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.

 

 

 

Private equity lands $1.5B in Medicare loans

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/finance/private-equity-lands-1-5b-in-medicare-loans.html?utm_medium=email

One-Click To Private Equity Yields Up To 9%

Private equity companies have borrowed at least $1.5 billion from HHS through two programs intended to provide funding to healthcare providers facing financial damage due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Bloomberg‘s analysis of more than 40,000 loans disclosed by HHS. 

The Medicare loans were made to hospitals, clinics and treatment centers controlled by private equity firms through two programs administered by CMS: the Advance Payments Program and the Accelerated Payments Program. Those programs were expanded earlier this year to help offset the financial impact of COVID-19.

HHS approved loans totaling more than $60 million to subsidiaries of companies owned by private equity firm KKR, which has roughly $58 billion of cash to invest, according to Bloomberg. Healthcare facilities owned by private equity firm Apollo Global Management received $500 million in loans, and Cerberus Capital Management’s Steward Health Care System received roughly $400 million in loans. Steward physicians announced June 2 that they’re acquiring the health system from Cerberus.

CMS Administrator Seema Verma said the goal of the programs was to get funds to healthcare providers as quickly as possible. The loan applications did not include questions about beneficial ownership of the healthcare companies seeking loans. 

“We don’t look into ownership, what we look into is are they Medicare-enrolled providers,” Ms. Verma told Bloomberg.

Access the full Bloomberg article here.

 

 

 

Americans’ deepening financial stress will make the coronavirus a lot harder to contain

https://theconversation.com/americans-deepening-financial-stress-will-make-the-coronavirus-a-lot-harder-to-contain-139741

Americans' deepening financial stress will make the coronavirus a ...

Preventing deaths from COVID-19 depends on people who get it seeking treatment – which also allows authorities to track down whom they came in contact with to reduce spread.

But, as the economic pain and joblessness caused by the statewide lockdowns continue to grow, more Americans are experiencing severe strains on their personal finances. This threatens our ability to contain the pandemic because those feeling the most financial stress are much less likely to seek medical care if they experience coronavirus symptoms, according to my analysis of a recent Federal Reserve survey.

As an economist who studies how individuals make health care choices, I worry that in the coming months even more people will consider forgoing vital treatment to pay rent or some other bill – especially as the extended unemployment benefits, rent moratoriums and other relief are set to expire soon.

‘Just getting by’

The Fed conducts a survey of the economic health of U.S. households every quarter, most recently near the end of 2019. In April, it conducted a supplementary but similar survey to quickly gauge how people were handling the coronavirus crisis. Results of both surveys were released on May 14.

The Fed tries to measure financial stress in three key ways. Its surveys ask respondents if they are unable to pay all their monthly bills, couldn’t cover a US$400 emergency expense, or are “just getting by” or worse.

Even before the pandemic hit, the picture wasn’t pretty. In October, when the fourth-quarter survey was conducted, 42% of employed respondents reported fitting at least one of these descriptions, while over 8% said they fit all three. Those figures jumped to 72% and 20% for low-income workers.

But by April, tens of millions of people who had jobs in October lost them as most nonessential businesses across the U.S. either closed or reduced their services. The unemployment rate shot up to 14.7% that month – the highest since the Great Depression – and is expected to climb further when the May data are released on June 5.

The Fed’s April survey, however, paints an even broader picture of the economic impact of the pandemic. In that survey, about 28% of the previously employed respondents said they either lost their job, were being furloughed, had their hours cut or were taking unpaid leave. This has been financially devastating to many, with 68% of this group reporting one of the stresses listed above and 28% saying they were experiencing all three, regardless of income level.

Forgoing medical care

Separate questions in the surveys demonstrate just how strong the link is between financial and physical health.

The October survey also asks those respondents if they had skipped a doctor’s visit during the previous 12 months because of the cost. More than 20% of those who reported one of these financial stresses said they had, while almost 46% of those with all three said so.

