COVID-19 to cost hospitals $323 billion, American Hospital Association says

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/finance/covid-19-to-cost-hospitals-323-billion-american-hospital-association-says.html?utm_medium=email

Catastrophic financial impact of COVID-19 expected to top $323 ...

Hospitals will lose $323.1 billion this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new report from the American Hospital Association. 

The total includes $120.5 billion in financial losses the association predicts hospitals will see from July through December on top of $202.6 billion in losses they estimated between March and June. The losses are in large part due to lower patient volumes.

“While potentially catastrophic, these projected losses still may underrepresent the full financial losses hospitals will face in 2020, as the analysis does not account for currently increasing case rates in certain states, or potential subsequent surges of the pandemic occurring later this year,” the AHA said.

Hospitals and health systems are reporting an average decline of 19.5 percent in inpatient volume and 34.5 percent in outpatient volume when compared to baseline levels from last year. Most hospitals don’t expect to return to last year’s levels in 2020.

Read the full report here.

 

 

 

In blow to hospitals, judge rules for HHS in price transparency case

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/in-blow-to-hospitals-judge-rules-for-hhs-in-price-transparency-case/580395/

UPDATE: June 24, 2020: The American Hospital Association said it will appeal Tuesday’s ruling  that upholds the Trump administration’s mandate to force hospitals to disclose negotiated rates with insurers. The hospital lobby said it was disappointed in the ruling and will seek expedited review. AHA said the mandate “imposes significant burdens on hospitals at a time when resources are stretched thin and need to be devoted to patient care.”

If AHA seeks to have the rule stayed pending an appellate ruling, the decision on such a request “is likely to be almost as significant as this ruling is, since absent a stay, the rule will likely go into effect before the appellate court rules,” James Burns, a law partner at Akerman, told Healthcare Dive.

Dive Brief:

  • A federal judge ruled against the American Hospital Association on Tuesday in its lawsuit attempting to block an HHS rule pushing for price transparency. The judge ruled in favor of the department, which requires hospitals to reveal private, negotiated rates with insurers beginning Jan. 1.
  • U.S. District Court Judge Carl Nichols, an appointee of President Donald Trump, was swayed neither by AHA’s argument that forcing hospitals to publicly disclose rates violates their First Amendment rights by forcing them to reveal proprietary information nor by the claim that it would chill negotiations between providers and payers. The judge characterized the First Amendment argument as “half-hearted.”
  • Nichols seem convinced that the requirement will empower patients, noting in Tuesday’s summary judgment in favor of the administration that “all of the information required to be published by the Final Rule can allow patients to make pricing comparisons between hospitals.”

Dive Insight:

The ruling is a blow for hospitals, which have been adamantly opposed to disclosing their privately negotiated rates since HHS first unveiled its proposal in July 2019. AHA did not immediately reply to a request for comment on whether it planned to appeal.

The legal debate hinges on the definition of “standard charges”, which is mentioned in the Affordable Care Act, though it was left largely undefined in the text. Trump issued an executive order last year that included negotiated rates as part of that definition.

Cynthia Fisher, founder of patienrightsadvocate.com, which filed an amicus brief in support of HHS, told Healthcare Dive on Tuesday the ruling could make shopping for health services more like buying groceries or retail.

“For the first time we will be able to know prices before we get care,” she said. “This court ruling rejects every claim to keep the secret hidden prices from consumers until after we get care.”

 

 

 

 

Hospitals tell court price transparency laws violate 1st Amendment

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/AHA-HHS-price-transparency-oral-arguments/577613/

Dive Brief:

  • In the first round of oral arguments in their lawsuit against HHS over a rule requiring hospitals to reveal the secret rates they negotiate with insurers for services, hospital groups argued the requirement exceeds the government’s authority and violates the First Amendment by compelling hospitals to publicly post confidential and proprietary information​.
  • The American Hospital Association, along with other industry groups and health systems that brought the lawsuit, argued in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Thursday that medical bills aren’t considered commercial speech and don’t fall under the same regulations that traditional advertisements, flyers and other forms of commercial speech offering or promoting services do.
  • “There’s not another market that looks like the market for hospital services,” said U.S. Department of Justice Attorney Michael Baer, who was representing HHS. A majority of patients final bills’ include the negotiated rate, information that should be available to patients, acting as consumers, prior to receiving care, he said.

Dive Insight:

Thursday’s hearing was the first step in what’s likely to be a drawn out legal fight. Negotiated rates between hospitals and insurers have long been private, and hospitals want to keep it that way. 

When HHS passed the final price transparency rule last year, the hospital groups filed a lawsuit in December, warning that requiring disclosure of negotiated rates will confuse patients, overwhelm hospitals and thwart competition. The rule would go into effect Jan. 1, 2021.

According to the lawsuit, the rule creates undue burden on hospitals and health systems, which can have more than 100 contracts with insurers. There can even be multiple contracts with an individual carrier to account for the various product lines, including Medicare Advantage, HMO or PPO.

