14 health systems with strong finances

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Here are 14 health systems with strong operational metrics and solid financial positions, according to reports from Fitch Ratings, Moody’s Investors Service and S&P Global Ratings.

1. Advocate Aurora Health has an “Aa3” rating and positive outlook with Moody’s. The health system, which has dual headquarters in Milwaukee and Downers Grove, Ill., has a leading market share in two regions and strong financial discipline, Moody’s said. The credit rating agency said it expects Advocate Aurora Health’s operating cash flow margins to return to pre-pandemic levels. 

2. Pinehurst, N.C.-based FirstHealth of the Carolinas has an “AA” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The health system has a strong financial profile and stable operating performance, despite disruption from the COVID-19 pandemic, Fitch said. The health system’s revenue in the first quarter of fiscal 2021 rebounded to levels close to historical trends, according to the credit rating agency. 

3. Indianapolis-based Indiana University Health has an “Aa2” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s and an “AA” rating and positive outlook with Fitch. Cost controls and patient volume will help the system sustain strong margins and liquidity, Moody’s said. 

4. Rapid City, S.D.-based Monument Health has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The health system has solid operating margins that Fitch expects to remain stable over the near term. Monument Health’s operating margins will continue to support liquidity growth and capital spending levels, the credit rating agency said. 

5. Chicago-based Northwestern Medicine has an “Aa2” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s, and an “AA+” rating and stable outlook with S&P. The system’s consolidated operating model will allow it to maintain a strong financial position while effectively executing strategies, Moody’s said. The credit rating agency expects Northwestern Medicine to expand its prominent market position in the broader Chicago region because of its strong brand and affiliation with Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. 

6. Renton, Wash.-based Providence has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with Fitch and an “Aa3” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s. Fitch said Providence has a long-term strategic advantage over most of its peers because it has invested heavily in developing technology in recent years, and the system’s plan to transform healthcare delivery through the use of data and technology has been undeterred through the COVID-19 pandemic. Fitch said it expects Providence’s cash flow margins to be close to 7 percent in the coming years. 

7. Livingston, N.J.-based RWJBarnabas Health has an “Aa3” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s. Moody’s said it expects RWJBarnabas, the largest integrated academic health system in New Jersey, to see near-term revenue growth and to execute on several strategic fronts while achieving targeted financial performance.  

8. Broomfield, Colo.-based SCL Health has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with Fitch and an “Aa3” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s. The health system has consistently improved its liquidity levels and has a long track record of exceptional operations, Fitch said. SCL Health is well positioned for change in the healthcare sector because it has built up cash reserves over time, according to the credit rating agency. 

9. San Diego-based Scripps Health has an “Aa3” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s. The health system has ample liquidity coverage, an extensive footprint and strong brand and market share within San Diego County, Moody’s said. The credit rating agency said it expects Scripps to weather current operating challenges and to grow operating cash flow over the long term. 

10. Norfolk, Va.-based Sentara Healthcare has an “Aa2” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s. The health system has strong margins, and Moody’s said it expects the system to maintain a strong financial position and balance sheet. 

11. Arlington-based Texas Health Resources has an “Aa2” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s. The health system has a strong cash position, which will be boosted by favorable investment gains and bond proceeds, Moody’s said. Based on performance in the second quarter of this year, Moody’s expects Texas Health Resources’ patient volume and operating cash flow margins to recover to pre-COVID-19 levels. 

12. Iowa City-based University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics has an “Aa2” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s. The credit rating agency said it expects the system to maintain strong operating performance and cash flow. The system benefits as the only academic medical center in Iowa, according to Moody’s. 

13. Des Moines, Iowa-based UnityPoint Health has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The system has strong leverage metrics, and it benefited from strong market returns during the pandemic. The system’s days with cash on-hand increased to 285 days at the end of 2020, up from 231 days at the end of 2019, according to the credit rating agency. 

14. Kansas City-based University of Kansas Health System has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The health system has solid operating results and has sustained significant revenue growth, Fitch said. The system’s profitability dipped in fiscal year 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but its profitability rebounded in fiscal year 2021, according to the credit rating agency. 

67 financial benchmarks for health system executives

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Health system leaders use benchmarking as a way to determine how their organizations stack up against both local and regional peers.

Below are 67 financial benchmarks, including key ratios for health systems, as well as revenue and margin metrics, broken down by rating category.

