The Future of Hospitals in Post-COVID America (Part 1): The Market Response

Click to access CBC_72_08052020_Final.pdf

 

[Readers’ Note: This is the first of two articles on the Future of Hospitals in Post-COVID America. This article
examines how market forces are consolidating, rationalizing and redistributing acute care assets within the
broader industry movement to value-based care delivery. The second article, which will publish next month,
examines gaps in care delivery and the related public policy challenges of providing appropriate, accessible
and affordable healthcare services in medically-underserved communities.]

In her insightful 2016 book, The Gray Rhino: How to Recognize and Act on the Obvious Dangers We Ignore,
Michelle Wucker coins the term “Gray Rhinos” and contrasts them with “Black Swans.” That distinction is
highly relevant to the future of American hospitals.

Black Swans are high impact events that are highly improbable and difficult to predict. By contrast, Gray
Rhinos are foreseeable, high-impact events that we choose to ignore because they’re complex, inconvenient
and/or fortified by perverse incentives that encourage the status quo. Climate change is a powerful example
of a charging Gray Rhino.

In U.S. healthcare, we are now seeing what happens when a Gray Rhino and a Black Swan collide.
Arguably, the nation’s public health defenses should anticipate global pandemics and apply resources
systematically to limit disease spread. This did not happen with the coronavirus pandemic.

Instead, COVID-19 hit the public healthcare infrastructure suddenly and hard. This forced hospitals and health systems to dramatically reduce elective surgeries, lay off thousands and significantly change care delivery with the adoption of new practices and services like telemedicine.

In comparison, many see the current American hospital business model as a Gray Rhino that has been charging toward
unsustainability for years with ever-building momentum.

Even with massive and increasing revenue flows, hospitals have long struggled with razor-thin margins, stagnant payment rates and costly technology adoptions. Changing utilization patterns, new and disruptive competitors, pro-market regulatory rules and consumerism make their traditional business models increasingly vulnerable and, perhaps, unsustainable.

Despite this intensifying pressure, many hospitals and health systems maintain business-as-usual practices because transformation is so difficult and costly. COVID-19 has made the imperative of change harder to ignore or delay addressing.

For a decade, the transition to value-based care has dominated debate within U.S. healthcare and absorbed massive strategic,
operational and financial resources with little progress toward improved care outcomes, lower costs and better customer service. The hospital-based delivery system remains largely oriented around Fee-for-Service reimbursement.

Hospitals’ collective response to COVID-19, driven by practical necessity and financial survival, may accelerate the shift to value-based care delivery. Time will tell.

This series explores the repositioning of hospitals during the next five years as the industry rationalizes an excess supply of acute care capacity and adapts to greater societal demands for more appropriate, accessible and affordable healthcare services.

It starts by exploring the role of the marketplace in driving hospital consolidation and the compelling need to transition to value-based care delivery and payment models.

COVID’s DUAL SHOCKS TO PATIENT VOLUME

Many American hospitals faced severe financial and operational challenges before COVID-19. The sector has struggled to manage ballooning costs, declining margins and waves of policy changes. A record 18 rural hospitals closed in 2019. Overall, hospitals saw a 21% decline in operating margins in 2018-2019.

COVID intensified those challenges by administering two shocks to the system that decreased the volume of hospital-based activities and decimated operating margins.

The first shock was immediate. To prepare for potential surges in COVID care, hospitals emptied beds and cancelled most clinic visits, outpatient treatments and elective surgeries. Simultaneously, they incurred heavy costs for COVID-related equipment (e.g. ventilators,PPE) and staffing. Overall, the sector experienced over $200 billion in financial losses between March and June 20204.

The second, extended shock has been a decrease in needed but not necessary care. Initially, many patients delayed seeking necessary care because of perceived infection risk. For example, Emergency Department visits declined 42% during the early phase of the pandemic.

Increasingly, patients are also delaying care because of affordability concerns and/or the loss of health insurance. Already, 5.4 million people have lost their employer-sponsored health insurance. This will reduce incremental revenues associated with higher-paying commercial insurance claims across the industry. Additionally, avoided care reduces patient volumes and hospital revenues today even as it increases the risk and cost of future acute illness.

The infusion of emergency funding through the CARES Act helped offset some operating losses but it’s unclear when and even whether utilization patterns and revenues will return to normal pre-COVID levels. Shifts in consumer behavior, reductions in insurance coverage, and the emergence of new competitors ranging from Walmart to enhanced primary care providers will likely challenge the sector for years to come.

The disruption of COVID-19 will serve as a forcing function, driving meaningful changes to traditional hospital business models and the competitive landscape. Frankly, this is long past due. Since 1965, Fee-for-Service (FFS) payment has dominated U.S. healthcare and created pervasive economic incentives that can serve to discourage provider responsiveness in transitioning to value-based care delivery, even when aligned to market demand.

Telemedicine typifies this phenomenon. Before COVID, CMS and most health insurers paid very low rates for virtual care visits or did not cover them at all. This discouraged adoption of an efficient, high-value care modality until COVID.

Unable to conduct in-person clinical visits, providers embraced virtual care visits and accelerated its mass adoption. CMS and
commercial health insurers did their part by paying for virtual care visits at rates equivalent to in-person clinic visits. Accelerated innovation in care delivery resulted.

 

THE COMPLICATED TRANSITION TO VALUE

Broadly speaking, health systems and physician groups that rely almost exclusively on activity-based payment revenues have struggled the most during this pandemic. Vertically integrated providers that offer health insurance and those receiving capitated payments in risk-based contracts have better withstood volume losses.

