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Cash-Pinched Hospitals Press Congress to Break Virus Fund Logjam

Aug. 12, 2020, 2:59 PM

Hospital groups are pressing Congress to put more money into a relief fund for hospitals and providers, even as labor data showed signs of a turnaround for the health-care industry last month.

Congressional leaders are at a standstill over the next coronavirus-relief package and it could be weeks until lawmakers vote on legislation. Hospital groups have said the $175 billion Congress already approved has been a crucial lifeline to keep hospitals from laying off more staff or potentially closing. Some are worried the money may start to run dry soon.

The coronavirus is prompting many Americans to delay health care, and further funding delays exacerbate the need for assistance, the hospitals warn. Some providers that shed jobs earlier in the pandemic have begun adding them back, but employment levels remain far below where they once were.

“The longer we are in the pandemic the more clear it becomes that this is not going to be a short-term issue,” Beth Feldpush, senior vice president of policy and advocacy at America’s Essential Hospitals, said.

An exam bed sits in a room at a hospital in Princeton, Ill.
Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

Leaders of both parties back more federal funding to help hospitals and doctors’ offices stay in business. Democrats proposed $100 billion for the industry, as hospital groups such as AEH sought, in virus-relief legislation (H.R. 6800) the House passed earlier this year. Republicans included $25 billion in their counterproposal.

The Health and Human Services Department has promised about $115 billion of the $175 billion in relief Congress approved this year to help health-care providers offset their Covid-19-related losses, according to agency data. That leaves the industry with about $60 billion left.

The U.S. exceeded 5 million confirmed Covid-19 cases Aug. 9, according to data from Bloomberg News and Johns Hopkins University, more than any other country. Almost 165,000 people in the U.S. have died from the virus.

Industry Impact

The health-care industry added more than 126,000 jobs in July, according to data released last week by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Dentist offices and hospitals, the section of the industry that was laying off tens of thousands of people in April and May, accounted for more than 70,000 of those new jobs.

Still, there were 797,000 fewer health-care jobs compared to before the pandemic, according to BLS.

The virus hit parts of the heath-care industry unevenly. Large health systems such as HCA Healthcare Inc. and Universal Health Services Inc. posted better-than-expected profits for the second quarter of 2020.

Some hospitals that didn’t have much cash-on-hand to start the year are struggling with lower profits and may need added relief if the virus continues to keep Americans from seeking care, industry watchers said.

“No hospital is going to come out of this year better than they were in prior years,” Suzie Desai, senior director for S&P Global Rating’s Not-for-Profit Health Care group, said.

The federal relief funds helped buoy hospitals this year, hospital groups argue. The American Hospital Association estimates that without relief funds, hospitals margins would have been down 15% and could be down 11% at the end of 2020 if the virus continues to spread at its current pace.

The AHA estimated losses for the nation’s hospitals and health systems will reach $323 billion this year.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Ruoff in Washington at aruoff@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Robin Meszoly at rmeszoly@bgov.com; Sarah Babbage at sbabbage@bgov.com

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