Key balance sheet metrics, ratios:

Source: Fitch Ratings’ “2021 Median Ratios: Not-for-Profit Hospitals and Healthcare Systems” report. It was released Aug. 3. 

1. Cash on hand: 255 days

2. Accounts receivable: 44.6 days

3. Cushion ratio: 29x

4. Current liabilities: 95 days

5. Cash to debt: 169.9 percent

6. Cash to adjusted debt: 161.1 percent

7. Operating margin: 1.3 percent

8. Operating EBITDA margin: 6.7 percent

9. Excess margin: 3.1 percent

10. EBITDA margin: 8.5 percent

11. Net adjusted debt to adjusted EBITDA: -2.6 percent

12. Personnel costs as percent of total operating revenue: 55 percent

13. EBITDA debt service coverage: 3.9x

14. Operating EBITDA debt service coverage: 3.2x

15. Maximum annual debt service as percent of revenues: 2.2 percent

16. Debt to EBITDA ratio: 4.4x

17. Debt to capitalization: 35.2 percent

18. Average age of plant: 11.4 years

19. Capital expenditures as percent of depreciation expense: 110.1 percent

Margins, revenue financial benchmarks broken down by rating category: 

Source: S&P Global Ratings “U.S. Not-For-Profit Health Care System Median Financial Ratios — 2019 vs. 2021″ report.” The report was released Aug. 30.

“AA+” rating

20. Net patient service revenue: $4.16 billion

21. Total operating revenue: $4.43 billion

22. Operating margin: 4.5 percent

23. Operating EBIDA margin: 11.3 percent

24. Excess margin: 5.5 percent

25. EBIDA margin: 12.2 percent

“AA” rating

26. Net patient service revenue: $3.98 billion

27. Total operating revenue: $4.95 billion

28. Operating margin: 3.2 percent

29. Operating EBIDA margin: 8.3 percent

30. Excess margin: 5.8 percent

31. EBIDA margin: 10.7 percent

“AA-” rating

32. Net patient service revenue: $3.08 billion

33. Total operating revenue: $3.41 billion

34. Operating margin: 1.9 percent

35. Operating EBIDA margin: 7.1 percent

36. Excess margin: 4.1 percent

37. EBIDA margin: 9.2 percent

“A+” rating

38. Net patient service revenue: $2.26 billion

39. Total operating revenue: $2.55 billion

40. Operating margin: 3 percent

41. Operating EBIDA margin: 7.1 percent

42. Excess margin: 5.5 percent

43. EBIDA margin: 10.9 percent

“A” rating

44. Net patient service revenue: $2.69 billion

45. Total operating revenue: $3.07 billion

46. Operating margin: 0.7 percent

47. Operating EBIDA margin: 6.6 percent

48. Excess margin: 5.5 percent

49. EBIDA margin: 2.3 percent

“A-” rating

50. Net patient service revenue: $2.08 billion

51. Total operating revenue: $2.69 billion

52. Operating margin: 0.6 percent

53. Operating EBIDA margin: 6.7 percent

54. Excess margin: 2.4 percent

55. EBIDA margin: 8 percent

“BBB+” rating

56. Net patient service revenue: $1.85 billion

57. Total operating revenue: $2.27 billion

58. Operating margin: -0.2 percent

59. Operating EBIDA margin: 5 percent

60. Excess margin: 0.5 percent

61. EBIDA margin: 6 percent

“BBB” rating

62. Net patient service revenue: $2.96 billion

63. Total operating revenue: $4.11 billion

64. Operating margin: -3.2 percent

65. Operating EBIDA margin: 1.6 percent

66. Excess margin: -2 percent

67. EBIDA margin: 2.8 percent

18 health systems with strong finances

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Here are 18 health systems with strong operational metrics and solid financial positions, according to reports from Fitch Ratings, Moody’s Investors Service and S&P Global Ratings.

1. Altamonte Springs, Fla.-based AdventHealth has an “Aa2” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s and an “AA” rating and a stable outlook with Fitch. The system has strong profitability, solid liquidity and presence in several high growth markets, Fitch said.

2. St. Louis-based BJC HealthCare has an “AA” rating and stable outlook with S&P and an “Aa2” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s. The health system has a leading market share and a highly regarded reputation, particularly for its flagship hospitals that are affiliated with Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, S&P said. The health system has consistently produced stable earnings and cash flow, even during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the credit rating agency. 

