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U.S. Hospitals Hit By Financial 'Triple Whammy' During Coronavirus Pandemic

Hospitals are receiving federal aid through the CARES Act. But will it be enough?
David Sacks / Getty Images
Hospitals are receiving federal aid through the CARES Act. But will it be enough?

The coronavirus outbreak has thrown hospital systems throughout the U.S. into crisis — both medical and financial. The cost of treating coronavirus patients, combined with the loss of revenue from canceling elective procedures, has left many hospitals in desperate financial straits.

Some estimates suggest hospitals are losing $50 billion a month, says Rick Pollack, president and CEO of the American Hospital Association.

Earlier this month, as part of the coronavirus relief package known as the CARES Act, the federal government began disbursing $30 billion in aid to hospitals across the country. On Friday, another $20 billion is expected to be released.

While that may sound like a large sum, Pollack told NPR on Thursday that hospitals have "a tremendous need."

"I think it's fair to say that hospitals are facing perhaps the greatest challenge that they have ever faced in their history," said Pollack, whose organization represents the interests of nearly 5,000 hospitals.

Here are excerpts from the interview.

Can you paint us a picture of the financial situation for hospitals right now?

We're being faced with what I would call a triple whammy. We have the increased expenses that have been incurred in terms of preparing for the surge and caring for the COVID patients. And then we have the decreased revenues associated with having shut down regular operations in terms of scheduled procedures. You combine that with the increased number of uninsured as a result of the economic situation, and you've got a triple whammy there.

Some of the federal bailout money will also go to hospitals to reimburse them for treating uninsured patients. Are you getting enough money for that?

The CARES legislation was really designed to provide emergency relief for uninsured and insured people. We don't take a backseat to anyone in advocating for coverage of the uninsured. But there are other mechanisms to cover those that don't have insurance. We think that these funds from the CARES Act really should be focused on maintaining the viability of hospital operations.

Listen to the full interview at the audio link above.

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Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.