Financial updates from 20 health systems

The health systems listed below recently released financial results for the quarter ended March 31.

1. Pittsburgh-based Highmark Health — which includes the eight-hospital Allegheny Health Network — reported $6.4 billion in revenue for the first quarter of 2022. It posted an operating gain of $100 million for the three months ended March 31.

2. Pittsburgh-based UPMC had an operating revenue of $6.1 billion in the first quarter, increasing from $6.02 billion year over year, a 1.3 percent increase. Operating income in 2022 was $50 million, compared to $288 million during the same period in 2021, an 82.6 percent decrease.

3. Cleveland Clinic‘s revenue climbed to $3 billion in the first quarter of this year, which ended March 31, up from $2.8 billion in the same period of 2021. The hospital system ended the first quarter of 2022 with an operating loss of $104.5 million, compared to operating income of $61.7 million in the same period of 2021. 

4. New York City-based Montefiore Health System had $1.7 billion in total operating revenue for the first quarter of this year, a 7.9 percent increase from the same period last year, at $1.6 billion. The health system had an operating loss of $8.4 million for the first quarter of this year, an improvement from an operating loss of $63.6 million for the same period last year.

5. Livonia, Mich.-based Trinity Health had $15.13 billion in revenue for the nine months ended March 31, up from $15.12 billion in the same period last year. It reported operating income of $139.7 million in the first nine months of fiscal year 2022, down 79 percent from operating income of $653.9 million in the same period a year earlier.

6. Rochester, Minn.-based Mayo Clinic recorded revenue of $3.9 billion for the three months ended March 31, representing about a 7 percent increase compared to the same period one year prior. Mayo Clinic ended the first quarter of this year with an operating gain of $142 million. In the same quarter last year, Mayo posted operating income of $243 million. 

7. Advocate Aurora Health, which has dual headquarters in Milwaukee and Downers Grove, Ill., recorded operating revenue of $3.6 billion in the first quarter of 2022. This represents a 9 percent increase over the comparable period in 2021, in which Advocate Aurora had $3.3 billion in revenue. Advocate Aurora ended the period with an operating income of $2.5 million. In the same period in 2021, Advocate Aurora recorded an operating income of $51 million. 

8. Chicago-based CommonSpirit Health saw revenues decline 6.6 percent year over year to $8.3 billion in the third quarter of fiscal year 2022, which ended March 31. CommonSpirit recorded an operating loss of $591 million in the three-month period ended March 31, compared to operating income of $539 million in the same period a year earlier. 

9. Renton, Wash.-based Providence saw its operating revenue hit $6.3 billion for the three months ended March 31. In the same quarter one year prior, Providence recorded operating revenue of $6.4 billion. It recorded an operating loss of $510.2 million in the first quarter of 2022, compared to $221.9 million from the same quarter a year prior.

10. Boston-based Mass General Brigham recorded operating revenue of $4.04 billion in the second quarter of fiscal year 2022, up from the $4.02 billion recorded in the same period one year prior. Mass General Brigham posted an operating loss of $193.2 million. In the same period one year prior, Mass General Brigham recorded an operating gain of $250.2 million.

11. Johnson City, Tenn.-based Ballad Health‘s total revenue reached $564.8 million in the third quarter of fiscal year 2022, a slight increase from the same period last year at $558.9 million. It reported an operating loss of $37.3 million for the three months ended March 31, compared to an operating income of $16 million in the same period last year.

12. Altamonte Springs, Fla.-based AdventHealth saw its revenue increase to $3.7 billion for the three months ended March 31, up nearly 8 percent from the same period last year. AdventHealth ended the first quarter of 2022 with an operating loss of $46.8 million. In the same quarter of 2021, AdventHealth recorded an operating income of $179.1 million. 

13. Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser Permanente reported total operating revenue of $24.2 billion for the three months ended March 31, up from $23.2 billion the year prior. Kaiser recorded an operating loss of $72 million. In the same quarter last year, Kaiser recorded an operating income of $1 billion.

14. For the three months ended March 31, Sacramento, Calif.-based Sutter Health recorded revenue of $3.6 billion, up 3.7 percent from $3.4 billion recorded in the same period one year prior. Sutter Health ended the period with a $95 million operating gain. In the first quarter of 2021, Sutter had an operating loss of $49 million.

15. St. Louis-based Ascension reported operating revenue of $6.7 billion in the first three months of this year, up from $6.6 billion in the same period of 2021. Ascension ended the most recent quarter with an operating loss of $671.1 million, compared to an operating loss of $16.7 million in the same period last year.