3. Dallas-based Children’s Health System of Texas has an “AA” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The system has robust operating profitability, good expense management and strong EBITDA margins, according to Fitch. 

4. Cleveland Clinic has an “Aa2” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s. The system’s international brand will allow it to grow revenue outside of the northeast Ohio market and offset the effects of the pandemic on patient volume, Moody’s said. The credit rating agency expects the system to maintain good cash flow margins. 

5. Evansville, Ind.-based Deaconess Health System has an “AA” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The health system has strong operating performance and an expanding footprint in a stable and economically diverse service area, Fitch said. Investments in core service lines should help support patient volume growth, according to the credit rating agency. 

6. Durham, N.C.-based Duke Health has an “AA” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The system has a strong clinical reputation and a solid balance sheet with substantial liquidity reserves, Fitch said. 

7. Pinehurst, N.C.-based FirstHealth of the Carolinas has an “AA” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The health system has a strong financial profile and stable operating performance, despite disruption from the COVID-19 pandemic, Fitch said. The health system’s revenue in the first quarter of fiscal 2021 rebounded to levels close to historical trends, according to the credit rating agency. 

8. Milwaukee-based Froedtert Health has an “AA” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The system has a solid market position and a robust liquidity position, Fitch said. The credit rating agency expects Froedtert to maintain robust operating cash flow levels. 

9. Indianapolis-based Indiana University Health has an “Aa2” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s and an “AA” rating and positive outlook with Fitch. Cost controls and patient volume will help the system sustain strong margins and liquidity, Moody’s said. 

10. IHC Health Services, the borrowing group of Salt Lake City-based Intermountain Healthcare, has an “Aa1” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s. Intermountain has a leading statewide market position, low debt levels and strong cash levels, Moody’s said. The credit rating agency expects Intermountain will sustain strong margins and cash levels. 

11. Falls Church, Va.-based Inova Health System has an “Aa2” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s. The system has a strong financial profile, and Moody’s expects Inova’s balance sheet to remain exceptionally strong. 

12. Rochester, Minn.-based Mayo Clinic has an “Aa2” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s. The health system has strong balance sheet measures, an excellent market position and strong patient demand at its three academic campuses in Minnesota, Arizona and Florida, Moody’s said. The credit rating agency expects strong patient demand and steps taken by management to allow Mayo to maintain adequate cash flow and strengthen balance sheet measures. 

13. Traverse City, Mich.-based Munson Healthcare has an “AA” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The system has strong leverage and liquidity, Fitch said. The credit rating agency expects Munson to maintain solid operating cash flow margins. 

14. Tupelo-based North Mississippi Health Services has an “AA” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The system has a leading market share in a large 20-county service area and strong adjusted leverage metrics, Fitch said. 

15. Chicago-based Northwestern Memorial HealthCare has an “Aa2” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s and an “AA+” rating and stable outlook with S&P. The health system had strong pre-COVID margins and liquidity, Moody’s said. The credit rating agency expects the system to maintain strong operating cash flow margins. 

16. Columbus-based OhioHealth has an “Aa2” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s and an “AA+” rating and stable outlook with S&P. The system has a leading market position and opportunities for service line expansion, Moody’s said. The credit rating agency expects the system’s strong liquidity to provide ample cushion for volatility in investment returns. 

17. Stanford (Calif.) Health Care has an “AA” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The system has broad reach and is a clinical destination for high acuity services, Fitch said. The credit rating agency expects the system to sustain strong EBITDA margins. 

18. Iowa City-based University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics has an “Aa2” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s. The credit rating agency expects the system to maintain strong operating performance and cash flow. The system benefits as the only academic medical center in Iowa, according to Moody’s. 

S&P upgrades view on nonprofit health sector as COVID-19 cases drop

Dive Brief:

  • S&P Global Ratings on Wednesday upgraded its view on the nonprofit healthcare sector to stable. It had been at negative since March 2020, a view that was affirmed in January.
  • Analysts said the change results from coronavirus vaccination rates and decreasing COVID-19 cases as well as a drop in the unemployment rate that should reduce payer mix shakeup. They also pointed to generally healthy balance sheets across the sector.
  • Headwinds remain, most notably labor expenses as burnout among staff was heavily exacerbated by the pandemic. Increased salaries and benefit expenses will dampen margins going forward, according to the report.

