Jobless claims increase to 898,000, a sign the recovery could be stalling

The number of new unemployment claims jumped last week, the latest sign of the toll the coronavirus pandemic continues to take on the economy.

States across the country processed 898,000 new unemployment claims, up more than 50,000 from the previous week, the largest increase in first-time jobless applications since August.

These numbers marked another unfortunate milestone: The number of unemployment claims has been above the pre-pandemic one-week record of 695,000 for 30 weeks now.

Claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, for gig and self-employed workers, went down, to 373,000 from about 460,000.

And the total number of people on all unemployment programs dropped slightly, to 25.3 million for the last week of September, down from 25.5 million the previous week.

The number of new claims has fallen greatly from its peak in the spring, but economists say they are concerned that the number remains so high.

“No question this report casts doubt on the recovery,” said Andrew Chamberlain, the chief economist at Glassdoor. “This is a sign covid is still dealing heavy blows to the labor market. We’re nowhere near having the virus under control.”

The news comes amid a string of poor economic news, with headlines punctuated with reports of large companies announcing layoffs in recent weeks.

These companies include Disney, insurance company Allstate, American and United Airlines, Aetna, and Chevron.

“It’s not coming down quickly,” said Julia Pollak, a labor economist at the jobs site ZipRecruiter. “It’s unclear how quickly we can recover. We’re likely to see additional layoffs and high numbers of unemployment for the foreseeable future.”

Pollak said there are indications that consumer spending has fallen since the expiration of government aid programs — another warning sign about more economic trouble ahead.

Many economists, including those at the Federal Reserve, have urged Congress and the White House to pass a new package of aid. House Democrats passed a $2.2 trillion plan earlier this month that Republicans have declined to advance, while Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has been pushing a $1.8 trillion plan.

Still, there are signs that Senate Republicans would not be willing to accept that plan, either. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters that he would not bring the plan to the floor, saying Senate Republicans believed the deal should top out at $1.5 trillion.

One sign of the severity of the economic crisis is the growing number of people who are transitioning to Pandemic Emergency unemployment compensation — for those who hit the maximum number of time that their state plans allow for. That number grew 818,000, according to the most recent figures, from the end of September.

Questions remain about the integrity of the data, as well.

A number of issues have complicated a straightforward read of the weekly release, such as issues with fraud, which are believed to have driven up these numbers an unknown amount, and backlogs in states like California. The country’s largest state typically accounts for about 20-28 percent of the country’s total weekly claims, but has put its claims processing on hold temporarily.

Instead, the Department of Labor is using a placeholder number for the state — 226,000, the number of new initial claims in the state from mid-September.

But some economists like Chamberlain are critical of this method.

“The idea of cutting and pasting the data from a state is so absurd,” he said. “They could at least use a model. But instead they’re carrying over the number. It’s quite a crisis.”

Quirks in the new filing process require people to apply for traditional unemployment and get rejected before applying for PUA — a source of potential duplicate claims.

Economists have been warning for months that the unemployment rate, which has improved steadily since its nadir in April, is at risk of getting worse without further government intervention.

States that saw significant jumps in unemployment claims last week include Indiana, Alaska, Arizona, Illinois, New Mexico and Washington.

Still, some economists have found reasons to hope. Pollak said job postings on ZipRecruiter have topped 10 million for the first time since the start of the pandemic, equaling a number last seen in January.

The jobs are different now, she said — fewer tech and business jobs and more warehousing jobs, temporary opportunities and contracting work.

8 hospitals laying off workers

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/finance/8-hospitals-laying-off-workers-101520.html?utm_medium=email

Facing a financial squeeze, hospitals nationwide are cutting jobs

The financial challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have forced hundreds of hospitals across the nation to furlough, lay off or reduce pay for workers, and others have had to scale back services or close. 

Lower patient volumes, canceled elective procedures and higher expenses tied to the pandemic have created a cash crunch for hospitals. U.S. hospitals are estimated to lose more than $323 billion this year, according to a report from the American Hospital Association. The total includes $120.5 billion in financial losses the AHA predicts hospitals will see from July to December. 