16. Indianapolis-based Indiana University Health System had $1.93 billion in revenue for the three months ended March 31, a 2.9 percent increase year over year from $1.87 billion. IU Health posted an operating loss of $29.8 million for the first quarter of 2022, compared to an operating income of $192.7 million last year.

17. Franklin, Tenn.-based Community Health Systems had $3.1 billion in net operating revenue for the first quarter of 2022, a 3.3 percent increase from the $3 billion reported for the same period last year. The system posted a 17.2 percent decrease in its operating income, to $270 million for the three months ended March 31, compared to $326 million for the same period last year.

18. King of Prussia, Pa.-based Universal Health Services had a 9.3 percent increase in revenue year over year for the first quarter of 2022. Net revenue was $3.3 billion for the three months ended March 31, up from a little over $3 billion in the same period of 2021. UHS’ operating income fell by 21.2 percent year over year for the first quarter of 2022 to $232.9 million, compared to $295.7 million for the same period last year.

19. Nashville, Tenn.-based HCA Healthcare reported revenues of $15 billion in the first quarter of this year, up from $14 billion in the same period of 2021. HCA’s net income in the first quarter of 2022 totaled $1.3 billion, down from $1.4 billion in the same quarter a year earlier.

20. Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare posted net revenue of $4.8 billion in the quarter ended March 31, down 0.8 percent from the same period last year. Tenet recorded an operating income of $648 million in the first quarter of 2022. In the same period last year, Tenet’s operating income was $520 million.

7 hospitals hit with credit downgrades

Credit rating downgrades for several hospitals and health systems were tied to cash flow issues in recent months. 

The following seven hospital and health system credit rating downgrades occurred since February: 

1. Jupiter (Fla.) Medical Center — lowered in June from “BBB+” to “BBB” (Fitch Ratings)
“The ‘BBB’ rating reflects JMC’s increased leverage profile with the issuance of $150 million in additional debt to fund various campus expansion and improvement projects,” Fitch said. “While favorable population growth in the service area and demonstrated demand for services in an increasingly competitive market justify the overall strategic plan and project, the additional debt weakens JMC’s financial profile metrics and increases the overall risk profile.” 

2. ProMedica (Toledo, Ohio) — lowered in May from “BBB-” to “BB+” (Fitch Ratings)
“The long-term ‘BB+’ rating and the assigned outlook to negative on ProMedica Health System’s debt reflects the system’s significant financial challenges as result of continued pressure of the coronavirus pandemic and escalating expenses, with ProMedica reporting a $252 million operating loss that follows several years of weak performance,” Fitch said. 

3. Providence (Renton, Wash.) — lowered in April from “Aa3” to to “A1” (Moody’s Investors Service); lowered from “AA-” to “A+” (Fitch Ratings)
“The downgrade to ‘A1’ is driven by the disaffiliation with Hoag Hospital, and the expectation that weaker operating, balance sheet, and debt measures will continue for the time being,” Moody’s said.

4. San Gorgonio Memorial Healthcare District (Banning, Calif.) — lowered in May from “Ba1” to “Ba2” (Moody’s Investors Service)
“The downgrade to Ba2 reflects the district’s tenuous cash position and weak finances that have contributed to difficulty in securing a bridge loan financing for liquidity needs pending the delayed receipt of approximately $8 million to $9 million in intergovernmental transfers beyond the end of the fiscal year,” Moody’s said. 

5. Willis-Knighton Medical Center (Shreveport, La.) — lowered in March from “A1” to “A2” (Moody’s Investors Service)
“The downgrade to A2 reflects expectations that Willis-Knighton will continue to face challenges in achieving budgeted operating cash flow margins due to heightened wage pressures and volume softness,” Moody’s said. 

6. OU Health (Oklahoma City) — lowered in March from “Baa3” to “Ba2” (Moody’s Investors Service)
“The magnitude of the downgrade to Ba2 reflects projected cashflow in fiscal 2022 that will be materially below prior expectations, from an escalation of labor costs, and reliance on a financing to avoid a further decline in already weak liquidity and potential covenant breach,” Moody’s said. “Also, the rating action reflects execution risk given a prolonged period of management turnover with several key positions unfilled or filled with interim leaders, a governance consideration under Moody’s ESG classification.”

