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.

 

 

 

 

Outlook remains negative for US for-profit hospitals, Moody’s says

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/finance/outlook-remains-negative-for-us-for-profit-hospitals-moody-s-says.html?utm_medium=email

Fitch gives negative ratings outlook for APAC life insurance | Insurance  Business

Moody’s Investors Service maintained its negative outlook for U.S. for-profit hospitals due to waning federal aid, shifting payer mixes and varying volume trends.

Moody’s expects for-profit hospitals earnings before interest tax depreciation and amortization to decline by a low-to-mid single-digit rate in the next 12 to 18 months.

The credit rating agency maintained the negative outlook for several reasons, including that government aid to providers is beginning to wind down and most providers will see adverse payer mix shifts in the next year due to the high unemployment rate in the U.S.

In addition, volume trends and acuity levels are likely to vary significantly for these for-profit providers across the U.S. and the number of procedures performed outside of the hospital setting will continue to increase, which will weaken hospital earnings, Moody’s said. 

Further, the credit rating agency said that many providers implemented rapid and aggressive cost cutting measures, which enabled them to exit the second quarter largely unscathed.

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

Overall, Moody’s said it expects volumes to gradually return to pre-COVID-19 levels in 2021.

 

 

 

U.S. Jobless Claims Fall, but Layoffs Continue: Live Updates

U.S. jobless claims fall in mid-September, but the economy still suffering  lots of layoffs - MarketWatch

New claims for state unemployment insurance fell last week, but layoffs continue to come at an extraordinarily high level by historical standards.

Initial claims for state benefits totaled 790,000 before adjusting for seasonal factors, the Labor Department reported Thursday. The weekly tally, down from 866,000 the previous week, is roughly four times what it was before the coronavirus pandemic shut down many businesses in March.

On a seasonally adjusted basis, the total was 860,000, down from 893,000 the previous week.

“It’s not a pretty picture,” said Beth Ann Bovino, chief U.S. economist at S&P Global. “We’ve got a long way to go, and there’s still a risk of a double-dip recession.”

The situation has been compounded by the failure of Congress to agree on new federal aid to the jobless.

A $600 weekly supplement established in March that had kept many families afloat expired at the end of July. The makeshift replacement mandated by President Trump last month has encountered processing delays in some states and has funds for only a few weeks.

“The labor market continues to heal from the viral recession, but unemployment remains extremely elevated and will remain a problem for at least a couple of years,” said Gus Faucher, chief economist at PNC Financial Services. “Initial claims have been roughly flat since early August, suggesting that the pace of improvement in layoffs is slowing.”

New claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, an emergency federal program for freelance workers, independent contractors and others not eligible for regular unemployment benefits, totaled 659,000, the Labor Department reported.

Federal data suggests that the program now has more beneficiaries than regular unemployment insurance. But there is evidence that both overcounting and fraud may have contributed to a jump in claims.

 

 

 

 

Jefferson Health CFO walks back stance that Einstein is at risk without merger

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/finance/jefferson-health-cfo-walks-back-stance-that-einstein-is-at-risk-without-merger.html?utm_medium=email

Jefferson Health Announces Partnership with Prepared Health to Coordinate  Care Transitions from Hospital to Home - Dina

Jefferson Health walked back its stance that Einstein Health Network’s flagship hospital is at risk of financial failure without a merger during the first day of arguments at a trial, according to Law360.

The Federal Trade Commission’s legal challenge to block the proposed merger of Einstein Healthcare Network and Jefferson Health started in court Sept. 14. The FTC argues that combining the two Philadelphia-based systems would reduce competition in the Philadelphia region and Montgomery County.

In response to the legal challenge, Jefferson Health and Einstein argued that the merger is a matter of survival for Einstein’s flagship hospital

The health systems argued that Einstein, which has only had annual operating profits twice since 2012, is on a path to financial failure without the deal and needs $500 million to invest in key capital projects and deferred maintenance. Further, the organizations said that without the infusion, Einstein will continue to weaken “as it is forced to cut services or close facilities.”

However, at day one of the trial, Jefferson Health CFO Peter DeAngelis conceded during arguments that Jefferson had no evidence that Einstein is in danger of insolvency, despite painting the finances as bleak, according to Law360. 

The hearing on the preliminary injunction is expected to last the entire week, but a decision won’t happen by the end of the week. An additional round of filings must be submitted by the FTC and the two health systems by Sept. 28. The judge overseeing the case hopes to issue a decision before Jan. 1, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. 

 

 

 

 

Mednax sells off its radiology division

https://mailchi.mp/365734463200/the-weekly-gist-september-11-2020?e=d1e747d2d8

M&A Analysis: Mednax to Sell its Radiology and Teleradiology Business -

National physician staffing firm Mednax announced the sale of its radiology practice—which includes teleradiology company Virtual Radiologic, known as vRad—to venture-backed Radiology Partners for $885M.

Publicly-traded Mednax has been hit hard by both contracting disputes with UnitedHealthcare, as well as pandemic-related volume declines. Both its anesthesiology and radiology businesses suffered big losses with the halt of elective procedures in the spring, and saw volumes decline between 50-70 percent compared to the prior year.

