Unemployment claims jumped last week, as the delta variant of the coronavirus sparked rising caseloads around the country and renewed fears about the potential for more restrictions and business closures.
The number of new claims grew to 419,000 from 368,000, the third time in six weeks that they had ticked up, according to data from the Department of Labor.
Economists said the uptick was concerning but cautioned that it was too early to tell whether it was a one week aberration or telegraphed a more concerning turn for the labor market.
“The unexpected bump in claims could be noise in the system, but it’s also not hard to see how the rise of the covid-19 delta variant could add thousands of layoffs to numbers that already are double what they were pre-Covid,” said Robert Frick, corporate economist at Navy Federal Credit Union.
Overall, unemployment numbers have been falling gradually from the peaks at other stages of the pandemic, but they are still well above pre-pandemic averages.
The jobless numbers have provided a jarring catalogue about the economic devastation wrought by the pandemic — spiking to records as the pandemic unfolded in March 2020, and remaining at historic high levels throughout most of 2020.
The coronavirus surge last fall helped precipitate a rise in claims that saw the labor market, as seen in the monthly jobs report, slide backward too.
But until recently, the last few months been marked by strong jobs growth and a sense of optimism as vaccinations picked up, giving economists hope that the country was back on track to recovering the nearly 7 million jobs it is still down from before the pandemic.
Now, the delta variant is driving an alarming increase in covid-19 cases around the country, according to public health officials: the number of new cases increased more than 40 percent in the last week, sending jitters through the stock market, and is raising questions about whether state and local health authorities will reinstitute restrictions to slow the virus’ spread.
Frick said that the report showed the potential for unemployment claims to start trending upward after months of steady declines.
“There’s definitely a correlation, however loose, that the rise in covid does cause a rise in claims,” he said. “My fear is that the rise in the delta variant could cause claims to go back up…Certainly one week doesn’t show that. But I wouldn’t be surprised if we start to see claims rise.”
However, there are also lots of signs that the economy continues to rebound despite rising caseloads.
The more than 2.2 million people that the Transportation Security Administration said it screened at airports on Sunday was the most since late February 2020 — and nearly three times the amount it was on the same day last year.
Restaurant dining has largely rebounded in recent months, at times surpassing the levels from before the pandemic — on Saturday the number of diners was 1 percent higher than the same day in 2019, according to data from Open Table.
Last week, some 12.5 million claims were filed for unemployment insurance overall, according to the most recent numbers — down from 32.9 million filed at the same point last year.
Nevada, Rhode Island and California topped the list of states with the highest number of people on unemployment, the Labor Department said.
Economic concerns in recent months have been more focused on the ways that workers are still held back from filling some of the more than 9 million job openings in the country, than unemployment, with high hopes that school re-openings in the fall will help many parents get back into the labor force.
While CFOs, on the whole, remain optimistic about an economic rebound this year, they’re concerned about labor availability and accompanying cost pressures,according to a quarterly survey by Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and the Federal Reserve Banks of Richmond and Atlanta.
Over 75% of CFOs included in the survey said their companies faced challenges in finding workers. More than half of that group also said worker shortage reduced their revenue—especially for small businesses. The survey panel includes 969 CFOs across the U.S.
“CFOs expect revenue and employment to rise notably through the rest of 2021,” Sonya Ravindranath Waddell, VP and economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond said. “[But] over a third of firms anticipated worker shortages to reduce revenue potential in the year.”
As many companies struggle to find employees and meet renewed product demand, it’s unsurprising CFOs anticipate both cost and price increases, Waddell said.
About four out of five CFO respondents reported larger-than-normal cost increases at their firms, which they expect will last for several more months. They anticipate the bulk of these cost increases will be passed along to the consumer, translating into higher-priced services.
Despite labor concerns, CFOs are reporting higher optimism than last quarter, ranking their optimism at 74.9 on a scale of zero to 100, a 1.7 jump. They rated their optimism towards the overall U.S. economy at an average of 69 out of 100, a 1.3 increase over last quarter.
For many CFOs, revenue has dipped below 2019 levels due to worker shortage, and in some cases, material shortages, Waddell told Fortune last week. Even so, spending is on the rise, which respondents chalked up to a reopening economy.
“Our calculations indicate that, if we extrapolate from the CFO survey results, the labor shortage has reduced revenues across the country by 2.1%,” Waddell added. “In 2019, we didn’t face [the] conundrum of nine million vacancies combined with nine million unemployed workers.”