7. Catholic Health System (Buffalo, N.Y.) — lowered in February from “Baa2” to “B1” (Moody’s Investors Service) 
“The downgrade to ‘B1’ anticipates minimal cashflow and a further significant decline in liquidity this year, following material losses in fiscal 2021 from a 40-day labor strike and the disproportionately severe impact of the pandemic, both social risks under Moody’s ESG classification,” the credit rating agency said. 

CHS’ turnaround efforts stall

Pandemic pressures and a high debt load are among the factors stalling Franklin, Tenn.-based Community Health Systems’ financial turnaround, Bloomberg Law report June 8. 

CHS, an 83-hospital system, is facing many of the same challenges as other health systems across the U.S., including a surge in labor expenses in the first quarter of this year. The higher expenses and a COVID-19 surge that negatively impacted operating revenues dragged down the company’s earnings in the first quarter of this year. CHS ended the first three months of 2022 with a net loss of $1 million.

CHS leaders expect some of the pressures to continue through the second quarter. 

“Moving through the second quarter and the remainder of the year, we anticipate contract labor rates to remain elevated, however, we expect our operational momentum to continue, as we anticipate capturing deferred healthcare demand, benefitting from recent strategic investments, and continuing the execution of the company’s margin improvement program,” Tim Hingtgen, CEO of CHS, said in an April 27 earnings release

The company cut its earnings forecast in April when it released results for the first quarter, and it has seen its bonds and stock slide since March, according to Bloomberg Law

Shares of CHS closed June 8 at $5.16, down from $5.25 the day before.

Cleveland Clinic reports $282M quarterly loss

Cleveland Clinic ended the first three months of this year with higher revenue, but rising expenses offset those gains, according to financial documents released May 26. 

The health system’s revenue climbed to $3.03 billion in the first quarter of this year, which ended March 31, up from $2.81 billion in the same period of 2021. The system’s net patient service revenue increased from $2.53 billion in the first quarter of 2021 to $2.73 billion in the same period this year. 

“Operating revenues in the first quarter of 2022 were impacted by lower patients served, partially due to the postponement of nonessential surgeries and procedures during the month of January,” the system said in an earnings release. 

In the first quarter of this year, Cleveland Clinic facilities had 57,864 inpatient admissions and 61,103 surgical cases. In the same period a year earlier, the system reported 60,338 inpatient admissions and 63,051 surgical cases. 

Cleveland Clinic reported expenses of $2.96 billion in the first quarter of this year, up from $2.56 billion in the same quarter of 2021. The system saw expenses rise across all categories, including supplies and salaries, wages and benefits. 

The hospital system ended the first quarter of 2022 with an operating loss of $104.5 million, compared to operating income of $61.7 million in the same period of 2021. 

Cleveland Clinic posted a net loss of $282.46 million in the first quarter of this year, compared to net income of $350.26 million in the same period a year earlier.

11 health systems with strong finances

Here are 11 health systems with strong operational metrics and solid financial positions, according to reports from Fitch Ratings, Moody’s Investors Service and S&P Global Ratings.

1. Morristown, N.J.-based Atlantic Health System has an “Aa3” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s. The health system has strong operating performance and liquidity metrics, Moody’s said. The credit rating agency expects Atlantic Health System to sustain strong performance to support capital spending. 

2. Greensboro, N.C.-based Cone Health has an “AA” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The health system has a leading market share and a favorable payer mix, Fitch said. The health system’s broad operating platform and strategic capital investments should enable it to return to stronger operating results, the credit rating agency said. 

3. Falls Church, Va.-based Inova Health System has an “Aa2” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s. The health system has a consistently strong operating cash flow margin and ample balance sheet resources, Moody’s said. Inova’s financial excellence will remain undergirded by its favorable regulatory and economic environment, the credit rating agency said. 

4. Vineland, N.J.-based Inspira Health Network has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The health system has strong operating performance, a leading market position in a stable service area and a growing residency program, Fitch said. The credit rating agency expects the system’s growing outpatient footprint and an increase in patient volumes to support its operating stability. 

5. Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser Permanente has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The health system has a strong financial profile, and the system’s operating platform is “arguably the most emulated model” for nonprofit healthcare delivery in the U.S., Fitch said. By revenue base, Kaiser is the largest nonprofit health system in the U.S., and it is the most fully integrated healthcare delivery system in the country, according to the credit rating agency. 

6. Mass General Brigham has an “Aa3” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s and an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with S&P. The Boston-based health system has an excellent clinical reputation, good financial performance and strong balance sheet metrics, Moody’s said. The credit rating agency said it expects Mass General Brigham to maintain a strong market position and stable financial performance. 