Modern Healthcare notes that while provider data is not yet available, organizations such as Virginia Care Partners, an integrated network and commercial ACO; Optum Health (with two-thirds of its revenue risk-based); and MediSys Health Network, a New Yorkbased NFP system with 148,000 capitated and 15,000 shared risk patients, are among those navigating the turbulence successfully. As the article observes,

providers paid for value have had an easier time weathering the storm…. helped by a steady source of
income amid the chaos. Investments they made previously in care management, technology and social
determinants programs equipped them to pivot to new ways of providing care.

They were able to flip the switch on telehealth, use data and analytics to pinpoint patients at risk for
COVID-19 infection, and deploy care managers to meet the medical and nonclinical needs of patients even
when access to an office visit was limited.

Supporting this post-COVID push for value-based care delivery, six former leaders from CMS wrote to Congress in
June 2020 calling for providers, commercial insurers and states to expand their use of value-based payment models to
encourage stability and flexibility in care delivery.

If value-based payment models are the answer, however, adoption to date has been slow, limited and difficult. Ten
years after the Affordable Care Act, Fee-for-Service payment still dominates the payer landscape. The percentage of
overall provider revenue in risk-based capitated contracts has not exceeded 20%

Despite improvements in care quality and reductions in utilization rates, cost savings have been modest or negligible.
Accountable Care Organizations have only managed at best to save a “few percent of Medicare spending, [but] the
amount varies by program design.”

While most health systems accept some forms of risk-based payments, only 5% of providers expect to have a majority
(over 80%) of their patients in risk-based arrangements within 5 years.

The shift to value is challenging for numerous reasons. Commercial payers often have limited appetite or capacity for
risk-based contracting with providers. Concurrently, providers often have difficulty accessing the claims data they need
from payers to manage the care for targeted populations.

The current allocation of cost-savings between buyers (including government, employers and consumers), payers
(health insurance companies) and providers discourages the shift to value-based care delivery. Providers would
advance value-based models if they could capture a larger percentage of the savings generated from more effective
care management and delivery. Those financial benefits today flow disproportionately to buyers and payers.

This disconnection of payment from value creation slows industry transformation. Ultimately, U.S. healthcare will not
change the way it delivers care until it changes the way it pays for care. Fortunately, payment models are evolving to
incentivize value-based care delivery.

As payment reform unfolds, however, operational challenges pose significant challenges to hospitals and health
systems. They must adopt value-oriented new business models even as they continue to receive FFS payments. New
and old models of care delivery clash.

COVID makes this transition even more formidable as many health systems now lack the operating stamina and
balance sheet strength to make the financial, operational and cultural investments necessary to deliver better
outcomes, lower costs and enhanced customer service.

 

MARKET-DRIVEN CONSOLIDATION AND TRANSFORMATION

Full-risk payment models, such as bundled payments for episodic care and capitation for population health, are the
catalyst to value-based care delivery. Transition to value-based care occurs more easily in competitive markets with
many attributable lives, numerous provider options and the right mix of willing payers.

As increasing numbers of hospitals struggle financially, the larger and more profitable health systems are expanding
their networks, capabilities and service lines through acquisitions. This will increase their leverage with commercial
payers and give them more time to adapt to risk-based contracting and value-based care delivery.

COVID also will accelerate acquisition of physician practices. According to an April 2020 MGMA report, 97% of
physician practices have experienced a 55% decrease in revenue, forcing furloughs and layoffs15. It’s estimated the
sector could collectively lose as much as $15.1 billion in income by the end of September 2020.

Struggling health systems and physician groups that read the writing on the wall will pro-actively seek capital or
strategic partners that offer greater scale and operating stability. Aggregators can be selective in their acquisitions,
seeking providers that fuel growth, expand contiguous market positions and don’t dilute balance sheets.

Adding to the sector’s operating pressure, private equity, venture investors and payers are pouring record levels of
funding into asset-light and virtual delivery companies that are eager to take on risk, lower prices by routing procedures
and capture volume from traditional providers. With the right incentives, market-driven reforms will reallocate resources
to efficient companies that generate compelling value.

As this disruption continues to unfold, rural and marginal urban communities that lack robust market forces will
experience more facility and practice closures. Without government support to mitigate this trend, access and care gaps
that already riddle American healthcare will unfortunately increase.

 

WINNING AT VALUE

The average hospital generates around $11,000 per patient discharge. With ancillary services that can often add up to
more than $15,000 per average discharge. Success in a value-based system is predicated on reducing those
discharges and associated costs by managing acute care utilization more effectively for distinct populations (i.e.
attributed lives).

This changes the orientation of healthcare delivery toward appropriate and lower cost settings. It also places greater
emphasis on preventive, chronic and outpatient care as well as better patient engagement and care coordination.
Such a realignment of care delivery requires the following:

 A tight primary care network (either owned or affiliated) to feed referrals and reduce overall costs through
better preventive care.

 A gatekeeper or navigator function (increasingly technology-based) to manage / direct patients to the most
appropriate care settings and improve coordination, adherence and engagement.

 A carefully designed post-acute care network (including nursing homes, rehab centers, home care
services and behavioral health services, either owned or sufficiently controlled) to manage the 70% of
total episode-of-care costs that can occur outside the hospital setting.

 An IT infrastructure that can facilitate care coordination across all providers and settings.

