HCA beat Wall Street expectations with $3.8B profit in year marked by roller coaster volumes, pandemic costs

The last year has been a roller coaster for hospitals across the country when it came to skyrocketing costs and fluctuating patient volumes.

But for HCA Healthcare, it ended up being a good year—financially speaking—with the Nashville, Tennessee-based hospital giant posting an uptick in profits for both its fourth quarter and the year.

The company's shares jumped Wednesday as it posted a profit of $1.4 billion, or $4.13 per diluted share, on revenue of $14.3 billion for the fourth quarter. That topped last year's fourth-quarter profits of $1.07 billion, or $3.09 per diluted share, by more than 30% on revenue of $13.5 billion in the fourth quarter of 2019. 

It also beat Wall Street projections of about $3.58 per share on revenue of about $14 billion.

“In the face of the highest surge yet of the COVID-19 pandemic, we finished the year with strong financial results in the fourth quarter. These results were driven, once again, by highly acute inpatient volumes coupled with solid cost management,” said Sam Hazen, CEO of HCA Healthcare.

HCA saw inpatient revenues jump 12% while revenue per admission grew 16%. 

RELATED: HCA's CEO Hazen offers glimpse into health system's expectations for 2021

The company posted a profit of $3.75 billion on revenue of $51.5 billion for the year that ended Dec. 31. That was up from $3.5 billion in earnings on revenue of $51.3 billion a year earlier.

The company also returned more than $6 billion of CARES Act funding provided last year as federal relief for hospitals hit hard financially from the loss of elective procedures during the pandemic. 

The company announced plans to resume its share repurchase program and its quarterly dividend program.

"Our performance this past year gives us confidence to believe that we will be able to navigate successfully through future challenges as well," Hazen said.

The numbers

The health system saw plenty of hits attributed to the pandemic.

HCA reported its same facility admissions and its same facility equivalent admissions fall 3.4% and 7.5%, respectively, in the fourth quarter compared to the same quarter in 2019. Meanwhile, same facility emergency room visits declined 21%, same facility inpatient surgeries declined 6.7% and same facility outpatient surgeries declined 5.1%  in the fourth quarter of 2020, compared to the same period of 2019. 

Costs for labor, as well as supplies including certain medications like remdesivir and personal protective equipment, also skyrocketed amid the pandemic.

However, officials pointed out, same facility revenue per equivalent admission increased 14.1% in the fourth quarter of 2020 compared to the fourth quarter of 2019. It was attributed to jumps in acuity of patients treated and a favorable payer mix. 

In the fourth quarter, Hazen said HCA hospitals provided care to 56,000 COVID-19 inpatients, a 40% increase over the company's third quarter.

Since March, HCA has delivered care to over 122,000 inpatients with the virus, representing 8% of HCA's total admissions. "Our hospitals continue to treat many patients with COVID-19," Hazen said. "Census levels fortunately have begun to decline over the past few weeks."