7. Rochester, Minn.-based Mayo Clinic has an “Aa2” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s. The credit rating agency said Mayo Clinic’s strong market position and patient demand will drive favorable financial results. The health system “will continue to leverage its excellent reputation and patient demand to continue generating favorable operating performance while maintaining strong balance sheet ratios,” Moody’s said. 

8. Methodist Health System has an “Aa3” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s. The Dallas-based system has strong operating performance, and investments in facilities have allowed it to continue to capture more market share in the fast-growing Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, area, Moody’s said. The credit rating agency said it expects Methodist Health System’s strong operating performance and favorable liquidity to continue.

9. Traverse City, Mich.-based Munson Healthcare has an “AA” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The health system has a strong market position, a good payer mix and robust cash-to-adjusted debt levels, Fitch said. The credit rating agency expects the system to weather an expected period of weakened operating cash flow margins. 

10. Albuquerque, N.M.-based Presbyterian Healthcare Services has an “Aa3” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s and an “AA” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. Presbyterian Healthcare Services is the largest health system in New Mexico, and it has strong revenue growth and a healthy balance sheet, Moody’s said. The credit rating agency said it expects the health system’s balance sheet and debt metrics to remain strong. 

11. University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics has an “Aa2” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s. The Iowa City-based health system, the only academic medical center in Iowa, has strong patient demand and excellent financial management, Moody’s said. The credit rating agency said it expects the health system to continue to manage the pandemic with improved operating cash flow margins.

Financial updates from 16 health systems

The health systems listed below recently released financial results for the quarter ended March 31.

1. Livonia, Mich.-based Trinity Health had $15.13 billion in revenue for the nine months ended March 31, up from $15.12 billion in the same period last year. It reported operating income of $139.7 million in the first nine months of fiscal year 2022, down 79 percent from operating income of $653.9 million in the same period a year earlier.

2. Rochester, Minn.-based Mayo Clinic recorded revenue of $3.9 billion for the three months ended March 31, representing about a 7 percent increase compared to the same period one year prior. Mayo Clinic ended the first quarter of this year with an operating gain of $142 million. In the same quarter last year, Mayo posted operating income of $243 million. 

3. Advocate Aurora Health, which has dual headquarters in Milwaukee and Downers Grove, Ill., recorded operating revenue of $3.6 billion in the first quarter of 2022. This represents a 9 percent increase over the comparable period in 2021, in which Advocate Aurora had $3.3 billion in revenue. Advocate Aurora ended the period with an operating income of $2.5 million. In the same period in 2021, Advocate Aurora recorded an operating income of $51 million. 

4. Chicago-based CommonSpirit Health saw revenues decline 6.6 percent year over year to $8.3 billion in the third quarter of fiscal year 2022, which ended March 31. CommonSpirit recorded an operating loss of $591 million in the three-month period ended March 31, compared to operating income of $539 million in the same period a year earlier. 

5. Renton, Wash.-based Providence saw its operating revenue hit $6.3 billion for the three months ended March 31. In the same quarter one year prior, Providence recorded operating revenue of $6.4 billion. It recorded an operating loss of $510.2 million in the first quarter of 2022, compared to $221.9 million from the same quarter a year prior.

6. Boston-based Mass General Brigham recorded operating revenue of $4.04 billion in the second quarter of fiscal year 2022, up from the $4.02 billion recorded in the same period one year prior. Mass General Brigham posted an operating loss of $193.2 million. In the same period one year prior, Mass General Brigham recorded an operating gain of $250.2 million.

7. Johnson City, Tenn.-based Ballad Health‘s total revenue reached $564.8 million in the third quarter of fiscal year 2022, a slight increase from the same period last year at $558.9 million. It reported an operating loss of $37.3 million for the three months ended March 31, compared to an operating income of $16 million in the same period last year.

8. Altamonte Springs, Fla.-based AdventHealth saw its revenue increase to $3.7 billion for the three months ended March 31, up nearly 8 percent from the same period last year. AdventHealth ended the first quarter of 2022 with an operating loss of $46.8 million. In the same quarter of 2021, AdventHealth recorded an operating income of $179.1 million. 

9. Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser Permanente reported total operating revenue of $24.2 billion for the three months ended March 31, up from $23.2 billion the year prior. Kaiser recorded an operating loss of $72 million. In the same quarter last year, Kaiser recorded an operating income of $1 billion.