Dive Insight:

The change is another sign for providers that their financial situation is on a rather swift recovery from the upheaval caused by the pandemic. Although some facilities, especially those that are smaller and in rural areas, are certainly still struggling, that was the case before COVID-19 as well.

Most nonprofit health systems reported first-quarter results that showed improved volumes and investment returns. Some are still sporting more than a year’s worth of cash on hand.

Many of them took advantage of federal coronavirus relief funds, most of which can now be used more flexibly. A few, like Kaiser Permanente, did fine without the aid and ended up returning it.

The S&P analysts warned, however, that potential COVID-19 outbreaks this fall would be a setback. That remains a concern with some parts of the country lagging in vaccination rates and the increasing prevalence of more contagious COVID-19 variants.

Other risks include the end of enhanced federal reimbursement and the return of the Medicare sequester cuts when the public health emergency ends, which is expected to be after the end of this year.

But the analysts said agile management teams should be able to combat these challenges.

“[T]o the extent that the pandemic has enabled faster decision making and allowed management teams to pivot and identify new opportunities for expense base restructuring and revenue enhancement, we believe these risks are manageable within our view of the stable sector view,” according to the report.

10 health systems with strong finances

Here are 10 hospitals and health systems with strong operational metrics and solid financial positions, according to reports from Fitch Ratings and Moody’s Investors Service. 

1. Altamonte Springs, Fla.-based AdventHealth has an “Aa2” rating and stable outlook from Moody’s. The credit rating agency said the system benefits from strong operating cash flow margins, low operating leverage and a large scale with presence in multiple states.  

2. Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia has an “Aa2” rating and stable outlook from Moody’s. The credit rating agency said the rating is reflective of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s strong market position and brand equity as a top U.S. children’s hospital with advanced clinical research. The pediatric hospital network also has strong liquidity.

3. Cleveland Clinic has an “Aa2” rating and stable outlook from Moody’s. The credit rating agency said the health system benefits from its reputation as an international brand, which will allow it to grow revenue outside of the Ohio market. Moody’s said it maintains good cash flow margins and therefore very strong liquidity.

4. Cottage Health in Santa Barbara, Calif., has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook from Fitch. The credit rating agency said Cottage benefits from consistently strong profitability, a strong balance sheet and leading market position. Fitch also said the health system has broad reach in a service area that has high demand for acute care services. 

5. Froedtert Health in Wauwatosa, Wis., has an “AA” rating and stable outlook from Fitch. The credit rating agency said the rating reflects the health system’s solid market position and robust liquidity position, as well as its strong utilization trends and operational metrics in recent years. 

6. Indiana University Health in Indianapolis has an “AA” rating and positive outlook from Fitch. The credit rating agency said the health system has a long track record of strong operating margins and a “remarkably solid” balance sheet. The system also benefits as the largest healthcare system and academic medical center in Indiana, according to Fitch.

7. Vineland, N.J.-based Inspira Health has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook from Fitch. The credit rating agency said the rating is supported by Inspira’s stable financial profile, leading market position, large medical staff and expansive outpatient network. Fitch also said Inspira saw a strong operating performance through the construction and transition of its new campus, an IT implementation and through the peak of the pandemic.

8. Sanford Health in Sioux Falls, S.D., has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook from Fitch. The credit rating agency said the “AA-” rating reflects Sanford’s leading inpatient market share in multiple states and strong financial profile. Fitch also said Sanford’s growing health plan and plan for continued improvement and balance sheet growth are credit positives. 

9. Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids, Mich., has an “Aa3” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s. The credit rating agency said the health system has a stable operating performance and strong balance sheet metrics. In particular, the system generated positive margins even without federal aid in fiscal year 2020. Moody’s said the health system will continue to benefit from a strong market share for patient care in western Michigan. 

10. Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston has an “Aa2” rating and stable outlook from Moody’s. The credit rating agency said the children’s hospital network benefits from favorable leverage metrics and strong liquidity. Moody’s also said Texas Children’s has very strong patient demand and high acuity services as the academic medical center for Baylor College of Medicine’s pediatric department in Houston.

Hospitals saw gains in volume, revenue and margin in April, finds Kaufman Hall

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Hospitals saw gains in volume, revenue and margin in April, finds Kaufman  Hall | Healthcare Finance News

The signs of progress are encouraging, but the metrics are still down slightly when compared to last month.

