BY JEFF GOLDSMITH
As they emerge from the COVID pandemic, US hospitals have a terrible case of Long COVID. They experienced the worst financial performance in 2022 in this analyst’s 47 year memory. As the nation recovers from the worst inflation in forty years, hospitals will find themselves locked in conflict with health insurers over contract renewals that would reset their rates to the actual delivered cost of care. “Last in line” in the US battle with inflation, hospitals will be exposed to public criticism when they attempt to recover from pandemic-induced financial losses.
Hospital payment rates for commercial payers are backward looking. Commercial insurance contracts between hospitals and health insurers were multi-year contracts negotiated before the pandemic. They continued in force during the pandemic, despite explosive rises in people and materials costs. As a consequence, health costs were conspicuously missing from the main drivers of the 2021-22 inflation surge– food, housing, energy, durable goods, etc.
Hospitals’ operating costs blew up during COVID due to a shortage of clinicians, the predations of temporary staff agencies, shortages of supplies and drugs and crippling cyberattacks that disabled their IT systems. Hospital losses worsened during 2022 because they are unable to place patients who are no longer acutely ill but who cannot be placed in long term, psychiatric or home-based care (a problem shared by Britain’s disintegrating National Health Service). Thousands of patients are stuck in limbo in hospital “observation” units, for which government and commercial payers do not compensate them adequately or at all.Continue reading…