Quality data and digital tools that enhance care, performance, payment and engagement.

Experience with managing risk-based contracts.

 A flexible approach to care delivery that includes digital and telemedicine platforms as well as nontraditional sites of care.

Aligned or incentivized physicians.

Payer partners willing to share data and offload risk through upside and downside risk contracts.

Engaged consumers who act on their preferences and best interests.

 

While none of these strategies is new or controversial, assembling them into cohesive and scalable business models is
something few health systems have accomplished. It requires appropriate market conditions, deep financial resources,
sophisticated business acumen, operational agility, broad stakeholder alignment, compelling vision, and robust
branding.

Providers that fail to embrace value-based care for their “attributed lives” risk losing market relevance. In their relentless pursuit of increasing treatment volumes and associated revenues, they will lose market share to organizations that
deliver consistent and high-value care outcomes.

CONCLUSION: THE CHARGING GRAY RHINO

America needs its hospitals to operate optimally in normal times, flex to manage surge capacity, sustain themselves
when demand falls, create adequate access and enhance overall quality while lowering total costs. That is a tall order
requiring realignment, evolution, and a balance between market and policy reform measures.

The status quo likely wasn’t sustainable before COVID. The nation has invested heavily for many decades in acute and
specialty care services while underinvesting, on a relative basis, in primary and chronic care services. It has excess
capacity in some markets, and insufficient access in others.

COVID has exposed deep flaws in the activity-based payment as well as the nation’s underinvestment in public health.
Disadvantaged communities have suffered disproportionately. Meanwhile, the costs for delivering healthcare services
consume an ever-larger share of national GDP.

Transformational change is hard for incumbent organizations. Every industry, from computer and auto manufacturing to
retailing and airline transportation, confronts gray rhino challenges. Many companies fail to adapt despite clear signals
that long-term viability is under threat. Often, new, nimble competitors emerge and thrive because they avoid the
inherent contradictions and service gaps embedded within legacy business models.

The healthcare industry has been actively engaged in value-driven care transformation for over ten years with little to
show for the reform effort. It is becoming clear that many hospitals and health systems lack the capacity to operate
profitably in competitive, risk-based market environments.

This dismal reality is driving hospital market valuations and closures. In contrast, customers and capital are flowing to
new, alternative care providers, such as OneMedical, Oak Street Health and Village MD. Each of these upstart
companies now have valuations in the $ billions. The market rewards innovation that delivers value.

Unfortunately, pure market-driven reforms often neglect a significant and growing portion of America’s people. This gap has been more apparent as COVID exacts a disproportionate toll on communities challenged by higher population
density, higher unemployment, and fewer medical care options (including inferior primary and preventive care infrastructure).

Absent fundamental change in our hospitals and health systems, and investment in more efficient care delivery and
payment models, the nation’s post-COVID healthcare infrastructure is likely to deteriorate in many American
communities, making them more vulnerable to chronic disease, pandemics and the vicissitudes of life.

Article 2 in our “Future of Hospitals” series will explore the public policy challenges of providing appropriate, affordable and accessible healthcare to all American communities.

 

 

 

Can we ‘TRUST’ the ‘CARES ACT’ to ‘HEAL’ our nation?

https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/08/01/cares-trust-heals-heroes-congress-stimulus/?utm_campaign=wp_post_most&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&wpisrc=nl_most

Social Security Error Leads to Unpaid Medicare Coverage

A groan-up look at Congress’s aspirational acronyms for its various stimulus bills.

Two of the things missing from the increasingly bitter debate about how to handle covid-19’s effect on our people, our businesses and our economy are a sense of humor and bipartisanship.

So as a public service, let me try to bring both of those to bear by doing a deep dive into the various pieces of stimulus legislation currently running around in Our Nation’s Capital.

No, I’m not going to give you a detailed, sleep-inducing analysis featuring numbers and experts opining about various provisions. Instead, I’m going to look at the names — which I find hilariously tortured — of the various pieces of legislation.

Possibly because I’m both a recovering English major and a non-Washingtonian, I like to know the full names of the legislation — like the Cares Act — that I’m writing about. And these names are just great. Let’s start with the Cares (or as I prefer to call it, CARES) Act.

Do you know what the full name of that legislation is? Probably not. Okay, I’ll tell you. It’s the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. A name clearly invented to produce a seemingly empathetic acronym.

Now, let’s move on to two total groaners — the Democrats’ and Republicans’ proposals for more stimulus legislation. Remember, I’m not talking about the proposals’ provisions — I’m talking about their names. The Democrats’ candidate in the current stimulus battle is the Heroes (or rather HEROES) Act. The full name of this piece of work, which has been passed by the House, is the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act. My favorite part is “Omnibus,” which clearly is in the title because an acronym meister needed an O, and Omnibus was better than Outsized or Over-the-top.

Showing that they would not be out-acronymed, the Republicans named their legislation, which is currently kicking around (and being kicked around) in the Senate, the Heals (or HEALS) Act. That stands for Health, Economic Assistance, Liability protection and Schools Act. The lowercase p in “protection” let the acronym mavens call the legislation HEALS rather than HEALPS.

And finally, there’s legislation that’s been around for several years but that I discovered only recently when Mitch McConnell and his crew stuck it into the HEALS Act. It’s a proposal that would let a congressional committee, operating outside of public sight, propose cuts and changes to Social Security, Medicare and some other federal programs that use trust funds. It’s called the Time to Rescue United States Trusts (or TRUST) Act. I’ve looked at it only superficially — but from what I’ve seen, I don’t think there’s any reason to trust it.

