could have an adverse effect on our business.
If our referral sources fail to view us as an attractive skilled nursing provider, or if our referral sources otherwise refer fewer patients, our patient base may decrease.
We rely significantly on appropriate referrals from physicians, hospitals and other healthcare providers in the communities in which we deliver our services to attract appropriate residents and patients to our affiliated facilities. Our referral sources are not obligated to refer business to us and may refer business to other healthcare providers. We believe many of our referral sources refer business to us as a result of the quality of our patient care and our efforts to establish and build a relationship with our referral sources. If we lose, or fail to maintain, existing relationships with our referral resources, fail to develop new relationships, or if we are perceived by our referral sources as not providing high quality patient care, our occupancy rate and the quality of our patient mix could suffer. In addition, if any of our referral sources have a reduction in patients whom they can refer due to a decrease in their business, our occupancy rate and the quality of our patient mix could suffer.
We may need additional capital to fund our operating subsidiaries and finance our growth, and we may not be able to obtain it on terms acceptable to us, or at all, which may limit our ability to grow.
Our ability to maintain and enhance our operating subsidiaries and equipment in a suitable condition to meet regulatory standards, operate efficiently and remain competitive in our markets requires us to commit substantial resources to continued investment in our affiliated facilities and equipment. We are sometimes more aggressive than our competitors in capital spending to address issues that arise in connection with aging and obsolete facilities and equipment. In addition, continued expansion of our business through the acquisition of existing facilities, expansion of our existing facilities and construction of new facilities may require additional capital, particularly if we were to accelerate our acquisition and expansion plans. Financing may not be available to us or may be available to us only on terms that are not favorable. In addition, some of our outstanding indebtedness and long-term leases restrict, among other things, our ability to incur additional debt. If we are unable to raise additional funds or obtain additional funds on terms acceptable to us, we may have to delay or abandon some or all of our growth strategies. Further, if additional funds are raised through the issuance of additional equity securities, the percentage ownership of our stockholders would be diluted. Any newly issued equity securities may have rights, preferences or privileges senior to those of our common stock.
The condition of the financial markets, including volatility and deterioration in the capital and credit markets, could limit the availability of debt and equity financing sources to fund the capital and liquidity requirements of our business, as well as negatively impact or impair the value of our current portfolio of cash, cash equivalents and investments, including U.S. Treasury securities and U.S.-backed investments.
Our cash, cash equivalents and investments are held in a variety of interest-bearing instruments, including U.S. treasury securities. As a result of the uncertain domestic and global political, credit and financial market conditions, investments in these types of financial instruments pose risks arising from liquidity and credit concerns. Given that future deterioration in the U.S. and global credit and financial markets is a possibility, no assurance can be made that losses or significant deterioration in the fair value of our cash, cash equivalents, or investments will not occur. Uncertainty surrounding the trading market for U.S. government securities or impairment of the U.S. government's ability to satisfy its obligations under such treasury securities could impact the liquidity or valuation of our current portfolio of cash, cash equivalents, and investments, a substantial portion of which were invested in U.S. treasury securities. Further, unless and until the current U.S. and global political, credit and financial market crisis has been sufficiently resolved, it may be difficult for us to liquidate our investments prior to their maturity without incurring a loss, which would have a material adverse effect on our consolidated financial position, results of operations or cash flows.
We may need additional capital if a substantial acquisition or other growth opportunity becomes available or if unexpected events occur or opportunities arise. U.S. capital markets can be volatile. We cannot assure you that additional capital will be available or available on terms favorable to us. If capital is not available, we may not be able to fund internal or external business expansion or respond to competitive pressures or other market conditions.
Delays in reimbursement may cause liquidity problems.
If we experience problems with our billing information systems or if issues arise with Medicare, Medicaid or other payors, we may encounter delays in our payment cycle. From time to time, we have experienced such delays as a result of government payors instituting planned reimbursement delays for budget balancing purposes or as a result of prepayment reviews.
Some states in which we operate are operating with budget deficits or could have budget deficit in the future, which may delay reimbursement in a manner that would adversely affect our liquidity. In addition, from time to time, procedural issues require us to resubmit claims before payment is remitted, which contributes to our aged receivables. Unanticipated delays in receiving reimbursement from state programs due to changes in their policies or billing or audit procedures may adversely impact our liquidity and working capital.