10. For the three months ended March 31, Sacramento, Calif.-based Sutter Health recorded revenue of $3.6 billion, up 3.7 percent from $3.4 billion recorded in the same period one year prior. Sutter Health ended the period with a $95 million operating gain. In the first quarter of 2021, Sutter had an operating loss of $49 million.

11. St. Louis-based Ascension reported operating revenue of $6.7 billion in the first three months of this year, up from $6.6 billion in the same period of 2021. Ascension ended the most recent quarter with an operating loss of $671.1 million, compared to an operating loss of $16.7 million in the same period last year.

12. Indianapolis-based Indiana University Health System had $1.93 billion in revenue for the three months ended March 31, a 2.9 percent increase year over year from $1.87 billion. IU Health posted an operating loss of $29.8 million for the first quarter of 2022, compared to an operating income of $192.7 million last year.

13. Franklin, Tenn.-based Community Health Systems had $3.1 billion in net operating revenue for the first quarter of 2022, a 3.3 percent increase from the $3 billion reported for the same period last year. The system posted a 17.2 percent decrease in its operating income, to $270 million for the three months ended March 31, compared to $326 million for the same period last year.

14. King of Prussia, Pa.-based Universal Health Services had a 9.3 percent increase in revenue year over year for the first quarter of 2022. Net revenue was $3.3 billion for the three months ended March 31, up from a little over $3 billion in the same period of 2021. UHS’ operating income fell by 21.2 percent year over year for the first quarter of 2022 to $232.9 million, compared to $295.7 million for the same period last year.

15. Nashville, Tenn.-based HCA Healthcare reported revenues of $15 billion in the first quarter of this year, up from $14 billion in the same period of 2021. HCA’s net income in the first quarter of 2022 totaled $1.3 billion, down from $1.4 billion in the same quarter a year earlier.

16. Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare posted net revenue of $4.8 billion in the quarter ended March 31, down 0.8 percent from the same period last year. Tenet recorded an operating income of $648 million in the first quarter of 2022. In the same period last year, Tenet’s operating income was $520 million.

Massachusetts hospitals to spotlight payers’ record pandemic profits

The Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association is planning to release its semiannual health plan performance report next month and will focus on payers’ finances and enrollment in 2021. 

In a May 23 newsletter, the association highlights the 22 percent increase in payers’ net worth during the COVID-19 pandemic, which totals $6.1 billion for all plans in the state. The newsletter also points to the combined $1.2 billion profit made in 2020 and 2021, which exceeds the previous five years combined.

The newsletter does point to the important role insurers played during the pandemic, including providing coverage of medical care, new therapies, vaccinations and COVID-19 testing. Under federal law, payers also provided rebates to premium payers as healthcare utilization decreased significantly. Some payers independently provided financial support to stabilize providers and used their resources to support the pandemic response.

“Despite these new expenses and efforts related to the COVID-19 emergency, health insurance company profits were substantially higher than at any point in recent history given the overwhelming effect of decreased medical utilization,” the newsletter said.

The association also criticized the decrease in claims payouts during the pandemic, arguing surplus revenue should have been used to increase payouts and not increase profits. 

The hospital group stated that four specific payers, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, UnitedHealthcare of New England, Tufts Associated HMO and HMO Blue from BCBS Massachusetts have risk-based capital ratios that approach or exceed 600 percent.

Mayo Clinic posts $142M operating gain, bucking national trend

Rochester, Minn.-based Mayo Clinic ended the first quarter of 2022 with an operating gain, unlike many health systems across the U.S. 

In the quarter ended March 31, Mayo Clinic recorded revenue of $3.9 billion, representing about a 7 percent increase compared to the same period one year prior. The health system saw a boost in medical service revenue and grant revenue, according to its financial report released May 19.

Mayo Clinic’s expenses also rose in the first quarter of 2022 to $3.8 billion. In the comparable quarter in 2021, Mayo Clinic’s expenses were $3.4 billion. The health system attributed the 10 percent expense increase to a boost in salaries and wages as well as supply costs. 

Mayo Clinic ended the first quarter of this year with an operating gain of $142 million. In the same quarter last year, Mayo posted operating income of $243 million.

The health system also recorded nonoperating losses of $369 million in the first quarter of 2022

Despite losses from nonoperating items, Mayo Clinic ended the quarter with $17.5 billion in net assets, up from $13.2 billion recorded in the same period one year prior.

“The year 2022 begins with new challenges that follow nearly two years of pandemic operations,” Mayo Clinic said in the financial report. “Workforce shortages and corresponding labor cost inflation, persistent supply chain disruptions and shortages, a higher interest rate environment, and capital market volatility have all taken center stage for management attention.”