The company began divesting in May with the sale of its anesthesiology division to investor-backed North American Partners in Anesthesia. Mednax leaders say these decisions to sell were made independent of the pandemic, and that they have been planning to return to the company’s roots of focusing exclusively on obstetrics and pediatric subspecialty care, including changing its name back to Pediatrix.

Acquiring firm Radiology Partners is the largest radiology practice in the country, working with 1,300 hospitals and healthcare facilities. With this acquisition, it will have 2,400 radiologists practicing in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Hospital-based physician staffing firms have been especially hard hit by COVID-induced volume declines. This has created a softening in valuations and opened the door for investment firms to accelerate practice purchases.

We expect the pace of deals to quicken as independent practices experience continued financial strain—with large national groups leading the way, taking advantage of lower practice prices to build large-scale specialty enterprises.

 

 

 

 

Einstein’s flagship hospital at risk without merger, Jefferson and Einstein say

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/hospital-transactions-and-valuation/einstein-s-flagship-hospital-at-risk-without-merger-jefferson-and-einstein-say.html?utm_medium=email

FTC says merger of Jefferson and Einstein would raise hospital prices 6.9%

The merger of Einstein Healthcare Network and Jefferson Health is a matter of survival for Einstein’s flagship hospital, the two Philadelphia systems argued in a federal court filing this week, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.

The health systems are attempting to overcome opposition to their merger from the Pennsylvania attorney general and the Federal Trade Commission.

A Sept. 14 hearing is slated on the FTC’s preliminary injunction request. 

A court filing from the two health systems argued that Einstein, which has only had annual operating profits twice since 2012, is on a path to financial failure and needs $500 million to invest in key capital projects and deferred maintenance.

Without the infusion, Jefferson and Einstein said Einstein will continue to weaken “as it is forced to cut services or close facilities,” the Inquirer reported.

“Einstein was unable to identify any alternative buyer to Jefferson that possessed the financial strength and scale necessary to address Einstein’s financial problems,” the filing read, according to the Inquirer. “No other potential strategic partners were willing and able to commit to keep EMCP [Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia] open with its current set of services.”

The FTC announced in February its intent to sue to block the merger, arguing that combining the two systems would reduce competition in Philadelphia and Montgomery County.

“Jefferson and Einstein have a history of competing against each other to improve quality and service,” the FTC said in the February announcement. “The proposed merger would eliminate the robust competition between Jefferson and Einstein for inclusion in health insurance companies’ hospital networks to the detriment of patients.”

The FTC said that with a combination, the two parties would own at least 60 percent of the inpatient general acute care service market around Philadelphia and at least 45 percent of that same market in Montgomery County.

 

 

 

Despite turbulence in H1, no avalanche of health systems downgrades

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/despite-turbulence-in-h1-no-avalanche-of-health-systems-downgrades/584353/?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Issue:%202020-09-02%20Healthcare%20Dive%20%5Bissue:29437%5D&utm_term=Healthcare%20Dive

“It’s new territory, which is why we’re taking that measured approach on rating actions,” Suzie Desai, senior director at S&P, said.

The healthcare sector has been bruised from the novel coronavirus and the effects are likely to linger for years, but the first half of 2020 has not resulted in an avalanche of hospital and health system downgrades.

At the outset of the pandemic, some hospitals warned of dire financial pressures as they burned through cash while revenue plunged. In response, the federal government unleashed $175 billion in bailout funds to help prop up the sector as providers battled the effects of the virus.

Still, across all of public finance — which includes hospitals — the second quarter saw downgrades outpacing upgrades for the first time since the second quarter of 2017.

S&P characterized the second quarter as a “historic low” for upgrades across its entire portfolio of public finance credits.

“While only partially driven by the coronavirus, the second quarter was the first since Q2 2017 with the number of downgrades surpassing upgrades and by the largest margin since Q3 2014,” according to a recent Moody’s Investors Service report.

Through the first six months of this year, Moody’s has recorded 164 downgrades throughout public finance and, more specifically, 27 downgrades among the nonprofit healthcare entities it rates.

By comparison, Fitch Ratings has recorded 14 nonprofit hospital and health system downgrades through July and just two upgrades, both of which occurred before COVID-19 hit.

“Is this a massive amount of rating changes? By no means,” Kevin Holloran, senior director of U.S. Public Finance for Fitch, said of the first half of 2020 for healthcare.

Also through July, S&P Global recorded 22 downgrades among nonprofit acute care hospitals and health systems, significantly outpacing the six healthcare upgrades recorded over the same period.

“It’s new territory, which is why we’re taking that measured approach on rating actions,” Suzie Desai, senior director at S&P, said.

Still, other parts of the economy lead healthcare in terms of downgrades. State and local governments and the housing sector are outpacing the healthcare sector in terms of downgrades, according to S&P.

Virus has not ‘wiped out the healthcare sector’

Earlier this year when the pandemic hit the U.S., some made dire predictions about the novel coronavirus and its potential effect on the healthcare sector.