In April, the Fed asked a more timely question: “If you got sick with symptoms of the coronavirus, would you try to contact a doctor?”

A third of those respondents who also said they’re experiencing all three financial stresses said “no.” This is especially significant because, unlike the October question, it describes a current, known threat, rather than referring to a previous medical issue of unknown severity. And the widely reported urgency and seriousness of the coronavirus suggests someone wouldn’t treat the decision to seek a doctor’s care or advice lightly.

Relieving the stress

That was back in April, less than a month into the coronavirus lockdowns. If the same questions were asked today, I believe the numbers would look a lot worse.

In the middle of a serious pandemic, we don’t want sick people avoiding treatment because they’re worried they won’t be able to put food on the table. This would likely worsen the spread of the coronavirus and make it a whole lot harder to contain.

As Congress debates additional measures to mitigate the economic and financial effects of the pandemic, it would be wise to keep in mind the connection between financial stress and individual decisions to seek medical care.

 

 

 

 

COVID-19 impact on hospitals worse than previously estimated

https://www.healthcarefinancenews.com/news/covid-19-impact-hospitals-worse-previously-estimated?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiWTJOaU5EWTJOekZsWWpBMCIsInQiOiJEeUZmbVFWVEFmUUxiMElydWdrMmNzY2RtNEdMbmRmM3BFMUFiYTRDOTFBYktPVVJ3ZUFTbTVwR2VzZkNma2VLdUVTNWJ0cGxMNGZ3UjhHbWhDR3g2KzNLeTYrbHU1bCtOWFM1bzdIdXFyQmc2ZGFDNDA4NGNhbFZZT3R2c09wYSJ9

Coronavirus | MSF

Factors such as how many patients would need ICU treatment, average length of stay and fatality risk are straining hospital resources.

When it became evident that the COVID-19 pandemic would spread across the U.S., lawmakers, scientists and healthcare leaders sought to predict what the financial and operational impact on hospitals would be. In those early days, policymakers relied on data from China, where the pandemic originated.

Now, with the benefit of time, the early predictions seriously underestimated the coronavirus’ impacts. University of California Berkeley and Kaiser Permanente researchers have determined that certain factors — such as how many patients would need treatment in intensive care units, average length of stay and fatality risk — are much worse than previously anticipated, and put a much greater strain on hospital resources.

WHAT’S THE IMPACT

Looking primarily at California and Washington, data showed the incidents of COVID-19-related hospital ICU admissions totaled between 15.6 and 23.3 patients per 100,000 in northern and southern California, respectively, and 14.7 per 100,000 in Washington. This incidence increased with age, hitting 74 per 100,000 people in northern California, 90.4 per 100,000 in southern California, and 46.7 per 100,000 in Washington for those ages 80 and older. These numbers peaked in late March and early April.

Those numbers are greater than the initial forecast, especially when factoring in the virus itself. Modeling estimates based on Chinese data suggested that about 30% of coronavirus patients would require ICU care, but in the U.S., the probability of ICU admissions was 40.7%. Male patients are more likely to be admitted to the ICU than females, and also are more likely to die.

Length of stay was also higher than had been predicted. By April 9, the median length of stay was 9.3 days for survivors and 12.7 days for non-survivors. Among patients receiving intensive care, the median stay was 10.5 days, although some patients stayed in the ICU for roughly a month.

Long durations of hospital stay, in particular among non-survivors, indicates the potential for substantial healthcare burden associated with the management of patients with severe COVID-19 — including the need for ventilators, personal protective equipment including N95 masks, more ICU beds and the cancellation of elective surgeries.

The considerable length of stay among COVID patients suggests that unmitigated transmission of the virus could threaten hospital capacity as it has in hotspots such as New York and Italy. Social distancing measures have acted as a stop-gap in reducing transmission and protecting health systems, but the authors said hospitals would do well to ensure capacity in the coming months in a manner that’s responsive to changes in social distancing measures.