The rule would require various pricing information, including gross charges, payer-specific rates, minimum and maximum negotiated charges and the amount the hospital is willing to accept in cash from a patient.

Some payers and employer groups have also protested the new rule, calling it wrong-headed.

When the rule initially passed last year, HHS argued that patients already see this pricing data when they receive their explanation of benefits, pushing back against the idea that it’s proprietary business information. They said this information needs to come before a procedure, not after.​

HHS maintains that the rule is intended to give patients better access to payment information so they can make informed decisions as consumers. 

“Patients deserve to know how much it’s going to cost when they get hospital care,” Baer said. “They deserve to know before they open a medical bill or before they choose where they want to receive care.”

 

 

 

 

42 hospitals closed, filed for bankruptcy this year

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/finance/42-hospitals-closed-filed-for-bankruptcy-this-year.html?utm_medium=email

The Local Hospital Closed. These Doctors Didn't Give Up.

From reimbursement landscape challenges to dwindling patient volumes, many factors lead hospitals to shut down or file for bankruptcy. At least 42 hospitals across the U.S. have closed or entered bankruptcy this year, and the financial challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic may force more hospitals to do the same in coming months. 

COVID-19 has created a cash crunch for many hospitals across the nation. They’re estimated to lose $200 billion between March 1 and June 30, according to a report from the American Hospital Association. More than $161 billion of the expected revenue losses will come from canceled services, including nonelective surgeries and outpatient treatment. Moody’s Investors Service said the sharp declines in revenue and cash flow caused by the suspension of elective procedures could cause more hospitals to default on their credit agreements this year than in 2019. 

Below are the provider organizations that have filed for bankruptcy or closed since Jan. 1, beginning with the most recent. They own and operate a combined 42 hospitals.

Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital (Ashland, Ky.)
Bon Secours Mercy Health closed Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital in Ashland, Ky., on April 30. The 214-bed hospital was originally slated to shut down in September of this year, but the timeline was moved up after employees began accepting new jobs or tendering resignations. Bon Secours cited local competition as one reason for the hospital closure. Despite efforts to help sustain hospital operations, Bon Secours was unable to “effectively operate in an environment that has multiple acute care facilities competing for the same patients, providers and services,” the health system said.

Williamson (W.Va.) Hospital
Williamson Hospital filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in October and was operating on thin margins for months before shutting down on April 21. The 76-bed hospital said a drop in patient volume due to the COVID-19 pandemic forced it to close. CEO Gene Preston said the decline in patient volume was “too sudden and severe” for the hospital to sustain operations.

Decatur County General Hospital (Parsons, Tenn.)
Decatur County General Hospital closed April 15, a few weeks after the local hospital board voted to shut it down. Decatur County Mayor Mike Creasy said the closure was attributable to a few factors, including rising costs, Tennessee’s lack of Medicaid expansion and broader financial challenges facing the rural healthcare system in the U.S.

Quorum Health (Brentwood, Tenn.)
Quorum Health and its 23 hospitals filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy April 7. The company, a spinoff of Franklin, Tenn.-based Community Health Systems, said the bankruptcy filing is part of a plan to recapitalize the business and reduce its debt load.

UPMC Susquehanna Sunbury (Pa.)
UPMC Susquehanna Sunbury closed March 31. Pittsburgh-based UPMC announced plans in December to close the rural hospital, citing dwindling patient volumes. Sunbury’s population was 9,905 at the 2010 census, down more than 6 percent from 10 years earlier. Though the hospital officially closed its doors in March, it shut down its emergency department and ended inpatient services Jan. 31.

Fairmont (W.Va.) Regional Medical Center
Irvine, Calif.-based Alecto Healthcare Services closed Fairmont Regional Medical Center on March 19. Alecto announced plans in February to close the 207-bed hospital, citing financial challenges. “Our plans to reorganize some administrative functions and develop other revenue sources were insufficient to stop the financial losses at FRMC,” Fairmont Regional CEO Bob Adcock said. “Our efforts to find a buyer or new source of financing were unsuccessful.” Morgantown-based West Virginia University Medicine will open a 10-bed hospital with an emergency department at the former Fairmont Regional Medical Center by the end of June.

Sumner Community Hospital (Wellington, Kan.)
Sumner Community Hospital closed March 12 without providing notice to employees or the local community. Kansas City, Mo.-based Rural Hospital Group, which acquired the hospital in 2018, cited financial difficulties and lack of support from local physicians as reasons for the closure. “Lack of support from the local medical community was the primary reason we are having to close the hospital,” RHG said. “We regret having to make this decision; however, despite operating the hospital in the most fiscally responsible manner possible, we simply could not overcome the divide that has existed from the time we purchased the hospital until today.”