Compliance with the regulations of the Department of Housing and Urban Development may require us to make unanticipated expenditures which could increase our costs.
Nineteen of our affiliated facilities are currently subject to regulatory agreements with HUD that give the Commissioner of HUD broad authority to require us to be replaced as the operator of those facilities in the event that the Commissioner determines there are operational deficiencies at such facilities under HUD regulations. Compliance with HUD's requirements can often be difficult because these requirements are not always consistent with the requirements of other federal and state agencies. Appealing a failed inspection can be costly and time-consuming and, if we do not successfully remediate the failed inspection, we could be precluded from obtaining HUD financing in the future or we may encounter limitations or prohibitions on our operation of HUD-insured facilities.
If we fail to safeguard the monies held in our patient trust funds, we will be required to reimburse such monies, and we may be subject to citations, fines and penalties.
Each of our affiliated facilities is required by federal law to maintain a patient trust fund to safeguard certain assets of their residents and patients. If any money held in a patient trust fund is misappropriated, we are required to reimburse the patient trust fund for the amount of money that was misappropriated. If any monies held in our patient trust funds are misappropriated in the future and are unrecoverable, we will be required to reimburse such monies, and we may be subject to citations, fines and penalties pursuant to federal and state laws.
We are a holding company with no operations and rely upon our multiple independent operating subsidiaries to provide us with the funds necessary to meet our financial obligations. Liabilities of any one or more of our subsidiaries could be imposed upon us or our other subsidiaries.
We are a holding company with no direct operating assets, employees or revenue. Each of our affiliated facilities is operated through a separate, wholly owned, independent subsidiary, which has its own management, employees and assets. Our principal assets are the equity interests we directly or indirectly hold in our multiple operating and real estate holding subsidiaries. As a result, we are dependent upon distributions from our subsidiaries to generate the funds necessary to meet our financial obligations and pay dividends. Our subsidiaries are legally distinct from us and have no obligation to make funds available to us. The ability of our subsidiaries to make distributions to us will depend substantially on their respective operating results and will be subject to restrictions under, among other things, the laws of their jurisdiction of organization, which may limit the amount of funds available for distribution to investors or stockholders, agreements of those subsidiaries, the terms of our financing arrangements and the terms of any future financing arrangements of our subsidiaries.
We may incur operational difficulties or be exposed to claims and liabilities as a result of the separation of Pennant.
On October 1, 2019, we distributed all of the outstanding shares of The Pennant Group, Inc. or Pennant, common stock to stockholders in connection with the separation of our home health and hospice business and substantially all of our senior living operations into a separate publicly traded company, or the Spin-Off. In connection with the Spin-Off, we entered into a separation agreement and various other agreements, including a tax matters agreement, an employee matters agreement and transition services agreements. These agreements govern the separation and distribution and the relationship between us and Pennant going forward, including with respect to potential tax-related losses associated with the separation and distribution. They also provide for the performance of services by each company for the benefit of the other for a period of time.
The separation agreement provides for indemnification obligations designed to make Pennant financially responsible for many liabilities that may exist relating to its business activities, whether incurred prior to or after the distribution, including any pending or future litigation, but we cannot guarantee that Pennant will be able to satisfy its indemnification obligations. It is also possible that a court would disregard the allocation agreed to between us and Pennant and require us to assume responsibility for obligations allocated to Pennant. Third parties could also seek to hold us responsible for any of these liabilities or obligations, and the indemnity rights we have under the separation agreement may not be sufficient to fully cover all of these liabilities and obligations. Even if we are successful in obtaining indemnification, we may have to bear costs temporarily. In addition, our indemnity obligations to Pennant, including those related to assets or liabilities allocated to us, may be significant. In addition, certain landlords required, in exchange for their consent to the Spin-Off, that our lease guarantees remain in place for a certain period of time following the Spin-Off. These guarantees could result in significant additional liabilities and obligations for us if Pennant were to default on their obligations under their leases with respect to these properties. These risks could negatively affect our business, financial condition or results of operations.
The separation of Pennant continues to involve a number of additional risks, including, among other things, the potential that management’s and our employees’ attention will be significantly diverted by the provision of transitional services or that we may incur other operational challenges or difficulties as a result of the separation. Certain of the agreements described above provide for the performance of services by each company for the benefit of the other for a period of time. If Pennant is unable to satisfy its obligations under these agreements, we could incur losses and may not have sufficient resources available for such services. These arrangements could also lead to disputes over rights to certain shared property and over the allocation of costs and revenues for products and operations. Our inability to effectively manage the transition activities and related events could adversely affect our business, financial condition or results of operations.
