The coronavirus pandemic has been hard on the U.S. health care system. But our government’s response to it—including heavy-handed demands that all but “essential” care cease—has been harder still.
Recently, the Texas Public Policy Foundation held a webinar with U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan. He discussed the COVID-19 pandemic and regulatory changes HHS has been implementing to address the situation.
Among other issues, he noted the struggles of health care providers and facilities that are not treating many COVID-19 patients. Hospitals, especially those located in rural communities, and independent providers have been hit particularly hard.
States began prohibiting “elective procedures,” putting many rural hospitals in a tough situation. Unfortunately, “elective” is a bit of a misnomer. Many of these procedures are essential to patients, but they can be scheduled. This meant delaying treatment for necessary procedures like chemotherapy or orthopedic surgeries.
Many hospitals rely on elective procedures for a large portion of their revenue. Without this revenue, many hospitals have struggled to treat enough patients to cover their costs.
The states’ prohibitions on elective procedures also hurt independent physicians and dentists not part of larger hospital systems. Many of these providers were not allowed to treat patients for months, even though they provide their patients with essential care.
The latest jobs report showed 3.1 million private sector jobs were added in May with 312,000 of them in the health care. This is a good sign as states are phasing out their shutdown and healthcare providers are getting back to work and treating their patients again. But we still have a ways to go to return to normal as the number of health care workers remain more than a million below where they were in February.
The delay of elective procedures not only put health care workers out of work, it also negatively impacted patients.
Many patients, particularly those with chronic conditions like diabetes, depression, or hypertension, require regular visits with their health care providers. Without these regular visits, patients may not keep their chronic conditions under control, which can lead to much larger problems down the road.
As states continue to phase out their shutdowns and ease restrictions on businesses, it is important to consider the unintended consequences of these restrictions.
When the novel coronavirus first started spreading, government officials did not have much time to weigh all the costs and benefits of each decision. Consequently, many of the restrictions state and local officials imposed seem to have unnecessarily burdened patients, health care providers, and other businesses.
With the COVID-19 disease continuing to shape many Texans’ life, and with the possibility of a second wave coming later this year, government officials should be aware of the negative consequences of their actions. Some actions may be necessary to prevent outbreaks, but some actions can harm patients and the healthcare providers we need to treat COVID-19 patients.
As Deputy Secretary Hargan noted during the recent webinar, we must learn lessons from this unprecedented episode and be conscientious about the unintended consequences of draconian mandates.