Randolph Health
Randolph Health, a single-hospital system based in Asheboro, N.C., filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy March 6. Randolph Health leaders have taken several steps in recent years to improve the health system’s financial picture, and they’ve made progress toward that goal. Entering Chapter 11 bankruptcy will allow Randolph Health to restructure its debt, which officials said is necessary to ensure the health system continues to provide care for many more years.

Pickens County Medical Center (Carrollton, Ala.)
Pickens County Medical Center closed March 6. Hospital leaders said the closure was attributable to the hospital’s unsustainable financial position. A news release announcing the closure specifically cited reduced federal funding, lower reimbursement from commercial payers and declining patient visits.

The Medical Center at Elizabeth Place (Dayton, Ohio)
The Medical Center at Elizabeth Place, a 12-bed hospital owned by physicians in Dayton, Ohio, closed March 5. The closure came after years of financial problems. In January 2019, the Medical Center at Elizabeth Place lost its certification as a hospital, meaning it couldn’t bill Medicare or Medicaid for services. Sixty to 65 percent of the hospital’s patients were covered through the federal programs.

Mayo Clinic Health System-Springfield (Minn.)
Mayo Clinic Health System closed its hospital in Springfield, Minn., on March 1. Mayo announced plans in December to close the hospital and its clinics in Springfield and Lamberton, Minn. At that time, James Hebl, MD, regional vice president of Mayo Clinic Health System, said the facilities faced staffing challenges, dwindling patient volumes and other issues. The hospital in Springfield is one of eight hospitals within a less than 40-mile radius, which has led to declining admissions and low use of the emergency department, Dr. Hebl said.

Faith Community Health System
Faith Community Health System, a single-hospital system based in Jacksboro, Texas and part of the Jack County (Texas) Hospital District, first entered Chapter 9 bankruptcy — a bankruptcy proceeding that offers distressed municipalities protection from creditors while a repayment plan is negotiated — in February. The bankruptcy court dismissed the case May 26 at the request of the health system. The health system asked the court to dismiss the bankruptcy case to allow it to apply for a Paycheck Protection Program loan through a Small Business Association lender. On June 11, Faith Community Health System reentered Chapter 9 bankruptcy.

Pinnacle Healthcare System
Overland Park, Kan.-based Pinnacle Healthcare System and its hospitals in Missouri and Kansas filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Feb. 12. Pinnacle Regional Hospital in Boonville, Mo., formerly known as Cooper County Memorial Hospital, entered bankruptcy about a month after it abruptly shut down. Pinnacle Regional Hospital in Overland Park, formerly called Blue Valley Hospital, closed about two months after entering bankruptcy.

Central Hospital of Bowie (Texas)
Central Hospital of Bowie abruptly closed Feb. 4. Hospital officials said the facility was shut down to enable them to restructure the business. Hospital leaders voluntarily surrendered the license for Central Hospital of Bowie.

Ellwood City (Pa.) Medical Center
Ellwood City Medical Center officially closed Jan. 31. The hospital was operating under a provisional license in November when the Pennsylvania Department of Health ordered it to suspend inpatient and emergency services due to serious violations, including failure to pay employees and the inability to offer surgical services. The hospital’s owner, Americore Health, suspended all clinical services at Ellwood City Medical Center Dec. 10. At that time, hospital officials said they hoped to reopen the facility in January. Plans to reopen were halted Jan. 3 after the health department conducted an onsite inspection and determined the hospital “had not shown its suitability to resume providing any health care services.”

Thomas Health (South Charleston, W.Va.)
Thomas Health and its two hospitals filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Jan. 10. In an affidavit filed in the bankruptcy case, Thomas Health President and CEO Daniel J. Lauffer cited several reasons the health system is facing financial challenges, including reduced reimbursement rates and patient outmigration. The health system announced June 18 that it reached an agreement in principle with a new capital partner that would allow it to emerge from bankruptcy.

St. Vincent Medical Center (Los Angeles)
St. Vincent Medical Center closed in January, roughly three weeks after El Segundo, Calif.-based Verity Health announced plans to shut down the 366-bed hospital. Verity, a nonprofit health system that entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2018, shut down St. Vincent after a deal to sell four of its hospitals fell through. In April, Patrick Soon-Shiong, MD, the billionaire owner of the Los Angeles Times, purchased St. Vincent out of bankruptcy for $135 million.

Astria Regional Medical Center (Yakima, Wash.)
Astria Regional Medical Center filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in May 2019 and closed in January. When the hospital closed, 463 employees lost their jobs. Attorneys representing Astria Health said the closure of Astria Regional Medical Center, which has lost $40 million since 2017, puts Astria Health in a better financial position. “As a result of the closure … the rest of the system’s cash flows will be sufficient to safely operate patient care operations and facilities and maintain administrative solvency of the estate,” states a status report filed Jan. 20 with the bankruptcy court.

 

 

 

Predicting COVID-19’s Long-Term Impact on the Home Health Care Market

Predicting COVID-19’s Long-Term Impact on the Home Health Care Market

Predicting COVID-19's Long-Term Impact on the Home Health Care ...