Trinity Health’s operating income slips 79% as labor costs soar


Higher labor costs put pressure on Trinity Health’s margins in the first nine months of fiscal year 2022, according to financial documents released May 20. 

Livonia, Mich.-based Trinity Health posted revenue of $15.13 billion in the nine months ended March 31, up from $15.12 billion in the same period a year earlier. The health system said net patient service revenue was up 3.3 percent year over year, primarily because of increased volume and payment rates. 

Patient volumes continue to fluctuate with COVID-19 pandemic surge and recovery waves and patient volumes are returning but have yet to return to pre-pandemic levels,” the system said in an earnings release. 

Trinity Health’s operating expenses for the first nine months of fiscal year 2022 increased by 4.8 percent year over year to $15.12 billion. The increase was attributed to a $679.8 million increase in labor costs. Contract labor expenses increased 154.2 percent during the nine-month period. 

Trinity Health reported operating income of $139.7 million in the first nine months of fiscal year 2022, down 79 percent from operating income of $653.9 million in the same period a year earlier. Operating income in the first nine months of the current fiscal year included a $128.7 million gain on the sale of Gateway Health Plan. 

After factoring in investments and nonoperating items, Trinity posted net income of $43 million for the first nine months of fiscal year 2022, down from $3.19 billion in the same period a year earlier.

Relief funding helped hospitals stay in the green during COVID-19’s initial barrage, study finds

https://www.fiercehealthcare.com/providers/relief-funding-helped-hospitals-stay-green-during-covid-19s-initial-barrage-researchers

Despite substantial operating margin declines during the first year of COVID-19, U.S. hospitals were able to keep their finances on track thanks to billions in government relief funds, Johns Hopkins researchers wrote in a new study published Friday in JAMA Health Forum.

Per their analysis of Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Hospital Cost Reports data, researchers found that thousands of hospitals broadly maintained their overall profit margins thanks to a boost in “other nonoperating income,” the category under which hospitals recorded the collective $175 billion in subsidies Congress allocated to support healthcare facilities and clinicians.

This was particularly the case for government, rural and smaller hospitals that typically run on tighter margins, the researchers wrote. Because they, by design, received more targeted relief than other types of hospitals, these facilities were able to record higher overall profit margins in 2020 than in prior years.

“Hospital operations were really hit hard during the pandemic,” Ge Bai, professor in the Bloomberg School’s Department of Health Policy and Management, a professor of accounting at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School and an author of the study, said in a statement.

“Our study shows that the relief funds provided an important lifeline to keep financially weak hospitals up and running.”

Among the study’s sample of 1,378 hospitals, mean operating margin declined from –1.0% in 2019 to –7.4% in 2020, representing the hit facilities took to their operations prior to the relief funding.

Those hospitals’ mean overall profit margin during the first year of the pandemic was 6.7%, which the researchers wrote was stable in light of the preceding four years and across all ownership types, geographic locations and hospital sizes.

The difference-maker, they wrote, was an increase in other nonoperating income as a share of a hospital’s total revenue. While that mean share was 4.4% in 2019, it jumped to 10.3% in 2020 thanks to the government relief funds.

Additionally, certain types of hospitals with traditionally lower overall profit margins saw significant improvements in 2020. These included government hospitals (3.7% to 7.2%), rural hospitals (1.9% to 7.5%) and hospitals with fewer admissions (3.5% to 6.7%).  

“Hospitals that tend to serve socioeconomically disadvantaged patients and more who are uninsured are the most vulnerable to financial losses,” Yang Wang, a doctoral student in the Bloomberg School’s Department of Health Policy and Management and the study’s first author, said in a statement. “But the extra federal funding helped them stay operational.”

The researchers’ study included hospitals with fiscal years beginning in January whose financial data were compiled and processed as part of RAND Hospital Data, which in turn pulls its data from CMS’ Medicare Cost Reports. The findings persisted among a second sample of 785 hospitals from the database with fiscal years beginning in July.

The government’s distribution of COVID-19 relief funds to providers has faced some critique from healthcare policy researchers, some of whom suggested that the methodology led to funding skewed toward hospitals serving well-insured communities.

Much of the relief set aside for hospitals has since run dry or is on its last legs as of early 2022. With COVID hospitalizations again ticking upward and earlier surges still unaccounted for, industry groups and the Biden administration alike are pushing Congress for more relief support.