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Expand chart
Data: KaufmanHall; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

Hospitals' finances are climbing back toward pre-pandemic levels as patients come back — at least in outpatient settings.

The big picture: Volumes are still down compared to 2019, but the upticks in business since the start of the pandemic could be an indicator that consumer confidence is returning, said Erik Swanson, senior vice president of data and analytics at Kaufman Hall.

The big picture: "Under an optimistic scenario where vaccinations continue at a steady rate, we'll continue to see consumers come back to health care and not delay their care," Swanson said.

  • Even under that scenario, hospitals' 2021 revenues would still be about $53 billion lower than revenues in the year before the pandemic. A more pessimistic scenario has hospitals losing $122 billion.
  • But patients are coming back, and that means revenues will, too.

What they're saying: Community Health Systems CEO Tim Hingtgen said on an earnings call Thursday that his team has "a sense of optimism that as vaccination rates increase and COVID cases decline, we will continue to move to a more normal operating environment."

  • "We’re pretty optimistic for the rest of the year," said John Ransom, managing director of health care equity research at Raymond James & Associates.
  • With upwards of 80% of seniors vaccinated, "there is no reason they can’t go see their doctor and get that elective procedure done," he said.

But, but, but: Emergency department traffic continues to lag. Volumes remain down at both larger, publicly-traded hospital chains and smaller nonprofit health systems alike.

  • Overall, the industry shows a 19.2% drop in ED volumes year-to-date. Post-pandemic, health system leaders have indicated in earnings calls that ED volumes could remain permanently lower.

"Many people have learned you don’t have to go to the ER for a black eye or stitches or that sort of thing," Ransom said.

Go deeper

Updated Jul 29, 2021 - Axios Events

Watch: A conversation on social determinants of health

On Thursday, July 29 at 12:30pm ET, Axios senior editor Sam Baker and health care reporter Caitlin Owens hosted a virtual conversation on the social determinants of health, featuring Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.) and Mary T. Bassett, director of Harvard University's FXB Center for Health and Human Rights.

Rep. Cheri Bustos discussed how Congress is working to address inequities in social determinants of health and how the pandemic exacerbated inequities in resources for care.

  • On empowering local communities to address social determinants of health: “We now are advancing [the Social Determinants Accelerator Act] in the House with the idea being, let's investigate what the social determinants are. Let's let local communities apply for that money and then have the money in that program to actually do something about it once those negative social determinants are discovered through investigation.”
  • On the pandemic’s influence on health care: “We're living in a whole new health world because of this pandemic. What we've learned is that telehealth can be an important part of somebody's health. That all of a sudden you don't have access to mass transit because you can't leave your house. It is a problem to be able to get that health care.”

Mary T. Bassett unpacked these issues from the public health perspective, focusing on equity in access to healthy living, and the current challenge of the pandemic.

  • On unequal access to care: “The 20th century saw the biggest advancements in life expectancy that have been documented in human history, but they weren't experienced equally. And that's a problem. And it wasn't just a problem of access to health care, although we all have the right to access to health care. In my view, it's also just about access to all the things that make up a healthy life.”
  • On the vaccine and mask mandates: “It is truly a case of the challenge of public health, which is the need to protect the many and the need to protect individual rights, they have to be balanced. And on that scale, public health always puts the protection of the majority of people as carrying more weight.”

Axios chief people officer Dominique Taylor hosted a View from the Top Segment with EVP & Chief Medical Officer Employer & Individual at United Healthcare Dr. Rhonda Randall where they discussed how to address health disparities through tools and initiatives.

  • On building a more sustainable, equitable health system: “Research has shown that in addition to that, there are many factors contributing to and driving our health outcomes. And ultimately, it's where we're spending our time. It's not in the doctor's offices, in our communities, in our homes and in our places of work. So things like housing, education, food insecurity and transplant, transportation and access to care are important. And those social determinants of health and advancing health equity is really integral to building that future sustainable, modern, high performing health system.”

Thank you UnitedHealth Group for sponsoring this event.

LGBTQ patients report bad experiences with health care providers

Expand chart
Adapted from a KFF report; Chart: Connor Rothschild/Axios

Over a third of LGBTQ Americans say they've had a negative experience with a health care provider over the past two years, according to KFF survey research.

Why it matters: These findings, especially when coupled with the pandemic, should be a wake-up call about another big disparity in how the health care system treats different patients.

Updated 2 hours ago - Science

Huge wildfire reaches edge of Sequoia National Park

A plume of smoke and flames rise into the air as the fire burns towards Moro Rock during the KNP Complex fire in the Sequoia National Park near Three Rivers, California, on Saturday. Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

Firefighters in Sequoia National Park were working into the night after two wildfires merged to reach the Giant Forest Saturday.

Why it matters: This forest contains over 2,000 giant sequoias, including the General Sherman Tree — the world's largest tree by volume. Park officials wrapped the redwoods in foil last week as the Paradise and Colony Fires, now known as the KNP Complex Fire, neared. Protection efforts appeared to be working overnight.

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