The Patient-Driven Groupings Model (PDGM) and its unintended ripple effects were supposed to be the dominant story this year for the nation’s 12,000 or so Medicare-certified home health care providers. But the coronavirus has rewritten the script for 2020, throwing most of the industry’s previous projections out the window.

While PDGM — implemented on Jan. 1 — will still shape home health care’s immediate future, several other long-term trends have emerged as a result of the coronavirus and its impact on the U.S. health care system.

These trends include unexpected consolidation drivers and the sudden embrace of telehealth technology, the latter of which is a development that will affect home health providers in ways both profoundly positive and negative. Unforeseen, long-term trends will also likely include drastic overhauls to the Medicare Home Health Benefit, a revival of SNF-to-home diversion and more.

Now that providers have had roughly three full months to adapt to the coronavirus and transition out of crisis mode, Home Health Care News is looking ahead to what the industry can expect for the rest of 2020 and beyond.

‘Historic’ consolidation will still happen, with some unexpected drivers

Although the precise extent was often up for debate, most industry insiders predicted some level of consolidation in 2020, driven by PDGM, the phasing out of Requests for Anticipated Payment (RAPs) and other factors.

That certainly appeared to be true early on in the year, with Amedisys Inc. (Nasdaq: AMED), LHC Group Inc. (Nasdaq: LHCG) and other home health giants reporting more inbound calls related to acquisition opportunities or takeovers of financially distressed agencies.

In fact, during a fourth-quarter earnings call, LHC Group CEO and Chairman Keith Myers suggested that 2020 would kick off a “historic” consolidation wave that would last several years.

“As a result of this transition in Q4 and the first few months of 2020, we have seen an increase in the number of inbound calls from smaller agencies looking to exit the business,” Myers said on the call. “Some of these opportunities could be good acquisition candidates, and others we can naturally roll into our organic growth through market-share gains.”

Most of those calls stopped with the coronavirus, however.

Although the vast majority of home health agencies have experienced a decline in overall revenues during the current public health emergency, many have been able to compensate for losses thanks to the federal government’s multi-faceted response.

For some, that has meant taking advantage of the approximately $1.7 billion the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has distributed through its advanced and accelerated payment programs. For others, it has meant accepting the somewhat murky financial relief sent their way under the Provider Relief Fund.

In addition to those two possible sources of financial assistance, all Medicare-certified home health agencies have benefitted from Congress’s move to suspend the 2% Medicare sequestration until Dec. 31.

Eventually, those coronavirus lifelines and others will be pulled back, kickstarting M&A activity once again.

“We believe that a lot of the support has stopped or postponed the shakeout that’s occurring in home health — or that we anticipated would be occurring around this time,” Amedisys CEO and President Paul Kusserow said in March. “We don’t believe it’s over, though.”

Not only will consolidation happen, but some of it will be fueled by unexpected players.

With the suspension of elective surgeries and procedures, hospitals and health systems have lost billions of dollars. Rick Pollack, president and CEO of the American Hospital Association (AHA), estimated that hospitals are losing as much as $50 billion a month during the coronavirus.

“I think it’s fair to say that hospitals are facing perhaps the greatest challenge that they have ever faced in their history,” Pollack, whose organization represents the interests of nearly 5,000 hospitals, told NPR.

To cut costs, some hospitals may look to get rid of their in-house home health divisions. It’s a trend that may already be happening, too.

The Home Health Benefit will look drastically different

With a mix of temporary and permanent regulatory changes, including a redefinition of the term “homebound,” the Medicare Home Health Benefit already looks very different now than it did three months ago. But the benefit will likely go through further retooling in the not-too-distant future.

Broadly, the Medicare Part A Trust Fund finances key services for beneficiaries.

While vital to the national health care infrastructure, the fund is going broke — and fast. In the most recent CMS Office of the Actuary report released in April, the Trust Fund was projected to be entirely depleted by 2026.

The COVID-19 virus has only accelerated the drain on the fund, with some predicting it to run out of money two years earlier than anticipated. A group of health care economics experts from Harvard and MIT wrote about the very topic on a joint Health Affairs op-ed published Wednesday.

“COVID-19 is causing the Medicare Part A program and the Hospital Insurance (HI) Trust Fund to contend with large reductions in revenues due to increased unemployment, reductions in salaries, shifts to part-time employment from full time and a reduction in labor force participation,” the group wrote. “In addition to revenue declines, there was a 20% increase in payments to hospitals for COVID-related care and elimination of cost sharing associated with treatment of COVID.”

Besides those and other cost pressures, Medicare is simultaneously expanding by about 10,000 new people every day. The worst-case scenario: the Medicare Part A Trust Fund goes broke closer to 2024.

There are numerous policy actions that can be taken to reduce the financial strain on the trust fund. In their op-ed, for example, the team of Harvard and MIT researchers suggested shifting all of home health care under Part B.