Reports from the ratings agencies warned of the potential for rising covenant violations and an outlook for the second quarter that would result in the “worst on record, one Fitch analyst said during a webinar in May.

That was likely “too broad of a brushstroke,” Holloran said. “It has not come in and wiped out the healthcare sector,” he said. He attributes that in part to the billions in financial aid that the federal government earmarked for providers.

Though, what it has revealed is the gaps between the strongest and weakest systems, and that the disparities are only likely to widen, S&P analysts said during a recent webinar.

The nonprofit hospitals and health systems pegged with a downgrade have tended to be smaller in size in terms of scale, lower-rated already and light on cash, Holloran said.

Still, some of the larger health systems were downgraded in the first half of the year by either one of the three rating agencies, including Sutter Health, Bon Secours Mercy Health, Geisinger, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Care New England.

“This is something that individual management of a hospital couldn’t control,” said Rick Gundling, senior vice president of Healthcare Financial Management Association, which has members from small and large organizations. “It wasn’t a bad strategy — that goes into a downgrade. This happened to everybody.”

Deteriorating payer mix

Looking forward, some analysts say they’re more concerned about the long-term effects for hospitals and health systems that were brought on by the downturn in the economy and the virus.

One major concern is the potential shift in payer mix for providers.

As millions of people lose their job they risk losing their employer-sponsored health insurance. They may transition to another private insurer, Medicaid or go uninsured.

For providers, commercial coverage typically reimburses at higher rates than government-sponsored coverage such as Medicare and Medicaid. Treating a greater share of privately insured patients is highly prized.

If providers experience a decline in the share of their privately insured patients and see a growth in patients covered with government-sponsored plans, it’s likely to put a squeeze on margins.

The shift also poses a serious strain for states, and ultimately providers. States are facing a potential influx of Medicaid members at the same time state budgets are under tremendous financial pressure. It raises concerns about whether states will cut rates to their Medicaid programs, which ultimately affects providers.

Some states have already started to re-examine and slash rates, including Ohio.

 

 

 

 

Cartoon – Modern Health Policy

MSSNYeNews: October 18, 2019 - Foul Turns FairMSSNYeNews Surprise Medical  Bills -

2020 Hospital Operating Margins Down 96% Through July

https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/2020-hospital-operating-margins-down-96-through-july-301116888.html

Ship in a Storm | ICOExaminer

Hospital Operating Margins have plunged 96% since the start of 2020 in comparison with the first seven months of 2019, according to a new Kaufman Hall report, as uncertainty and volatility continue in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Those results do not include federal funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Even with that aid, however, Operating Margins are down 28% year-to-date compared to January-July 2019.

Operating Margins fell 2% year-over-year in July without the CARES Act relief, according to the latest edition of Kaufman Hall’s National Hospital Flash Report. Hospitals also saw flat year-over-year gross revenue performance in July, continued high per-patient expenses, and a fifth consecutive month of volumes falling below 2019 performance and below budget.

From June to July, however, hospital Operating Margins were up 24%, likely due to a backlog in demand resulting from the shutdown of many non-urgent services in the early months of the pandemic.

“COVID-19 has created a highly volatile operating environment for our nation’s hospitals and health systems,” said Jim Blake, managing director, Kaufman Hall. “Hospitals have shown some incremental signs of potential financial recovery in recent months. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee these trends will continue, and hospitals still have a long way to go to recover from devastating losses in the early months of the pandemic.”

July volumes continued to fall year-over-year, but showed some signs of potential recovery month-over-month. Adjusted Discharges were down 7% compared to July 2019, but up 6% compared to June 2020. Adjusted Patient Days were down 4% year-over-year, but up 7% month-over-month. Adjusted Discharges are down 13% and Adjusted Patient Days are down 11% since the start of 2020, compared to the first seven months of 2019.

Hospital Emergency Department (ED) volumes have been hardest hit, falling 17% year-to-date compared to the same period in 2019, down 17% year-over-year, and 13% below budget in July. Surgery volumes saw some gains with the continued resumption of non-urgent procedures pushing Operating Room Minutes up 3% month-over-month and 4% above budget in July, but they remain down 15% year-to-date.

Not including CARES Act relief, Gross Operating Revenues were essentially flat year-over-year and 2% below budget for the month, but have fallen 8% year-to-date compared to the same period in 2019. Inpatient Revenue is down 5% year-to-date and fell 3% below budget in July, but increased 1% year-over-year. Outpatient Revenue is down 11% year-to-date, 1% year-over-year, and 2% below budget.

Hospitals nationwide also continued to see higher per-patient expenses despite having fewer patients. Total Expense per Adjusted Discharge has jumped 16% year-to-date compared to the same seven-month period in 2019, and rose 9% year-over-year and 5% above budget in July. Labor Expense per Adjusted Discharge is up 18% year-to-date and rose 9% year-over-year and 5% above budget in July. Non-Labor Expense per Adjusted Discharge has increased 15% during the first seven months of 2020 and jumped 11% year-over-year and was 5% above budget for the month.

The National Hospital Flash Report draws on data from more than 800 hospitals.