Kaufman Hall: Hospitals saw profitability bump in October, boosted by rise in volume 

A bar chart showing positive business growth
Kaufman Hall's latest hospital flash report showed positive results for hospitals. (Getty/NicoElNino)

Hospitals saw a profitable October, spurred by a boost in volume and length of stays, according to a new report. 

Kaufman Hall’s latest flash report, based on financial data from 600 hospitals in October, showed improved performance in both operating margin and EBITDA compared to September and to October 2017.  

Year-over-year EBITDA margin improvements were reported across the country, aside from the Northeast and mid-Atlantic, with the greatest gains reported in the Midwest. Midsized hospitals with between 200 and 300 beds made the greatest profitability gains, while large hospitals with 500 or more beds struggled to manage costs as effectively, according to the report. 

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“For Halloween, October delivered a treat rather than a trick for hospitals,” Jim Blake, managing director and publisher at Kaufman Hall, wrote in the report. 

A major source of the improvement, according to the report, was a 15.8% month-over-month increase in operating room minutes. Kaufman Hall’s team found a 5.2% increase in discharges and a 3.6% increase in emergency department visits. 

RELATED: Moody’s report shows trouble on horizon with ‘unsustainable path’ for nonprofit hospitals 

Though October’s results were positive, the analysts say it’s hard to determine whether one month of gains portends a longer-term rebound. But in the short term, Kaufman Hall does predict a strong December compared to the year before, though it could trail October and November’s figures. 

As increased volume also means increased labor and supply costs, the report additionally spotlights the role the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Service’s expansion of cuts to 340B discounts could play in the profitability discussion for 2019.  

In late 2017, the agency finalized changes to the drug discount program’s payment rate, cutting it to 22.5% less than the average sales price for a drug. For 2019, CMS will expand those changes from hospitals to off-campus provider facilities, which will naturally tighten belts further, according to the report. 

The decrease in payments is likely to be less than the $1.6 billion culled from the program in 2018, according to the report, but it does mean hospitals should be paying close attention to how their outpatient and ambulatory facilities prescribe 340B drugs. 

RELATED: Federal cuts to hospitals to reach $218B in next decade, AHA report says 

It’s especially crucial to be vigilant, according to the report, as it’s likely CMS is considering other changes in this vein, and commercial payers follow the feds’ lead. 

“The new CMS rule on 340B drugs is a sign of things to come, and healthcare leaders should be alert to such changes,” according to the report. “The federal government is likely to challenge any lines of business in which hospitals and health systems make significant margins.” 

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