Slowly, the financial health of the nation’s healthcare institutions are improving. Hospitals and health systems continued to see performance improvements in April compared to the devastating losses experienced in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hospital margins, volumes, and revenues were up across most performance metrics, both year-to-date and year-over-year, but were down compared to March, according to the latest issue of Kaufman Hall’s National Hospital Flash Report. There was no explicit reason given for the dip, but any number of factors small and large could play into the results. It’s possible that clearer trend lines will develop over time.

WHAT’S THE IMPACT?

While any signs of progress are encouraging, the April results draw a clear contrast to the severity of record-low performance seen during the first two months of the pandemic in 2020, rather than strong overall performance so far this year.

Operating margin, for example, rose 101.9% (or 8.6 percentage points) compared to January-April 2020, not including federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funding. With the funding, operating margin was up 90.6% year-to-date, or 6.9 percentage points. 

Operating margin was up 113.1% (39.3%) without CARES and 109.5% (21.4%) with CARES, compared to the first full month of the pandemic in April 2020, when nationwide shutdowns and broad restrictions on outpatient procedures caused operating margins to plummet 282% year-over-year.

April 2021 hospital margins, however, remained relatively thin. The median Kaufman Hall hospital operating margin index was 2.4% for the month, not including CARES. Even with the funding, it was 3.3%.

When it came to volumes, hospitals saw them increase across most metrics compared to 2020 levels, but decrease slightly compared to March. Adjusted discharges were up 5.9% year-to-date and jumped 66.4% year-over-year, while adjusted patient days rose 10% year-to-date and 64.8% year-over-year. Both metrics fell 1% month-over-month.

Emergency department visits were mixed, falling 7% compared to the first four months of 2020, but rising 57.2% year-over-year and 5.3% month-over-month. Operating room minutes were down 3.6% from March, but increased 26.1% year-to-date, and shot up 189.2% compared to April 2020, when COVID-19 abruptly halted most outpatient procedures.

Revenues followed a similar pattern, with gross operating revenue (not including CARES) up 16.7% year-to-date and 71.8% year-over-year, but down 2.5% compared to the prior month. Inpatient revenue rose 10.6% year-to-date and 37.1% year-over-year, but was down 1.9% month-over-month. Outpatient revenue rose 20.3% year-to-date, jumped 114.8% compared to April 2020, but fell 2% from March.

Total expenses continued to increase both year-to-date and year-over-year, but saw moderate decreases month-over-month. Total expense was up 6.6% year to date and 13.1% year over year. Total labor expense increased 6.1% year-to-date and 9.4% year-over-year, and total nonlabor expense rose 7% year-to-date and 16.3% year-over-year. 

Compared to March, though, all three metrics were down about 3%. Expense results were mixed when adjusted for the month’s volumes. Total expense per adjusted discharge, for example, increased 2% compared to January-April 2020, but fell 32.3% from April 2020 and 2% from March. 

THE LARGER TREND

Despite the ongoing pandemic, the 2021 financial outlook for the global healthcare sector is mostly positive, as strong demand for products and services – including those related to COVID-19 – will more than offset lingering pressures from the public health emergency, Moody’s Investors Service found in December.

The demand will remain strong, largely due to aging populations, the improvement in access and the introduction of new and innovative products. There is one caveat: steadily rising healthcare expenditures, which will cause payers to continue to restrict utilization and lower prices.

In October, Moody’s found that owning a public hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic carried operational risk, which will compound the fiscal and credit difficulties facing many large urban counties across the U.S.

Whether recovery from the coronavirus this year is relatively rapid or relatively slow, America’s hospitals will face another year of struggle to regain their financial health.
 

10 health systems with strong finances

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Here are 10 health systems with strong operational metrics and solid financial positions, according to reports from Fitch Ratings, Moody’s Investors Service and S&P Global Ratings.

1. St. Louis-based BJC HealthCare has an “AA” rating and stable outlook with S&P. The health system has a leading market share and highly regarded reputation, particularly for its flagship hospitals that are affiliated with Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, S&P said. The health system consistently has produced stable earnings and cash flow, even during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the credit rating agency. 

2. Cleveland Clinic has an “Aa2” rating and stable outlook from Moody’s. The credit rating agency said the health system benefits from its reputation as an international brand, which will allow it to grow revenue outside of the Ohio market. Moody’s said it maintains good cash flow margins and therefore very strong liquidity.

