Three Must-Haves for Every Rating Presentation

2 minute
Business presentation

Creating a great rating agency presentation is imperative to telling your story. I’ve probably seen a thousand presentations across the past three decades and I can say without a doubt that a great presentation will find its way into the rating committee. Show me a crisp, detailed, well-organized presentation, and I’ll show you a ratings analyst who walks away with high confidence that the management team can navigate the industry challenges ahead.

During the pandemic, Kaufman Hall recommended that hospitals move financial performance to the top of the presentation agenda. Better presentations chronicled the immediate, “line item by line item” steps management was taking to stop the financial bleeding and access liquidity. We still recommend this level of detail in your presentations, but as many hospitals relocate their bottom line, management teams are now returning to discussing longer-term strategy and financial performance in their presentations.

Beyond the facts and figures, many hospitals ask me what the rating analysts REALLY want to know. Over those one thousand presentations I’ve seen, the presentations that stood out the most addressed the three themes below:

  1. What makes your organization essential? Hospitals maintain limited price elasticity as Medicare and Medicaid typically comprise at least half of patient service revenue, leaving only a small commercial slice to subsidize operations. The ability to negotiate meaningful rate increases with payers will largely rest on the ability to prove why the hospital is a “must-have” in the network. In other words, a health plan that can’t sell a product without a hospital in its network is the definition of essential. This conversation now also includes Medicare Advantage plans as penetration rates increase rapidly across the country. Essentiality may be demonstrated by distinct services, strong clinical outcomes and robust medical staff, multiple access points across a certain geography, or data that show the hospital is a low-cost alternative compared to other providers. Volume trends, revenue growth, and market share show that essentiality. A discussion on essentiality is particularly needed for independent providers who operate in crowded markets.
  2. What makes your financial performance durable? Many hospitals are showing a return to better performance in recent quarters. Showing how your organization will sustain better financial results is important. Analysts will want to know what the new “run rate” is and why it is durable. What are the undergirding factors that make the better margins sustainable? Drivers may include negotiated rate increases from commercial payers and revenue cycle improvements. On the expense side, a well-chronicled plan to achieve operating efficiencies should receive material airtime in the presentation, particularly regarding labor. It is universally understood that high labor costs are a permanent, structural challenge for hospitals, so any effort to bend the labor cost curve will be well received. Management should also isolate non-recurring revenue or expenses that may drive results, such as FEMA funds or 340B settlements. To that end, many states have established new direct-to-provider payment programs which may be meaningful for hospitals. Expect questions on whether these funds are subject to annual approval by the state or CMS. The analysts will take a sharpened pencil to a growing reliance on these funds. 

    The durability of financial performance should be represented with highly detailed multi-year projections complete with computed margin, debt, and liquidity ratios. Know that analysts will create their own conservative projections if these are not provided, which effectively limits your voice in the rating committee. 

    We also recommend that hospitals include a catalogue of MTI and bank covenants in the presentation. Complying with covenants are part of the agreement that hospitals make with their lenders, and it is the organization’s responsibility to report how it’s performing against these covenants. General philosophy on headroom to covenants also provides insight to management’s operating philosophy. For example, is it the organization’s goal to have narrow, adequate, or ample headroom to the covenants and why? As the rating agencies will tell you, ratings are not solely based on covenant performance, but all rating factors influence your ability to comply with the covenants.
  3. What makes your capital plan affordable? Every rating committee will ask what the hospital’s future capital needs are and how those capital needs will be supported by cash flow, also known as “capital capacity.” To answer that question, a hospital must understand what it can afford, based on financial projections. Funding sources may require debt, which requires a debt capacity analysis with goals on debt burden, coverage, and liquidity targets. Over the years, better presentations explain the organization’s capital model, outline the funding sources, and discuss management’s tolerance for leverage.

There is always a lot to cover when meeting with the rating agencies and a near endless array of metrics and indicators to provide. As I’ve written before, how you tell the story is as important as the story itself. If you can weave these three themes throughout the presentation, then you will have a greater shot at having your best voice heard in rating committee.

Lisa Goldstein headshot
Lisa Goldstein is a nationally recognized analyst, speaker, writer, and expert on not-for-profit healthcare. At Kaufman Hall, she is a member of the Treasury and Capital Markets practice and Thought Leadership team.
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