What You Need to Know
- The biggest wave of deaths hit in the first quarter of 2021.
- The number of deaths fell sharply in the second quarter.
- Executives believe the number of deaths occurring this quarter is high.
A company that provides care for people with serious kidney disease is assuming that COVID-19 mortality will be higher this quarter than it was in the fourth quarter of 2021.
Executives from DaVita, a Denver-based kidney dialysis provider, talked about their pandemic mortality outlook Thursday, on a conference call the company held to go over earnings for the latest quarter with securities analysts.
DaVita’s patient population is much older and sicker than any commercial life or health insurer’s enrollees, but the company’s experience could give insurers a preview of what might happen to the mortality level for their highest-risk insureds.
DaVita is reporting $249 million in net income for the fourth quarter of 2021 on $2.9 billion in revenue, compared with $254 million in net income on $2.9 billion in revenue for the fourth quarter of 2020.
DaVita was providing dialysis services for about 243,000 people at the end of 2021 at 3,154 outpatient dialysis centers. The company has 2,815 dialysis centers in the United States and 339 in 10 other countries.
The typical mortality rate for people on dialysis was about 15% to 20% before the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning that about 35,000 to 50,000 of its patients died every year.
COVID-19 increased the number of deaths by about 7,000 in 2020, according to DaVita.
The pandemic increased the number of deaths by about 6,200 in 2021.
Here’s what happened to the company’s excess patient mortality in 2021, according to estimates given on quarterly conference calls with securities analysts:
- January-March: 3,000
- April-June: fewer than 500
- July-September: 1,600
- October-December: 1,100
“While it’s too early to accurately forecast incremental mortality in 2022, given a significant uptick in infections in January, we expect COVID-driven mortality in the first quarter to be at or above what we experienced in Q4,” Joel Ackerman, DaVita’s chief financial officer, said on the earnings call.
DaVita assumed when it developed its mid-range 2022 earnings forecast that its patients will experience about 6,000 excess deaths this year due to COVID-19.
For DaVita, dialysis patient mortality is of keen interest, because the flow of new patients in need of dialysis has been growing at a slow, steady rate. The main factors throwing off treatment volume forecasts are fluctuations in the number of treatments patients miss due to illness and the number of patient deaths.