The delta variant of the coronavirus is sweeping through the United States, raising the average number of cases to 30,000-per-day, crowding hospitals in areas with large number of unvaccinated people and spurring questions about the nation’s recovery from the pandemic.
Stocks tanked on Monday, with the Dow Jones Industrial average dropping 725 points after being down more than 900 points at one time.
It was the worst one-day performance in the Dow since last October, and followed losses in markets around the world as investor fears about how the delta virus might slow both the health and economic recovery took hold.
Health officials have described the latest stage of the coronavirus as a pandemic of the unvaccinated while emphasizing that those who have had their shots are relatively safe.
Yet Los Angeles County on Saturday reinstated a mask mandate for indoor public settings, a sign that local communities may decide to reimpose restrictions as a safety measure.
An Olympic gymnast and an Olympic women’s basketball player both announced they had tested positive as they prepared for the Games, which is being held in a state of emergency in Tokyo where the rate of vaccinations is behind the United States.
Canada had also been well behind the U.S. in its vaccination rate but surpassed its southern neighbor on Monday, a sign of how much more slowly the vaccination rate now is in the United States. A big reason is that many people who are unvaccinated do not want to get the vaccine, something the Biden administration has increasingly blamed on social media and some conservative media outlets.
While the 30,000 cases per day on average is more than double the 13,000 average at the end of June, that rate is still well below highs from last fall and earlier this year.
Still, deaths are also ticking back up, at around 240 per day.
Because vaccinated people are still overwhelmingly protected, especially from severe outcomes, case and death numbers are likely to stay well below the worst of last winter’s surges, before vaccines were widely available.
But unvaccinated people are at increasing risk, especially given the rise of the highly transmissible delta variant, and the vaccination campaign is hitting a wall, leaving more than 30 percent of adults without any shots and exposed to the full dangers of the virus.
States with lower vaccination rates are seeing the worst outbreaks. Arkansas, Missouri, Florida and Louisiana are the four states with the highest per capita new cases per day, according to data from the Covid Act Now tracking site. The percentage of the population with at least one shot in those states is 44 percent, 47 percent, 56 percent, and 40 percent, respectively.
In contrast, Vermont and Massachusetts, where the vaccination rate is over 70 percent, are faring much better.
Vaccine resistance among some leading conservative commentators and lawmakers is raising fears that many of the remaining unvaccinated may never get the shots.
Sten Vermund, a professor at the Yale School of Public Health, said he is “not particularly worried” about COVID-19 for himself, because he is fully vaccinated.
“What worries me is my fellow Americans who for a variety of reasons choose not to get vaccinated; they continue to be in harm’s way,” Vermund said.
In the rare instances where vaccinated people do get COVID-19 cases, symptoms are likely to be much milder.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said Friday that 97 percent of people entering the hospital with COVID-19 are unvaccinated, part of why she said it “is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”
Conservative resistance to vaccination is stiffening. A Washington Post-ABC News poll released earlier this month found that 47 percent of Republicans said they were unlikely to get vaccinated, compared to just six percent of Democrats. Among Republicans, 38 percent said they definitely would not get the shots.
Former President Trump has previously encouraged people to get vaccinated, though he has not made a forceful push, for example by recording a public service announcement or getting his own shots in public.
On Sunday, though, Trump appeared to justify people not taking the vaccine, blaming President Biden.
“He’s way behind schedule, and people are refusing to take the Vaccine because they don’t trust his Administration, they don’t trust the Election results, and they certainly don’t trust the Fake News, which is refusing to tell the Truth,” Trump said in a statement.
Asked if Biden would request Trump film a public service announcement on vaccination, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said “we don’t believe that requires an embroidered invitation to be a part of.”
“Certainly any role of anyone who has a platform where they can provide information to the public that the vaccine is safe, it is effective, we don’t see this as a political issue,” Psaki said. “We’d certainly welcome that engagement.”
She also emphasized, though, that the administration is focusing on local doctors and community leaders to try to boost vaccination rates, not national officials.
The effort is hitting its limits, though. The pace of vaccinations has fallen to around 500,000 per day, down from over 3 million at the peak in April, according to Our World in Data.
“I’m not that hopeful that we’re going to get to people who have refused to be vaccinated,” said Preeti Malani, an infectious disease expert at the University of Michigan.