Hospitals are taking a number of steps to offset financial damage. Executives, clinicians and other staff are taking pay cuts, capital projects are being put on hold, and some employees are losing their jobs. More than 260 hospitals and health systems furloughed workers this year and dozens others have implemented layoffs. 

Below are eight hospitals and health systems that announced layoffs since Sept. 1, most of which were attributed to financial strain caused by the pandemic. 

1. Citing a need to offset financial losses, Minneapolis-based M Health Fairview said it plans to downsize its hospital and clinic operations. As a result of the changes, 900 employees, about 3 percent of its 34,000-person workforce, will be laid off.

2. Lake Charles (La.) Memorial Health System laid off 205 workers, or about 8 percent of its workforce, as a result of damage sustained from Hurricane Laura. The health system laid off employees at Moss Memorial Health Clinic and the Archer Institute, two facilities in Lake Charles that sustained damage from the hurricane.

3. Burlington, Mass.-based Wellforce laid off 232 employees as a result of operating losses linked to the COVID-19 pandemic. The health system, comprised of Tufts Medical Center, Lowell General Hospital and MelroseWakefield Healthcare, experienced a drastic drop in patient volume earlier this year due to the suspension of outpatient visits and elective surgeries. In the nine months ended June 30, the health system reported a $32.2 million operating loss. 

4. Baptist Health Floyd in New Albany, Ind., part of Louisville, Ky.-based Baptist Health, eliminated 36 positions. The hospital said the cuts, which primarily affected administrative and nonclinical roles, are due to restructuring that is “necessary to meet financial challenges compounded by COVID-19.”

5. Cincinnati-based UC Health laid off about 100 employees. The job cuts affected both clinical and non-clinical staff. A spokesperson for the health system said no physicians were laid off. 

6. Mercy Iowa City (Iowa) announced in September that it will lay off 29 employees to address financial strain tied to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

7. Springfield, Ill.-based Memorial Health System laid off 143 employees, or about 1.5 percent of the five-hospital system’s workforce. The health system cited financial pressures tied to the pandemic as the reason for the layoffs. 

8. Watertown, N.Y.-based Samaritan Health announced Sept. 8 that it laid off 51 employees and will make other cost-cutting moves to offset financial stress tied to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jefferson Health to cut 500 jobs, reduce executive pay

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/finance/jefferson-health-to-cut-500-jobs-reduce-executive-pay.html?utm_medium=email

Jefferson Aims to Acquire Aria Health

Philadelphia-based Jefferson Health is taking steps to reduce costs to help offset losses tied to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The 14-hospital system plans to eliminate between 500 and 600 positions through attrition and will cut pay for its “most senior executives,” according to the Philadelphia Business Journal

Jefferson Health is making cuts after reporting a net loss of $298.7 million in the fiscal year ended June 30. The system posted a loss after receiving $320 million in grants made available under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act to help cover lost revenue and expenses linked to the pandemic, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.

“As one of the health systems in the United States with the largest amount of Covid patients during the surge, and one of the lowest employee infectivity rates, we took a ‘no expense is too much to protect our employees’ approach with PPE and other measures that drove up short-term expenses,” Stephen Klasko, MD, president of Thomas Jefferson University and CEO of Jefferson Health, told the Philadelphia Business Journal. 

Dr. Klasko said patient volumes are beginning to rebound, and the health system is ahead of budget for fiscal year 2021. 

“We made a conscious decision, as the region’s second-largest employer, to do no furloughs and only very few pre-planned layoffs during the pandemic surge,” Dr. Klasko told the Philadelphia Business Journal. “Due to our financial stewardship and growth over the past five years, our balance sheet was very stable and remains very stable despite the pandemic tsunami.”

In addition to cutting unfilled positions and reducing executive pay, the health system is taking a few other steps to achieve savings, including a pay freeze and a one-year suspension of employer contributions to employee retirements plans beginning Jan. 1. 