3. Fountain Valley, Calif.-based MemorialCare has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The health system has a strong financial profile and maintains high liquidity, Fitch said. The credit rating agency expects the system to generate cash flows of approximately 7 percent in the years after fiscal 2021. 

4. Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Novant Health has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The health system has a solid market position in four regions and strong financial metrics that support the rating. The credit rating agency said Novant Health’s acquisition of New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington, N.C., will benefit the system financially and strategically in the long term.

5. OhioHealth has an “Aa2” rating and stable outlook from Moody’s. The credit rating agency said the health system has a leading market position with several growth opportunities in an attractive market and a favorable payer market that contributes to stability. Moody’s also said OhioHealth’s ongoing cost reductions and management discipline will continue to support strong margins and liquidity levels. 

6. Rady Children’s Hospital and Health Center in San Diego has an “Aa3” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s. The credit rating agency said that Rady Children’s has an extremely high market share in San Diego County and benefits from its status as a regional referral center for tertiary and quaternary pediatric services. The health system also has very strong liquidity, Moody’s said. 

7. Stanford (Calif.) Health has an “AA” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The credit rating agency said the hospital has a broad reach and benefits, as it is a clinical destination for high-acuity services, a largely favorable service area and a close relationship with Stanford University. Fitch said it expects the health system’s post-2021 EBITDA margin to be closer to its historical 11 percent operating margin. 

8. Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids, Mich., has an “Aa3” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s. The credit rating agency said the health system has a stable operating performance and strong balance sheet metrics. In particular, the system generated positive margins even without federal relief aid in fiscal year 2020. Moody’s added that the health system will continue to benefit from a strong market share for patient care in western Michigan. 

9. SSM Health in St. Louis has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The credit rating agency said it has a strong financial profile and a solid market presence in multiple states with no dependence on any one location. Fitch also said its expanding health plan is a credit positive. 

10. Birmingham, Ala.-based UAB Medicine has an “Aa3” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s. The credit rating agency said the health system has high patient demand, strong margins and a leading market share in Birmingham. The credit rating agency expects UAB Medicine to generate strong cash flow in fiscal year 2021.

How hospital operators fared financially in 2020

“For the most part providers were dependent on that CARES funding. I think they would have been in the red or break even without it,” Suzie Desai, a senior director at S&P Global Ratings, said.

The pandemic weighed heavily on the financial performance of not-for-profit hospitals in 2020, but some of the larger health systems remained profitable despite the upheaval — in large part thanks to substantial federal funding earmarked to prop up providers during the global health crisis. 

Industry observers have been closely watching to see how health systems ultimately fared in 2020. Now, with the fiscal-year ended and accounted for, analysts say the $175 billion in federal funds was crucial for providers’ bottom lines.

Without the stimulus funding, it is very likely we would have seen more issuers [hospitals/health] systems experience either lower profitable margins, or outright losses from operations,” Kevin Holloran, senior director of U.S. public finance for Fitch Ratings, said.  

Still, the pandemic put a squeeze on nonprofit hospital margins last year, according to a recent Moody’s report that showed the median operating margin was 0.5% in 2020 compared to 2.4% in 2019.

The first half of the year hit providers especially hard as volumes fell drastically, seemingly overnight. Revenue plummeted alongside the volume declines as the nation paused lucrative elective procedures to preserve medical resources.

One estimate showed hospitals lost more than $20 billion as they halted surgeries in the early months of the outbreak in the U.S. 

But as the year wore on, the outlook improved as some volumes returned closer to pre-pandemic levels. At the same time, health systems worked to cut expenses to mitigate the financial strain.

Still, some health systems did post operational losses even with the federal funds meant to help them. Moody’s found that 42% of 130 hospitals surveyed posted an operating loss, an increase from 23% the year prior. Yet, the 2019 survey included more hospitals, a total of 282.

Sutter Health, the Northern California giant, reported an operating loss for 2020 and said it was launching a “sweeping review” of its finances as the pandemic exacerbated existing challenges for the provider. Washington-based Providence also reported an operating loss for 2020. However, both Sutter and Providence were able to post positive net income thanks in large part to investment gains.    