I hope you’ve noticed that I’m doing equal-opportunity name mocking: the Cares and Trust acts, which are bipartisan; the Heroes Act, which is Democratic; and the Heals (or HEALPS) Act, which is Republican.

What do I propose to do about these contorted names? I’m glad you asked. My answer, naturally, is to propose a piece of legislation of my own: The Get Rid Of Acronyms Now Act. That, my friends, would be a true GROAN-er.

 

6 months in: Following the flow of CARES hospital funding

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/6-months-cares-hospital-funding-covid/581506/

Congress has allocated $175 billion to help providers respond to the COVID-19 crisis, but HHS has been hit with multiple complaints about distribution as that money goes out the door.

The COVID-19 pandemic created massive upheaval for the nation’s healthcare system still evident six months after the U.S. declared it a national public health crisis.

The virus continues to surge, reaching new heights with more than 4 million confirmed cases and more than 143,000 deaths. No other country has experienced more deaths or cases than the U.S., data with Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Research Center show.

Parts of the country are facing the prospect of another lockdown as cases overwhelm healthcare facilities.

Forced into quickly responding to the pandemic, health systems have taken substantial financial hits. While the impact has been far from even, one estimate from the American Hospital Association estimates the nation’s health systems’ financial losses in the first four months of the outbreak reached nearly $203 billion.

To help staunch the free fall, Congress earmarked $175 billion in two pieces of legislation in an attempt to keep providers afloat as the virus wreaked havoc on the economy. The majority of that was from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act passed in late March.

Yet, about 65% of the money has yet to go out to providers, with just $61 billion delivered and attested to by providers by mid-July, a senior HHS official told Healthcare Dive.

Still, with no end in sight for the pandemic, at least on U.S. shores, providers are ramping up lobbying in an effort to secure more funding as case counts soar. AHA is asking for another $100 billion in the next round of congressional relief now under discussion.

Many healthcare providers stopped profitable elective procedures as stay-at-home orders blanketed parts of the country to contain the spread of the disease. This also allowed providers to conserve much needed resources such as personal protective equipment that proved hard to procure amid the crisis.

But revenue quickly plummeted as providers delayed care in preparing for a surge of COVID-19 patients.

“The funding hospitals and health systems have received to date, while helpful, is just a small fraction of what we estimate they will lose this year,” Lisa Kidder Hrobsky, group vice president of federal relations for AHA, told Healthcare Dive in a statement.

Where did the money go?

So far, HHS has outlined a spending plan for $125 billion of the $175 billion in provider relief funds.

The program has been met with an array of criticism, including whether the distribution of funds went to those most in need and whether the fine print has deterred providers from taking a piece of the massive financial package.

https://www.datawrapper.de/_/7PvZ4/

In response to those critiques, HHS has sent out additional federal funding in more targeted waves since April.

The first tranche of money — $30 billion in April — was designed to get out the door quickly, as providers were struggling. From there, HHS has attempted to pinpoint the money to certain providers and geographic areas to appease the needs of various providers.

To even out distribution, HHS began sending targeted funding, such as to hospitals overrun with COVID-19 patients, mainly in New York and other hard hit areas. The agency also funneled money to rural providers and skilled-nursing facilities, among others.

After HHS was met with the argument that wealthier hospitals, or those that had larger shares of privately-insured patients, received more funding, it allocated money for those taking care of the neediest.

At the same time, as the agency doles out the rest of the $175 billion, it has promised to reimburse providers for uninsured COVID-19 patients. That has raised questions about whether HHS will have enough for uninsured care and additional tranches.  

However, a senior HHS official said it has only paid out $340 million to providers for uninsured COVID-19 patients, less than what they had expected. So low, that HHS has been trying to encourage providers to apply for such funding.

Timeline of HHS funding

  • AprilHHS​ released $30 billion from the first tranche of money based on a provider’s 2018 Medicare fee-for-service revenue. By the end of April, an additional $20 billion from general distribution was released, for a total of $50 billion.
  • MayMore than $26 billion was sent to rural, skilled-nursing facilities and those hit hard by the virus.
  • JuneHHS released an additional $25 billion earmarked for safety-net providers and those that cater to large populations of Medicaid patients.
  • JulyHHS​ said it would release another $4 billion for safety-net providers and certain specialty rural providers missed in earlier rounds, along with another $10 billion for those in hot spots.

Fears eased over fine print

Some providers declined or returned funding they had received, worried about the fine print or the terms and conditions, like how to appropriately spend the money.

However, HHS has relaxed some of those conditions, easing the fears of some.

For a lot of providers, it was a sigh of relief, causing many to say, “‘Great, we can feel comfortable participating in this program’,” Tim Fry, an attorney with McGuireWoods, told Healthcare Dive.

In particular, HHS recently said that if at the end of this pandemic, providers didn’t use all of the funding for lost revenue or healthcare related expenses, there will be a process to return the money. Initially, providers expressed concern that it was an all-or-nothing program.

Plus, HHS provided clarity on how the money can be used, stipulating that the funds go to healthcare-related expenses or lost revenue attributable to the coronavirus. HHS has provided more guidance and examples of appropriate uses, a relief to many, Fry said.

Earlier, health systems were overwhelmed by the administrative burden and fearful over how to appropriately spend the money without running afoul of new rules.

