Acadia CEO: More Tech Will Pump Up Referrals, Entice Payers

Acadia Healthcare Company Inc.’s (Nasdaq: ACHC) technology could lead to better integration across its business lines.

This, in turn, could translate into added value for the company in two key ways, according to CEO Chris Hunter. Those areas are better internal referral practices and stronger negotiating positions with payers, including value-based care considerations. 

“Less than 1% of our referrals are within the Acadia ecosystem with 250 facilities,” Hunter said during a presentation at TD Cowen Group’s 43 Annual Health Care Conference. “We have so many patients that have co-occurring conditions. We just haven’t been intentional about looking for ways to help them step into another line of care.” 


That’s where technology could help, Hunter noted.

“We candidly have not had the technology in our industry — and certainly within our company — to track those patients as well,” he said. “So you just put all those together and we just see significant value to unlock just by being able to be a better referral source within Acadia.”

Hunter’s remarks about better technology use echo what he has said in earlier comments. He previously lamented the lack of technology, especially electronic health records. He pointed to it as a major problem and opportunity for Acadia Healthcare and the behavioral health industry. 


Technology will bring together several of Acadia Healthcare’s growth initiatives while striving to double revenue by 2028.

He added that Acadia Healthcare’s largest division — its comprehensive treatment centers (CTCs) — operates almost like a standalone business. Acadia’s CTC business provides outpatient medication-assisted treatment and several other services like medical, educational, vocational and other supports. The CTC business accounts for 151 of Acadia’s 250 facilities. 

Acadia Healthcare’s three other divisions are acute inpatient treatment, specialty treatment and residential treatment.

While it is the largest by facility count, the CTC division is not the largest source of the company’s revenue; it’s the third largest.

Acute inpatient facilities brought in the most — about $1.33 billion, or 51% — of Acadia Healthcare’s annual revenue in 2022, according to a financial disclosure. The CTC division brought in $418 million, 22% of Acadia’s revenue.

“[Of those] admitted to one of our specialty facilities, 70% of them actually have an OUD diagnosis. So there is a significant opportunity to refer patients back and forth,” Hunter said. “Those that are coming into our acute facilities have a much shorter length of stay, usually around 10 days. But that can also be a feeder into our specialty facilities.”

Hunter, an ex-Humana Inc. (NYSE: HUM) executive, said that value-based care and other alternative payment arrangements will become more tenable as the company doubles down on proving its value via outcomes data.

“On the technology front, we will get to a point where we can truly compete on the strength of our health outcomes,” he said. “But we have to sit down with payers and be in a position where we can bring them our data and show them that our outcomes are better than another provider. I think that’s where the market is going to move. Maybe not immediately. But it’s one of the major reasons we’re making these technology investments now.”

While not all payers today are interested in getting creative with alternative or value-based care contracts, Hunter said some propose shared savings or other up-side-only arrangements based on care outcomes. 

Acadia Healthcare likely won’t be moving into capitation or down-side-bearing arrangements anytime soon, he added.

The company’s ambitious growth strategy may benefit from what some consider a weakened economy. The downturn may lead to lower valuations and, in turn, ease Acadia Healthcare’s path with mergers and acquisitions. Hunter said as much during the company’s annual earnings review in February.

However, the company’s preferred growth strategies would be existing facility expansions or joint ventures in “under bedded” metros with “premier” local health systems, Hunter said.

“We committed to investing heavily in technology — not just in EMR, but also some remote monitoring technology and other things that we think will really help catapult our company and hopefully bring the industry along,” Hunter said.

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