Trinity Health expects $2B revenue plunge as it cuts, furloughs more staff

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/trinity-health-cutting-cost-cutting-2-billion-revenue-shortfall/580738/

The Dumbest Things You Can Do With Your Money | Work + Money

Dive Brief:

  • Trinity Health, one of the nation’s largest nonprofit health systems, said Monday it will take more measures to cut costs due to the downturn spurred by the novel coronavirus. The restructuring plan includes eliminating positions, extending furloughs, severances and reductions in schedules. The decisions are being “customized” across the system based on factors that include volume projections and the cost and revenue challenges in each market.
  • The Livonia, Michigan-based hospital operator said it continues to treat COVID-19 patients, however, it has “for now seen declining numbers of very sick patients with COVID-19.”
  • The system said it expects revenue to be depressed or “below historical levels” for the remainder of this fiscal year and much of the next. It projects revenue to drop by $2 billion to $17.3 billion for fiscal year 2021, which starts after its June 30 year end.

Dive Insight:

In May, Trinity said it planned to furlough nearly 12% of its workforce — or 15,000 employees out of the 125,000 nationally.  

Trinity, one of the nation’s largest hospital operators with 92 facilities and operations across 22 states, is now broadening that restructuring, extending and adding new furloughs.

In a Monday bond filing, Trinity said its operations were “significantly” impacted by the effects of the pandemic as many operators saw depressed volumes due to shelter-in-place orders, which started in most of Trinity’s markets during the last two weeks of March.

“The effect of COVID-19 on the operating margins and financial results of Trinity Health is adverse and significant and, at this point, the duration of the pandemic and the length of time until Trinity Health returns to normal operations is unknown,” according to Monday’s bond filing.

The system said relief funds provided by the federal government have not been enough to cover its operating losses. Trinity has received $600 million in relief funds that do not have to be repaid and more in loans through the advanced Medicare payment program, according to a previous analysis by Healthcare Dive.

Still, the system said it has drawn on credit facilities totaling $1 billion to provide adequate liquidity during the pandemic. Trinity reported having 178 days cash on hand as of March 30.

Some nonprofits are faring better than Trinity and pulling back on earlier staffing cuts.

Mayo Clinic said last week it will call back its furloughed workers by the end of August and restore pay that had been cut due to the pandemic.

Mayo has some of the most cash on hand in terms of days when comparing other major nonprofit systems. Mayo had 252 days of cash on hand as of March 30, more than the other 20 largest nonprofits except Cleveland Clinic and New York-Presbyterian.

 

 

U.S. Healthcare System vs. Socialized Medicine during the Pandemic

https://www.commondreams.org/news/2020/06/25/why-socialized-system-medicare-all-beats-profit-healthcare-one-chart-covid-19?fbclid=IwAR1qT_AI5KFreoEKOqQfvdWUHPyW80fa2Iefxb5Ul5wJQtf8rSvZXkL8RHM

 

“All countries successfully combatting this virus have robust public health systems, which provide for coordination of effort.”

A recent rise in cases of Covid-19 and the overt failure of the for-profit healthcare system throughout the pandemic in the U.S. are making the case for Medicare for All, advocacy groups and activists say, as countries with socialized systems see their infection rates decline.

“All countries successfully combatting this virus have robust public health systems, which provide for coordination of effort,” remarked a popular healthcare advocate who uses the @AllOnMedicare handle on Twitter.

Calls for the U.S. to adopt a single-payer heathcare system have increased as the pandemic has raged around the country. Cases and deaths in the U.S are now the highest in the world, a result critics blame on both the private healthcare system and the mismanagement of the crisis by President Donald Trump.

Public Citizen’s health care policy advocate Eagan Kemp told Common Dreams that the current for-profit healthcare system that has driven millions of Americans in to bankruptcy and leaves millions more without care will only continue to exacerbate the pain of the outbreak. 

“While no health care system can completely protect a country from Covid-19, the U.S. has failed to respond for a number of reasons, not least of which is a for-profit health care system where Americans are too afraid to go to the doctors for fear of the cost,” said Kemp. “Far too many Americans will face medical debt and even bankruptcy if they are lucky enough to survive getting Covid-19, something unheard of in all other comparably wealth countries.”

As University of Massachusetts professor Dean E. Robinson wrote in a piece that appeared at Common Dreams earlier this month, the coronavirus is impacting people of color at a disproportionate rate in cities and communities nationwide—a dynamic that bolsters the call for a universal Medicare for All program to help close those gaps.

“The obvious and immediate need of Black and other working class populations caught in the teeth of the pandemic is the right to health care treatment without the burden of cost,” wrote Robinson. “Even before the pandemic, lower-income, Latino, and younger workers were more likely to be uninsured. Undocumented workers had the highest rates of uninsurance.”