“We are not infinitely flexible around those requirements, but when we hear from providers of issues that they’re having — and we think we can be reasonably [accommodating], we try to be,” a senior HHS official said.

 

 

 

 

Canceled elective procedures putting pressure on nation’s hospitals

https://www.healthcarefinancenews.com/news/canceled-elective-procedures-putting-pressure-nations-hospitals

U.S. Hospitals Brace for 'Tremendous Strain' from New Virus - JEMS

Even upticks in COVID-19 patients haven’t made up for the revenue losses, since reimbursement for those services is comparatively slim.

Elective procedures are in a strange place at the moment. When the COVID-19 pandemic started to ramp up in the U.S., many of the nation’s hospitals decided to temporarily cancel elective surgeries and procedures, instead dedicating the majority of their resources to treating coronavirus patients. Some hospitals have resumed these surgeries; others resumed them and re-cancelled them; and still others are wondering when they can resume them at all.

In a recent HIMSS20 digital presentation, Reenita Das, a senior vice president and partner at Frost and Sullivan, said that during the pandemic, plastic surgery activity declined by 100%, ENT surgeries declined by 79%, cardiovascular surgeries declined by 53% and neurosurgery surgeries declined by 57%.

It’s hard to overstate the financial impact this is likely to have on hospitals’ bottom lines. Just this week, American Hospital Association President and CEO Rick Pollack, pulling from Kaufman Hall data, said the cancellation of elective surgeries is among the factors contributing to a likely industry-wide loss of $120 billion from July to December alone. When including data from earlier in the pandemic, the losses are expected to be in the vicinity of $323 billion, and half of the nation’s hospitals are expected to be in the red by the end of the year.

Doug Wolfe, cofounder and managing partner of Miami-based law firm Wolfe Pincavage, said this has amounted to a “double-whammy” for hospitals, because on top of elective procedures being cancelled, the money healthcare facilities received from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act was an advance on future Medicare payments – which is coming due. While hospitals perform fewer procedures, they will now have to start paying that money back.

All hospitals are hurting, but some are in a more precarious position than others.

“Some hospital systems have had more cash on hand and more liquidity to withstand some of the financial pressure some systems are facing,” said Wolfe. “Traditionally, the smaller hospital systems in the healthcare climate we face today have faced a lot more financial pressure. They’re not able to control costs the same way as a big system. The smaller hospitals and systems were hurting to begin with.”

LOWER REVENUE, HIGHER COSTS

Some hospitals, especially ones in hot spots, are seeing a surge in COVID-19 patients. While this has kept frontline healthcare workers scrambling to care for scores of sick Americans, COVID-19 treatments are not reimbursed at the same level as surgeries. Hospital capacity is being stretched with less lucrative services.

“Some hospitals may be filling up right now, but they’re filling up with lower-reimbursing volume,” said Wolfe. “Inpatient stuff is lower reimbursement. It’s really the perfect storm for hospitals.”

John Haupert, CEO of Grady Health in Atlanta, Georgia, said this week that COVID-19 has had about a $115 million negative impact on Grady’s bottom line. Some $70 million of that is related to the reduction in the number of elective surgeries performed, as well as dips in emergency department and ambulatory visits. 

During one week in March, Grady saw a 50% reduction in surgeries and a 38% reduction in ER visits. The system is almost back to even in terms of elective and essential surgeries, but due to a COVID-19 surge currently taking place in Georgia, it has had to suspend those services once again. ER visits have only come back about halfway from that initial 38% dip, and the system is currently operating at 105% occupancy.

“Part of what we’re seeing there is reluctance from patients to come to hospitals or seek services,” said Haupert. “Many have significantly exacerbated chronic disease conditions.”

Patient hesitation has been an ongoing problem, as has the associated cost of treating coronavirus patients, said Wolfe.

“When they were ramping up to resume the elective stuff, there was a problem getting patients comfortable,” he said. “And the other thing was that the cost of treating patients in this environment has gone up. They’ve put up plexiglass everywhere, they have more wiping-down procedures, and all of these things add cost and time. They need to add more time between procedures so they can clean everything … so they’re able to do less, and it costs more to do less. Even when elective procedures do resume, it’s not going back to the way it was.”

Most hospitals have adjusted their costs to mitigate some of the financial hit. Even some larger systems, such as 92-hospital nonprofit Trinity Health in Michigan, have taken to measures such as laying off and furloughing workers and scaling back working hours for some of its staff. At the top of the month, Trinity announced another round of layoffs and furloughs – in addition to the 2,500 furloughs it announced in April – citing a projected $2 billion in revenue losses in fiscal year 2021, which began on June 1.

Hospitals are at the mercy of the market at the moment, and Wolfe anticipates there could be an uptick in mergers and consolidation as organizations look to partner with less cash-strapped entities. 

“Whether reorganization will work remains to be seen, but there will definitely be a fallout from this,” he said.

 

 

 

 

Hospital margins could sink to a negative 7% this year: 5 things to know

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/finance/hospital-margins-could-sink-to-a-negative-7-this-year-5-things-to-know.html?utm_medium=email

New Kaufman Hall Report: Hospital Finances Crashed in April ...

The COVID-19 pandemic has created financial challenges for hospitals and health systems, and, without additional federal aid, half of US hospitals could be operating in the red in the second half of this year, according to an analysis released by the American Hospital Association on July 21.

