New Jersey hospitals are a microcosm of potential COVID-19 financial impact

https://www.healthcarefinancenews.com/news/new-jersey-hospitals-microcosm-potential-covid-19-financial-impact

What CFOs think about the economic impact of COVID-19

The last time margins sank so deeply into the red was after the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, though today’s margins are faring worse.

COVID-19 continues to have deep and lingering financial impacts on hospitals in New Jersey. A midyear analysis of financial data shows nearly 60% of the state’s hospitals in the red and an average statewide operating margin of negative 4%.

The effects have been profound, and serve as a potential microcosm of the continuing impact of the coronavirus on hospital operating margins nationwide.

The decline in the state is the result of a dual blow of declining revenues and rising expenses, according to the report from the Center for Health Analytics, Research and Transformation at the New Jersey Hospital Association. Officials said the state’s hospitals haven’t experienced this level of fiscal distress in more than 20 years.

In fact, the last time margins sunk so deeply into the red was in the late 1990s. At that time, the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 resulted in significant payment cuts to the state’s hospitals, with margins falling to -1.7% and -2.3% in 1998 and 1999, respectively. And those numbers are not as distressing as the ones being experienced during the public health crisis.

WHAT’S THE IMPACT?

The report, “At Mid-Year, COVID-19’s Financial Wounds Continue for N.J. Hospitals,” shows the impact of continued loss of revenue from the suspension of elective procedures at COVID-19’s peak in the spring, and the slow rebound of patients returning to the hospital.

CHART’s data, comparing June 30, 2019, with June 30, 2020, shows that total patient revenues declined 6.6%. Emergency department cases plummeted 23%, while hospital admissions fell by 8% and outpatient visits dropped by 22%.

An additional aggravating factor is a 12% increase in total operating expenses, because COVID-19 required hospitals to redirect resources to increase staffing; boost supplies of personal protective equipment, pharmaceuticals and ventilators; and modify operations and facilities to expand capacity.

CHART’s analysis takes a closer look at the disruption of elective procedures in New Jersey hospitals and its lingering impact. Governor Phil Murphy’s Executive Order 109, in effect March 27 through May 26, required hospitals to suspend elective procedures during the state’s COVID-19 surge. CHART used claims data for some of the highest-volume elective procedures performed in New Jersey hospitals – bariatric surgery, pacemaker insertion, spinal fusion, knee replacement and hernia repair – to gauge the impact.

In April and May 2019, the state’s hospitals performed these procedures 4,336 times. That number plummeted to just 400 statewide in April and May 2020. The state’s executive order suspending procedures during this time allowed exemptions for cases in which a delay would result in “undue risk to the current or future health of the patient.” 

The year-over-year decline persisted even when the suspension was lifted. In June and July of 2019, 4,194 procedures from the list of high-volume procedures were performed, compared with 3,191 in June and July of 2020.

But the greatest decline in volume by percentage was seen in hospital emergency departments, where cases nosedived 23.4% between June 30, 2019, and June 30, 2020. That has healthcare leaders concerned.

NJHA officials said a hospital turnaround is critical for the statewide recovery from the coronavirus.

“The state’s hospitals pump $25 billion annually into the New Jersey economy and employ 154,000 people,” said NJHA’s Roger Sarao, vice president of economic and financial information and lead author of the CHART report. “They are an essential part of the road to recovery from this public health and economic crisis.”

THE LARGER TREND

The effects of the pandemic on the nation’s hospitals will be long-lasting, especially among nonprofits. A recent Fitch Ratings analysis showed that the full effects have yet to be felt.

The agency predicted that capital spending will be greatly reduced in the initial years post-pandemic, though some of it will ultimately accelerate due to anticipated merger and acquisition activity.

Fitch expects hospitals to take on added expenses to perform the same level of service, and predicts revenue declines from a shift in payer mix.

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.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Increasing unemployment alters national payer mix

https://mailchi.mp/9075526b5806/the-weekly-gist-july-24-2020?e=d1e747d2d8

 

One in every five workers is now collecting unemployment benefits as the country struggles to get the COVID-19 outbreak under control. A recent Families USA study estimates a quarter of the 21.9M workers that were furloughed or laid off between February and May lost their health insurance. And the payer mix will continue to change as the pandemic wears on.

The graphic below highlights a study from consultancy Oliver Wyman, looking at the impact of rising unemployment (at 15, 20 and 30 percent) on insurance coverage. With each five to ten percent rise in unemployment, the commercially insured population decreases by three to five percentThose who lose employer-sponsored insurance either remain uninsured, buy coverage on the Obamacare marketplaces, or qualify for Medicaid.

Surprisingly, Washington State and California are reporting little to no enrollment growth in Medicaid programs thus far. Experts point to lack of outreach and consumer awareness as key contributors to the slow growth—but Medicaid enrollment will likely begin to rise quickly in coming months as temporary furloughs convert to more permanent layoffs.

The right side of the graphic spotlights the growing number of uninsured individuals in those states with the highest uninsured rates. The previous record for the largest increase in uninsured adults was between 2008 and 2009, when nearly 4M lost coverage. The current pandemic-driven increase has crushed that record by 39 percent.

On average, states are seeing uninsured populations increase by two percent, with some as high as five percent. And the two states with the highest uninsured rates, Florida and Texas, are also dealing with the largest surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths. The ranks of the uninsured will continue to climb as states reimpose shutdowns, government assistance ends, and layoffs grow.

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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