On June 18, Ralph Nader in an opinion piece for Common Dreams expressed his hope that the ongoing pandemic would make essential workers in the health field “the force that can overcome decades of commercial obstruction to full Medicare for All.”

 

 

 

 

Jobless claims: Another 1.48 million Americans file for unemployment benefits

https://finance.yahoo.com/news/coronavirus-covid-weekly-initial-jobless-claims-june-20-195644738.html

More than three months into the COVID-19 crisis in the U.S., countless Americans are still unemployed. According to the U.S. Labor Department, weekly initial jobless claims data showed yet another week of claims exceeding 1 million.

Another 1.48 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits in the week ending June 20, exceeding economists’ expectations for 1.32 million. The prior week’s figure was revised higher to 1.54 million from the previously reported 1.51 million claims. While this week’s report marked 12 consecutive weeks of deceleration, more than 47 million Americans have filed for unemployment insurance over the past 14 weeks.

“Jobless claims are not falling fast enough,” Renaissance Macro’s Neil Dutta said in an email Thursday. “Everything we have seen in the last week or two between rising case counts/hospitalizations, stalling economic progress in some important states, government job cuts, means one thing: the Phase 4 of fiscal stimulus must be bigger. Things should be better in 3-4 weeks, but the news will get worse before it gets better. Take some chips off the table and reload the chamber for August.”

Continuing claims, which lags initial jobless claims data by one week, totaled 19.52 million in the week ending June 13, down from 20.29 million in the week ending June 6. Consensus expectations were for 20 million continuing claims.

“Initial jobless claims continue to moderate only gradually,” Nomura economist Lewis Alexander wrote in a note Wednesday. “While the labor market remains exceptionally weak, signs of gradual improvement suggest another month of NFP gains during June.”

In the week ending June 20, California reported the highest number of jobless claims at an estimated 287,000 on an unadjusted basis, up from 241,000 in the previous week. Georgia had 124,000, down from 132,000, Florida reported 93,000, New York had roughly 90,000 and Texas reported 89,000 jobless claims.

Additionally, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program claims, which include those who were previously ineligible for unemployment insurance such as self-employed and contracted workers, was also closely monitored in Thursday’s report.

PUA claims totaled 728,120 on an unadjusted basis in the week ending June 20, down from the prior week’s 770,920.

As states reopen their economies, cases and hospitalization figures are back on the rise. As of Thursday morning, there were more than 9.4 million cases and 483,000 COVID-19 deaths around the world, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The U.S. had 2.3 million cases and 121,000 deaths.

 

 

How will Covid-19 affect employers’ healthcare costs? It depends, says PwC report

https://medcitynews.com/2020/06/how-will-covid-19-affect-employers-healthcare-costs-it-depends-says-pwc-report/?utm_campaign=MCN%20Daily%20Top%20Stories&utm_medium=email&_hsmi=90212485&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-_yxVYJ-KPqLWePqF49EqIVP4Ca8AfsO5zVEzr3oseXQAZKeZI4EpC67d02dlcVim6PhZfM–3Kbpb8tmDBXhD-xatSIQ&utm_content=90212485&utm_source=hs_email

How will Covid-19 affect employers' healthcare costs? It depends ...

A report by PricewaterhouseCoopers said employer spending on healthcare could increase anywhere from 4% to 10% next year. The report highlighted three potential scenarios depending on what happens with the Covid-19 pandemic.

As the Covid-19 pandemic and resulting economic slowdown strain company budgets, employers are trying to calculate how much they will spend on healthcare next year. Soon, they will be picking health plans for 2021, and the pandemic will certainly go into that calculus.

A new report by PricewaterhouseCoopers attempts to forecast healthcare costs for next year. But there are still lots of unknowns. According to the report, the medical cost trend could increase between 4% and 10% in 2021.

Researchers with PwC’s Health Research Institute interviewed health plan actuaries from 12 national and regional payers over the past three months. The consensus? They were still unsure about the pandemic’s effect on spending now and what it will mean for 2021.

PwC considered three potential scenarios:

  • If healthcare spending remains down in 2021, PwC expects a 4% medical cost trend
  • If spending continues to grow at the same rate that it has from 2014 to 2019, PwC forecasts a 6% medical cost trend
  • If spending increases significantly next year in part due to pent-up demand from delayed care during the pandemic, PwC forecasts a 10% medical cost trend.

Employers are already considering measures to reduce their costs next year. For instance, a growing number are looking at narrow-network plans as a way of negotiating down prices.

“As the pandemic continues and the economic pressures increase, the shift towards narrow network will likely continue and accelerate,” PwC Health Research Institute Leader Ben Isgur wrote in an email.

In particular, large companies with more than 5,000 employees are more likely to consider this strategy, with 25% offering narrow-network plans, according to a 2019 survey by PwC.

Walmart is a recent example. The company began offering “curated physician networks” in Arkansas, Florida and Texas in 2020. In March, the company indicated it would expand on its network strategies.