Five takeaways from the analysis: 

1. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the median hospital margin was 3.5 percent. COVID-19 is expected to drive the median hospital margin from positive to negative. 

2. Without funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, hospital margins would have been a negative 15 percent in the second quarter of 2020. Margins are still expected to drop to a negative 3 percent in the second quarter.

3. Without additional aid from the federal government, hospital margins could sink to a negative 7 percent in the second half of this year. 

4. In the second quarter of this year, nearly half of U.S. hospitals had negative margins. Those hospitals will remain with negative margins without further financial support.  

5. “Heading into the COVID-19 crisis, the financial health of many hospitals and health systems were challenged, with many operating in the red,” said hospital association President and CEO Rick Pollack in a news release. “As today’s analysis shows, this pandemic is the greatest financial threat in history for hospitals and health systems and is a serious obstacle to keeping the doors open for many.” 

The full report, prepared by Kaufman, Hall & Associates and released by the AHA, is available here

 

 

 

 

U.S. Coronavirus Response: We blew it

https://www.axios.com/coronavirus-america-blew-it-b3d84ea3-78b3-4fe0-8dce-1c4ed0ec0a4c.html

We blew it: Why America still hasn't gotten the coronavirus under ...

America spent the spring building a bridge to August, spending trillions and shutting down major parts of society. The expanse was to be a bent coronavirus curve, and the other side some semblance of normal, where kids would go to school and their parents to work.

The bottom line: We blew it, building a pier instead.

There will be books written about America’s lost five months of 2020, but here’s what we know:

We blew testing. President Trump regularly brags and complains about the number of COVID-19 tests conducted in the U.S., but America hasn’t built the infrastructure necessary to process and trace the results.

  • Quest Diagnostics says its average turnaround time for a COVID-19 test has lengthened to “seven or more days” — thus decreasing the chance that asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic carriers will self-quarantine.
  • The testing delays also make it harder for public health officials to understand current conditions, let alone implement effective contact tracing.
  • Speaking of contact tracing, it remains a haphazard and uncoordinated process in many parts of the country.

We blew schools. Congress allocated $150 billion for state and local governments as part of the CARES Act, but that was aimed at maintaining status quo services in the face of plummeting tax revenue.

There was no money earmarked for schools to buy new safety equipment, nor to hire additional teachers who might be needed to staff smaller class sizes and hybrid learning days.

  • U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was not among the 27 officials included in the White House Coronavirus Task Force.
  • The administration insists that schools should reopen this fall because kids are less likely to get very sick from the virus, but it has not yet offered detailed plans to protect older teachers, at-risk family members, or students with pre-existing respiratory or immune conditions.
  • Silicon Valley provided some free services to schools, but there was no coordinated effort to create a streamlined virtual learning platform. There also continue to be millions of schoolkids without access to broadband and/or Internet-connected devices.

We blew economics. The CARES Act was bold and bipartisan, a massive stimulus to meet the moment.

  • It’s running out, without an extension plan not yet in place.
  • Expanded unemployment benefits expire in days. Many small businesses have already exhausted their Paycheck Protection Program loans, including some that reopened but have been forced to close again.
  • There has been no national effort to pause residential or commercial evictions, nor to give landlords breathing room on their mortgage payments.

We blew public health. There’s obviously a lot here, but just stick with face masks. Had we all been directed to wear them in March — and done so, even makeshift ones while manufacturing ramped up — you might not be reading this post.

We blew goodwill. Millions of Americans sheltered in place, pausing their social lives for the common good.

  • But many millions of other Americans didn’t. Some were essential workers. Some were deemed essential workers but really weren’t. Some just didn’t care, or didn’t believe the threat. Some ultimately decided that protesting centuries of racial injustice was a worthy trade-off.
  • All of this was complicated by mixed messages from federal and state leaders. Top of that list was President Trump, who claimed to adopt a wartime footing without clearly asking Americans to make sacrifices necessary to defeat the enemy.
  • Five months later, many of those who followed the “rules” are furious at what they perceive to be the selfishness of others.

The bottom line: America has gotten many things right since March, including the development of more effective hospital treatments for COVID-19 patients.

  • But we’re hitting daily infection records, daily deaths hover around 900, and many ICUs reports more patients than beds. It didn’t have to be this way.

 

 

 

 

Nonprofit health systems — despite huge cash reserves — get billions in CARES funding

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/nonprofit-health-systems-despite-huge-cash-reserves-get-billions-in-car/580078/

CLICK ON LINK ABOVE FOR ACCESS TO GRAPHICS

Next Steps for Public Policy | Cato Institute

Healthcare Dive’s findings revive concerns that greater examination of hospital finances is needed before divvying up COVID-19 rescue funding allocated by Congress.
The nation’s largest nonprofit health systems, led by Kaiser Permanente, Ascension and Providence, have received more than $7.1 billion in bailout funds from the federal government so far, as the novel coronavirus forced them to all but shutter their most profitable business lines.

At the same time, some of these same behemoth systems sit on billions in cash, and even greater amounts when taking into account investments that can be liquidated over time. That raises questions about how much money these systems actually need from the federal government given they have hundreds of days worth of cash on hand. Indeed, some big systems, like Kaiser Permanente, are already returning some of the funds.

And it revives concerns that greater examination of hospital finances is needed before divvying up rescue packages.