THE LARGER TREND

These challenges have placed a financial burden on hospitals that can’t be overstated. In fact, a Kaufman Hall report looking at April hospital financial performance showed that steep volume and revenue declines drove margin performance so low that it broke records.

Despite $50 billion in funding allocated through the CARES Act, operating EBITDA margins fell to -19%. They fell 174%, or 2,791 basis points, compared to the same period last year, and 118% compared to March. This shows a steady and dramatic decline, as EBITDA margins were as high as 6.5% in April.

 

 

The Battle Over State Bailouts

https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2020/06/01/coronavirus-state-bailout-budget-jobs-economy-impact-287704

Blue State Bailout? Red State Residents Received Largest Stimulus ...

Why Politics Keeps Tanking a Bailout Idea That Works.

Nobody in Congress likes to give other politicians money. But the track record shows that writing checks directly to states could keep the recession from becoming way worse.

The last time the American economy tanked and Washington debated how to revive it, White House economists pushed one option that had never been tried in a big way: Send truckloads of federal dollars to the states.

When President Barack Obama took office in January 2009 during the throes of the Great Recession, tax revenues were collapsing and state budgets were hemorrhaging. The Obama team was terrified that without a massive infusion of cash from Congress, governors would tip the recession into a full-blown depression by laying off employees and cutting needed services. So the president proposed an unprecedented $200 billion in direct aid to states, a desperate effort to stop the bleeding that amounted to one-fourth of his entire stimulus request.

But the politics were dismal. Republican leaders had already decided to oppose any Obama stimulus. And even Washington Democrats who supported their new leader’s stimulus weren’t excited to help Republican governors balance their budgets. Most politicians enjoy spending money more than they enjoy giving money to other politicians to spend. And since state fiscal relief was a relatively new concept, the Obama team’s belief that it would provide powerful economic stimulus was more hunch-based than evidence-based.

Ultimately, the Democratic Congress approved $140 billion in state aid—only two-thirds of Obama’s original ask, but far more than any previous stimulus.

And it worked. At least a dozen post-recession studies found state fiscal aid gave a significant boost to the economy—and that more state aid would have produced a stronger recovery. The Obama team’s hunch that helping states would help the nation turned out to be correct.

But evidence isn’t everything in Washington. Now that Congress is once again debating stimulus for a crushed economy—and governors are once again confronted with gigantic budget shortfalls—a partisan war is breaking out over state aid. Memories of 2009 have faded, and the politics have scrambled under a Republican presidential administration.

Democratic leaders have made state aid a top priority now that Donald Trump is in the White House, securing $150 billion for state, local and tribal governments in the CARES Act that Congress passed in March, and proposing an astonishing $915 billion in the HEROES Act that the House passed in May. Republican leaders accepted the fiscal relief in the March bill, but they kept it out of the last round of stimulus that Congress enacted in April, and they have declared the HEROES Act dead on arrival. Though they’re no longer denouncing stimulus as socialism, as they did in the Obama era, they’ve begun attacking state aid as a “blue-state bailout.”

Polls show that most voters want Washington to help states avoid layoffs of teachers, police officers and public health workers, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Fox News personalities, and other influential Republicans are trying to reframe state aid as Big Government Democratic welfare spending. Trump doesn’t want to run for reelection during a depression, and he initially suggested he supported state aid, but in recent weeks he has complained that it would just reward Democratic mismanagement.

“There wasn’t a lot of evidence that state aid would be good stimulus in 2009, but now there’s a lot of data, and it all adds up to juice for the economy,” Moody’s chief economist Mark Zandi says. “It’s baffling that this is getting caught up in politics. If states don’t get the support they need soon, they’ll eliminate millions of jobs and cut spending at the worst possible time.”

