2015 year-in-review: Antitrust actions, mergers among top headlines

The year 2015 was extraordinarily eventful in terms of healthcare delivery and healthcare finance. Here are seven of the top health finance stories of the year:

1. The King v. Burwell decision. The U.S. Supreme Court's ruling kept subsidies in place in states that did not operate their own exchanges, ensuring that patients in 37 states would keep their healthcare coverage in place. Hospital stocks reacted positively to the decision.

2. Mergers and acquisitions. Whether it is Tenet Healthcare Corp. selling hospitals to WellStar Corp. for hundreds of millions of dollars, the Daughters of Charity Healthcare system selling to BlueMountain Capital, or a variety of smaller deals engineered by Prime Healthcare Services and its not-for-profit affiliate the Prime Healthcare Foundation, there have been a large number of hospital and healthcare system mergers and acquisitions.

3. The blocking of mergers and acquisitions. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Justice Department have become particularly aggressive in policing would-be M&A activity in the provider realm. In just the past several months, the FTC has moved to block pending deals in Illinois, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

4. Price transparency. States such as Massachusetts and California moved forward with price transparency initiatives, but they have often fallen short in terms of providing the kind of timely and accurate data that would allow patients to make informed decisions about their care.

5. Hospitals and jobs. As federal jobs data rolled out throughout 2015, it became clear that hospitals have become one of the biggest generators of well-paying jobs in the United States.

6. Brightening forecasts on non-profit hospitals. Moody's Investors Service improved its long-term outlook for not-for-profit hospitals, citing improvements in cash flow related to the growth of paying patients due to the Affordable Care Act. Fitch Ratings did not up its long-term forecast, but did provide rosier reports.

7. Continuing drug price increases bring new pressures. Spending and pricing on drugs was far higher than any other face of healthcare delivery during 2015. And in some instances, companies purchased old-line drugs and increased their prices dramatically. The U.S. Senate responded by holding hearings.