America’s most prestigious medical journal makes a political statement

https://mailchi.mp/45f15de483b9/the-weekly-gist-october-9-2020?e=d1e747d2d8

In Rare Step, Esteemed Medical Journal Urges Voters To Oust Trump | KPCW

For its first 208 years, the New England Journal of Medicine has never endorsed a political candidate. But this week the journal published an editorial outlining its political position in the upcoming Presidential election, signed unanimously by all editors who are US citizens.

The editors did not explicitly endorse former Vice President Biden, but rather offered a scathing condemnation of the current administration’s performance during the COVID pandemic: “Reasonable people will certainly disagree about the many political positions taken by candidates.

But truth is neither liberal nor conservative. When it comes to the response to the largest public health crisis of our time, our current political leaders have demonstrated that they are dangerously incompetent. We should not abet them and enable the deaths of thousands more Americans by allowing them to keep their jobs.” (Formally endorsing Biden last month, Scientific American also made the first political endorsement in its 175-year history.)
 
Much of the media coverage of the NEJM statement has centered on the question of whether medicine should involve itself in politics, or “live above it”

Medicine has been drawn into political disputes before, but now the nature of the involvement has changed. In the past, debates largely centered around regulation, payment or policy—but now the science itself has become a fundamentally political issue. 

The very nature of the coronavirus has become a matter of political belief, not just an indisputable scientific fact.

Public trust in both scientific institutions and the government, and their ability to work together, has been damaged. We fear this will lead to poorer health outcomes regardless of who wins the upcoming election.

States are telling some people to pay back unemployment benefits

People getting overpaid in unemployment benefits in multiple states -  Business Insider

Tens of millions of people have been on unemployment at some point in the last seven months, since the pandemic began. Now, thousands are being told they have to pay some or all of that money back, either because they made an error when they applied for benefits, or the state did.

“People are terrified by these messages, and they’re coming in swarms,” said Anne Paxton of the Unemployment Law Project. “We’re hearing about this all the time.”

Many people receiving overpayment notices have already used their benefits to pay for basic living expenses. 

“I don’t have $10,000 sitting around,” said Larson Ross, 25, who got a notice of overpayment from the state of Colorado in late August. “I was a low-wage tea house worker who was unemployed for four months. I was using the money from unemployment for food and rent. So it’s spent.” 

He has no idea what he’s going to do. He’s never been so stressed in his life.

“The few days after I first received the letter I found it really hard to get out of bed at all,” Ross said. “It’s really tough.”

The state of Colorado is telling Larson Ross he has to repay the $10,800 he got in unemployment benefits during the pandemic, after his employer successfully contested his eligibility. He has already spent the money on rent, bills and groceries. (Courtesy Larson Ross)

There are a variety of reasons people might get an overpayment of benefits notice. In Ross’ case, his employer successfully contested his eligibility for unemployment, saying he quit, which he disputes. In some cases, it’s because an applicant misunderstood or mischaracterized something on their application. In other cases, the state may have miscalculated a benefit, or approved an application before verifying all the information. 

While this also happened in pre-pandemic times, the issue is particularly acute now given the historic number of claims that have flooded state unemployment offices since March — and the state of the economy. 

“The circumstances for returning to work are just not the same,” said Kathy White, deputy director of the Colorado Fiscal Institute. “Congress needs to recognize that, and make sure that the systems that they’re putting in place for workers to help them through this time, that are just immediate relief … they cannot be punitive. Coming out of COVID with a $15,000 debt that you cannot repay is not helpful.”

With traditional unemployment insurance benefits and with Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, if someone has been overpaid, states have the discretion to waive repayment, as long as there was no fraud involved — particularly if repayment would cause financial hardship. But that is not the case with Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. Under current federal law, states do not have the authority to waive repayment of PUA benefits if a person was overpaid, according to Michele Evermore of the National Employment Law Project.  

“This is honestly the biggest reason that Congress needs to do something on COVID relief,” she said. “If this issue doesn’t get solved, this is going to be more explosive than people losing the $600 in some ways, because they’ll have to pay back six months of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. Nobody who qualified for PUA is going to have that much money sitting around.”