If either of our two Spin-Offs fail to qualify as generally tax-free for U.S. federal income tax purposes, we and our stockholders could be subject to significant tax liabilities.
In addition to the Spin-Off, in June 2014, we completed the separation of our healthcare business and our real estate business into two separate and independent publicly traded companies through the distribution of all of the outstanding shares of common stock of CareTrust REIT, Inc. (CareTrust) to Ensign stockholders on a pro rata basis (the CareTrust Spin-Off). Both of these transactions were intended to qualify for tax-free treatment to us and our stockholders for U.S. federal income tax purposes. Accordingly, completion of the transactions were conditioned upon, among other things, our receipt of opinions from outside tax advisors that the distributions would qualify as a transaction that is intended to be tax-free to both us and our stockholders for U.S. federal income tax purposes under Sections 355 and 368(a)(1)(D) of the Internal Revenue Code. The opinions were based on and relied on, among other things, certain facts and assumptions, as well as certain representations, statements and undertakings, including those relating to the past and future conduct. If any of these facts, assumptions, representations, statements or undertakings is, or becomes, inaccurate or incomplete, or if any of the parties breach any of their respective covenants relating to the transactions, the tax opinions may be invalid. Moreover, the opinions are not binding on the IRS or any courts. Accordingly, notwithstanding receipt of the opinion, the IRS could determine that the distribution and certain related transactions should be treated as taxable transactions for U.S. federal income tax purposes.
If either the Spin-Off or the CareTrust Spin-Off fails to qualify as a transaction that is generally tax-free under Sections 355 and 368(a)(1)(D) of the Internal Revenue Code, in general, for U.S. federal income tax purposes, we would recognize taxable gain with respect to the distributed securities and our stockholders who received securities in such distribution would be subject to tax as if they had received a taxable distribution equal to the fair market value of such shares.
We also have obligations to provide indemnification to a number of parties as a result of these two transactions. Any indemnity obligations for tax issues or other liabilities related to the spin off, could be significant and could adversely impact our business.
Certain directors who serve on our Board of Directors also serve as directors of Pennant, and ownership of shares of Pennant common stock by our directors and executive officers may create, or appear to create, conflicts of interest.
Certain of our directors who serve on our Board of Directors also serve on the board of directors of Pennant. This may create, or appear to create, conflicts of interest when our, or Pennant's management and directors face decisions that could have different implications for us and Pennant, including the resolution of any dispute regarding the terms of the agreements governing the Spin-Off and the relationship between us and Pennant after the Spin-Off or any other commercial agreements entered into in the future between us and the spun-off business and the allocation of such directors’ time between us and Pennant.
All of our executive officers and some of our non-employee directors own shares of the common stock of Pennant. The continued ownership of such common stock by our directors and executive officers following the Spin-Off creates, or may create, the appearance of a conflict of interest when these directors and executive officers are faced with decisions that could have different implications for us and Pennant.
Changes in the method of determining LIBOR, or the replacement of LIBOR with an alternative reference rate, may adversely affect interest rates on our current or future indebtedness and may otherwise adversely affect our financial condition and results of operations.
Certain of our indebtedness is made at variable interest rates that use the London Interbank Offered Rate, or LIBOR (or metrics derived from or related to LIBOR), as a benchmark for establishing the interest rate. On July 27, 2017, the United Kingdom’s Financial Conduct Authority announced that it intends to stop persuading or compelling banks to submit LIBOR rates after 2021. These reforms may cause LIBOR to cease to exist, new methods of calculating LIBOR to be established, or alternative reference rates to be established. The potential consequences cannot be fully predicted and could have an adverse impact on the market value for or value of LIBOR-linked securities, loans, and other financial obligations or extensions of credit held by or due to us. Changes in market interest rates may influence our financing costs, returns on financial investments and the valuation of derivative contracts and could reduce our earnings and cash flows. In addition, any transition process may involve, among other things, increased volatility or illiquidity in markets for instruments that rely on LIBOR, reductions in the value of certain instruments or the effectiveness of related transactions such as hedges, increased borrowing costs, uncertainty under applicable documentation, or difficult and costly consent processes. This could materially and adversely affect our results of operations, cash flows, and liquidity. We cannot predict the effect of the potential changes to LIBOR or the establishment and use of alternative rates or benchmarks.
