Hospital margins see eleventh-hour improvement

Hospitals experienced a slight boost to operating margins in November, but not enough to restore the median negative margins that persisted for 2022 to date.

Kaufman Hall's December "National Flash Hospital Report" — based on data from more than 900 hospitals — found hospitals' median operating margin was -0.2 percent through November, a slight improvement from the median of -0.3 percent recorded a month prior. 

A 1 percent decline in expenses from October to November drove the eleventh-hour improvement to margins and tipped the scales on hospitals' relatively flat revenue. Additionally, hospitals saw labor expenses decrease 2 percent in November, potentially driven by less reliance on contract labor. 

The median -0.2 percent margin recorded in November 2022 marks a 44 percent decline for margins in 22 year-to-date compared to 2021 year-to-date. Kaufman Hall's index shows hospitals' median monthly margins have been in the red throughout 2022, starting with the -3.4 percent recorded in January, driven by the omicron surge. November is tied with September as hospitals' best month of the year, with both sharing a median margin of -0.2 percent. 

Outpatient care marks one of the brighter spots for hospitals' finances, with outpatient revenue up 10 percent year-over-year while inpatient revenue was flat over the same time period. 

"The November data, while mildly improved compared to October, solidifies what has been a difficult year for hospitals amidst labor shortages, supply chain issues and rising interest rates," Erik Swanson, senior vice president of data and analytics with Kaufman Hall, said. "Hospital leaders should continue to develop their outpatient care capabilities amid ongoing industry uncertainty and transformation."

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