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VOL. 45 | NO. 29 | Friday, July 16, 2021

HCA Q2 profit surges as patients return to hospitals

The Associated Press

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HCA Healthcare's second-quarter profit jumped past analyst expectations as patients returned to operating tables and hospital rooms after staying away last year at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The nation's largest publicly traded hospital chain hiked its 2021 forecast on Tuesday after a quarter in which admissions at established locations climb nearly 27% when counting both inpatient and outpatient care.

"With the effects of the pandemic moderating in the second quarter, we experienced a strong rebound in demand for services," CEO Sam Hazen said.

The hospital chain's business jump happened before a COVID-19 case spike developed around the country over the past couple of weeks, drawing concern from federal officials and epidemiologists. The seven-day rolling average for daily new cases has nearly tripled over the past two weeks to 34,730 as of Monday, according to Johns Hopkins University.

COVID-19 cases are now increasing in nearly every state as a highly contagious virus variant spreads, leaving millions of still unvaccinated people vulnerable to serious illness or hospitalization.

Even so, company officials told analysts on Tuesday that they expect demand for their services to remain strong throughout the year. That demand has been fueled in part by growth in employment and insurance coverage.

Last year, before vaccines were authorized for emergency use, patients stayed home or cancelled elective surgeries as the virus forced hospitals to shift their focus to treating COVID-19 patients.

HCA runs 187 hospitals as well as hundreds of surgery centers, free-standing emergency rooms and clinics in 20 states and the United Kingdom.

The company said Tuesday that inpatient surgeries at established locations grew 15% compared to last year's second quarter, and outpatient surgeries soared more than 52%.

COVID-19 patient admissions fell to 3% of total admissions in the quarter that ended June 30. That's down from 10% in the first quarter.

Overall, HCA's adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization grew about 21% to $3.22 billion compared to $2.67 billion in last year's quarter, when the company also booked $822 million in government stimulus income that it paid back.

Adjusted earnings totaled $4.37 per share, and revenue grew 30% to $14.44 billion.

Analysts expected, on average, earnings of $3.16 per share on $13.61 billion in revenue, according to FactSet.

For 2021, HCA now expects earnings to range between $16.30 and $17.10 per share after forecasting a range of $13.30 to $14.30 in April.

Analysts forecast $14.02 per share.

Shares of Nashville, Tennessee-based HCA Healthcare Inc. jumped 15% to $250.72 Tuesday morning while broader indexes rose slightly.

Shares of hospital operators like HCA have largely outpaced the broader market since last November. That's when drugmakers released clinical study results on their experimental COVID-19 vaccines and gave investors initial hints that the pandemic could be brought under control.

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Follow Tom Murphy on Twitter: @thpmurphy

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