The coronavirus is ravaging state budgets even faster than the Great Recession did, drying up revenue from sales taxes and income taxes while ratcheting up demand for health and unemployment benefits. But as Utah Republican Senator Mitt Romney pointed out earlier this month: “Blue states aren’t the only ones who are getting screwed.” Yes, California faces a $54 billion budget shortfall, and virus-ravaged blue states like New York and New Jersey are also confronting tides of red ink. But the Republican governors of Texas, Georgia and Ohio have also directed state agencies to prepare draconian spending cuts to close massive budget gaps.

Fiscal experts say the new Republican talking point that irresponsible states brought these problems on themselves with unbalanced budgets and out-of-control spending has little basis in reality. Unlike the federal government, which was running a trillion-dollar deficit even before the pandemic, every state except Vermont is required by law to balance its budget every year. State finances were unusually healthy before the crisis hit; overall, they had reserved 7.6 percent of their budgets in rainy day funds, up from 5 percent before the Great Recession.

But now, governors of both parties are now pivoting to austerity, which means more public employees applying for unemployment benefits, fewer state and local services in a time of need, and fewer dollars circulating in the economy as it begins to reopen.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, who has approved a plan to buy up to $500 billion worth of state and local government bonds to help ease their money problems, recently suggested that direct federal aid to states also “deserves a careful look,” which in Fed-speak qualifies as a desperate plea for congressional action.

Nevertheless, some Republicans who traditionally pushed to devolve power from the federal government to the states are now dismissing state aid as a bloated reward for liberal profligacy. Some fiscal conservatives have merely suggested that the nearly trillion-dollar pass-through to states, cities and tribes in the House HEROES bill is too generous given the uncertainties about the downturn’s trajectory. McConnell actually proposed that states in need should just declare bankruptcy, which is not even a legal option. Former Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker wrote a New York Times op-ed titled “Don’t Bail Out the States.” Sean Hannity told his Fox viewers that more fiscal relief would be a tax on “responsible residents of red states,” while Florida Senator (and former Governor) Rick Scott said it would “bail out liberal politicians in states like New York for their unwillingness to make tough and responsible choices.”

It was not so long ago that governors like Walker and Scott were burnishing their own reputations for fiscal responsibility with federal stimulus dollars. Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was a bold experiment in using federal dollars to backstop states in an economic emergency, and its legacy hangs over the debate over today’s emergency.

By the time Obama won the 2008 election, the U.S. economy had already begun to collapse, and his aides had already given him a stimulus memo proposing a $25 billion “state growth fund.” The goal was anti-anti-stimulus: They wanted to prevent state spending cuts and tax hikes that would undo all the stimulus benefits of federal spending increases and tax cuts. The memo warned that states faced at least $100 billion in budget shortfalls, and that “state spending cuts will add to fiscal drag.” Cash-strapped states would also cut funding to local governments, accelerating the doom loop of public-sector layoffs and service reductions, pulling money out of the economy when government ought to be pouring money in.

The memo also warned that the fund might be caricatured as a bailout for irresponsible states and might run counter to the self-interest of politicians who enjoy dispensing largesse: “Congress may resist spending money that governors get credit for spending.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California wasn’t keen on creating a slush fund for her state’s Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and House Majority Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina was even more suspicious of his GOP governor, Mark Sanford, an outspoken opponent of all stimulus and most aid to the poor.

After President-elect Obama addressed a National Governors Association event in Philadelphia, Sanford and other conservative Republicans publicly declared that they didn’t want his handouts—and many congressional Democrats were inclined to grant their wish. Even Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, was worried about the politics of writing checks to governors who might run against Obama in 2012 on fiscal responsibility platforms.

There were plenty of studies suggesting that unemployment benefits and other aid to recession victims was good economic stimulus, because families in need tend to spend money once they get it, but there wasn’t much available research about aid to states. Congress had approved $20 billion in additional Medicaid payments to states in a 2003 stimulus package, but that aid had arrived much too late to make a measurable difference in the much milder 2001 recession.

