Hospitals lost money during COVID

IT MAY BE counterintuitive, but experts have long been saying that the public health emergency actually lowered the amount of money being spent on health care.

The reason is that people have been deferring non-emergency care. So overall appointments for health care have decreased, even as providers are tasked with responding to COVID-19 and related demands for testing and vaccinations.

Two recent reports released by the Center for Health Information and Analysis put new numbers on this trend.

One report, released Thursday, measures hospital profitability for fiscal 2020. (Some hospitals ended their fiscal year in June 2020; others in September.) It found that hospital revenue from patient services dropped by $1.4 billion last year, while hospitals’ expenses increased by $1.3 billion. Hospital profitability was lower than the prior year, even after accounting for $1.8 billion in COVID relief spending.

Thirty-two of 49 hospitals still earned a profit, compared to 40 hospitals the prior year. The statewide median total margin – a measure of profit based on expenses compared to revenue – was 3.1 percent. Without COVID relief funds it would have been negative 4.2 percent, indicating significant losses. Community hospitals fared the worst, while teaching hospitals performed the best.

A different report released Monday on hospital discharges shows why patient revenues are declining so much. Pre-COVID, the state’s hospitals were consistently discharging between around 65,000 and 70,000 patients a month. In April 2020, during the first COVID surge, that number dropped to around 48,000. The number has since rebounded but through December, the number of hospital discharges has generally been between 55,000 and 65,000 each month.

Hospital officials are likely to use the new reports to advocate for additional relief money from the federal and state governments. Steve Walsh, president and CEO of the Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association, said in a statement that the data “confirms the tremendous financial challenges our providers have faced throughout the pandemic.” He noted that costs have increased for setting up vaccination clinics, buying personal protective equipment, and reducing patient capacity due to spacing requirements, at the same time as elective and other in-person procedures were put on hold. “Additional financial support is needed as our providers continue their response and navigate a new normal,” Walsh said. 

SHIRA SCHOENBERG

FROM COMMONWEALTH

Acting Boston Mayor Kim Janey said she expects the investigation into domestic violence allegations against the city’s police commissioner to be completed sometime this month — and she voiced mixed sentiments about the issue at the center of the probe. Read more.

The state’s chief campaign finance regulator referred evidence to Attorney General Maura Healey that he believes indicates Sen. Ryan Fattman, Worcester County Register of Probate Stephanie Fattman, Republican Party chairman Jim Lyons, and others may have violated campaign finance laws. A series of eight referral letters to Healey did not spell out the specific allegations of wrongdoing, but they appeared to broaden the scope of the investigation beyond the Fattmans. An aide to Healey said the attorney general would review the letters and accompanying evidence and determine if criminal charges should be filed. Read more.

The MBTA’s proposed new fare evasion policy calls for sharply lower fines with the possibility that the offender’s driver’s license will not be renewed if two or more penalties are outstanding. The new fine levels are $50 for the first three offenses and $100 for subsequent offenses. Read more.

Opinion

Paul Craney of the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance accuses Michael Sullivan of the Office of Campaign and Political Finance of rewriting campaign finance rules after the fact, and says many Democrats, including Sen. Jamie Eldridge, may face problems under this new interpretation. Read more.

Craig Altemose of the Better Future Project says the state Department of Public Utilities is too cozy with the utilities it regulates, allowing the companies to investigate themselves. Read more.

 

FROM AROUND THE WEB

 

BEACON HILL

Lawmakers scrutinize how the state has spent federal stimulus money and say they want a greater oversight role. (Gloucester Daily Times)

Democratic legislative leaders insist on keeping municipal employees covered by a newly proposed paid sick leave program, despite an amendment by Gov. Charlie Baker that would have removed them. (State House News Service)

Attorney General Maura Healey renewed her call for auto insurers to provide rebates to customers in the face of plummeting claims during the pandemic. (Boston Globe

MUNICIPAL MATTERS  

The Boston City Council, including the three councilors running for mayor, approve a resolution urging passage of a constitutional amendment placing a new tax on millionaires. (GBH)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

COVID cases dipped last week after steadily increasing for a few weeks, leading to hope that the latest surge might be abating. But the number of communities listed as high-risk – 77 – increased once again. There were 978 cases reported in schools, of which 821 were students. (MassLive)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Mississippi had 73,000 open vaccination appointment slots yesterday and little demand for them, a sign of greater vaccine hesitancy in heavily Republican states. (New York Times

Rochelle Walensky, the head of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, calls racism a serious public health threat. (NPR)

Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson spearheads a letter to President Biden from 275 sheriffs urging a return to many of the immigration policies of the Trump administration. Barnstable County Sheriff James Cummings also signed on to the letter. (GBH)

ELECTIONS

Young activists in Boston and elsewhere are talking about giving 16 and 17-year-olds the right to vote in local elections. (MassLive)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Massachusetts will issue refunds to people getting unemployment benefits who already paid taxes on those benefits before a law was passed making them non-taxable. (Gloucester Daily Times)

Eastern Bank chief executive Bob Rivers says the planned acquisition of Century Bank is only the first of what he hopes will be a set of takeovers. (Boston Globe)

Despite a bill aimed at lessening the increase in businesses’ unemployment insurance costs, a lot of businesses are still seeing major fee hikes this year in the amount they have to pay to a separate “solvency fund,” which covers COVID-related unemployment claims. (MassLive)

A union vote among workers at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama appears to be heading to defeat. (Washington Post

EDUCATION

Braintree is writing a social media policy for school committee members after a controversy over insensitive posts about gun control made by school committee members. (The Patriot Ledger)

ARTS/CULTURE

Native American groups are calling for the Boston Marathon to be rescheduled from October 11 because it conflicts with Indigenous People’s Day — a holiday celebrated by some communities instead of Columbus Day. (Associated Press)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Gas companies are complaining that a new rule requiring a professional engineer to sign off on all projects is unnecessary in certain cases. (Eagle-Tribune)

IMMIGRATION

The pandemic has delayed the path to citizenship for many immigrants due to immigration office closures. (Herald News)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

A 10-month-old child is found dead, after he became sick and his foster parents allegedly failed to obtain medical treatment for him. (MassLive)

The families of two Boston police officers, one of whom was killed and one of whom was seriously injured by a bomb blast in 1991, implore a federal judge not to release one of the men convicted of being responsible for the blast. (Boston Herald)  

The Derek Chauvin murder case in Minnesota is being followed closely by many in the Boston area, with Imari Paris Jeffries of King Boston, the nonprofit planning a monument to honor Martin Luther King Jr. in Boston, saying, “It’s like racism is on trial.” (Boston Globe

PASSINGS

Prince Phillip, the Duke of Edinburgh, died at age 99. (The Times)