Consumers choosing insurance via the federal Affordable Care Act exchanges reached 8.25 million over the 2021 open enrollment period, about the same number as the year before, CMS said Wednesday.
Because two fewer states are participating in the federal marketplace this year, adjusted year-over-year growth in plan selections was 7%, the agency said.
Of the total, 23% of consumers were new, down by 3.6%. Renewing consumers who actively chose a new plan and those who were automatically re-enrolled both increased.
The figures are the last from the Trump administration, which has drastically reduced money toward navigators who help people use the Healthcare.gov website and find the best ACA plan for them. The administration has made no secret of its opposition to the law and after failing to overturn it in Congress has used executive actions to undermine it.
President-Elect Joe Biden and his pick for HHS chief, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, however, are eager supporters and are likely to take a number of actions to restore and burnish it. That could be increasing tax credits and subsidies, increasing navigator funding and building on protections like essential health benefits.
The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to make its ruling on the ACA case later this spring or summer, but the Biden administration could essentially make it moot by walking back the zeroing out of the individual mandate penalty that is the linchpin of the lawsuit against it.
The relatively steady enrollment could be increased through those actions and the possibility of a special enrollment period to account for needs during the coronavirus pandemic. The COVID-19 crisis and the recession it has caused have kicked millions of people off their employer-sponsored insurance, and they could turn to the exchanges for coverage, especially with higher tax credits and subsidies.
The number of new unemployment claims filed last week jumped by 181,000 the week before to 965,000, the largest increase since the beginning of the pandemic.
It was the largest number of new unemployment claims since August.
An additional 284,000 claims were filed for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, the insurance for gig and self-employed workers.
The weekly report is President Trump’s last before President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in on Jan. 20. Biden will inherit a labor market badly weakened by the coronavirus pandemic and an economic recovery that appears to have stalled: 140,000 people lost their jobs in December, the first decline in months, with the U.S. still down millions of jobs since February.
The dire numbers will serve as a backdrop for Biden as he formally unveils an ambitious stimulus package proposal on Thursday, which could top $1 trillion, and is expected include an expansion of the child tax credit, a $2,000 stimulus payment, and other assistance for the economy.
Economists say that the economy’s struggles could be explained, in part, by the delay Congress allowed between the summer, when many fiscal aid programs expired and December, when lawmakers finally agreed on a new package after months of stalemate.
The number of new jobless claims has come down since the earliest days of the pandemic, but remains at a extremely high level week in and week out.
The total number of continuing people in any of the unemployment programs at the end of the year was 18.4 million, although officials have cautioned that the number is inflated by accounting issues and duplicate claims.
The increase in claims is not entirely unexpected. As the aid package passed by Congress in December kicks in, including a $300 a week unemployment supplement, some economists expected that to result in more workers filing claims.
The economy lost 140,000 jobs in December, the first reported losses since April, as the unemployment rate remained steady at 6.7 percent.
Economists expected a small jobs gain of nearly 50,000. The drop is the latest sign of a weakening economy amid the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. All in all, the economy remains about 10 million jobs below its pre-pandemic levels.
“There’s not much comfort to be taken from the stable unemployment rate, given that millions of Americans have left the labor force with nearly 11 million listed as officially out of work,” said Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate.com.
“Between the human and economic tolls taken by the pandemic, these are some of the darkest hours of this soon-to-be yearlong tragedy.”
The biggest losses were concentrated in leisure and hospitality, a sector particularly vulnerable to the effects of the pandemic, which lost an astonishing 498,000 jobs.
State and local government payrolls shed 51,000 jobs. Congress deferred passing state and local aid in its latest COVID-19 relief bill.
But the overall loss would have been worse had it not been for gains in professional and business services, which added 161,000 jobs; retail trade, which added 120,500 jobs; and construction, which added 51,000.
Some demographic groups have been hit harder by the economic downturn.
The unemployment rate for Hispanics rose to 9.3 percent in December, while Black unemployment remained elevated at 9.9 percent. The rate for whites was 6 percent, and for Asians it was 5.9 percent.
Over a third of jobless people have been unemployed for over 27 weeks.
Twenty states and dozens of localities increased their minimum wage on Friday, giving a financial boost to many frontline workers during the pandemic.