Still, Obama’s economists speculated that state aid would have “reasonably large macroeconomic bang for the buck.” And the holes in state budgets were expanding at a scary pace, doubling in the first week after Obama’s election, increasing more than fivefold by Inauguration Day; Robert Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities remembers giving the Obama team frequent updates on state budget outlooks that seemed to deteriorate by the hour.

Obama ended up requesting $200 billion in state fiscal relief in the Recovery Act, eight times his team’s suggestion from November, 10 times more than Congress had authorized in 2003. Emanuel insisted on structuring the aid through increases in existing federal support for schools and Medicaid, rather than just sending states money, so it could be framed as saving the jobs of teachers and nurses. (One otherwise prescient memo by Obama economic aide Jason Furman suggested the unwieldy title of “Tax Increase and Teacher & Cop Layoff Prevention Fund.”) Republicans overwhelmingly opposed the entire stimulus, so Democrats dictated the contents, and they grudgingly agreed to most of their new president’s request for state bailouts.

“State aid was the part of the stimulus where Obama met the most resistance from Democrats,” Greenstein says. “It had such a huge price tag, and nobody loved it. But we can see how desperately it was needed.”

The Obama White House initially estimated that each dollar sent to states would generate $1.10 in economic activity, compared with $1.50 for aid to vulnerable families or infrastructure projects that had been considered the gold standard for emergency stimulus. But later work by Berkeley economist Gabriel Chodorow-Reich and others concluded the actual multiplier effect of the Medicaid assistance in the Recovery Act was as high as $2.00. In addition to preventing cuts in medical care for the poor, it saved or created about one job for every $25,000 of federal spending—and the help arrived much faster than even the most “shovel-ready” infrastructure projects, landing in state capitals just a week after the stimulus passed.

“There were at least a dozen papers written on the state aid, and the evidence is crystal clear that it helped,” says Furman, who is now an economics professor at Harvard. “Unfortunately, it was incredibly hard to get Congress to do more of it, and that hurt.”

After all the bluster about turning down Obama’s money, the only Republican governor who even tried to reject a large chunk of the federal stimulus was Sanford, who was overruled by his fellow Republicans in the South Carolina Legislature. Sarah Palin of Alaska did turn down some energy dollars, while Walker and Scott sent back aid for high-speed rail projects approved by their Democratic predecessors, but otherwise the governors all used the cash to help close their budget gaps. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana appeared at the ribbon-cutting for one Recovery Act project wielding a giant check with his own name on it. Rick Perry of Texas used stimulus dollars to renovate his governor’s mansion—which, in fairness, had been firebombed.

Nevertheless, the Recovery Act covered only about 25 percent of the state budget shortfalls, and Republican senators blocked or shrank Obama’s repeated efforts to send more money to states, forcing governors of both parties to impose austerity programs that slashed about 750,000 state and local government jobs. In 2010, 24 states laid off public employees, 35 cut funding for K-12 education, 37 cut prison spending, and 37 cut money for higher education, one reason for the sharp increases in student loan debt since then. In a recent academic review of fiscal stimulus during the Great Recession, Furman estimated that if state and local governments had merely followed their pattern in previous recessions, spending more to counteract the slowdown in the private sector, GDP growth would have been 0.5 percent higher every year from 2009 through 2013.

The Recovery Act helped turn GDP from negative to positive within four months of its passage, launching the longest period of uninterrupted job growth in U.S. history. But there’s a broad consensus among economists that austerity in the form of layoffs and reduced services at the state and local level worked against the stimulus spending at the federal level, weakening the recovery and making life harder for millions of families.

“The states would’ve made much bigger cuts without the Recovery Act, but they did make big cuts,” says Brian Sigritz, director of fiscal studies at the National Association of State Budget Officers. “We’re seeing similar reactions now, except the situation is even worse.”

It took a decade for state budgets to recover completely from the financial crisis. 2019 was the first year since the Great Recession that they grew faster than their historic average, and the first year in recent memory that no state had to make midyear cuts to get into balance. Rainy-day funds reached an all-time high.