In 2018, Medicare spent about $17.9 billion on home health benefits, with roughly 66% of that falling under Part B, which typically includes community-based care that isn’t linked to hospital or nursing home discharge. Consolidating all of home health care into Part B would move billions of dollars away from Part A, in turn expanding the Trust Fund’s lifecycle.

“Such a policy change would move nearly $6 billion in spending away from the Part A HI Trust Fund but would put upward pressure on the Part B premium,” the researchers noted.

Of course, all post-acute care services may still undergo a transformation into a unified payment model one day. However, the coronavirus has devastated skilled nursing facility (SNF) operators, who were already dealing with the Patient-Driven Payment Model (PDPM), a payment overhaul of their own.

Regulators may shy away from introducing further disruption until SNFs have a chance to recover, a process likely to take years — if not decades.

Previously, the Trump administration had estimated that a unified payment system based on patients’ clinical needs rather than site of care would save a projected $101.5 billion from 2021 to 2030.

Telehealth will be a double-edged sword

The move toward telehealth was a long-term trend that home health providers were cognizant of before COVID-19, even if some clinicians were personally skeptical of virtual visits. But because the virus has demanded social distancing, telehealth has forced its way into health care in a manner that would have been almost unimaginable in 2019.

In late April, during a White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing, President Donald Trump indicated that the number of patients using telehealth had increased from about 11,000 per week to more than 650,000 people per week.

Meanwhile, MedStar Health went from delivering just 10 telehealth visits per week to nearly 4,000 per day.

Backed by policymakers, technology companies and consumers, telehealth is likely here to stay.

“I think the genie’s out of the bottle on this one,” CMS Administrator Seema Verma said in April. “I think it’s fair to say that the advent of telehealth has been just completely accelerated, that it’s taken this crisis to push us to a new frontier, but there’s absolutely no going back.”

The telehealth boom could mean improved patient outcomes and new lines of business for home health providers. But it could also mean more competition moving forward.

For telehealth to be a true game-changer for home health providers, Congress and CMS would need to pave the way for direct reimbursement. Currently, a home health provider cannot get paid for delivering virtual visits in fee-for-service (FFS) Medicare.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) has floated the idea of introducing legislation that would allow for direct telehealth reimbursement in the home health space, but, so far, no concrete steps have been taken — at least in public. With a hyper-polarized Congress and a long list of other national priorities taking up the spotlight, it’s impossible to guess whether home health telehealth reimbursement will actually happen.

While home health providers can’t directly bill for in-home telehealth visits, hospitals and certain health care practitioners can. That regulatory imbalance could lead to providers being used less frequently as “the eyes and ears in the home,” some believe.

A new SNF-to-home diversion wave will emerge

Over the past two decades, many home health providers have been able to expand their patient census by poaching patients from SNFs. Often referred to as SNF-to-home diversion, the approach didn’t just benefit home health providers, though. It helped cut national health care spending by shifting care into lower-cost settings.

At first, the stream of SNF residents being shifted into home health care was like water being shot from a firehose: In 2009, there were 1,808 SNF days per 1,000 FFS Medicare beneficiaries, a March 2018 analysis from consulting firm Avalere Health found. By 2016, that number plummeted to 1,539 days per 1,000 beneficiaries — a 15% drop.

In recent years, that steady stream has turned into a slow trickle, with more patients being sent to home health care right off the bat. In the first quarter of 2019, 23.3% of in-patient hospital discharges were coded for home health care, while 21.1% were coded for SNFs, according to data from analytics and metrics firm Trella Health.

Genesis HealthCare (NYSE: KEN) CEO George Hager suggested the initial SNF-to-home diversion wave was over in March 2019. Kennett Square, Pennsylvania-based Genesis is a holding company with subsidiaries that operate hundreds of skilled nursing centers across the country.

“To anyone [who] would want [to] or has toured a skilled nursing asset, I would challenge you to look at the patients in our building and find patients that could be cared for in a home-based or community-based setting,” Hager said during a presentation at the Barclays Global Healthcare Conference. “The acuity levels of an average patient in a skilled nursing center have increased dramatically.”

Yet that was all before the coronavirus.

Over the last three months, more than 40,600 long-term care residents and workers have died as a result of COVID-19, according to an analysis of state data gathered by USA Today. That’s about 40% of the U.S.’s overall death toll.

CMS statistics place that number closer to 26,000.

In light of those figures and infection-control issues in congregate settings, home health providers will see a new wave of SNF-to-home diversion as robust as the first. As the new diversion wave happens, providers will need to be prepared to care for patients with higher acuity levels and more co-morbidities.

“[That’s going to change] the psyche of the way people are going to view SNFs and long-term care facilities for the rest of our generation,” Bruce Greenstein, LHC Group’s chief strategy and innovation officer, said during a June presentation at the Jefferies Virtual Healthcare Conference. “You would never want to put your parent in a facility if you don’t have to. You want options now.”

