Hospitals and other medical providers were forced to stop routine “non-urgent and elective care” earlier this year to preserve scarce personal protective equipment and to avoid the risk of spreading the coronavirus. Once considered a sector of the economy impervious to most economic disruptions, these lost visits have become a financial crisis for many healthcare providers.
Hospitals, which are often the biggest employers in their localities, or even their states, have furloughed workers, and the industry lost an estimated $50 billion a month in foregone surgeries and procedures during the worst part of the pandemic. Hospitals rely on elective surgeries for a major portion of their revenue, because Medicare and private insurers tend to pay more for those procedures than other types of hospital care. Hospitals say they also have lost money in treating COVID-19, because of the amount of intensive care that patients need.
Hospitals have prioritized rescheduling patients who do not have COVID-19 but have conditions that may deteriorate if they do not get regular care. Patients receiving cancer treatment need to go to regularly scheduled appointments. Doctors are particularly concerned that patients who have heart or lung disease, hypertension, diabetes, and other chronic conditions get back on a routine care schedule.
While some patients may have used video conferencing or telephone calls with their doctors during the coronavirus shut down, at some point a physical exam and lab work usually is needed. (Medicare covered expanded telemedical visits during the national shut down, but patients should double-check with their plan now to make sure this coverage has not expired, as plans vary.)
Re-opening is expected to be slow and painstaking as providers and states try different approaches to keep patients and staff safe. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recently released a bulletin about what patients should know about seeking healthcare during the pandemic, which can be found online at: (https://www.cms.gov/files/document/covid-what-patients-should-know-about-seeking-health-care.pdf).
Editor’s Note: Please DO NOT postpone getting care in emergencies. Do not delay care for chest pain, stroke symptoms (numbness, slurred speech) or the onset of a diabetic reaction. Seek immediate treatment!
Talk to your doctor about the best schedule to resume routine or elective care. Be realistic. The above Medicare bulletin continues to recommend that people age 65 and over stay home when possible, continue to social distance by standing at least 6 feet away, wear a face mask, and keep washing hands! Stay safe.
Source: “Hospitals Struggle to Restart Lucrative Care After Coronavirus Shutdowns,” Reed Abelson, The New York Times, May 17, 2020.