New Mexico will see the largest jump, adding $1.50 to its hourly minimum and bringing it up to $10.50. Arkansas, California, Illinois and New Jersey will each increase their minimum wages by $1.
Alaska, Maine and South Dakota will increase wages by just 15 cents an hour, while the rate in Minnesota will rise by half that, at 8 cents, to $10.08 an hour.
Additional increases are scheduled for elsewhere this year, with most changes taking effect on July 1.
Low-income earners, like much of the country’s workforce, have seen their wages remain relatively stagnant for decades when inflation is taken into account. Proponents say the new raises will help reduce poverty and offer much-needed pay hikes to some of the most vulnerable workers.
“Minimum wage increases income levels, reduces poverty, so I think it’s pretty clear that it improves conditions in the lower end of the wage distribution,” said Daniel Kuehn a research associate at The Urban Institute.
Localities are also boosting their minimum pay. Flagstaff, Ariz., will see wages rise from $13 an hour to $15, as will Burlingame, Calif.
In some municipalities, the increases are dependent on business size. Hayward, Calif., for example, will follow the same wage hike as Burlingame, but employers who 25 or fewer workers will need to raise wages from $12 an hour to $14.
Varying minimum wages across localities, Kuehn said, lets governments take into account different cost-of-living conditions.
“I think the ideal policy would include a lot of local variation, but that doesn’t mean a federal floor isn’t helpful,” he said.
The federal minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 since 2009. In recent years, the goal of a $15 minimum wage has become a standard progressive policy.
House Democrats in July 2019 passed a bill that would gradually increase the federal minimum wage to $15 gradually through 2025, but the measure died in the GOP-controlled Senate.
“While families work hard to make ends meet, their cost of living has surged to unsustainable highs, inflation has eaten nearly 20 percent of their wages and the GOP’s special interested agenda has left them behind,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said at the time.
“No one can live with dignity on a $7.25 an hour wage,” she added.
The issue is back in the political spotlight again with Tuesday’s runoff elections in Georgia that will determine which party controls the Senate for the next two years.
The Democratic challengers are arguing that the federal minimum wage will only increase if they win both races.
“If the federal minimum wage kept up with the cost of living, it would be even higher than $15,” Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff said last week. “The basic premise is that anybody in this country working a single full-time job should be bringing home enough money to sustain themselves and then some.”
But critics argue that minimum wage increases could slow job growth by raising labor costs for employers, an issue of particular concern during the fragile recovery from the coronavirus recession.
“A dramatic increase in the minimum wage even in good economic times has been shown to be harmful,” said Michael Saltsman, the managing director for the Employment Policy Institute, a think tank tied to the restaurant and hospitality industry.
“In the current climate, for many employers it could be the final nail in the coffin,” he added.
Saltsman argued that increasing anti-poverty programs such as the Earned Income Tax Credit are better policies than wage increases. The tax credit essentially operates as a government subsidy for low-wage work, shifting the onus of paying the extra wages from businesses to taxpayers.
Kuehn said there is little evidence to suggest that small and gradual increases of the minimum wage have significant effects on employment.
“The minimum wage increase levels we see get passed are not large enough to have significant employment effects,” he said.
But he concedes that it’s harder to predict the effects of a quick nationwide boost toward $15.
“I think it’s important to note that since we’ve never had a federal increase of that magnitude, there’s a lot we don’t know,” he said. “With something of that size, you would worry about low-wage places like Mississippi or Alabama.”
A report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office in 2019 projected that a gradual increase to $15 through 2025 would mean “1.3 million workers who would otherwise be employed would be jobless in an average week in 2025.”
But it also specified a range of possible outcomes, including no job losses on the low end and as many as 3.7 million jobs lost on the high end.
The report found that 27 million people would see higher income, and that the poorest families would have wages rise as much as 5.2 percent.
Researchers such as Kuehn are adamant that businesses can handle increasing wages at moderate levels, even in the midst of a global health crisis.
“It certainly doesn’t make businesses’ lives easier, but businesses aren’t struggling right now because of wage costs,” he said.