Nonprofits with more cash and greater net income tend to have received less funding — but not always

This is the second story of a Healthcare Dive series examining the bailout funds health systems received amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In this report, we focus on the 20 largest nonprofits by revenue and the amount of Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding they have received compared to the amount of cash on hand and recent financial performance. Healthcare Dive used bond filings filed as of June 12 to compile the amount of CARES funding received by health systems. In some instances, we relied on data from Good Jobs First, which also tracks the money. In addition to bond filings, we relied on annual audited financial statements and analyst reports to compile financial performance and days cash on hand.

Cash reserves

The cash hospitals have on hand has become an important metric to watch over the past few months as many have seen reserves dwindle to pay everyday expenses as revenue has dried up. At the same time, hospital volumes have plunged due to the economy grinding to a halt.

“You can’t write a payroll check off of accounts receivables, you have to write it off your cash and cash equivalents.” Rick Gundling, senior vice president of healthcare financial practices for Healthcare Financial Management Association, told Healthcare Dive.

In the early days of the outbreak in the U.S., some hospital executives sounded the alarm over dire financial straits, particularly small, rural hospitals whose executives warned they were weeks away from not making payroll. These pleas helped push Congress to pass massive rescue packages, with providers earmarked for $175 billion thus far.

Nonprofit health systems tend to keep more cash on hand than publicly-traded hospital chains. That’s because investor-owned facilities can raise capital more quickly, mainly through the stock market, while nonprofits have to rely on the bond market and their own operations, Gundling said.

Another important avenue that can boost cash is investments. It’s common for large nonprofits to rake in more in net income than they do from their core operations of running hospitals and caring for patients, in large part due to their investments in the stock market.

For example, Chicago-based CommonSpirit posted an operating loss of $602 million during its fiscal year 2019 but net income far exceeded that, totaling $9 billion. It was buoyed by investments and its recent merger, bringing together Catholic Health Initiatives and Dignity Health, according to its audited financial statement for the year ended June 30, 2019.

Many nonprofit health systems rake in more in net income than they do from their core operations

Ascension, the second-largest nonprofit system, received about $492 million in CARES funding, according to Good Jobs First. Ascension reported having 231 days cash on hand. Its unrestricted cash and investments totaled a sum of $15.5 billion as of March 31.

Kaiser, the nation’s largest nonprofit system, has about 200 days of cash on hand as of its fiscal year end, Dec. 31, according to a recent report from Fitch Ratings.

Providence, the third-largest nonprofit and first U.S. health system to treat a COVID-19 patient, reported 182 days of cash on hand as of March 31, according to a May bond filing.

However, Cleveland Clinic has the most cash on hand when measured in days among the top 20 nonprofits.

Cleveland Clinic had 337 days of cash on hand at the end of March, according to an unaudited financial statement from May. That’s nearly an entire year’s worth of operating expenses. The system has received $199 million in CARES funding, according to that same filing.

Rochester, Minnesota-based Mayo Clinic had the second most days of cash on hand with 252. Mayo Clinic has received $220 million in grant money, according to a May financial filing.

“You would never see that much cash on an investor-owned hospital,” Gundling said. “Generally, they want to pour that cash back into the services,” he said.

NYC Health + Hospitals, also the nation’s largest municipal health system, had the fewest days of cash on hand and it received $745 million in CARES funding, the second-most compared to other systems.

How health systems’ funding and cash on hand compare

Samantha Liss (@samanthann) | Twitter

Risks of accepting bailout money

Sitting on a pile of money and accepting the bailout funds is already raising eyebrows.

“There is significant headline risk,” Michael Abrams, co-founder and partner at Numerof & Associates, told Healthcare Dive.

Worried about the optics, other institutions with considerable reserves or endowments have returned federal bailout funds, including Harvard University and major health insurers.

Providers are returning relief funds, too. Kaiser Permanente, the nation’s largest nonprofit by revenue, told the San Francisco Business Times it has returned more than $500 million in CARES funding. CEO Greg Adams the system “will do fine” despite the setback from the pandemic.

Mara McDermott, vice president of McDermott+Consulting, agrees there is a risk in accepting the grant money if systems possess such large reserves. Yet, she also cautioned that the healthcare ecosystem is so much more complicated.

“Regardless of the structure, it requires a deeper dive into need and that’s not what HHS did. They just wrote checks,” McDermott told Healthcare Dive.

Just because a parent company has a large cash reserve, it doesn’t mean that the money is readily available on a daily basis to a smaller practice it may own down the chain and one that hasn’t had any patients since March, she said.

“It’s easy to point the finger… but it’s much more complex than that,” she said.

The first tranche of money HHS sent to hospitals was based on Medicare fee-for-service business, and later on net patient service revenue. These formulas were criticized for putting some hospitals at an advantage compared to others, particularly those with larger shares of Medicaid patients. HHS has since released more targeted funding for providers in hot spots such as New York and plans to funnel funding to those serving a large share of Medicaid members in an attempt to address earlier concerns.

Still, without certainty of how long this public health crisis will last, no one knows how much cash on hand will ultimately be enough.

“A year’s cash on hand sounds like a lot of money but when you expend hundreds of millions of dollars a month, it won’t take you long to burn through that,” Scott Graham, CEO of Three Rivers Hospital, a 25-bed facility in rural Washington state, told Healthcare Dive.

Graham had feared in March that without quick intervention from the government, his hospital was near closure with just a few weeks cash on hand. The federal grant money has bought his hospital some time, about six months if volumes stay where they are, longer if they tick back up.