Investment income can aid nonprofit operators even when core operations are stunted like during 2020. Though, initially, the pandemic put stress on the stock market as uncertainty around the virus and its duration ballooned. The stock market took a dive and it was reflected in some six-month financials as both operations and investments took a hit. 

“COVID and the stimulus is (hopefully) a once in a lifetime disruption of operations,” Holloran said, who noted analysts have been trying to assess whether the top line losses can be placed squarely on COVID-19. If that’s the case, analysts are typically more apt to keep the provider’s existing rating. 

“For the most part providers were dependent on that CARES funding. I think they would have been in the red or break even without it,” Suzie Desai, a senior director at S&P Global Ratings, said.

For example, Arizona’s Banner Health would have posted an operating loss without federal relief, according to their financial reports. Banner Health was able to work its way back to black after it reported a loss through the first six months of the year. The same was true for Midwest behemoth Advocate Aurora. 

The providers that were able to weather the storm of the pandemic tended to be integrated systems that had a health plan under their umbrella. 

Kaiser Permanente ended the year with both positive operating and net income and returned relief funds it received.   

“The integrated providers, yeah, were one group that just had a natural hedge with the insurance premiums still coming in,” Desai said.  

Still, the hospital lobby is hoping to secure more funding for its members as the threat of the virus is still present even amid large scale efforts to vaccinate a majority of Americans to reach a blanket of protection from the novel coronavirus and its variants.

4 recent health system credit rating downgrades

Rating agencies brace for backlash after rash of downgrades | Financial  Times

The following four health system credit rating downgrades occurred in the past three months. They are listed in alphabetical order. 

1. Mercy Hospital (Iowa City, Iowa) — from “Ba3” to “B1” (Moody’s Investors Service)
The downgrade to B1 reflects the near term challenges that Mercy will face following the large operating loss in fiscal 2020, narrow headroom to the debt service covenant in fiscal 2020 and the pronounced December COVID surge, creating headwinds to retire to historical levels of stronger financial performance,” Moody’s said. 

2. NYC Health + Hospitals — from “AA-” to “A+” (Fitch Ratings) 
The downgrade of the NYCHCC bonds is tied to the downgrade of the city’s IDR to ‘AA-‘ from ‘AA’, and reflects Fitch’s expectation that the impact of the coronavirus and related containment measures will have a longer-lasting impact on New York’s economic growth than most other parts of the country,” Fitch said.

3. The Methodist Hospitals (Gary, Ind.) — from “BBB” to “BBB-” (Fitch Ratings)
The downgrade to ‘BBB-‘ is based on continued operating constraints after significant losses in 2017 through 2019. Interim nine-month fiscal 2020 operating income results, despite the pandemic, reflect an early stabilization trend but at weaker levels that are more consistent with the prior three years,” Fitch said.

4. Tower Health (West Reading, Pa.) — from “BB+” to “BB-” (S&P Global Ratings); from “BB+” to “B+” (Fitch Ratings)
“The two-notch downgrade reflects our view of Tower Health’s continued significant operating losses through the interim period ended Dec. 31, 2020, which have been higher than expected, coupled with recent resignations of members of the senior management team,” said S&P Global Ratings credit analyst Anne Cosgrove.

Troubled Pennsylvania health system looks for a buyer

Reading Hospital | Tower Health

West Reading, Pa.-based Tower Health is looking for a partner to buy the entire system, which comprises six hospitals, according to the Reading Eagle.

“We are compelled to pursue every possible avenue available to protect and preserve the future of care at all of our hospitals and facilities,” Tower said in a statement to The Philadelphia Inquirer on Feb. 26. “As part of this process, we will examine potential partnerships for the entire Tower Health system with like-minded health systems that share our same values and passion for clinical excellence.” 

The health system had previously said it was looking for buyers for its hospitals, with the exception of its flagship facility, Reading Hospital in West Reading, according to the Inquirer. 

On March 1, Tower Health was hit with a three-notch credit downgrade by Fitch Ratings. The credit rating agency said its long-term “B+” rating and negative outlook for the system reflect significant ongoing financial losses from the COVID-19 pandemic and operational challenges following the 2017 acquisition of five hospitals. 

S&P lowered its rating on Tower Health by two notches, to “BB-” from “BB+,” on March 2. 

Tower Health had operating losses of more than $415 million in fiscal year 2020, and it expects an operating loss of about $160 million in fiscal 2021, according to Fitch.