An estimated 803,000 people applied for unemployment aid for the first time last week, the Labor Department said Wednesday, showing the economy’s persistent weakness as new drama swirls over Washington’s response to the crisis. The figure was a slight decrease from the previous week but still much higher than normal.
The new Labor Department data show how weak the economy is, particularly the labor market. The surge in new coronavirus cases and deaths in the past few months has cooled the partial economic recovery from the summer.
Retail sales have weakened, and hiring has slowed markedly. The travel and tourism industries have not recovered much of the business lost since March, and thousands of companies — particularly restaurants and bars — have closed. U.S. household spending slipped in November, marking the first drop since April.
After months of stop-and-start negotiations, the bipartisan stimulus package finally offered some hope for households and businesses fighting to make it through the winter.
If Trump does not sign the bill, up to 14 million Americans would lose unemployment aid after Christmas. An eviction moratorium will expire at the end of the year, and $25 billion in emergency rental assistance will not get out the door. Billions of dollars for nutrition assistance, aid for small businesses, child care, transportation services and more will be in jeopardy, and the government will shut down on Dec. 29.
Trump did not play much of a role in the economic relief talks that resulted in Congress passing the $900 billion stimulus package. In the video Trump posted Tuesday night, his main complaint was that he wanted the $600 stimulus checks in the package to be increased to $2,000. This would add $370 billion to the measure.
Democrats quickly rallied around Trump’s demand, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) plans to try to hold a vote on it as soon as Thursday. But it could be virtually impossible to pass such a measure through Congress with unanimous support, leaving the entire bill’s future uncertain.
The stimulus package would extend unemployment benefits of up to $300 per week, beginning as soon as Dec. 27 and run at least through mid-March. The measure also would extend Pandemic Unemployment Assistance — which targets part-time and gig workers who did not qualify for state unemployment insurance benefits — for 11 weeks.
Wednesday’s data showed nearly 400,000 new claims for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program.
Congressional leaders have reached an agreement on a $900 billion COVID-19 relief package and $1.4 trillion government funding deal with several healthcare provisions, according to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
Here are seven things to know about the relief aid and funding deal:
1. Congressional leaders have yet to release text of the COVID-19 legislation, but have shared a few key details on the measure, according to CNBC.Becker’s breaks down the information that has been released thus far.
2. The COVID-19 package includes $20 billion for the purchase of vaccines, about $9 billion for vaccine distribution and about $22 billion to help states with testing, tracing and other COVID-19 mitigation programs, according to Politico.
3. Lawmakers are also expected to include a provision changing how providers can use their relief grants. In particular, the bill is expected to allow hospitals to calculate lost revenue by comparing budgeted revenue for 2020. Hospitals have said this tweak will allow them to keep more funding.
4. The agreement also allocates $284 billion for a new round of Paycheck Protection Program loans.
5. The COVID-19 relief bill also provides$600 stimulus checks to Americans earning up to $75,000 per year and $600 for their children, according to NBC. It also provides a supplemental $300 per week in unemployment benefits.
6. The year-end spending bill includes a measure to ban surprise billing. Under the measure, hospitals and physicians would be banned from charging patients out-of-network costs their insurers would not cover. Instead, patients would only be required to pay their in-network cost-sharing amount when they see an out-of-network provider, according to The Hill.The agreement gives insurers 30 days to negotiate a payment on the outstanding bill. After that period, they can enter into arbitration to gain higher reimbursement.
7. Lawmakers plan to pass the relief bill and federal spending bill Dec. 21.
Applications for jobless benefits resumed their upward march last week as the worsening pandemic continued to take a toll on the economy.
More than 947,000 workers filed new claims for state unemployment benefits last week, the Labor Department said Thursday. That was up nearly 229,000 from the week before, reversing a one-week dip that many economists attributed to the Thanksgiving holiday. Applications have now risen three times in the last four weeks, and are up nearly a quarter-million since the first week of November.
On a seasonally adjusted basis, the week’s figure was 853,000, an increase of 137,000.
Nearly 428,000 applied for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federal program that covers freelancers, self-employed workers and others who don’t qualify for regular state benefits.
Unemployment filings have fallen greatly since last spring, when as many as six million people a week applied for state benefits. But progress had stalled even before the recent increases, and with Covid-19 cases soaring and states reimposing restrictions on consumers and businesses, economists fear that layoffs could surge again.
