Report: NC Hospitals That Received COVID-19 Relief Posted Profits | health and fitness

RALEIGH, NC (AP) — North Carolina’s seven largest hospital systems have reaped significant financial benefits over the past year despite receiving billions of dollars in federal assistance during the pandemic, according to a State Treasurer’s Office report released Wednesday.

The federal employee health insurance plan, which Treasurer Dale Folwell’s agency oversees, and the National Academy for State Health Policy reviewed the hospital systems’ audited financial statements.

They found that the systems — Atrium Health, Cone Health, Duke Health, Novant Health, UNC Health, Vidant Health, and WakeMed — reported combined net income in 2021 of $5.2 billion. The seven nonprofit schemes also saw cumulative cash and investment growth of $7.1 billion from 2019 to 2021, the report said.

The report, reviewed by a professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, says the prosperity came as health plans received $1.5 billion in COVID-19 relief funds and $1.6 billion from Accepting Medicare to prepay for benefits during the pandemic.

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Folwell, whose office has released two more reports since last fall criticizing large nonprofit hospitals for their financial and charitable care practices, said such federal support should help struggling hospitals and care for patients in need.

“As affluent systems guzzled the lion’s share of COVID relief funds from among North Carolina hospitals, rural and disadvantaged hospitals starved,” the report said.

Folwell, a Republican first elected in 2016, said the seven hospital systems should return taxpayer-funded federal dollars or cut rising hospital costs for patients.

The seven health systems represent more than 80 hospitals in the state, according to the North Carolina Healthcare Association, which represents for-profit and not-for-profit hospitals.

The association said in a written statement that the report “falsely demonizes health systems for applying for and using” COVID-19 aid funds for medical providers and “conveniently forgets” that hospitals faced an “unknown virus” in 2020. Hospital systems did not receive extra money for expenses and lost revenue related to the Delta and Omicron variants, which increased COVID-19 hospitalizations.

“The cherry-picking of financial data and subsequent spinning does not reflect the many immense struggles and challenges facing the hospital field,” the statement said.

Folwell also supports pending legislation that would require North Carolina hospitals to provide a minimum level of free or discounted care to low- and middle-income residents who are not covered by insurance.

“They should be concerned with the massive transfer of wealth that’s happening in this state from the citizens to these multibillion-dollar nonprofits,” he told a news conference. The state health plan covers nearly 750,000 teachers, state employees, retirees and their dependents, making it a major user of hospital services in the state.

Wednesday’s speakers focused heavily on Charlotte-based Atrium Health, which the report said has received over $1 billion in COVID-19 relief and Medicare advance payments. According to the report, Atrium made $1.2 billion in net income in 2021.

Atrium Health spokesman Dan Fogleman told The News & Observer of Raleigh that the funding the system has received covers only a fraction of what it has lost due to the pandemic.

The funds helped pay for many needed services, he said, including mass vaccination and testing for COVID-19, and personal protective equipment and ventilators. According to Fogleman, they also helped Atrium avoid layoffs and keep rural hospitals open in their system.

“It’s worrying that healthcare systems like Atrium Health are being attacked while we’re still tending to communities recovering from the pandemic,” he said.

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