And then the pandemic arrived.

The government sector shed nearly a million jobs in April alone, which is more jobs than it lost during the entire Great Recession. The fiscal carnage has not been limited to states like New York and New Jersey at the epicenter of the pandemic; oil-dependent states like Texas and tourism-dependent states like Florida have also seen revenues plummet. The bipartisan National Governors Association has asked Congress for $500 billion in state stabilization funds, warning that otherwise governors will be forced to make “drastic cuts to the programs we depend on to provide economic security, educational opportunities and public safety.”

So far, Congress has passed four coronavirus bills providing about $3.6 trillion in relief, including $200 billion in direct aid to state, local and tribal governments for Medicaid and other pandemic-related costs. Republican Governor Charlie Baker of Massachusetts says the aid has come in handy in fighting the virus—not only for providing health care and buying masks but for helping communities install plexiglass in consumer-facing offices and pay overtime to essential workers. Massachusetts had more than 10 percent of its expected tax revenues in its rainy-day fund before the crisis, but its revenues have dried up, putting tremendous pressure on the state as well as its 351 local governments.

“You don’t want states and locals to constrict when the rest of the economy is trying to take off,” Baker said. “So far, we’ve gotten close to what we need, but the question is what happens now, because no one knows what the world is going to look like in a few months.”

In the initial coronavirus bills, Democrats pushed for state aid, and Republicans relented. But in the most recent stimulus that Congress enacted, the $733 billion April package focused on small-business lending, Democrats pushed for state aid and Republicans refused. McConnell has said he’s open to another stimulus package, but he has ridiculed the $3 trillion Democratic HEROES Act as wildly excessive, and rejected its huge proposal for state relief as a bailout for irresponsible blue states with troubled pension funds. Sean Hannity expanded the critique, warning Fox viewers that they were being set up to help Democratic states pay off their “unfunded pensions, sanctuary state policies, massive entitlements, reckless spending on Green New Deal nonsense, and hundreds of millions of dollars of waste.”

In fact, the state with the most underfunded pension plan is McConnell’s Kentucky, which has just a third of the assets it needs to cover its obligations, even though it had unified Republican rule until a Democrat rode the pension crisis to the governor’s office last fall. In general, red states tend to be more dependent on federal largesse than blue states, which tend to pay more taxes to the federal government; an analysis by WalletHub found that 13 of the 15 most dependent states voted for Trump in 2016, with Kentucky ranking third.

Trump initially suggested state aid was “certainly the next thing we’re going to be discussing,” before embracing McConnell’s message that state bailouts would unfairly reward incompetent Democrats in states like California. But California’s finances were also in solid shape before the pandemic, with a $5 billion surplus announced earlier this year in addition to a record $17 billion socked away in its rainy-day fund. Some of the partisan arguments against state aid have been flagrantly hostile to economic evidence; Walker’s op-ed actually blamed the state budget shortfalls after the Great Recession on “the disappearance of federal stimulus funds,” rather than the recession itself, as if the stimulus funds somehow created the holes by failing to continue to plug them.

But plenty of Republican politicians support state aid, especially in states that need it the most. The GOP chairmen of Georgia’s appropriations committees recently asked their congressional delegation to support relief “to close the unprecedented gap in dollars required to maintain a conservative and lean government framework of services.” Some Republicans believe McConnell’s opposition to state fiscal relief is just a negotiating ploy, so he can claim he’s making a concession when it gets included in the next stimulus bill.

“Some aid to states is inevitable and necessary,” says Republican lobbyist Ed Rogers. “I suspect McConnell just wants to set a marker, and make sure aid to states doesn’t become aid to pension funds and public employee union coffers.”