One stat to back up this idea: Over 50% of family members are now more likely to choose in-home care for their loved ones than they were prior to the coronavirus, according to a survey from health care research and consulting firm Transcend Strategy Group.

Separate from SNF-to-home diversion, hospital-to-home models will also likely continue to gain momentum after the coronavirus.

There will be a land grab for palliative care

Over the past two years, home health providers have aggressively looked to expand into hospice care, partly due to the space’s relatively stable reimbursement landscape. Amedisys — now one of the largest hospice providers in the U.S. — is the prime example of that.

During the COVID-19 crisis, palliative care has gained greater awareness. Generally, palliative care is specialized care for people living with advanced, serious illnesses.

“Right now, we are seeing from our hospital partners and our community colleagues the importance of palliative care, including advanced care as well as appropriate pain and symptom management,” Capital Caring Chief Medical Officer Dr. Matthew Kestenbaum previously told HHCN. “The number of palliative care consults we’re being asked to perform in the hospitals and in the community has actually increased. The importance of palliative care is absolutely being shown during this pandemic.”

As community-based palliative care programs continue to prove their mettle amid the coronavirus, home health providers will increasingly consider expanding into the market to further diversify their services.

Currently, just 10% of community-based palliative care programs are operated by home health agencies.

Demand will reach an all-time high

The home health industry may ultimately shrink in terms of raw number of agencies, but the overall size of the market is very likely to expand at a faster-than-anticipated pace.

In years to come, home health providers will still ride the macro-level tailwinds of an aging U.S. population with a proven preference to age in place — that hasn’t changed. But because of SNF-to-home diversion and calls to decentralize the health care system with home- and community-based care, providers will see an increase in referrals from a variety of sources.

In turn, home health agencies will need to ramp up their recruitment and retention strategies.

There’s already early evidence of this happening.

Last week, in St. Louis, Missouri, four home-based care agencies announced that they were hiring a combined 1,000 new employees to meet the surge in demand, according to the St. Louis Dispatch.

Meanwhile, Brookdale Senior Living Inc. (NYSE: BKD) similarly announced plans to hire 4,500 health care workers, with 10% of those hires coming from the senior living operator’s health care services segment.

Bayada Home Health Care likewise announced plans to ramp up hiring.

“We are absolutely hiring more people now than ever,” Bayada CEO David Baiada previously told HHCN. “The need for services — both because of societal and demographic evolution, but also because of what we anticipate as a rebound and an increase in the demand for home- and community-based care delivery as a result of the pandemic — is requiring us to continue to accelerate our recruitment efforts.”

The bottom line: The coronavirus may have presented immediate obstacles for home health providers, but the long-term outlook is brighter than ever.

 

 

 

 

New IRS rules target nonprofit hospital exec pay

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/compensation-issues/new-irs-rules-target-nonprofit-hospital-exec-pay.html?utm_medium=email

Those distinctive brown signs outside federal buildings in D.C. ...

The Internal Revenue Service has issued guidance that implements a change in the 2017 tax overhaul that imposed a 21 percent excise tax on compensation paid to executives at some nonprofit organizations, according to Bloomberg Tax.

Under the 2017 law, there’s a tax on a nonprofit organization’s five highest-paid employees earning at least $1 million. The tax, paid by the organization, has been in effect since 2018, but the new guidance provides details on how to calculate employee wages and other compensation to determine if the tax applies, according to the report.

Under the proposed rule, any deferred compensation or retirement bonus not vested before the first taxable year beginning after Dec. 31, 2017, is subject to the tax, according to the American Hospital Association

The AHA urged Congress to provide an exception for existing contracts or nonqualified deferred compensation plans for tax-exempt healthcare organizations. 

Access the full Bloomberg Tax article here.

 

 

 

 

Healthcare groups call racism a ‘public health’ concern in wake of tensions over police brutality

https://www.fiercehealthcare.com/practices/healthcare-groups-denounce-systemic-racism-wake-tensions-over-police-brutality?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiWmpobE5XVmlaRGd6T0dFdyIsInQiOiJsQmxnbVNxNVlISVNkczJIZkJXb3ZFZG9tVlpMblZ1XC9oVVB6SlRINzNhOXE4MWQzNk1cL3JTaDlcL2l0MGdhSnk0NUtqY1RzdThCN1wvZ1ZoVUxqOHJwZFJcL1wvK3FtS0o5NFwvSHA0WHhTUnhVNnY3bk5RNmhRQTdxYzYwclhYN3JTRW8ifQ%3D%3D&mrkid=959610

After days of protests across the world against police brutality toward minorities sparked by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, healthcare groups are speaking out against the impact of “systemic racism” on public health.

“These ongoing protests give voice to deep-seated frustration and hurt and the very real need for systemic change. The killings of George Floyd last week, and Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor earlier this year, among others, are tragic reminders to all Americans of the inequities in our nation,” Rick Pollack, president and CEO of the American Hospital Association (AHA), said in a statement.