More companies are also expanding their telehealth services, in part a direct result of the pandemic. While this may not save them money in the short-term — most insurers are currently reimbursing the same for telehealth visits as in-office visits — in the long term, it is expected to reduce costs.

“Employers understand the benefits of telehealth including lower costs, easier access, less time away from work and a good consumer experience,” Isgur wrote. “89 percent of employers surveyed by PwC in spring 2019 offered telemedicine either through their medical vendor or a carve-out vendor, up from 56 percent in 2016. Over the past few months, we have seen telehealth accelerate even faster.”

A couple of ongoing factors could increase spending next year. Employers are adding mental health services to their health plans, and have seen increased demand for those services, especially in light of the pandemic. According to a recent survey by the Health Research Institute, 12% of individuals on employer plans said they had sought mental health services, and another 18% planned to do so.

Specialty drug spending is also expected to drive up costs, as the majority of pharmaceuticals planned for release next year are specialty drugs. This is not a new trend; of companies’ total drug spending, specialty drugs grew from 21% of the total in 2010 to 58% in 2017.

Many patients have delayed care as a result of the pandemic. Even as medical offices begin to offer in-person visits again, volumes are still down. It’s still too early to tell whether that will lead to a surge in spending next year due to postponed — but needed — procedures.

According to PwC, 22% of patients with employer-sponsored insurance have delayed care since March.

“We could see the population risk increase for 2021 if members with chronic conditions are not able to manage their health as effectively in 2020 due to Covid-19,” Amy Yao, senior vice president and chief actuary at Blue Shield of California, told PwC’s Health Research Institute.

 

 

 

 

Moody’s: Patient volume recovered a bit in May, but providers face long road to recovery

https://www.fiercehealthcare.com/hospitals/moody-s-patient-volume-recovering-may-but-providers-face-long-road-to-recovery?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiWmpjeVlXVTRZV0l5T1RndyIsInQiOiJLWWxjamNKK2lkZmNjcXV4dm0rdjZNS2lOanZtYTFoenViQjMzWnF0RGNlY1pkcjVGcFwvZFY4VjFaUUlZaFRBT1NRMGE5eWhGK1ZmR01ZSWVZWGMxOHRzTkptZVZXZmc5UnNvM3pVM2VIWDh6VllldFc3OGNZTTMxTDJrXC8wbzN1In0%3D&mrkid=959610

Moody's: Patient volume recovered a bit in May, but providers face ...

Patient volumes at hospitals, doctors’ and dentists’ offices recovered slightly in May but lagged well behind pre-pandemic levels, according to a new analysis from Moody’s Investors Service.

In all, the ratings agency estimated total surgeries at rated for-profit hospitals declined by 55% to 70% in April compared with the same period in 2019. States required hospitals to cancel or delay elective procedures, which are vital to hospitals’ bottom lines.

“Patients that had been under the care of physicians before the pandemic will return first in order to address known health needs,” officials from the ratings agency said in a statement. “Physicians and surgeons will be motivated to extend office or surgical hours in order to accommodate these patients.”

Those declines narrowed to 20% to 40% in May when compared to 2019.

Emergency room and urgent care volumes were still down 35% to 50% in May.

“This could reflect the prevalence of working-from-home arrangements and people generally staying home, which is leading to a decrease in automobile and other accidents outside the home,” the analysis said. “Weak ER volumes also suggest that many people remain apprehensive to enter a hospital, particularly for lower acuity care.”

The good news:  The analysis estimated it is unlikely there will be a return to the nationwide decline of volume experienced in late March and April because healthcare facilities are more prepared for COVID-19.

For instance, hospitals have enough personal protective equipment for staff and have expanded testing, the analysis said.

For-profit hospitals also have “unusually strong liquidity to help them weather the effects of the revenue loss associated with canceled or postponed procedures,” Moody’s added. “That is largely due to the CARES Act and other government financial relief programs that have caused hospital cash balances to swell.”

However, the bill for one of those sources of relief is coming due soon.

Hospitals and other providers will have to start repaying Medicare for advance payments starting this summer. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services doled out more than $100 billion in advance payments to providers before suspending the program in late April.

Hospital group Federation of American Hospitals asked Congress to change the repayment terms for such advance payments, including giving providers at least a year to start repaying the loans.

Another risk for providers is the change in payer mix as people lose jobs and commercial coverage, shifting them onto Medicaid or the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA’s) insurance exchanges.

“This will lead to rising bad debt expense and a higher percentage of revenue generated from Medicaid or [ACA] insurance exchange products, which typically pay considerably lower rates than commercial insurance,” Moody’s said.