“I think what HHS did was right at the moment because we needed to ensure that the healthcare system survived this. It’s one thing for a small rural hospital to close, it’s another thing for the entire health system to collapse,” he said.

 

HCA nurses issue 10-day strike notice at California hospital

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/hca-nurses-issue-10-day-strike-notice-at-california-hospital/580359/

UPDATE: June 23, 2020: Riverside Community Hospital on Tuesday told Healthcare Dive the motivation behind the union’s strike notice “has very little to do with the best interest of their members and everything to do with contract negotiations.” The system said it has plans to ensure appropriate staffing and continued services for any type of event, including a strike.

Dive Brief:

  • Nurses at HCA Healthcare’s Riverside Community Hospital in south-central California issued a 10-day strike notice last week, citing a breakdown in discussions over safety and staffing, the union representing them said Monday.
  • The nurses plan to strike from Friday, June 26 through July 6, prior to starting contract negotiations with HCA on July 7.  The union plans to push for better staffing and safety measures, particularly hospital preparedness during states of emergency.
  • Neither HCA nor Riverside were available for comment, but the hospital told Becker’s Hospital Review it had hoped the union “would not resort to these tactics” during the COVID-19 pandemic and said it had not laid off or furloughed any employees due to the crisis.

Dive Insight:

The strike notice follows a recent job posting from the nation’s biggest for-profit chain seeking qualified nurses in the Los Angeles area in the event of a job action or work stoppage.

Nurses at Riverside Community Hospital pushed for an improved staffing agreement last year and got it — but the hospital recently ended that agreement, resulting in fewer RNs taking care of more patients amid a pandemic, according to the union.

Insufficient personal protective equipment, inadequate safety measures and recycling of single-use PPE is also putting nurses at increased risk of COVID-19 infection, the union alleges.

Scores of RNs at the hospital have fallen ill with COVID-19, according to a release, including deaths of an environmental services worker and a lab technician, that “have not caused RCH to improve staffing or increase PPE.”

PPE shortages have been a problem at all of the 27 hospitals SEIU Local 121 RN represents, the union says. But a member survey found HCA hospitals were particularly unprepared for shortages. Only 27% of local 121 RN members at HCA hospitals reported having access to N95 respirators in their unit, significantly lower than other hospitals surveyed, according to the union.

Nashville-based HCA has received the most among for-profits in Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funding so far, about $1 billion. The amount is about 2% of HCA’s total 2019 revenue.

The 184-hospital system said it has not had to furlough employees like other systems have, though some employees have been redeployed or seen their hours and pay decrease. HCA implemented a program providing seven weeks paid time off at 70% of base pay that was scheduled to expire May 16, but has been extended through this week.

A spokesperson with the country’s largest nurses union, National Nurses United, told Healthcare Dive the program isn’t technically a furlough because some HCA nurses participating said they must remain on call or work rotating shifts.

NNU has also recently fought with HCA over other pandemic-related labor issues. Nurses at 15 HCA hospitals protested in late May over contractually bargained wage increases the hospital says it can’t deliver due to financial strains, asking nurses to give up the increases or face layoffs.

Another dispute involves a last-minute change mandating in-person voting for nurses deciding whether to form a union at HCA’s Mission Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina, according to an NNU release.

SEIU Local 121 RN said HCA can “easily weather this storm financially, continue to provide profits for their shareholders, while at the same time support and protect nurses as they fight this disease and fight to save their community.”

 

 

 

 

Nebraska governor says he’ll withhold federal money from counties that require masks

https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2020-06-18/nebraska-governor-mask-requirement-will-cost-counties-money

Nebraska governor: Mask rules will cost counties money meant to ...

Nebraska’s governor told local governments they will not receive any federal money to help fight the effects of the coronavirus pandemic if they require people to wear masks in public buildings.

The mandate from Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts seems at odds with his usual message, often delivered at his regular news conferences to address the COVID-19 outbreak, encouraging people to wear masks to slow the spread of the virus, the Omaha World-Herald reported.

Ricketts stands by that advice, his spokesman Taylor Gage said. Local governments can encourage mask-wearing in courthouses and other county government buildings, he said, but the governor “does not believe that failure to wear a mask should be the basis for denying taxpayers’ services.”

“Counties are not prohibited from requiring masks, but if they want CARES Act money, they have to be fully open, and that means they cannot deny service for not wearing a mask,” Gage said.

The mandate is drawing objections from county officials, who say it runs counter to Nebraska’s long-held bent toward local control and the advice of public health officials.

In Lincoln, officials planned to require all visitors to wear masks when entering the City-County Building, but those rules were dropped when officials learned that doing so would cost Lancaster County any chance at the $100 million that has been allotted to Nebraska counties as part of the federal economic rescue law.

“We’d like to have a little bit more ability to call the shots in our courthouse, but we realize that he has the right to set the rules,” said Deb Schorr, a longtime Lancaster County Board member.

Dakota County Assessor Jeff Curry said the order could have dire consequences in his county, which is home to a Tyson Foods meatpacking plant and has been one of the hardest-hit counties in the nation for the virus.

Curry said he was hoping that a mask requirement could be in place for the courthouse through July 1.

Nebraska continues to pull back on restrictions meant to slow the spread of the virus, even as more cases are recorded. On Wednesday, the state saw nearly 200 news cases of the virus reported, bringing Nebraska’s total to 17,226, according to the state’s online virus tracker. Nebraska has seen a total to 234 deaths related to the COVID-19 virus.

 

 

 

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.