Experts increasingly say the best remaining hopes of reaching the remaining unvaccinated are school and employer mandates for their workers or students to get vaccinated.
France is experiencing a surge in vaccinations after President Emmanuel Macron announced this month that proof of vaccination, or a negative test, would be required for everyday activities like going to restaurants. The Biden administration has repeatedly ruled out a national vaccine passport in the U.S., though, and Republicans have rebelled against the idea.
Full approval of the vaccines from the Food and Drug Administration, as opposed to the current emergency authorization, could also help assuage some people’s fears, and some experts have called on the FDA to move faster on issuing a full approval.
The Biden administration has stepped up its calls for Facebook and other technology companies to do more to fight vaccine misinformation on their platforms.
Biden on Friday said social media companies are “killing people” with misinformation. On Monday, though, he dialed the criticism back down, instead pointing to 12 people responsible for much of the disinformation.
“Facebook isn’t killing people, these 12 people are out there giving misinformation,” Biden said.
“My hope is that Facebook, instead of taking it personally, that somehow I’m saying Facebook is killing people, that they would do something about the misinformation, the outrageous misinformation about the vaccine,” Biden added. “That’s what I meant.”
For its part, Facebook said over the weekend, before Biden’s walk-back, that the administration was “finger pointing” and the company was not the reason the president’s goal of getting 70 percent of adults at least one shot by July 4 was missed.
Los Angeles County’s move to return to an an indoor mask mandate, even for vaccinated people,
got mixed reviews from experts, but either way, it is unlikely to be replicated in places that are the hardest hit, given that places that are resistant to vaccines tend to also be resistant to masks.
“Vaccines are really the only way out,” Malani said. “We can’t live in masks forever.”
One of the underappreciated ways in which health systems create value in our healthcare economy, as was recently the topic of discussion with the CEO of an organization we work with, is their role as a “safety net”. We weren’t talking about safety-net providers in the traditional sense—those which serve low-income populations. Rather, we were talking about the ability of larger health systems to acquire and invest in smaller hospitals that might otherwise risk going out of business entirely due to economic pressures.
When economic shocks hit, as was recently the case with COVID, we often see firms close; think of all the restaurant and hospitality businesses forced to shut down over the past year. As the economy rebounds, new business spring up to take their places—that kind of “creative destruction” is commonplace in the larger economy. But when a hospital is forced to shut its doors, it’s a different story, one that could be potentially disastrous for the community.
Often the most economically vulnerable hospitals are sole providers for their communities; without them, critical medical services could be much less accessible for patients. Enter multi-hospital health systems, which have often stepped in to acquire hospitals in jeopardy.
By providing access to capital, technology, and management infrastructure, systems have probably kept hundreds of such smaller hospitals in business over the past several decades. Policy analysts are quick to criticize health systems for value destruction: leveraging scale to raise prices, and so forth.
Often valid criticism, but it would be myopic to overlook the fact that systems have also allowed many vulnerable communities to retain access to a viable local hospital. The pushback is often to posit that we simply have too many hospitals to begin with—but try telling that to patients and communities who have lost access to their local source of care.
An estimate from the Partnership for America’s Healthcare Future predicts that nearly four out of five 60- to 64-year-olds would enroll in Medicare, with two-thirds transitioning from existing commercial plans, if “Medicare at 60” becomes a reality.
In the graphic above, we’ve modeled the financial impact this shift would have on a “typical” five-hospital health system, with $1B in revenue and an industry-average two percent operating margin.
If just over half of commercially insured 60- to 64-year-olds switch to Medicare, the health system would see a $61M loss in commercial revenue.
There would be some revenue gains, especially from patients who switch from Medicaid, but the net result of the payer mix shift among the 60 to 64 population would be a loss of $30M, or three percent of annual revenue, large enough to push operating margin into the red, assuming no changes in cost structure. (Our analysis assumed a conservative estimate for commercial payment rates at 240 percent of Medicare—systems with more generous commercial payment would take a larger hit.)
Coming out of the pandemic, hospitals face rising labor costs and unpredictable volume in a more competitive marketplace. While “Medicare at 60” could provide access to lower-cost coverage for a large segment of consumers, it would force a financial reckoning for many hospitals, especially standalone hospitals and smaller systems.