 

 

 

A Scalpel Instead Of A Sledgehammer: The Potential Of Value-Based Deductible Exemptions In High-Deductible Health Plans

https://www.healthaffairs.org/do/10.1377/hblog20200615.238552/full/?utm_campaign=HASU+6-21-20&utm_medium=email&utm_content=COVID-19%3A+Face+Mask+Mandates%2C+Immigration+Detention+Facilities%2C+Symptom+Monitoring%3B+Treatment+Of+Opioid+Use+Disorder%3B+Supreme+Court+LGBT+Decision%3A+Implications+For+The+ACA&utm_source=Newsletter

UM V-BID Center (@UM_VBID) | Twitter

High-deductible health plans (HDHPs) covered more than 30 percent of enrollees in employer-sponsored plans in the United States in 2019, up from 4 percent in 2006. In 2020, the Internal Revenue Service defines HDHP as any plan with a deductible of at least $1,400 for an individual or $2,800 for a family. An HDHP’s total yearly out-of-pocket expenses (including deductibles, copayments, and coinsurance) cannot be more than $6,900 for an individual or $13,800 for a family. However, this limit does not apply to out-of-network services.

The growth of HDHPs is driven by the pursuit of reduced health care spending and premiums for both employees and employers through channeling elements of consumerism and managed care. Often, HDHPs are offered along with a savings option (health savings account or health reimbursement arrangement) in a consumer-directed health plan.

Recently, however, there have been concerns about the out-of-pocket cost burdens imposed on patients by HDHPs and other plans. Reducing these costs has been the focus of major policy proposals, including prescription drug bills from both the House and the Senate; forthcoming plans for the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation to test value-based insurance models following the president’s executive order 13890 on Protecting and Improving Medicare for Our Nation’s Seniors; and H.R. 2774, the Primary Care Patient Protection Act of 2019, which would create a primary care benefit for all HDHP holders, allowing for up to two deductible-free primary care office visits each year.

It is becoming increasingly clear that HDHPs’ indiscriminate reductions in care usage may not be the best way to contain health care costs. In this post, we suggest that combining the principles of HDHPs and value-based insurance design (VBID), by offering deductible exemptions for high-value services, could provide nuanced incentives with potential to preserve access to the most important services while reducing use of only more wasteful care.

Why Did HDHPs Fail To Deliver Their Intended Consequences?

The intended premise of HDHPs is that beneficiaries facing the full costs of health care services during the deductible phase will engage in price shopping and subsequently choose care commensurate with expected benefits of that care. The hope is that the combination of lower prices and a different mix of services could increase the value of health care used while also reducing costs. Unfortunately, evaluations of HDHPs suggest that consumers neither price shop nor can they discriminate between high- and low-value care when facing high deductibles; accordingly, they reduce use of both essential and inessential services. Not only is this behavior likely to lead to worse health for beneficiaries, but short-term savings for both the beneficiary and the insurer may be offset by increased long-term spending associated with preventable adverse health events. The lack of the hoped-for response to HDHPs (price shopping and reduction in unnecessary care only) may stem from a lack of price transparency, inability to pay for essential care during the deductible phase, or inadequate information about the value of alternate health care services and technologies.

The evidence on HDHPs should not be surprising. It matches older evidence from the RAND Health Insurance Experiment, where cost sharing caused people to reduce consumption of both appropriate and inappropriate care. The RAND experiment demonstrated that consumers may not have enough information available freely to them to address uncertainty and make rational choices about which services to purchase and which to forgo. For this reason, we suggest a variation on VBID, in which deductible exemptions for established high-value services would inform and incentivize beneficiaries to use the most valuable care, while disincentivizing low-value options. Such recommendations have been made in different forms in the literature but have not been widely adopted.

Tying-In Value Conversations Within HDHPs

VBIDs have developed over the past 15 years on the premise that when everyone is required to pay the same out-of-pocket amount for health care services whose benefits depend on patient characteristics, there is enormous potential for both underuse and overuse of care. It is also true that health services can be underused and overused when there are differential health-related returns across services, but patients are unaware of the differences. VBIDs have been used by insurers as a mechanism to address this information problem, by signaling the value of alternative health care technologies to consumers through variable cost sharing.

To date, most applications of VBID have focused on applying such designs to copays but not to deductibles. Moreover, most applications have applied reduced cost sharing for targeted high-value drugs, and only a few have also implemented concomitant increased cost sharing for low-value drugs. This means that the cost differences that the consumers faced between high- and low-value products continued to be small. Consequently, results of such applications show the promise of VBID, but to a limited scale, owing to the relative inelasticity of demand for care related to small copay variation. Tying value-based cost sharing within deductibles could generate a bigger “nudge” to align use with value.  

Only one study evaluated the application of VBID on cost sharing within an HDHP plan. This research analyzed Kaiser Permanente of Northern California, where patients were switched to HDHPs, but some of them were offered free chronic disease medications. Resulting improvements in adherence due to zero cost sharing for chronic disease medications were shown to offset the HDHP-associated adherence reduction, especially for patients with poor adherence at the start. Importantly, adherence improvements did not occur for more clinically complex patients, or patients living in poorer neighborhoods. The inclusion of active counseling in VBID plans has potential to address these limitations.

