- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 21, 2020

According to a MiraMed survey from 2019, the biggest cash cow services for hospitals were, in order: cardiovascular surgery, invasive cardiology procedures, neurosurgery, orthopedic surgery, gastroenterology procedures, hematology-slash-oncology services, general surgery, procedures involving internal medicine, pulmonology procedures and noninvasive cardiology services.

Now? The coronavirus is a key moneymaker.

And that puts hospitals in a conflicting spot that means the more coronavirus patients they see, the more money they get. That puts hospitals in a tight conflict of interest spot when it comes to reporting true COVID-19 figures.

Congress gave $100 billion to hospitals in the recently passed stimulus bill — setting the stage for some serious competition among medical providers.

“Every hospital in this country is suffering right now,” said Rick Pollack, the president and chief executive officer of the American Hospital Association, on National Public Radio. “So everyone needs help in this situation.”



True.

In mid-March, federal health authorities, including U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, recommended that hospitals and health care providers around the nation “consider stopping elective procedures amid the COVID-19 outbreak,” the Ambulatory Surgery Center Association reported. Governors and state health agencies jumped to comply.

In Alabama, for instance, the governor, in partnership with the state Department of Public Health, issued an order on March 19 that said, “Effective immediately, all elective dental and medical procedures shall be delayed.”

In Florida, the governor ordered similarly on March 20 — that “all hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, office surgery centers, dental, orthodontic and endodontic offices and other health care practitioners’ offices” are “prohibited from providing any medically unnecessary, non-urgent or non-emergency procedure or surgery.”

Nearly all the states advised or ordered similarly.

And that left hospitals and medical providers facing a serious financial crunch.

Even in cases where providers were allowed to provide — patients, fearful of the coronavirus, often didn’t want to take the provisions.

“Everybody is frightened to come to the [emergency room],” one Mount Sinai cardiovascular surgeon told The Washington Post.

And here’s another interesting facet of the coronavirus crisis that’s left hospitals struggling to find paying patients: At the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, beds are empty. Why? As The Post wrote, “MUSC discharged everyone it could to make room for the expected coronavirus surge. So far that hasn’t materialized. The hospital has not had more than 10 covid-19 patients admitted at any time.”

Interesting.

Interesting — in a conflict of interest stage-setting sort of way.

Kaiser Family Foundation just did a nickle-and-dime analysis based on New York Times reporting of what hospitals, by state, have received for coronavirus patients from the stimulus bill — and it’s anything but logical: New York apparently gets about $8,300 per coronavirus patient; New Jersey about $12,000. Idaho, meanwhile, received $88,300 per patient, and North Dakota, $230,000 per coronavirus case.

That’s government bureaucracy for ya.

The initial disbursements were based on hospitals’ Medicare revenues, rather than on the direct, discernible impacts of the coronavirus, The Hill reported.

The problem now is hospitals are still limited by government in the services they can provide, which makes them still dependent on taxpayer dole-outs to stay financially afloat — which makes them hot to compete for coronavirus dollars.

“[There has been] a furious lobbying effort from hospitals in hot [coronavirus] states to make sure they don’t get overlooked” in the next wave of stimulus funding, The Hill wrote.

In other words: The more coronavirus cases a hospital reports, the more coronavirus dollars a hospital will get. And as The Hill reported, the White House “says it will reimburse hospitals for treating uninsured coronavirus patients,” too?

Oh, what a rabbit hole America has fallen into — and it grows deeper by the day.

Government closes businesses, leaving citizens in the financial lurch. Government limits hospital services, leaving medical facilities in the financial lurch. Then comes the robbing of Peter to pay Paul — the taking of tax dollars to give to hospitals. The end is both predictable and bleak.

If Americans can’t go back to work, tax revenues will run dry.

But not before the hospitals scrape and claw to get as much money from the coronavirus crisis as they can.

Since medical officials are the ones responsible for reporting the number of cases of coronavirus to the state and federal authorities, doesn’t it make sense they would be tempted to report as many coronavirus cases as they can? What a cycle of disaster; what a raging conflict of interest. Be worried, America. Be very worried. More hospital reports of the coronavirus equals more money equals more coronavirus panic equals more coronavirus closings — equals more hospital reports of the coronavirus. And so on and so forth.

Until the taxpayer is squeezed dry and the free market is completely collapsed.

The solution?

Kickstart America. Hang out the “open for business” signs. Get the country back to work, back in business — but quick.

• Cheryl Chumley can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter, @ckchumley. Listen to her podcast “Bold and Blunt” by clicking HERE. And never miss her column; subscribe to her newsletter by clicking HERE.

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