While for-profit health system giants HCA Healthcare and Tenet Healthcare reported reductions in contract labor usage last quarter, sustained higher labor costs and sluggish demand resulted in both of them, along with Community Health Systems and Universal Health Services, seeing their net income decline in the second quarter.
Like many systems, the for-profit chains seem to have successfully weaned themselves from earlier reliance on expensive temporary nurses, but are facing more structural increases in labor costs as salaries have risen to remain competitive in a very tight labor market.
The Gist: The earnings reports from for-profit companies are a canary in the coal mine for the overall margin performance of the industry. Although investor-owned companies are vastly outnumbered by their not-for-profit peers, they often move more quickly, and with more vigor, to reduce costs in order to meet the earnings expectations of Wall Street investors. They also typically rely more heavily on volume growth—particularly emergency department visits—as a driver of earnings.
If for-profits are now finding it more difficult to pull those levers, we’d expect that the broader universe of nonprofit systems is experiencing even tougher sledding. That’s consistent with what we’re hearing anecdotally from health systems we work with.