In another example of VBID, a not-for-profit health plan in the Pacific Northwest implemented a formulary that tied drug copays to cost-effectiveness. Researchers found larger shifts in demand within drug classes in which copays were simultaneously reduced for high-value treatments and increased for low-value treatments, compared to drug classes in which the copays only moved in one direction. The overall effect of the VBID implementation was welfare-increasing but small, perhaps because the price dispersion faced by the patient between high-value and low-value alternatives was still too low to alter demand.

Other applications of VBID, where cost sharing was removed for primary care visits, were found to reduce total spending, mainly due to reductions in use of emergency department (ED) and other outpatient services. A plan that bundled copays for back pain physical therapy found reductions in ED use, in addition to eventual reductions in primary care use, and better adherence to care guidelines.

Value-Based High-Deductible Plans

We suggest that value-based high-deductible plans (VHDP), which combine the principles of HDHPs and VBID, and have been suggested as “a natural evolution of health plans,” could provide a robust alternative in insurance markets and achieve the goals of both low costs and high value of health care delivery. Our enthusiasm for such designs stems from the dispersion of price-elasticities observed when a value-based system was implemented on copayments. We expect such dispersion can be expanded substantially when VBID is applied to develop VHDPs. Specifically, VHDPs would nudge consumers toward high-value technologies (for example, preventive medications) by exempting their costs from the deductibles, while also providing consumers with transparency on the full costs of low-value services (for example, MRI for back pain or headache), and disincentivizing their use. This would generate a more elastic demand for low-value services, which in turn could move the markets for insured health care services toward more efficient outcomes.

In health care, where we know that both quality and value are at least partially unobservable to the patient, efficient outcomes are typically not attainable, especially when cost sharing indiscriminately alters prices. A VHDP would provide nuanced cost sharing to influence behavior in a manner similar to prices in traditional markets, therefore resolving information asymmetries for low-value services, reducing distortions, and increasing social welfare. In addition, such a policy could improve equity by ensuring that all beneficiaries have access to the highest-value services, even in the deductible phase of a benefit package. Such plans are certainly in line with the spirit of the recent bipartisan legislation (signed by President Donald Trump under executive order 13877) that allows health savings account eligible high-deductible health plans the flexibility to cover essential medications and services used to treat chronic diseases prior to meeting the plan deductible.

Challenges To Adoption Of Value-Based HDHPs

While value-based pricing improves beneficiaries’ ability to observe value, and therefore reduces the information asymmetries inherent in health care markets, the definition of “value” is an open question. Current legislative options being considered by both political parties in Congress aim to regulate and reduce drug pricing. While these efforts are important, and reduced prices would likely factor into premiums and out-of-pocket costs for consumers, these policy proposals do not necessarily tie price reductions to the value of drugs. That is, they are not tied to any specifically desired outcome of care. As mentioned, earlier VBID applications have been designed to impact health outcomes by using cost-effectiveness in formulary design to signal value. However, many other attributes of care, in addition to cost-effectiveness, should be considered by payers (both public and private) in determination of deductible-exemption status in a VHDP. These attributes include if a service has positive externalities (such as vaccinations) and if a service is unlikely to have moral hazard consumption (such as trauma care or chemotherapy). These, and other elements of value, could be included in decisions about which services should be exempt from the deductible. The decision of which elements to consider in this decision will depend on the stakeholders and perspectives (for example, payer, health system, employer, societal).

A potential downside of VHDPs is plan complexity, but improved communication (perhaps through health plan stewards) could address this limitation; active counseling has already been effective for this purpose in VBID. It would be relatively straightforward to incorporate the cost-sharing design of VHDPs to a value-based tiering system, now widely used in cost sharing.

Qualitative studies of VBID have identified additional barriers to VBID implementation. For example, patients are skeptical of value-based tradeoffs, do not necessarily trust the information provided by their plan, and may resist changes in care delivery. Payers tend to be skeptical of the clinical significance of adherence improvements from VBID and have expressed concern over low return on investment and administrative and information technology hurdles. Finally, providers are concerned about changes to patient behavior that puts their practice at financial risk.

These concerns are important, but potentially addressable with education and carefully planned implementation, to allow VHDPs to strike a nuanced balance between reducing moral hazard consumption of care and adequate risk protection. Such a balance is critical to controlling health spending while maintaining access to the highest-value services and reducing financial uncertainty.

 

 

 

 

Why People Are Still Avoiding the Doctor (It’s Not the Virus)

Why People Are Still Avoiding the Doctor (It's Not the Virus ...

At first, people delayed medical care for fear of catching Covid. But as the pandemic caused staggering unemployment, medical care has become unaffordable for many.