Andrew Tolch applied for PUA in the spring, on the advice of both his bank and his accountant, when he had to temporarily close down his toy store in St. Louis, Missouri because of COVID. 

He was approved, and used all the money he got — less than $200 a week in PUA, plus the extra $600 a week in FPUC — to pay utilities and rent for the store. 

Then, over the summer, he got an overpayment notice from the state of Missouri: he owed a big chunk of that money back — $2,376 in total.

“I was shocked, and I didn’t understand it,” he said. “I followed the rules correctly. We should have qualified, and according to the rules they gave us, we qualified.”

When Andrew Tolch had to close down his toy store, Andy’s Toys, in St. Louis this spring, he applied for and got Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. Now, the state of Missouri wants most if it back. (Courtesy Andrew Tolch)

Tolch has since connected with a number of other small business owners in Missouri who also got notices of overpayment, and he said none of them understands why the state is now saying they didn’t qualify for pandemic assistance. They’re considering the possibility of a class action lawsuit

“It will sink a lot of people if they would have to give it all back,” Tolch said. “Just one more blow from 2020 to small businesses.”

People who think they got an overpayment notice in error, or who can’t afford to repay the benefits, can always appeal — and should, according to Eric Salinger, director of the Employment Law Project at Alaska Legal Services.

But for people who do not win on appeal, or do not get a repayment waiver, states can find ways to recoup that money. Some are more aggressive than others, according to Evermore.

“Every state has different recoupment authority,” she said. “In some states, other benefits can be garnished to pay for that. Taxes could be garnished, future wages could be garnished.”

Larson Ross is afraid that will happen to him. He finally found a seasonal job in northern Colorado, and is making enough money to get by this month, at least — as long as the state doesn’t garnish his wages. Then, he doesn’t know. 

Kathy White is hoping that Colorado and other states will use their discretion to waive repayment in cases where there was no fraud, and that Congress will change the law so states can waive overpayment recoupment of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. 

“It should be just forgiveness for error or overpayment in these unusual circumstances,” she said. “You don’t want to put people in a worse position because of the aid you’re trying to give them.”

Jobless claims: Another 840,000 Americans filed new unemployment claims last week

https://finance.yahoo.com/news/jobless-claims-coronavirus-unemployment-week-ended-october-3-2020-164918818.html

U.S. states saw another 840,000 jobless claims filed last week, as the number of Americans applying for first-time unemployment insurance benefits each week continues to hover at a historically high level.

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) released its weekly jobless claims report at 8:30 a.m. ET Thursday. Here were the main metrics from the report, compared to Bloomberg estimates:

  • Initial jobless claims, week ended Oct. 3: 840,000 vs. 820,000 expected and 849,000 during the prior week
  • Continuing claims, week ended Sept. 26: 10.976 million vs. 11.4 million expected and 11.979 million during the prior week

New weekly unemployment insurance claims have held below the psychologically important 1 million mark for the past six consecutive weeks, but have so far failed to break below 800,000 since the start of the pandemic. At 840,000 last week’s new claims remained at a level still handily above the pre-pandemic record high of 695,000 from 1982.

The past two weeks’ jobless claims totals have also been flattered by an absence of updated new claims out of California. The state – which has consistently been one of the biggest contributors to new weekly claims – announced last week it was taking a two-week pause in processing initial claims to “reduce its claims processing backlog and implement fraud prevention technology,” according to the Labor Department’s statement.

Across all programs, the total number of jobless claims decreased for the week ending Sept. 19. Total claims came in at 25.5 million, down from the about 26.5 million during the previous week, as a smaller number of self-employed or gig workers not eligible for regular state programs claimed Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. But the number of workers collecting benefits through the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation Program – which offers an extra 13 weeks’ worth of federal benefits to those who had exhausted previous state or federal compensation – rose by 154,000 to 1.96 million.