Risks Related to Ownership of our Common Stock
We may not be able to pay or maintain dividends and the failure to do so would adversely affect our stock price.
Our ability to pay and maintain cash dividends is based on many factors, including our ability to make and finance acquisitions, our ability to negotiate favorable lease and other contractual terms, anticipated operating cost levels, the level of demand for our beds, the rates we charge and actual results that may vary substantially from estimates. Some of the factors are beyond our control and a change in any such factor could affect our ability to pay or maintain dividends. In addition, the revolving credit facility portion of the Credit Facility restricts our ability to pay dividends to stockholders if we receive notice that we are in default under this agreement. The failure to pay or maintain dividends could adversely affect our stock price.
Our amended and restated certificate of incorporation, amended and restated bylaws and Delaware law contain provisions that could discourage transactions resulting in a change in control, which may negatively affect the market price of our common stock.
Our amended and restated certificate of incorporation and our amended and restated bylaws contain provisions that may enable our Board of Directors to resist a change in control. These provisions may discourage, delay or prevent a change in the ownership of our company or a change in our management, even if doing so might be beneficial to our stockholders. In addition, these provisions could limit the price that investors would be willing to pay in the future for shares of our common stock. Such provisions set forth in our amended and restated certificate of incorporation or our amended and restated bylaws include:
•our Board of Directors is authorized, without prior stockholder approval, to create and issue preferred stock, commonly referred to as “blank check” preferred stock, with rights senior to those of common stock;
•advance notice requirements for stockholders to nominate individuals to serve on our Board of Directors or to submit proposals that can be acted upon at stockholder meetings;
•our Board of Directors is classified so not all members of our board are elected at one time, which may make it more difficult for a person who acquires control of a majority of our outstanding voting stock to replace our directors;
•stockholder action by written consent is limited;
•special meetings of the stockholders are permitted to be called only by the chairman of our Board of Directors, our chief executive officer or by a majority of our Board of Directors;
•stockholders are not permitted to cumulate their votes for the election of directors;
•newly created directorships resulting from an increase in the authorized number of directors or vacancies on our Board of Directors are filled only by majority vote of the remaining directors;
•our Board of Directors is expressly authorized to make, alter or repeal our bylaws; and
•stockholders are permitted to amend our bylaws only upon receiving the affirmative vote of at least a majority of our outstanding common stock.
We are also subject to the anti-takeover provisions of Section 203 of the General Corporation Law of the State of Delaware. Under these provisions, if anyone becomes an “interested stockholder,” we may not enter into a “business combination” with that person for three years without special approval, which could discourage a third party from making a takeover offer and could delay or prevent a change of control. For purposes of Section 203, “interested stockholder” means, generally, someone owning more than 15% or more of our outstanding voting stock or an affiliate of ours that owned 15% or more of our outstanding voting stock during the past three years, subject to certain exceptions as described in Section 203.
These and other provisions in our amended and restated certificate of incorporation, amended and restated bylaws and Delaware law could discourage acquisition proposals and make it more difficult or expensive for stockholders or potential acquirers to obtain control of our Board of Directors or initiate actions that are opposed by our then-current Board of Directors, including delaying or impeding a merger, tender offer or proxy contest involving us. Any delay or prevention of a change of control transaction or changes in our Board of Directors could cause the market price of our common stock to decline.
Item 1B. UNRESOLVED STAFF COMMENTS
Item 2. PROPERTIES
Service Center. Our Service Center is located in San Juan Capistrano, California. In June 2018, we acquired an office space for a purchase price of $31.0 million to accommodate our growing Service Center team. The property consists of approximately 108,058 square feet of usable office space. In addition, we lease a substantial portion of the space within the campus to third-party tenants.
Operating Facilities. We operate 228 affiliated facilities in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, Nevada, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin, with the operational capacity to serve approximately 25,426 patients as of December 31, 2020. Of the 228 facilities, we operate 164 facilities under long-term lease arrangements and have options to purchase 11 of those 164 facilities. The results of our operating facilities are reflected in our transitional and skilled services segment for our skilled nursing operations and in "All Other" category for our senior living operations.