At first, Kristina Hartman put off getting medical care out of concern about the coronavirus. But then she lost her job as an administrator at a truck manufacturer in McKinney, Texas.

While she still has health insurance, she worries about whether she will have coverage beyond July, when her unemployment is expected to run out.

“It started out as a total fear of going to the doctor,” she said.

“I definitely am avoiding appointments.”

Ms. Hartman, who is 58, skipped a regular visit with her kidney doctor, and has delayed going to the endocrinologist to follow up on some abnormal lab results.

While hospitals and doctors across the country say many patients are still shunning their services out of fear of contagion — especially with new cases spiking — Americans who lost their jobs or have a significant drop in income during the pandemic are now citing costs as the overriding reason they do not seek the health care they need.

“We are seeing the financial pressure hit,” said Dr. Bijoy Telivala, a cancer specialist in Jacksonville, Fla. “This is a real worry,” he added, explaining that people are weighing putting food on the table against their need for care. “You don’t want a 5-year-old going hungry.”

Among those delaying care, he said, was a patient with metastatic cancer who was laid off while undergoing chemotherapy. He plans to stop treatments while he sorts out what to do when his health insurance coverage ends in a month.

The twin risks in this crisis — potential infection and the cost of medical care — have become daunting realities for the millions of workers who were furloughed, laid off or caught in the economic downturn. It echoes the scenarios that played out after the 2008 recession, when millions of Americans were unemployed and unable to afford even routine visits to the doctor for themselves or their children.

Almon Castor’s hours were cut at the steel distribution warehouse in Houston where he works about a month ago. Worried that a dentist might not take all the precautions necessary, he had been avoiding a root canal.

But the expense has become more pressing. He also works as a musician. “It’s not feasible to be able to pay for procedures with the lack of hours,” he said.

Nearly half of all Americans say they or someone they live with has delayed care since the onslaught of coronavirus, according to a survey last month from the Kaiser Family Foundation. While most of those individuals expected to receive care within the next three months, about a third said they planned to wait longer or not seek it at all.

While the survey didn’t ask people why they were putting off care, there is ample evidence that medical bills can be a powerful deterrent. “We know historically we have always seen large shares of people who have put off care for cost reasons,” said Liz Hamel, the director of public opinion and survey research at Kaiser.

And, just as the Great Recession led people to seek less hospital care, the current downturn is likely to have a significant impact, said Sara Collins, an executive at the Commonwealth Fund, who studies access to care. “This is a major economic recession,” she said. “It’s going to have an effect on people’s demand for health care.”

The inability to afford care is “going to be a bigger and bigger issue moving forward,” said Chas Roades, the co-founder of Gist Healthcare, which advises hospitals and doctors. Hospital executives say their patient volumes will remain at about 20 percent lower than before the pandemic.

“It’s going to be a jerky start back,” said Dr. Gary LeRoy, a physician in Dayton, Ohio, who is the president of the American Academy of Family Physicians. While some of his patients have returned, others are staying away.

But the consequences of these delays can be troubling. In a recent analysis of the sharp decline in emergency room visits during the pandemic, officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there were worrisome signs that people who had heart attacks waited until their conditions worsened before going to the hospital.

Without income, many people feel they have no choice. Thomas Chapman stopped getting paid in March and ultimately lost his job as a director of sales. Even though he has high blood pressure and diabetes, Mr. Chapman, 64, didn’t refill any prescriptions for two months. “I stopped taking everything when I just couldn’t pay anymore,” he said.

After his legs began to swell, and he felt “very, very lethargic,” he contacted his doctor at Catalyst Health Network, a Texas group of primary care doctors, to ask about less expensive alternatives. A pharmacist helped, but Mr. Chapman no longer has insurance, and is not sure what he will do until he is eligible for Medicare later this year.

“We’re all having those conversations on a daily basis,” said Dr. Christopher Crow, the president of Catalyst, who said it was particularly tough in states, like Texas, that did not expand Medicaid. While some of those who are unemployed qualify for coverage under the Affordable Care Act, they may fall in the coverage gap where they do not receive subsidies to help them afford coverage.

Even those who are not concerned about losing their insurance are fearful of large medical bills, given how aggressively hospitals and doctors pursue people through debt collections, said Elisabeth Benjamin, a vice president at Community Service Society of New York, which works with people to get care.

“Americans are really very aware that their health care coverage is not as comprehensive as it should be, and it’s gotten worse over the past decade,” Ms. Benjamin said. After the last recession, they learned to forgo care rather than incur bills they can’t pay.

Geralyn Cerveny, who runs a day care in Kansas City, Mo., said she had Covid-19 in early April and is recovering. But her income has dropped as some families withdrew their children. Although her daughter is urging her to get some follow-up testing because she has some lingering symptoms from the virus, she is holding off because she does not want to end up with more medical bills if her health plan will not cover all of the care she needs. She said she would dread “a fight with the insurance company if you don’t meet their guidelines.”