“It’s very clear the third wave of the pandemic is causing businesses to have to lay people off and consumers to cut back spending,” said Daniel Zhao, senior economist for the career site Glassdoor. “It seems like we’re in for a rough winter economically.”
Jobless claims rose in nearly every state last week. In California, where the state has imposed strict new limits on many businesses, applications jumped by 47,000, more than reversing the state’s Thanksgiving-week decline.
The monthly jobs report released on Friday showed that hiring slowed sharply in early November and that some of the sectors most exposed to the pandemic, like restaurants and retailers, cut jobs for the first time since the spring. More up-to-date data from private sources suggests that the slowdown has continued or deepened since the November survey was conducted.
“Every month, we’re just seeing the pace of the recovery get slower and slower,” said AnnElizabeth Konkel, an economist with the job site Indeed. Now, she said, the question is, “Are we actually going to see it slide backward?”
Many economists say the recovery will continue to slow if the government does not provide more aid to households and businesses. After months of gridlock in Washington, prospects for a new round of federal help have grown in recent days, with congressional leaders from both parties signaling their openness to a compromise and the White House proposing its own $916 billion spending plan on Tuesday. But the two sides remain far apart on key issues.
The stakes are particularly high for jobless workers depending on federal programs that have expanded and extended unemployment benefits during the pandemic. Those programs expire later this month, potentially leaving millions of families with no income during what epidemiologists warn could be some of the pandemic’s worst months.
The financial challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have forced hundreds of hospitals across the nation to furlough, lay off or reduce pay for workers, and others have had to scale back services or close.
Lower patient volumes, canceled elective procedures and higher expenses tied to the pandemic have created a cash crunch for hospitals. U.S. hospitals are estimated to lose more than $323 billion this year, according to a report from the American Hospital Association.
Hospitals are taking a number of steps to offset financial damage. Executives, clinicians and other staff are taking pay cuts, capital projects are being put on hold, and some employees are losing their jobs. More than 260 hospitals and health systems furloughed workers this year and dozens of others have implemented layoffs.
Below are 15 hospitals and health systems that announced layoffs since Sept. 1, many of which were attributed to financial strain caused by the pandemic.
1. Minneapolis-based Children’s Minnesota is laying off 150 employees, or about 3 percent of its workforce. Children’s Minnesota cited several reasons for the layoffs, including the financial hit from the COVID-19 pandemic. Affected employees will end their employment either Dec. 31 or March 31.
2. Dallas-based Baylor Scott & White Health announced in early December that it will lay off 102 employees in finance and accounting roles. The duties of the affected workers will be outsourced to a third-party vendor in India.
3. Eastern Niagara Hospitalin Lockport, N.Y., announced in early November that it plans to end intensive care unit services and move surgical services from the hospital to a surgery center. The changes will result in the loss of 80 jobs.
4. Detroit Medical Centerconfirmed in November that it laid off employees but declined to disclose the number of employees affected. Clinical staff, administrative assistants and employees at the management level were affected by the layoffs, sources told Crain’s Detroit Business.
5. Mercy Iowa City (Iowa) laid off 29 employees in November to address financial strain tied to the COVID-19 pandemic.
6. NorthBay Healthcare, a nonprofit health system based in Fairfield, Calif., announced Nov. 2 that it is laying off 31 of its 2,863 employees as part of its pandemic recovery plan.
7. Brattleboro Retreat, a psychiatric and addiction treatment hospital in Vermont, notified 85 employees in late October that they would be laid off within 60 days.
8. Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser Permanente notified the state of Hawaii in November that it planned to lay off 45 employees within 60 days. “The COVID-19 public health crisis has placed unprecedented demands on the entire health care system, including Kaiser Permanente,” a Kaiser spokesperson said in an email to Pacific Business News. “Even before the pandemic, we had been transparent in sharing that Kaiser Permanente Hawaii faced ongoing financial challenges and that we were on a path to address our internal structure in a way that ensured we would be able to continue to deliver high-quality, affordable care and coverage to our members in Hawaii for years to come.” The health system said most of the positions eliminated were administrative or in non-patient facing areas.