That said, it’s not just Republican partisans who are skeptical of the Democratic push for nearly a trillion dollars in state and local aid. The current projections of state budget gaps range as high as $650 billion over the next two years, but some deficit hawks question whether it’s necessary to fill all of them before it’s clear how long the economic pain will last, and before the Fed has even begun its government bond-buying program. Maya MacGuineas, president of the Center for a Responsible Federal Budget, was already disgusted by the trillion-dollar deficits that Washington ran up before the pandemic, and while she says it makes sense to add to those deficits to prevent states from making the crisis worse with radical budget cuts, she doesn’t think federal taxpayers need to cater to every state-level request.

“We have a little time to catch our breath now, so we should make sure that we’re only getting states what they need,” MacGuineas says. “It’s not a moment to be padding the asks.”

Tom Lee, a Republican state senator and former Senate president, says it’s impossible to know how much help states will need without knowing how quickly the economy will reopen, whether there will be a second wave of infections, when Americans will return to their old travel habits, and at what point there will be treatment or a vaccine for the virus. More than three-quarters of Florida’s general revenue comes from sales taxes, so a lot depends on when Floridians start buying things again, and how much they’re willing to buy. Lee says it’s reasonable to expect Washington to help in an emergency, since the national government can print money and Florida can’t, but that the federal money store can’t be open indefinitely, since Florida’s finances were in much better shape than Washington’s before the emergency.

“No question, we need help, but we can’t expect the feds to make us whole,” Lee says. “We’re going to have to tighten our belts, too.”

That’s exactly what Keynesian economic stimulus is supposed to avoid: the contraction of public-sector spending at a time when private-sector spending has already shriveled. A recent poll by the liberal group Data for Progress found that 78 percent of Americans supported $1 trillion in federal aid to states so they can “avoid making deep cuts to government programs and services.”

But Obama White House veterans say they learned two related lessons from their experience with state fiscal relief: It’s better to get too much than not enough, and it’s unwise to assume you can get more later. Stimulus fatigue was real in 2009, and it seems to be returning to Washington. Republicans who spent much of the Obama era screaming about the federal deficit have embraced a free-spending culture of red ink under Trump, but lately they’re starting to talk more about slowing down—not only with state aid, but especially with state aid.

“We’ve already seen how state contraction can undo federal expansion,” Furman says. “This is the one part of the economy where we know exactly what needs to be done, and we don’t need to invent a brand new creative idea. But I worry that we’re not going to do it.”

 

 

 

UPMC latest hospital system to report Q1 loss due to COVID-19

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/upmc-latest-hospital-system-to-report-q1-loss-due-to-covid-19/578907/

Complaint: UPMC uses nonprofit dollars to build for-profit ...

Dive Brief:

  • UPMC reported a small operating loss but higher revenues for the quarter ending March 31. The Pittsburgh-based regional healthcare system attributed the red ink to the COVID-19 pandemic and suggested the next quarter could be even tougher.
  • The healthcare services division “experienced significant reductions in patient volumes during the last two weeks” of the quarter, representing about a $150 million loss in revenue for that time period, UPMC said in its unaudited financial statement posted Friday. The system said it is receiving about $255 million from the Coronavirus, Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.
  • UPMC’s health insurance plan also saw increased revenue due to a significant rise in its membership, but its operating income dropped by 56%.

 

Dive Insight:

UPMC, which operates 40 hospitals in Pennsylvania, New York and Ohio, has been growing steadily in recent years. However, its growth in the first quarter collided head-on with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The system posted a $41 million operating loss on revenues of $5.5 billion, according to the financial report. For the first quarter of 2019, it reported an operating profit of $44 million on revenue of $5.1 billion. The system did not disclose its net numbers.

Investment losses reached nearly $800,000, compared to a gain of more than $224,000 in the prior-year period.

While overall outpatient revenue increased 1% during the quarter, revenue from physician services was down 3% while hospital admissions and observations dropped by 4%.

UPMC is the latest nonprofit healthcare provider to report losses blamed on COVID-19, although its numbers are not as big as those reported by Kaiser Permanente and CommonSpirit Health, both of which reported quarterly losses exceeding $1 billion apiece.

