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Slight downgrade for Northwell Health bonds by Fitch Ratings

Northwell Health, whose hospitals include North Shore University

Northwell Health, whose hospitals include North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, continues to expand its networks. Credit: Northwell Health

Fitch Ratings has downgraded bonds of New Hyde Park-based Northwell Health to "A-" from "A."

The new rating, like the previous one, is investment grade, which means the credit agency sees a low risk of a default.

The bonds were issued by Northwell, the largest health system in the state, or by New York State on behalf of Northwell.

Fitch said the "A-" rating reflects Northwell’s “leading market share position in a large and competitive service area where it has a significant presence with a strong acute care and ambulatory coverage.” Fitch added that Northwell has the “proven ability to successfully manage growth, which is expected to lead to improved cash flow in future years.”

Northwell said about the ratings change, "Our financial position remains strong, and we are meeting our 2018 budget projections."

Fitch said the ratings change incorporated "revised criteria" for not-for-profit hospitals and health systems.

But the New York-based ratings agency also said Northwell had weaker results over the past two years because of losses related to its insurance plans, which are now in wind-down mode.

Northwell said last year it was shutting down CareConnect, its insurance arm, due to the uncertainty of the Affordable Care Act’s future and because it faced another $100 million in ACA risk-adjustment pool payments under the rules governing the insurance exchange. Northwell called those rules unfair.

CareConnect had about 126,000 policyholders, about 56 percent of them on Long Island.

Fitch supported the CareConnect shutdown, stating, “The withdrawal from the insurance business is a positive decision in the long-run. Northwell’s core business has consistently demonstrated strong growth from increased volume and patient revenue, as well as strategic acquisitions.” Northwell Health continues to expand its hospital and ambulatory care networks. It took control of Port Jefferson-based John T. Mather Memorial Hospital in January.

Northwell is the largest private employer in the state of New York, with about 66,000 employees.

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