Others are weighing what illness or condition merits the expense of a doctor or tests and other services. Eli Fels, a swim instructor and personal trainer who is pregnant, has been careful to stay up-to-date with her prenatal appointments in Cambridge, Mass. She and her doctor have relied on telemedicine appointments to reduce the risk of infection.

But Ms. Fels, who also lost her jobs but remains insured, has chosen not to receive care for her injured wrist in spite of concern over lasting damage. “I’ve put off medical care that doesn’t involve the baby,” she said, noting that her out-of-pocket cost for an M.R.I. to find out what was wrong “is not insubstantial.”

At Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, doctors have already seen the impact of delaying care. During the height of the pandemic, people who had heart attacks and serious fractures avoided the emergency room. “It was as if they disappeared, but they didn’t disappear,” said Dr. Jack Choueka, the chair of orthopedics. “People were dying in home; they just weren’t coming into the hospital.”

In recent weeks, people have begun to return, but with conditions worsened because of the time they had avoided care. A baby with a club foot will now need a more complicated treatment because it was not addressed immediately after birth.

Another child who did not have imaging promptly was found to have a tumor. “That tumor may have been growing for months unchecked,” Dr. Choueka said.

 

 

 

 

Coronavirus Layoffs Keep Coming as Jobless Claims Top 45 Million

http://www.thefiscaltimes.com

About 1.5 million people filed for state unemployment benefits last week, the Department of Labor announced Thursday, bringing the 13-week total for first-time claims to more than 45 million. Another 760,000 filed new claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a temporary program for workers such as independent contractors who ordinarily do not qualify for unemployment payments.

While new jobless claims continue to decline, falling for the 11th straight week, the numbers remain startlingly high relative to previous recessions, and some economists have expressed concerns that the labor market is not healing as rapidly as they had hoped.

“It’s not clear why claims are still so high,” said Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, in a note to clients. “[I]s it the initial shock still working its way up through businesses away from the consumer-facing jobs lost in the first wave, or is it businesses which thought they could survive now throwing in the towel, or both? Either way, these are disappointing numbers and serve to emphasize that a full recovery is going to take a long time.”

 

Industry Voices—Healthcare has a plus-size problem from consolidation. Here are 9 ways to respond

https://www.fiercehealthcare.com/hospitals/industry-voices-healthcare-has-a-plus-size-problem-from-consolidation-here-are-9-ways-to?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiWlRJMk9UYzVZVFl4Tm1VMSIsInQiOiJ0aElzSllzTkpISWNIcU13ZXErNVdPSzU3K05cLzRVY2FEWFMycDNHZTZcLzlTYUo3UVNNQXd3ZjlwZXlFbVA3c3NQTHI0NFhqcjhFNk1VUXc4aVlnYW9aSnFVOVIydEFqWG5weWdEc2Viall1elwvK0RIRWtEajhPWGw3TEFTNDlkUCJ9&mrkid=959610

Industry Voices—Healthcare has a plus-size problem from ...

For two decades, healthcare consolidation has been a strong industry trend. But in the COVID-19 era, big healthcare is proving to be a big problem.

Once the community spread of COVID-19 became apparent, large systems turned off the spigot of specialty and nonessential services almost immediately. Now, as these organizations try to entice patients back into services, they face consumers who have good reason to fear the large, populated spaces these systems are built on.

As patients return for care and treatments, large hospitals and health providers need targeted approaches to overcome risk and obstacles. Here are nine strategies to consider for restarting patients:

1. Identify patients and instances with care disruption and high risks associated with care deferral. Knowing which patients are at high risk due to missed appointments plus other risk and time-based analytics will be useful in targeting efforts to bring patients back. Use various technologies to identify prior scheduled procedures and diagnostics.

2. Create a clinical flow for patients in each treatment or appointment category so communication to patients is clear as they are recruited back into the system. The clinical flows should determine which patients will receive telehealth services and who will need physical exams, along with how imaging or laboratory services will be handled to safely address patient time and access to services.

3. Use population health technology to target patients by risk level for services and deferral reasons. Patients who were infected with COVID-19 should be indicated and targeted for services, since this calls for additional surveillance of new risk factors associated with the disease.

4. Contact patients for pre-appointment discussions prior to actual telehealth or personal visits and services. Identify data to collect from patients on symptoms, social determinants and concerns about healthcare or COVID-19 infection so patients can vet their concerns and upcoming discussions with physicians can be more informative.

5. Reimagine the role and functions of some specialists. Because specialty practices are often located in close proximity to many diagnostic services, primary care physicians, who tend to be off campus, can provide initial services in a low-density setting and leave the procedures to specialists.

6. Consider aligning with smaller or more localized services for diagnostics, or provide wearable devices that capture needed clinical data.