The following table provides summary information regarding the location of our facilities, operational beds and units by property type as of December 31, 2020:
|Operated Facilities |
|Leased without a Purchase Option ||Leased with a Purchase Option||Owned ||Total|
|Facilities ||Beds/Units||Facilities ||Beds/Units||Facilities ||Beds/Units||Facilities||Beds/Units|
The following table sets forth the location of our facilities and the number of operational beds and units located at our skilled nursing, senior living and campus facilities as of December 31, 2020:
|Facility Counts||Bed / Unit Counts |
|Skilled Nursing Operations||Senior Living Communities ||Campus Operations||Total ||Skilled Nursing Beds ||Senior Living Units ||Total Beds / Units|
Real Estate Properties. As of December 31, 2020, we owned 94 real estate properties in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Nebraska, Nevada, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin, which include 64 of the 228 facilities that we operate and manage. Of our 94 real estate properties, 31 senior living operations are leased to and operated by Pennant as part of the Spin-Off. Two of the senior living operations leased by Pennant are located on the same real estate properties as skilled nursing facilities that we own and operate. We further own the real estate property of our Service Center location and continue to lease a portion of the office space to third-party tenants. Our real estate segment reflects the results of operations for our owned real estate properties.
The following table provides summary information regarding the location of our owned real estate properties as of December 31, 2020:
Owned and Operated by Ensign(1)
Owned and Leased to Pennant(1)
(1) In connection with the Spin-off, one senior living operation in California and one senior living operation in Texas, which are owned by Ensign and leased to Pennant are located on the same real estate property as a skilled nursing facility which we own and operate. In each of these situations, the senior living operation is included in the total under "Owned and Leased to Pennant" and the skilled nursing operation is included in the total under "Owned and Operated by Ensign", however, the amount reflected under "Total Properties" only recognizes these operations as a single property.
Item 3. LEGAL PROCEEDINGS
Regulatory Matters — Laws and regulations governing Medicare and Medicaid programs are complex and subject to interpretation. Compliance with such laws and regulations can be subject to future governmental review and interpretation, as well as significant regulatory action including fines, penalties, and exclusion from certain governmental programs. Included in these laws and regulations is HIPAA, which requires healthcare providers (among other things) to safeguard the privacy and security of certain health information.
Cost-Containment Measures — Both government and private pay sources have instituted cost-containment measures designed to limit payments made to providers of healthcare services, and there can be no assurance that future measures designed to limit payments made to providers will not adversely affect us.
Indemnities — From time to time, we enter into certain types of contracts that contingently require us to indemnify parties against third-party claims. These contracts primarily include (i) certain real estate leases, under which we may be required to indemnify property owners or prior facility operators for post-transfer environmental or other liabilities and other claims arising from our use of the applicable premises, (ii) operations transfer agreements, in which we agree to indemnify past operators of facilities we acquire against certain liabilities arising from the transfer of the operation and/or the operation thereof after the transfer to the Company's independent operating subsidiary, (iii) certain lending agreements, under which we may be required to indemnify the lender against various claims and liabilities, and (iv) certain agreements with our officers, directors and employees, under which we may be required to indemnify such persons for liabilities arising out of their employment relationships or relationship to the Company. The terms of such obligations vary by contract and, in most instances, do not expressly state or include a specific or maximum dollar amount. Generally, amounts under these contracts cannot be reasonably estimated until a specific claim is asserted. Consequently, because no claims have been asserted, no liabilities have been recorded for these obligations on our balance sheets for any of the periods presented.
In connection with the Spin-Off, certain landlords required, in exchange for their consent to the Spin-Off, that our lease guarantees remain in place for a certain period of time following the Spin-Off. These guarantees could result in significant additional liabilities and obligations for us if Pennant were to default on their obligations under their leases with respect to these properties.
U.S. Department of Justice Civil Investigative Demand - On May 31, 2018, we received a CID from the U.S. Department of Justice stating that it was investigating to determine whether there had been a violation of the False Claims Act and/or the Anti-Kickback Statute with respect to the relationships between certain of our independently operated skilled nursing facilities and persons who serve or have served as medical directors, advisory board participants or other potential referral sources. The CID covered the period from October 3, 2013 through 2018, and was limited in scope to ten of our Southern California independent operating entities. In October 2018, the Department of Justice made an additional request for information covering the period of January 1, 2011 through 2018, relating to the same topic. As a general matter, our independent operating entities have established and maintain policies and procedures to promote compliance with the False Claims Act, the Anti-Kickback Statute, and other applicable regulatory requirements. We have fully cooperated with the U.S. Department of Justice and promptly responded to their requests for information, and have recently been advised that the U.S. Department of Justice has declined to intervene in any subsequent action filed by a relator in connection with the subject matter of this investigation.