Continuing jobless claims, which are reported on a one-week lag and represent the total number of individuals still receiving state unemployment benefits, continued their gradual downtrend last week. But as with new jobless claims, continuing claims have held well above pre-pandemic levels, and have not broken below the 10 million mark in more than 6 months.

“Net, initial filings fell less than expected last week. The improvement in continuing claims is reflecting people being hired but also individuals exhausting their benefits,” Rubeela Farooqi, chief economist for High Frequency Economics, said in an email. Overall, the signal from the claims data is still one of ongoing weak conditions in the labor market. Even as filings are declining, levels remain extraordinarily high. Employment growth has already slowed and without fiscal support that protected jobs, risks are skewed to the downside for payrolls going forward.”

The latest jobless claims report comes amid dimming hopes for another round of virus relief measures out of Congress, despite increasingly urgent calls from Federal Reserve officials for more fiscal stimulus to support individual Americans more directly.

President Donald Trump said Tuesday he had asked his negotiators to halt further stimulus talks until after the election, but added that he would support standalone measures providing tens of billions of dollars for airline payroll support and the Paycheck Protection Program. House Democrats, however, have previously balked at the notion of passing slimmed down versions of a stimulus package – meaning the prospect of further fiscal stimulus in the next month remains unlikely.

Lee Health to freeze pay for 13,500 employees

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/compensation-issues/lee-health-to-freeze-pay-for-13-500-employees.html?utm_medium=email

Tuesday's Headlines: Junior Bankers Watch Out—Pay Freeze May Be Imminent |  eFinancialCareers

Fort Myers, Fla.-based Lee Health is freezing salaries for its 13,500 employees next year to help offset financial losses tied to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Fort Myers News-Press

The pay freeze in 2021 will mark the first time in nine years that the publicly operated health system has not given employee raises. Salaries and benefits make up about half of the system’s nearly $2 billion in spending each year, according to the report.

Lee Health is facing a budget deficit for the first time in two decades due to financial strain linked to the pandemic. The salary freeze is one of several steps the system is taking to offset losses and avoid layoffs. 

The system has halted most capital projects, and its top executives took pay cuts earlier this year. Lee Health will also reduce the match for employee retirement plans from 5 percent to 4 percent next year, and health plan premiums and copays will also increase, according to the report.

Read the full Fort Myers News-Press article here

 

 

 

 

Another 870,000 Americans filed new unemployment claims last week

https://finance.yahoo.com/news/jobless-claims-coronavirus-unemployment-week-ended-september-19-2020-184747657.html

Another 870,000 Americans filed for first-time unemployment benefits last week, unexpectedly rising slightly from the prior week to reaffirm a slowdown in the U.S. economic recovery.

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) released its weekly jobless claims report at 8:30 a.m. ET Thursday. Here were the main metrics from the report, compared to Bloomberg estimates:

  • Initial jobless claims, week ended Sept. 19: 870,000 vs. 840,000 expected, and 866,000 during the prior week
  • Continuing claims, week ended Sept. 12: 12.580 million vs. 12.275 million expected, and 12.747 million during the prior week

At 870,000, Thursday’s figure represented the fourth consecutive week that new jobless claims came in below the psychologically important 1 million level, but was still high on a historical basis. Nevertheless, the labor market has made strides in recovering from the pandemic-era spike high of nearly 7 million weekly new claims seen in late March.

“While jobless claims under a million for four straight weeks could be considered a positive, we’re staring down a pretty stagnant labor market,” Mike Loewengart, managing director of investment strategy for E-Trade Financial Corporation, said in an email Thursday. “This has been a slow roll to recovery and with no signs of additional stimulus from Washington, jobless Americans will likely continue to exist in limbo. Further, a shaky labor market translates into a skittish consumer, and in the face of a pandemic that seemingly won’t go away without a vaccine, the outlook for the economy certainly comes into question.”

On an unadjusted basis, initial jobless claims rose by a greater margin, or about 28,500, from the previous week to about 824,500. The seasonally adjusted level of new claims rose by 4,000 week on week.

