By Rep. Martina White
Since mid-March, we’ve all been living under Gov. Tom Wolf’s “new normal” as the coronavirus pandemic spreads.
We wear a mask when buying essentials—and only venture out for life’s essentials, like food and medicine. And unless your employer produces “life-sustaining” services or products, stay home.
And cancel all non-essential medical procedures, which Pennsylvanians did. And now our hospitals are teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.
Here’s the problem: By canceling elective procedures, we’ve pushed hospitals closer to bankruptcy.
According to the recently released study by Health Management Associates, Pennsylvania hospitals began hemorrhaging funds soon after the governor issued guidelines to cancel all services determined to be non-emergent or unnecessary to preserve organ function or avoid further harm from underlying conditions or diseases.
In March alone—and that means only half of March—operating margins in Pennsylvania hospital dropped by $914 million, a decline largely attributable to a loss of revenue related to canceled and deferred services. Yet, the cost to operate continued, and, in some hospitals, grew by the more resource-intensive COVID-19 service delivery and preparation activities.
Although it is unclear how long the ban on elective surgeries will last, hospitals forecast significant losses through June. The financial shortfall for hospitals could rangefrom $4.4 billion to $4.86 billion with another $4.7 billion lost from July-December.
Yes, the federal government has provided help. The federal Coronavirus Aid Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act allocated $100 billion in grant funding to providers. Pennsylvania hospitals get more than $3.13 billion, but that’s only 30% of expected losses.
There’s another potential problem that cannot be expressed solely in dollars. What happens to patients who have delayed elective procedures?
The term “elective” is broadly used to describe all procedures beyond those needed to save a life. Elective care is nonetheless often medically necessary, whether diagnostic in nature or as a treatment. That means colonoscopies that could detect cancer, hernia surgeries to improve digestive health, even cataract procedures to improve sight leave patients at greater risk of death, injury or needing life-saving procedures.
No one doubts the need to combat COVID-19; but draconian measures without rational alternatives will make us sicker and our hospitals too financially crippled to care for us.
Representative Martina White
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: David Foster