Litigation — We and our independent operating entities are party to various legal actions and administrative proceedings, and are subject to various claims arising in the ordinary course of business, including claims that services provided to patients by our independent operating entities have resulted in injury or death, and claims related to employment and commercial matters. Although we intend to vigorously defend against these claims, there can be no assurance that the outcomes of these matters will not have a material adverse effect on operational results and financial condition. In certain states in which we have or have had independent operating entities, insurance coverage for the risk of punitive damages arising from general and professional liability litigation may not be available due to state law and/or public policy prohibitions. There can be no assurance that our independent operating entities will not be liable for punitive damages awarded in litigation arising in states for which punitive damage insurance coverage is not available.
The skilled nursing and post-acute care industry is heavily regulated. As such, we are continuously subject to State and Federal regulatory scrutiny, supervision and control in the ordinary course of business. Such regulatory scrutiny often includes inquiries, investigations, examinations, audits, site visits and surveys, some of which are non-routine. In addition to being subject to direct regulatory oversight from State and Federal agencies, the skilled nursing and post-acute care industry is also subject to regulatory requirements which could subject us to civil, administrative or criminal fines, penalties or restitutionary relief, and reimbursement; authorities could also seek the suspension or exclusion of the provider or individual from participation in their programs. We believe that there has been, and will continue to be, an increase in governmental investigations of long-term care providers, particularly in the area of Medicare/Medicaid false claims, as well as an increase in enforcement actions resulting from these investigations. Adverse determinations in legal proceedings or governmental investigations, whether currently asserted or arising in the future, could have a material adverse effect on our financial position, results of operations, and cash flows.
Additionally, the U.S. House of Representatives Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis launched a nation-wide investigation into the COVID-19 pandemic, which includes the impact of the coronavirus on residents and employees in nursing homes. In June 2020, the Company received a document and information request from the House Select Subcommittee. The Company is cooperating in responding to this inquiry. However, it is not possible to predict the ultimate outcome of any such investigation, or whether and what other investigations or regulatory responses may result from the investigation and could have a material adverse effect on our reputation, business, financial condition and results of operations.
In addition to the potential lawsuits and claims described above, we are also subject to potential lawsuits under the Federal False Claims Act and comparable state laws alleging submission of fraudulent claims for services to any healthcare program (such as Medicare) or payor. A violation may provide the basis for exclusion from Federally funded healthcare programs. Such exclusions could have a correlative negative impact on our financial performance. Under the qui tam or "whistleblower" provisions of the False Claims Act, a private individual with knowledge of fraud may bring a claim on behalf of the Federal Government and receive a percentage of the Federal Government's recovery. Due to these whistleblower incentives, lawsuits have become more frequent. For example, and despite the decision of the U.S. Department of Justice to decline to participate in litigation based on the subject matter of its previously issued Civil Investigative Demand, the qui tam relator may continue on with the lawsuit and pursue claims that one or more of the Company's independent operating entities have allegedly violated the False Claims Act and/or the Anti-Kickback Statute.
In addition to the Federal False Claims Act, some states, including California, Arizona and Texas, have enacted similar whistleblower and false claims laws and regulations. Further, the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 created incentives for states to enact anti-fraud legislation modeled on the Federal False Claims Act. As such, we could face increased scrutiny, potential liability, and legal expenses and costs based on claims under state false claims acts in markets in which our independent operating subsidiaries do business.
In May 2009, Congress passed the FERA which made significant changes to the Federal False Claims Act (FCA) and expanded the types of activities subject to prosecution and whistleblower liability. Following changes by FERA, health care providers face significant penalties for the knowing retention of government overpayments, even if no false claim was involved. Health care providers can now be liable for knowingly and improperly avoiding or decreasing an obligation to pay money or property to the government. This includes the retention of any government overpayment. The government can argue, therefore, that an FCA violation can occur without any affirmative fraudulent action or statement, as long as the action or statement is knowingly improper. In addition, FERA extended protections against retaliation for whistleblowers, including protections not only for employees, but also contractors and agents. Thus, an employment relationship is generally not required in order to qualify for protection against retaliation for whistleblowing.