By state, unadjusted claims in California – where joblessness due to the pandemic has compounded with labor market stress due to wildfires – were again the highest in the country at more than 230,000, for an increase of about 4,400 week-over-week. Georgia, New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts also reported significant increases in new claims relative to the rest of the country. Most states reported at least increases in new claims last week.

Continuing claims have also trended lower after a peak of nearly 25 million in May, and fell for a second straight week in this week’s report. But these claims, which capture the total number of individuals still receiving unemployment insurance, have not broken below the 12 million mark since before the pandemic took hold of the labor market in mid-March.

Consistently high numbers of individuals have been filing for, and receiving, jobless benefits from regular state programs, and those newly created during the pandemic. The number of individuals claiming benefits in all programs for the week ended September 5 – the latest reported week – fell for the first time following three straight weeks of increases to 26.04 million, from the nearly 29.8 million reported during the prior week.

Of that total, more than 11.5 million comprised individuals receiving Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which is aimed at self-employed and gig workers who don’t qualify for regular unemployment compensation but have still been impacted by the pandemic.

One of the major downside risks to further improvement in the labor market has been concern that Congress may not soon pass another round of fiscal stimulus aimed at keeping individuals on payrolls during the pandemic. Economists have already said that the end of the last round of augmented federal unemployment benefits in late July has weighed on improvements in joblessness.

“The current picture suggests that growth has slowed sharply in the past three months, and that the labor market is stalling again in the face of rising infections and the sudden ending of federal government support to unemployed people,” Ian Shepherdson, chief economist for Pantheon Macroeconomics, said in a note Wednesday.

The need for more fiscal stimulus to encourage the economy’s ongoing recovery has become a key talking point of policymakers including Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell and his colleagues at the central bank. In congressional testimony Tuesday and Wednesday, the Fed leader said further fiscal stimulus is “unequaled” by any other form of support that could be unleashed, with the central bank’s lending facilities having gone largely untouched by Main Street.

“The concept of the [congressionally authorized] Paycheck Protection Program was helpful because for many of those kinds of businesses – those businesses that don’t have cash reserves – the ability to get a forgivable loan if they stay open, if they keep people employed, was sound, and did give them the prospect of staying in business,” Joseph Minarik, The Conference Board chief policy economist and former Office of Management and Budget chief economist, told Yahoo Finance. “The notion that you have businesses that have been weak over the last few months and now have simply had to shut their doors, that’s a real problem, and it is not necessity going to be solved with a loan.”

 

 

 

 

Moody’s: Hospital financial outlook worse as COVID-19 relief funds start to dwindle

https://www.fiercehealthcare.com/hospitals/moody-s-hospital-financial-outlook-worse-as-covid-19-relief-funds-start-to-dwindle?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiWTJZek56Z3lNV1E0TW1NMyIsInQiOiJKdUtkZE5DVGphdkNFanpjMHlSMzR4dEE4M29tZ24zek5lM3k3amtUYSt3VTBoMmtMUnpIblRuS2lYUWozZk11UE5cL25sQ1RzbFpzdExcL3JvalBod3Z6U3BZK3FBNjZ1Rk1LQ2pvT3A5Witkc0FmVkJocnVRM0dPbFJHZTlnRGJUIn0%3D&mrkid=959610

For-profit hospitals are expected to see a financial decline over the next 12 to 18 months as federal relief funds that shored up revenue losses due to COVID-19 start to wane, a recent analysis from Moody’s said.

The analysis, released Monday, finds that cost management is going to be challenging for hospital systems as more surgical procedures are expected to migrate away from the hospital and people lose higher-paying commercial plans and go to lower-paying government programs such as Medicaid.

“The number of surgical procedures done outside of the hospital setting will continue to increase, which will weaken hospital earnings, particularly for companies that lack sizeable outpatient service lines (including ambulatory surgery centers),” the analysis said.

A $175 billion provider relief fund passed by Congress as part of the CARES Act helped keep hospital systems afloat in March and April as volumes plummeted due to the cancellation of elective procedures and reticence among patients to go to the hospitals.

