Massachusetts physicians considering layoffs and sales of practices to recover losses

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Massachusetts physicians considering layoffs and sales of practices to recover losses

by John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter | June 15, 2020
Business Affairs
Some Massachusetts physicians are considering furloughs, layoffs and even selling or consolidating their practices to recoup losses brought on by COVID-19.
Layoffs, consolidation and the sales of their practices are just a few thoughts on the minds of some Massachusetts physicians, according to a new survey presented by the Health Policy Commission (HPC) this week.

More than half of primary care doctors, specialists and other physicians are considering furloughs, layoffs and pay cuts to recoup financial losses brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Some are already initiating these measures, reports MassLive.

“So you’ve seen that primary care ... more than half, said things like, ‘We have been furloughing or laying off employees, we’ve been cutting salaries. We’ve been cutting services or operating expenses,’” said David Auerbach, the director for research and cost trends for MHPC, the organization that conducted the survey, in a statement. “That’s true for most practices, a little bit less for behavioral health practices.”

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Conducted by the Massachusetts Chapter of the American College of Physicians, the survey received responses from 400 practices across Massachusetts, many of which indicated a struggle to stay financially afloat. Physicians were able to select multiple options in the survey.

Auerbach also presented a separate national report that showed emergency department visits down by 50% in April, hospital revenue from outpatient services down by 50%, and physician office visits and services down more than 60% to 70%. Regional data showed hospital visits nationwide dropped between mid-March and mid-April before picking up again in late April and throughout May. New England and mid-Atlantic hospitals were hit the worst, experiencing a nearly 70% drop in visits in early April.

The MHPC survey also showed a smaller percentage of practices weighing the options of consolidating with other practices and hospitals, selling their practices or providing more services to generate revenue.

Behavioral health providers were less likely to consider reducing their staff, with 32% considering furloughs and layoffs, and 27% looking at possibly cutting salaries. Many were more inclined to cut services, with 40% saying they were considering such an option, compared to 41% who said they were considering “other” measures.

Practices nationwide and worldwide are faced with challenging economic circumstances from having to defer and delay routine procedures such as elective surgeries, costing them streams of revenue they heavily depend on. Many have resorted to using telehealth services to reclaim some revenue and make diagnoses and prescribe treatments for cases that cannot wait. The economic toll of the pandemic, however, has left healthcare leaders doubtful about their financial situation by the end of 2020.

"For provider executives, the main area of uncertainty is specific to the recovery of patient volumes," Dr. Chuck Peck, a partner at Guidehouse and a former health system CEO, told HCB News last month regarding an analysis on revenue expectations. "As local and state legislators allow organizations to conduct elective procedures, will consumers avoid obtaining care, including in the emergency department, due to fear of contracting the virus? How will the economy impact consumer ability to afford and access care? Executives have also been left asking, 'how do we meet the demand for increased telehealth and remote work? Despite federal funding and relief sources, how will we overcome the significant operating gaps and struggles accessing capital from the loss of patient volumes and investment income?’"

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