UPMC did note in a statement that its business was moving back toward normal in recent weeks.

“During the COVID-19 crisis, UPMC’s leaders, scientists, clinicians and front-line workers throughout our … system were prepared to care for the potential surge of COVID-positive patients while also safely providing essential, life-saving care to our non-COVID patients,” Edward Karlovich, UPMC’s interim chief financial officer, said in a statement. “However, many patients who had scheduled surgeries and procedures before the crisis postponed their care. With assurances that all our facilities are safe for all patients and staff, we are seeing our patients returning for their essential care that had been postponed and our current volumes are beginning to approach near-normal levels.”

The system also noted that it was sitting on $7 billion in cash and liquid investments. It reported 99 days cash on hand.

UPMC’s insurance division remained in the black, but was under strain. Its operating income was $39 million — compared to $89 million for the first quarter of 2019. However, membership grew by 7% during the quarter to 3.8 million enrollees.

 

 

 

 

Sluggish patient volume could jeopardize hospitals repaying advanced Medicare funds, report suggests

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/outpatient-visits-rebounding-transunion-report/578894/

CMS Suspends Advance Payment Program to Clinicians for COVID-19

Dive Brief:

  • Though hospital volumes are expected to remain below pre-pandemic levels for quite some time, rebounding outpatient visits seem to be outpacing those for inpatient care or emergency department visits, according to a Transunion Healthcare survey of more than 500 hospitals.
  • During the week of May 10-16, outpatient visits were down 31% and emergency visits were down 40% compared to pre-COVID-19 levels. Inpatient volumes were down 20% and continue to trend upward, though at a slower rate than outpatient or ER visit volumes. Outpatient visits plunged between April 5 and 11, hitting a bottom of 64% down from typical volume.​
  • Baby boomers (born between 1944 and 1964) and the what the report calls the silent generation (born before 1944) are returning to ERs faster than younger generations. Millennials (born between 1980 and 1994) and Generation Z (born between 1995 and 2002) patients, however, are driving positive trends in inpatient and outpatient rebounds.

Dive Insight:

The report echos several others suggesting patients are still cautious about returning to the hospital and other care settings. The Kaiser Family Foundation found that the pandemic has forced nearly half of patients to postpone medical care. About 32% of those who have postponed care said they would get the service in the next three months and 10% said they will do so in four months to a year.

The overall sluggish outlook led Transunion to suggest patient volumes may not be restored to pre-pandemic levels soon enough to both sustain operational and clinical functions and repay advanced Medicare payments that many systems large and small have taken advantage of from CMS.

Because of the demographic trends, systems may have greater success scheduling appointments by checking in first with younger generations, the report suggests.

“We think as providers are beginning to really drive their patient engagement strategies that it’s best if they start reaching out to them, because it’s likely they’ll be willing to re-enter the care setting,” John Yount, vice president for TransUnion Healthcare, told Healthcare Dive.

Providers are taking steps to ease patient fears upon returning to medical settings by implementing temperature checks, spacing out waiting rooms to allow for social distancing and taking other safety measures.

But a sluggish recovery is still likely as patients plan to continue delaying care, especially older adults who are at higher risk for COVID-19 and in some states have been told to continue following stay at home orders.

The slowest return to growth in emergency room visits raises concerns that patients who need emergency care may be avoiding hospital settings due to COVID-19 fears, according to the report.

Older patients are leading the pack in returning to ERs, and they also experienced the largest decline in inpatient volumes from March 1-7 and April 5-11.

Comparatively, younger generations had smaller declines in visit activity overall and are returning to care settings faster, Yount said.

“These deferrals will have implications for both patients and providers — high-acuity and chronically-ill patients risk waiting too long to seek care, and a continued reduction in visit volume will further amplify existing financial challenges for hospitals,” David Wojczynski, president of TransUnion Healthcare, said in a statement.