Some for-profit systems such as HCA and Tenet pointed to relief funding to help generate profits in the second quarter of the year. The benefits are likely to dwindle as Congress has stalled over talks on replenishing the fund.

“Hospitals will continue to recognize grant aid as earnings in Q3 2020, but this tailwind will significantly moderate after that,” Moody’s said.

Cost cutting challenges

Compounding problems for hospitals is how to handle major costs.

Some hospital systems cut some costs such as staff thanks to furloughs and other measures.

“Some hospitals have said that for every lost dollar of revenue, they were able to cut about 50 cents in costs,” the analysis said. “However, we believe that these levels of cost cuts are not sustainable.”

Hospitals can’t cut costs indefinitely, but the costs for handling the pandemic (more money for personal protective equipment and safety measures) are going to continue for some time, Moody’s added.

“As a result, hospitals will operate less efficiently in the wake of the pandemic, although their early experiences in treating COVID-19 patients will enable them to provide care more efficiently than in the early days of the pandemic,” the analysis found. “This will help hospitals free up bed capacity more rapidly and avoid the need for widespread shutdowns of elective surgeries.”

But will that capacity be put to use?

The number of surgical procedures done outside of the hospital is likely to increase and will further weaken earnings, Moody’s said.

“Outpatient procedures typically result in lower costs for both consumers and payers and will likely be preferred by more patients who are reluctant to check-in to a hospital due to COVID-19,” the analysis said.

The payer mix will also shift, and not in hospitals’ favor. Mounting job losses due to the pandemic will force more patients with commercial plans toward programs such as Medicaid.

“This will hinder hospitals’ earnings growth over the next 12-18 months,” Moody’s said. “Employer-provided health insurance pays significantly higher reimbursement rates than government-based programs.”

Bright spots

There are some bright spots for hospitals, including that not all of the $175 billion has been dispersed yet. The CARES Act continues to provide hospitals with a 20% add-on payment for treating Medicare patients that have COVID-19, and it suspends a 2% payment cut for Medicare payments that was installed as part of sequestration.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services also proposed increasing outpatient payment rates for the 2021 fiscal year by 2.6% and in-patient rates by 2.9%. The fiscal year is set to start next month.

Patient volumes could also return to normal in 2021. Moody’s expects that patient volumes will return to about 90% of pre-pandemic levels on average in the fourth quarter of the year.

“The remaining 10% is likely to come back more slowly in 2021, but faster if a vaccine becomes widely available,” the analysis found.

 

 

 

 

Three Million People Lost Health Coverage From Their Employers During The Pandemic

https://www.forbes.com/sites/brucejapsen/2020/09/20/pandemics-wrath-on-worker-health-coverage-tops-3-million-so-far/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=coronavirus&cdlcid=5d2c97df953109375e4d8b68#58cf3e92ed47

More than three million American workers lost health insurance coverage this spring and summer from their employers as the pandemic and spread of Covid-19 triggered massive job losses, a new study shows.

In all, there were 3.3 million adults under the age of 65 who lost employer-sponsored health insurance and almost two-thirds of them, or 1.9 million, “became newly uninsured from late April through mid-July,” according to a new analysis by The Urban Institute and funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The loss of employer coverage has hit Hispanic adults particularly hard with 1.6 million losing health benefits, Urban Institute researchers said.

And it could get worse.

“With continued weakness in the labor market, researchers conclude federal and state policymakers will need to act to prevent job losses from leading to further increases in uninsurance,” the authors of the report wrote about their analysis, which was derived from  2020 U.S. Census data.

In particular, the analysis underscores the need to expand health benefits, particularly Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, analysts say. The ACA dangled billions of dollars in front of states to expand Medicaid coverage for poor Americans but 12 states generally led by Republican Governors or legislatures have refused while President Donald Trump and his appointees at the U.S. Justice Department fight led by Republican Governors

 “The danger of an inadequate safety net can be seen in the non-expansion states, where the number of uninsured adults has already increased more than 1 million,” Robert Wood Johnson Foundation senior policy advisor Katherine Hempstead said in a statement accompanying the report.