Hospitals Used “Relief” Money To Pad Their Bottom Lines

( According to new research, North Carolina’s major nonprofit hospitals reported billions in net profits during the epidemic while collecting $1.5 billion in taxpayer-funded COVID assistance.

State Treasurer Dale Folwell unveiled a report called “North Carolina Hospital Systems Profit During COVID” at a news conference in Raleigh on Wednesday.

The study exposes how the state’s leading nonprofit hospital systems grabbed COVID relief monies meant for struggling hospitals and only dedicated a portion of the gain to improving charitable care to patients.

No matter your political affiliation, you should care about Atrium Health’s $12 billion bank account, Folwell added. $12 billion was made off taxpayers.

He said this is a moral matter, not a Democrat or Republican issue.

The analysis evaluated the audited financial statements of the state’s seven largest hospital systems, with Johns Hopkins University scholars providing peer review.

From 2019 to 2021, hospital systems’ cash and investments grew by $7.1 billion. All but one of the seven systems had better net profits in 2021 than before the pandemic. Large hospitals received $1.5 billion in coronavirus relief from 2020 to 2021, and $1.6 billion in Medicare Accelerated and Advance Payments as rural hospitals battled to continue services.

According to the research, a third of North Carolina hospitals spent less on charity care in 2020.

Overall, charity care spending for the state’s 104 hospitals rose from around $1 billion in 2019 to $1.2 billion in 2020, while the average percentage of patients eligible for charity treatment quadrupled. During the epidemic, two hospitals sued North Carolinians over medical debt, while others urged thousands to sign high-interest medical credit cards.

Marilyn Bartlett, CPA and senior policy fellow at NASHP, helped write the report. “Taxpayers’ hard-earned money is being wasted,” she said, adding that huge hospitals appear to utilize taxpayer support to consolidate the market and raise prices.

It’s practically impossible to see how nonprofit health institutions spent COVID relief and other public money, but much of it was invested rather than used for a charity objective.

Dale Owen, CEO of Charlotte’s Tryon Medical Partners, said that hospital systems use this authority to bolster their market and acquire independent physicians. Employers must spend more on healthcare; thus, incomes can’t rise as much.

The report urges hospitals to return superfluous taxpayer-funded aid to promote transparency and accountability.

Folwell added that the solution is transparent pricing, removing hidden contracts, reference-based pricing that eliminates a nearly 100% profit margin over Medicare reimbursement rates, pushing the power to the consumer, and not weaponizing people’s credit scores.