9. Citing a need to offset financial losses, Minneapolis-based M Health Fairview said in October it plans to downsize its hospital and clinic operations. As a result of the changes, 900 employees, about 3 percent of its 34,000-person workforce, will be laid off.
10. Lake Charles (La.) Memorial Health System laid off 205 workers, or about 8 percent of its workforce, in October as a result of damage sustained from Hurricane Laura. The health system laid off employees at Moss Memorial Health Clinic and the Archer Institute, two facilities in Lake Charles that sustained damage from the hurricane.
11. Burlington, Mass.-based Wellforcelaid off 232 employees in September as a result of operating losses linked to the COVID-19 pandemic. The health system, comprising Tufts Medical Center, Lowell General Hospital and MelroseWakefield Healthcare, experienced a drastic drop in patient volume earlier this year due to the suspension of outpatient visits and elective surgeries.
12. Baptist Health Floydin New Albany, Ind., part of Louisville, Ky.-based Baptist Health, eliminated 36 positions in late September. The hospital said the cuts, which primarily affected administrative and nonclinical roles, are due to restructuring that is “necessary to meet financial challenges compounded by COVID-19.”
13. Cincinnati-based UC Health laid off about 100 employees in September. The job cuts affected both clinical and non-clinical staff. A spokesperson for the health system said no physicians were laid off.
14. Springfield, Ill.-based Memorial Health System laid off 143 employees in September, or about 1.5 percent of the five-hospital system’s workforce. The health system cited financial pressures tied to the pandemic as the reason for the layoffs.
15. Watertown, N.Y.-based Samaritan Health announced Sept. 8 that it laid off 51 employees and will make other cost-cutting moves to offset financial stress tied to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many hospitals are temporarily or permanently reducing the size of their workforce as they grapple with depleted revenues and the thorny question of when they can return to normal operating capacity. Here’s a tracker to follow the latest updates.
Hospitals across the country, financially battered as they face the dual challenges of sick COVID-19 patients and a precipitous decline in patient volume, are struggling to balance quickly shifting staffing needs. While some face and others brace for intense demand, many have announced furloughs of specialists and others that work in elective surgeries that have been drastically scaled back.
Thousands of healthcare workers at hospitals big and small have been asked not to return to work, and it’s still unclear how soon non-essential services will return. While some governors announce plans to reopen businesses, others have extended stay-at-home orders.
Most recent data from the U.S Bureau of Labor doesn’t cover the second half of March or early April, but during the first half of March, the healthcare industry shed 43,000 jobs — reversing a decade of growth in the sector. According to BLS data, the industry added 49,000 jobs in March 2019.
“Even our emergency room has seen a significant drop in patients coming in,” Sue Philips, an ICU nurse at Palomar Pomerado Health in Northern San Diego, told Healthcare Dive.
Phillips is a spokesperson with National Nurses United, the country’s largest nurses union.Palomar Health, which runs three medical centers in northern San Diego County, recently instituted 21-day temporary layoffs of 221 employees.
On April 28, Palomar announced that most of those layoffs were becoming permanent. The system laid off 5% of its workforce, eliminating 317 positions. Fifty of those employees were clinical RNs, mostly in part-time positions, and the rest spread across the organization ranging from clerical staff to technicians.
Due to a 50% decrease in patient volumes, Palomar lost $10 million in revenue in March alone, according to a statement. In April the system said it stands to lose $20 million or more.
“I’m an ICU nurse, so my job is pretty much protected,” Phillips said. “But you didn’t think you were expendable until you became expendable, and that’s a hard pill for nurses and caregivers to swallow.”
Congress has attempted to financially support struggling hospitals through ongoing coronavirus relief legislation, approving some $175 billion thus far. But without knowing what will come next, hospitals are attempting to remain nimble while reining in one of their most costly expenses — paying employees.
The following information is based on publicly reported data, along with interviews with hospital representatives and union members.
It’s not an exhaustive list, but features nonprofit and for-profit hospital systems that reported revenue above $10 billion in 2019. It also takes a look at smaller, more regionally based systems that have announced similar cutbacks.
Use the dropdown to find a company (Click on link above to access layoff tracker)