More than 4 million people have lost coverage in the past two years, including many lower-income adults. That could prove problematic for safety net hospitals in the near future.
The ongoing efforts to destabilize the Affordable Care Act will adversely affect the operating margins of not-for-profit healthcare providers, according to a new analysis from S&P Global.
S&P analyst Allison Bretz said that over time, "a growing uninsured population could be a credit negative for not-for-profit hospitals and health systems, as these facilities would likely see an uptick in self-pay patients, charity care and bad debt."
A study by The Commonwealth Fund estimates that 4 million people have lost health insurance since 2016, and that the uninsured rate among lower-income adults rose from 21% in 2016 to 25.7% this spring.
"This will be most acute at safety-net providers and other providers with a high concentration of Medicaid patients, as that population is most vulnerable to many of these changes," Bretz said in remarks accompanying the report.
Beth Feldpush, senior vice president of policy and advocacy for America's Essential Hospitals, said the report "underscores concerns we’ve had since last year's attempts to repeal the ACA and, now, with piecemeal changes that have weakened the law."
"Many of the people who lose coverage seek care at our hospitals, which adds to uncompensated costs and puts more pressure on our members' already low operating margins," Feldpush said. "Because essential hospitals, by their mission, turn no one away, this could prove financially unsustainable for some."
Although active efforts to repeal the ACA in Congress have slowed in the past year, it is facing one of its greatest threats, as a federal judge in Texas hears a lawsuit brought by 20 states that challenges the constitutionality of the sweeping healthcare law.
For-profit, Payer Outlook Stable
While the rising uninsured rate could prove challenging for not-for-profit providers, S&P analyst David Peknay said it should have little effect on for-profit providers.
"The for-profit companies we rate have been reporting some increase in uninsured patients, consistent with national trends, but the impact on ratings is also currently immaterial," he said.
The losses in covered lives for health insurance companies is offset by other factors, said S&P analyst Joseph Marinucci.
"A key contributing factor is the sustained migration of the government-sponsored insurance segments toward coordinated care (Medicare Advantage and managed Medicaid), which is expanding the market opportunity for health insurers," Marinucci said.
"We expect ratings in the insurance sector to remain relatively stable in the near term despite the growth in the number of working-age uninsured individuals," he said.
John Commins is a content specialist and online news editor for HealthLeaders, a Simplify Compliance brand.