7. If feasible, consider whether physical access to some care locations should be redetermined in the short or midterm for patient ease of access.

8. For physical visits or treatments, adjust scheduling to accommodate patient and staff density in clinical or waiting areas.

9. Involve specialists in care and space redesign as well as designing risk criteria. Every specialty will have unique issues that should be accommodated in the design of restarting services.

Planning to improve and strengthen connections to patients in larger healthcare operations will go far toward helping them gain confidence to return during this phase of the pandemic. Now more than ever, we can’t afford a systemwide hit or miss.

 

 

 

 

How Many More Will Die From Fear of the Coronavirus?

Fear of contracting the coronavirus has resulted in many people missing necessary screenings for serious illnesses, like cancer and heart disease.

Seriously ill people avoided hospitals and doctors’ offices. Patients need to return. It’s safe now.

More than 100,000 Americans have died from Covid-19. Beyond those deaths are other casualties of the pandemic — Americans seriously ill with other ailments who avoided care because they feared contracting the coronavirus at hospitals and clinics.

The toll from their deaths may be close to the toll from Covid-19. The trends are clear and concerning. Government orders to shelter in place and health care leaders’ decisions to defer nonessential care successfully prevented the spread of the virus. But these policies — complicated by the loss of employer-provided health insurance as people lost their jobs — have had the unintended effect of delaying care for some of our sickest patients.

To prevent further harm, people with serious, complex and acute illnesses must now return to the doctor for care.

Across the country, we have seen sizable decreases in new cancer diagnoses (45 percent) and reports of heart attacks (38 percent) and strokes (30 percent). Visits to hospital emergency departments are down by as much as 40 percent, but measures of how sick emergency department patients are have risen by 20 percent, according to a Mayo Clinic study, suggesting how harmful the delay can be. Meanwhile, non-Covid-19 out-of-hospital deaths have increased, while in-hospital mortality has declined.

These statistics demonstrate that people with cancer are missing necessary screenings, and those with heart attack or stroke symptoms are staying home during the precious window of time when the damage is reversible. In fact, a recent poll by the American College of Emergency Physicians and Morning Consult found that 80 percent of Americans say they are concerned about contracting the coronavirus from visiting the emergency room.

Unfortunately, we’ve witnessed grievous outcomes as a result of these delays. Recently, a middle-aged patient with abdominal pain waited five days to come to a Mayo Clinic emergency department for help, before dying of a bowel obstruction. Similarly, a young woman delayed care for weeks out of a fear of Covid-19 before she was transferred to a Cleveland Clinic intensive care unit with undiagnosed leukemia. She died within weeks of her symptoms appearing. Both deaths were preventable.

The true cost of this epidemic will not be measured in dollars; it will be measured in human lives and human suffering. In the case of cancer alone, our calculations show we can expect a quarter of a million additional preventable deaths annually if normal care does not resume. Outcomes will be similar for those who forgo treatment for heart attacks and strokes.

Over the past 12 weeks, hospitals deferred nonessential care to prevent viral spread, conserve much-needed personal protective equipment and create capacity for an expected surge of Covid-19 patients. During that time, we also have adopted methods to care for all patients safely, including standard daily screenings for the staff and masking protocols for patients and the staff in the hospital and clinic. At this point, we are gradually returning to normal activities while also mitigating risk for both patients and staff members.

The Covid-19 crisis has changed the practice of medicine in fundamental ways in just a matter of months. Telemedicine, for instance, allowed us to pivot quickly from in-person care to virtual care. We have continued to provide necessary care to our patients while promoting social distancing, reducing the risk of viral spread and recognizing patients’ fears.

Both Cleveland Clinic and Mayo Clinic have gone from providing thousands of virtual visits per month before the pandemic to hundreds of thousands now across a broad range of demographics and conditions. At Cleveland Clinic, 94 percent of diabetes patients were cared for virtually in April.

While virtual visits are here to stay, there are obvious limitations. There is no substitute for in-person care for those who are severely ill or require early interventions for life-threatening conditions. Those are the ones who — even in the midst of this pandemic — must seek the care they need.

Patients who need care at a clinic or hospital or doctor’s office should know they have reduced the risk of Covid-19 through proven infection-control precautions under guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We’re taking unprecedented actions, such as restricting visiting hours, screening patient and caregiver temperatures at entrances, encouraging employees to work from home whenever possible, providing spaces that allow for social distancing, and requiring proper hand hygiene, cough etiquette and masking.

All of these strategies are intended to significantly reduce risk while allowing for vital, high-quality care for our patients.

The novel coronavirus will not go away soon, but its systemic side effects of fear and deferred care must.

We will continue to give vigilant attention to Covid-19 while urgently addressing the other deadly diseases that haven’t taken a pause during the pandemic. For patients with medical conditions that require in-person care, please allow us to safely care for you — do not delay. Lives depend on it.