As places of healing, hospitals have an important role to play in the wellbeing of their communities. As we’ve seen in the pandemic, communities of color have been disproportionately affected, both in infection rates and economic impact,” Pollack said. “The AHA’s vision is of a society of healthy communities, where all individuals reach their highest potential for health … to achieve that vision, we must address racial, ethnic and cultural inequities, including those in health care, that are everyday realities for far too many individuals. While progress has been made, we have so much more work to do.”

The Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA) also decried the public health inequality highlighted by the dual crises.

“The violent interactions between law enforcement officers and the public, particularly people of color, combined with the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on these same communities, puts in perspective the overall public health consequences of these actions and overall health inequity in the U.S.,” SHEA said in a statement. Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) executives called for health organizations to do more to address inequities. 

“Over the past three months, the coronavirus pandemic has laid bare the racial health inequities harming our black communities, exposing the structures, systems, and policies that create social and economic conditions that lead to health disparities, poor health outcomes, and lower life expectancy,” said David Skorton, M.D., AAMC president and CEO, and David Acosta, M.D., AAMC chief diversity and inclusion officer, in a statement.

“Now, the brutal and shocking deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery have shaken our nation to its core and once again tragically demonstrated the everyday danger of being black in America,” they said. “Police brutality is a striking demonstration of the legacy racism has had in our society over decades.”

They called on health system leaders, faculty researchers and other healthcare staff to take a stronger role in speaking out against forms of racism, discrimination and bias. They also called for health leaders to educate themselves, partner with local agencies to dismantle structural racism and employ anti-racist training.

 

 

 

After criticism, HHS directs $25B in CARES funding to Medicaid providers, safety net hospitals

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/after-criticism-hhs-directs-25b-in-cares-funding-to-medicaid-providers-s/579496/

Dive Brief:

  • HHS announced Tuesday it will deliver $25 billion to providers and hospitals that serve the nation’s most vulnerable patients, or those with Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program coverage. Of that, $15 billion will go to providers that primarily serve Medicaid and CHIP patients while the other $10 billion is reserved for safety net hospitals that usually operate on razor-thin margins. A total of 758 safety net hospitals will receive direct deposits, and the administration noted that many of these facilities are operating in the red with an average profit margin of -7%.
  • Not all Medicaid providers received Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security funding from the initial general distribution. This targeted allocation is designed to make up for that by distributing money to the remaining 38% of Medicaid and CHIP providers who were left out of the first tranche.
  • These Medicaid providers will receive at least 2% of reported gross patient revenue, but could receive more depending on how many patients they serve. HHS will make a final determination once providers start submitting data to the relief portal.

Dive Insight:

The industry has been clamoring for HHS to target funding to Medicaid providers amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the downturn in business, noting these organizations are already on fragile ground.

Last week the American Hospital Association pleaded for the administration to release $50 billion more for all hospitals, with $10 billion reserved for providers with a heavy caseload of Medicaid patients.

HHS answered the hospital lobby’s call — in part. HHS will distribute funds to safety net providers — more than AHA asked for — but disclosed no plans Tuesday to broaden that funding to all hospitals. America’s Essential Hospitals, which represents safety net providers, had also called for the quick release of targeted funding.

“Our goal for all these distributions has been to get the money to the providers who need it most as soon as possible,” Eric Hargan, HHS deputy secretary, said Tuesday during a call with reporters.

However, some have been critical of how the administration decided to allocate the first few waves of funding.

Congress has earmarked a total of $175 billion in funding for providers through two pieces of legislation, including the CARES Act.

To get the money out the door quickly, the first tranche was sent to providers based on the Medicare fee-for-service business, and later on the net patient service revenue.

These formulas put certain providers at an advantage, which tend to be for-profit hospitals with higher-margins, or those who were already well off heading into the pandemic, according to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation analysis.

This targeted funding was not swift, one reason for the delay was the challenge in getting a list of Medicaid providers from the states to validate and authenticate those who came to the portal to apply for funds, according to a senior HHS official.​

Still, providers that have already received funds have noted that it comes with its own set of headaches. Some have decided to return the funds as navigating the legal and compliance issues may not be worth the hassle.

Though, that’s likely not the case for these safety net hospitals and providers.

 

 

 

 

Hospitals push for release of $50B more in COVID-19 funds

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/hospitals-push-for-release-of-50b-more-in-covid-19-funds/579072/

COVID-19 Stimulus Bill: What It Means for States

Dive Brief:

  • The American Hospital Association is urging HHS to distribute at least $50 billion more in funding from the $175 billion allocated by Congress to hospitals as providers continue to wrestle with the challenges spurred by the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. 
  • More funds are “urgently needed” for the more than 5,000 hospitals and health systems AHA represents, the group wrote in a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar on Tuesday.
  • While AHA is calling for more money for all hospitals, it also wants a special focus paid to hospitals in hot spot areas and those serving a higher number of Medicaid and uninsured patients. 