Healthcare litigation (including class action litigation) is common and is filed based upon a wide variety of claims and theories, and our independent operating entities are routinely subjected to varying types of claims. One particular type of suit arises from alleged violations of minimum staffing requirements for skilled nursing facilities in those states which have enacted such requirements. The alleged failure to meet these requirements can, among other things, jeopardize a facility's compliance with requirements of participation under certain State and Federal healthcare programs; it may also subject the facility to a notice of deficiency, a citation, a civil monetary penalty, or litigation. These class-action “staffing” suits have the potential to result in large jury verdicts and settlements. We expect the plaintiffs' bar to continue to be aggressive in their pursuit of these staffing and similar claims.
We and our independent operating subsidiaries have been, and continue to be, subject to claims and legal actions that arise in the ordinary course of business, including potential claims related to patient care and treatment (professional negligence claims) as well as employment related claims. In addition, we and our independent operating subsidiaries, and others in the industry, are subject to claims and lawsuits in connection with COVID-19 and facilities preparation for and/or response to the COVID-19 pandemic. While we have been able to settle or otherwise resolve these types of claims without an ongoing material adverse effect on our business, a significant increase in the number of these claims, or an increase in the amounts owing should plaintiffs be successful in their prosecution of future claims, could materially adversely affect the Company’s business, financial condition, results of operations and cash flows.
Claims and suits, including class actions, continue to be filed against us and other companies in the post-acute care industry. We and our independent operating entities have been subjected to, and/or are currently involved in, class action litigation alleging violations (alone or in combination) of State and Federal wage and hour law as related to the alleged failure to pay wages, to timely provide and authorize meal and rest breaks, and other such similar causes of action. We do not believe that the ultimate resolution of these actions will have a material adverse effect on our business, cash flows, financial condition or results of operations.
Medicare Revenue Recoupments — We and our independent operating subsidiaries are subject to regulatory reviews relating to the provision of Medicare services, billings and potential overpayments resulting from reviews conducted via RAC, Program Safeguard Contractors, and Medicaid Integrity Contractors (collectively referred to as Reviews). For several months during the COVID-19 pandemic, CMS suspended its Targeted Probe and Educate program. Beginning in August 2020, CMS resumed Targeted Probe and Educate program activity. As of December 31, 2020, four of our independent operating subsidiaries had Reviews scheduled, on appeal, or in a dispute resolution process. We anticipate that these Reviews could increase in frequency in the future. If an operation fails a Review and/or subsequent Reviews, the operation could then be subject to extended review or an extrapolation of the identified error rate to billings in the same time period. As of December 31, 2020, our independent operating subsidiaries have responded to the requests and the related claims currently under review, on appeal or in a dispute resolution process.
Item 4. MINE SAFETY DISCLOSURES
Item 5. MARKET FOR REGISTRANT'S COMMON EQUITY, RELATED STOCKHOLDER MATTERS AND ISSUER PURCHASES OF EQUITY SECURITIES
Our common stock has been traded under the symbol “ENSG” on the NASDAQ Global Select Market since our initial public offering on November 8, 2007. Prior to that time, there was no public market for our common stock. As of January 29, 2021, there were approximately 285 holders of record of our common stock.
We do not have a formal dividend policy, but we currently intend to continue to pay regular quarterly dividends to the holders of our common stock. We have been a dividend-paying company since 2002 and have increased our dividend every year for the last 18 years.
Issuer Repurchases of Equity Securities
Stock Repurchase Programs. As approved by the Board of Directors on March 4, 2020 and March 13, 2020, the Company entered into two stock repurchase programs pursuant to which the Company was authorized to repurchase up to $20.0 million and $5.0 million, respectively, of its common stock under the programs for a period of approximately 12 months. Under these programs, the Company was authorized to repurchase its issued and outstanding common shares from time to time in open-market and privately negotiated transactions and block trades in accordance with federal securities laws. During the first quarter of 2020, the Company repurchased 0.5 million and 0.2 million shares of its common stock for $20.0 million and $5.0 million, respectively. These repurchase programs expired upon the repurchase of the full authorized amount under the two plans.
As approved by the Board of Directors on August 26, 2019, we entered into a stock repurchase program pursuant to which we may repurchase up to $20.0 million of our common stock under the program for a period of approximately 12 months. Under this program, we are authorized to repurchase our issued and outstanding common shares from time to time in open-market and privately negotiated transactions and block trades in accordance with federal securities laws. During the year ended December 31, 2020, we repurchased 0.1 million shares of our common stock for a total of $6.4 million. The stock repurchase program expired on August 31, 2020.