Judging from the level of deal activity across healthcare in the first quarter of this year, post-pandemic euphoria is truly taking hold. After a substantial, COVID-related dip across most of last year, healthcare M&A began to accelerate in the fourth quarter of 2020, and hit a new high in the first quarter of 2021—up 19 percent. While all sectors saw an uptick in deal flow, the level of activity was particularly high among physician groups, as well as in the behavioral health and “e-health” spaces.
Although hospital deal activity waned somewhat in the first quarter, the average value of deals increased: the average seller size by revenue was $676M, around 70 percent above historical year-end averages. This reflects a shift from bolt-on acquisitions by health systems looking to add isolated assets, to larger health systems seeking to combine their portfolios. Private equity continues to fuel a large portion of deal activity, especially in the behavioral health and physician group space, contributing to an 87 percent surge in the physician sector.
We’d expect this flurry of M&A activity to persist—especially among physician groups and hospitals—as organizations seek financial security after a turbulent year, and as larger players look to scale their market presence and diversify revenue streams.
After posting a $1.4 billion net loss in the third quarter of fiscal year 2020, CommonSpirit, a 140-hospital system based in Chicago, saw improved finances in the third quarter of fiscal year 2021, according to financial documents released May 14.
CommonSpirit, formed in 2019 through the merger of San Francisco-based Dignity Health and Englewood, Colo.-based Catholic Health Initiatives, reported revenues of $8.8 billion in the third quarter of fiscal 2021, up from $7.8 billion recorded in the same quarter one year prior. The health system said the third quarter of fiscal 2021 was the first period to fully include results from Virginia Mason Fransican Health, an 11-hospital system that was formed in January and joined the CommonSpirit network.
The health system’s operating expenses also increased year over year. It reported total expenses of $8.3 billion in the third quarter of fiscal 2021, compared to about $8 billion recorded in the same period last year.
CommonSpirit ended the third quarter of fiscal 2021 with an operating income of $539 million, a figure that included federal relief aid and a pre-tax gain on the sale of joint venture shares. CommonSpirit said without the aid and pre-tax gain, the health system would have posted an operating loss of $117 million in the quarter ended March 31, “highlighting the continuing concerns around overall patient volumes and the ongoing impact of the pandemic.”
After factoring in $1.2 billion in non-operating income, including $636 million in investment income, CommonSpirit posted a net income of $1.7 billion in the quarter ending March 31. In the same quarter one year prior, CommonSpirit recorded a net loss of $1.5 billion.
“In many ways this quarter was similar to what we experienced over the last year, with a very challenging period followed by a robust recovery,” said CommonSpirit CFO Dan Morissette in a May 14 news release. “With vaccination rates rising and many people returning to their pre-pandemic routines, we expect to continue a strong path to recovery, while also recognizing that we will likely see operational impacts from the pandemic for quite some time.”
CommonSpirit said it also is working to strengthen its financial foundation by realizing operational synergies this year. The goal is to realize $350 million to $400 million in savings during fiscal 2021, and it is on track to meet or surpass that goal.
Many physician practices weathered 2020 better than they would have predicted last spring. We had anticipated many doctors would look to health systems or payers for support, but the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans kept practices going until patient volume returned. But as they now see an end to the pandemic, many doctors are experiencing a new round of uncertainty about the future. Post-pandemic fatigue, coupled with a long-anticipated wave of retiring Baby Boomer partners, is leading many more independent practices to consider their options. And layered on top of this, private equity investors are injecting a ton of money into the physician market, extending offers that leave some doctors feeling, according to one doctor we spoke with, that“you’d have to be an idiot to say no to a deal this good”.
2021 is already shaping up to be a record year for physician practice deals.Butsome of our recent conversations made us wonder if we had time-traveled back to the early 2000s, when hospital-physician partnerships were dominated by bespoke financial arrangements aimed at securing call coverage and referrals. Some health system leaders are flustered by specialist practices wanting a quick response to an investor proposal. Hospitals worry the joint ventures or co-management agreements that seemed to work well for years may not be enough, and wonder if they should begin recruiting new doctors or courting competitors, “just in case” current partners might jump ship for a better deal.
In contrast to other areas of strategy, where a ten-year vision can guide today’s decisions, it has always been hard for health systems to take the long view with physician partnerships.
When most “strategies” are really just responses to the fires of the day, health systems run the risk of relationships devolving to mere economic terms.Health systems may find themselves once again with a messy patchwork of doctors aligned by contractual relationships, rather than a tight network of physician partners who can work together to move care forward.