Dive Insight:

AHA is requesting $10 billion for hot spot areas, $10 billion for hospitals with a larger share of Medicaid and uninsured patients and another $30 billion for all hospitals, including inpatient rehabilitation centers and inpatient psychiatric facilities.

Making substantial funds of money available will help facilities weather the pandemic and will “actually ensure they are able to keep their doors open,” AHA CEO Richard Pollack wrote. The second quarter is expected be the hardest hit to hospital operations.​

On Tuesday, the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response said it was making available another $225 million for health systems. That’s a drop in the bucket compared to the total federal funds that have already gone out the door. 

So far, the federal government has earmarked a total of $175 billion to disperse to hospitals and providers across the country. Only a portion of those funds have gone out. Initially, HHS sent out $30 billion directed to all eligible hospitals, based on Medicare fee-for-service. The criteria for funding faced criticism over seemingly giving an advantage to certain hospitals over others, such as those with many Medicaid patients.

Other more targeted tranches have followed, including $20 billion based on net patient service revenue. Disbursements of $10 and $12 billion were reserved for rural providers and hot spots, respectively.

AHA’s latest requests seems to acknowledge the concerns others have raised about providers with high Medicaid numbers.

Late last month, America’s Essential Hospitals, which represent safety net hospitals, said the administration should quickly move to dstribute more funding to facilities serving large shares of uninsured and Medicaid members.

“They continue to struggle with the heavy financial costs of this public health emergency and need relief now,” Bruce Siegel, CEO of AEH, said in a statement.

HHS developed funding formulas that rely heavily on a Medicare and net patient service revenue, so facilities that rely more on Medicaid as opposed to private insurers and Medicare, like pediatric hospitals, are at a disadvantage when it comes to receiving funds.

As such, AHA is calling for an additional $20 billion, divided evenly between hot spot hospitals and those with a large share of Medicaid patients.

“These hospitals care for the nation’s most vulnerable patients, who, largely as a result of underlying health conditions, have suffered disproportionately from the pandemic. They have been hospitalized at greater rates, and required more care and resources once hospitalized,” AHA said of hospitals with large shares of Medicaid patients.

 

 

 

Providers show support amid unrest: #WhiteCoatsForBlackLives

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/providers-show-support-amid-unrest-whitecoatsforblacklives/579020/

Dive Brief:

  • The American Hospital Association on Monday condemned what they called the “senseless killing of an unarmed black man in Minneapolis,” referring to George Floyd, who died more than a week ago after a police officer held his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes. AHA said the group’s vision is a “society of healthy communities, where ALL individuals reach their highest potential for health.”
  • Medical societies, providers and other healthcare organizations weighed in to support peaceful protests, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic shines a light on racial inequities in access to healthcare and job security in America.
  • Health officials also expressed worry that the protest gatherings could further spread of the novel coronavirus. Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said hospitals in the state could be overwhelmed. And some COVID-19 testing sites have been shut down for safety reasons, further exacerbating concerns.

Dive Insight:

Since protests and occasionally violent police confrontations in recent days were sparked by Floyd’s death, providers have taken to social media with notes of support and pictures of themselves taking a knee in their scrubs under the hashtag #WhiteCoatsForBlackLives.

The American Medical Association responded to ongoing unrest Friday, saying the harm of police violence is “elevated amidst the remarkable stress people are facing amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Board Chair Jesse Ehrenfeld and Patrice Harris, AMA’s first African American woman to be president, continued: “This violence not only contributes to the distrust of law enforcement by marginalized communities but distrust in the larger structure of government including for our critically important public health infrastructure. The disparate racial impact of police violence against Black and Brown people and their communities is insidiously viral-like in its frequency, and also deeply demoralizing, irrespective of race/ethnicity, age, LGBTQ or gender.”

Other organizations weighed in, including CommonSpirit Health, the American Psychiatric Association, the American College of Physicians and several medical colleges.

The nascent research and data from the pandemic in the U.S. have shown people of color are more likely to die from COVID-19 than white people. The reasons behind that are myriad and complex, but many can be traced back to systemic inequality in social services and the healthcare system.

Payers, providers and other healthcare organizations have attempted to address these issues through programs targeting social determinants of health like stable housing, food security and access to transportation.

But despite these efforts over several years to recognize and document the disparities, they have persisted and in some cases widened, Samantha Artiga, director of the Disparities Policy Project at the Kaiser Family Foundation, noted in a blog post Monday.

Health disparities, including disparities related to COVID-19, are symptoms of broader underlying social and economic inequities that reflect structural and systemic barriers and biases across sectors,” she wrote.

Providers have waded into political issues affecting them before, including gun violence. Several organizations also objected to the Trump administration’s decision to cut ties with the World Health Organization in the midst of the pandemic.

The American Public Health Association in late 2018 called law enforcement violence a public health issue.