A summary of the repurchase activity for the year ended December 31, 2020 is as follows (dollars in millions, except per share amounts):
|Period||Total Number of Shares Repurchased||Average Price Per Share||Total Number of Shares Purchased as Part of Publicly Announced Plans or Programs||Approximate Dollar Value of Shares that May Yet Be Purchased Under the Plans or Programs|
|March 4 - March 12, 2020 (1)||503,026 ||$||39.73 ||503,026 ||$||— |
|March 16 - March 17, 2020 (2)||188,951 ||$||26.43 ||188,951 ||$||— |
(1) These purchases were effectuated through a Rule 10b5-1 trading plan adopted by the Company on March 4, 2020.
(2) These purchases were effectuated through a Rule 10b5-1 trading plan adopted by the Company on March 13, 2020.
Item 6. SELECTED FINANCIAL DATA
Upon the completion of the Spin-Off on October 1, 2019, Pennant's historical financial results for periods prior to the Spin-Off were reflected in our consolidated financial statements as discontinued operations. The following selected consolidated financial data are qualified in their entirety, and should be read in conjunction with the consolidated financial statements and related notes thereto, and "Management's Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations" in Item 7 of Part II of this Annual Report on Form 10-K.
We derived the selected consolidated statements of operations data for the years ended December 31, 2020, 2019 and 2018 and the selected consolidated balance sheets data as of December 31, 2020 and 2019 from our audited consolidated financial statements contained in Item 15., Exhibits, Financial Statements and Schedules of this Annual Report on Form 10-K. We derived the selected consolidated statements of operations data for the years ended December 31, 2017 and 2016 and the selected consolidated balance sheets data as of December 31, 2018, 2017 and 2016 from our audited consolidated financial statements, which are not included in this Annual Report on Form 10-K. Historical results are not necessarily indicative of results to be expected for future periods.
|Year Ended December 31,|
|(In thousands, except per share data)|
|Service revenue||$||2,387,439 ||$||2,031,266 ||$||1,752,991 ||$||1,598,159 ||$||1,437,489 |
|Rental revenue||15,157 ||5,258 ||1,610 ||167 ||150 |
|$||2,402,596 ||$||2,036,524 ||$||1,754,601 ||$||1,598,326 ||$||1,437,639 |
Cost of services(1)
|1,865,201 ||1,620,628 ||1,418,249 ||1,313,451 ||1,184,757 |
|(Return of unclaimed class action settlement)/charges related to class action lawsuit||— ||— ||(1,664)||11,000 ||— |
Losses/(gains) related to divestitures(2)
|— ||— ||— ||2,321 ||(11,225)|
|Rent—cost of services ||129,926 ||124,789 ||117,676 ||111,980 ||106,134 |
|General and administrative expense||129,743 ||110,873 ||90,563 ||74,120 ||64,087 |
|Depreciation and amortization||54,571 ||51,054 ||44,864 ||42,268 ||36,069 |
|Total expenses||2,179,441 ||1,907,344 ||1,669,688 ||1,555,140 ||1,379,822 |
|Income from operations||223,155 ||129,180 ||84,913 ||43,186 ||57,817 |
|Other income (expense):|
|Interest and other income||3,813 ||2,649 ||2,016 ||1,609 ||1,107 |
|Other expense, net||(5,549)||(13,013)||(13,166)||(12,007)||(6,029)|
|Income before provision for income taxes||217,606 ||116,167 ||71,747 ||31,179 ||51,788 |
Provision for income taxes(3)
|46,242 ||23,954 ||12,685 ||14,206 ||19,678 |
|Net income from continuing operations||171,364 ||92,213 ||59,062 ||16,973 ||32,110 |
|Net income from discontinued operations, net of tax||— ||19,473 ||33,466 ||23,860 ||20,733 |
|Net income ||171,364 ||111,686 ||92,528 ||40,833 ||52,843 |
|Less: Net income/(loss) attributable to noncontrolling interests in continuing operations||886 ||523 ||(431)||198 ||2,827 |
|Net income attributable to noncontrolling interest in discontinued operations||— ||629 ||595 ||160 ||26 |
|Net income attributable to The Ensign Group, Inc.||$||170,478 ||$|