- - Wednesday, June 3, 2020

We have seen up close and personal what scarcity of medical services looks like. And, in effect, what a government takeover of America’s health care looks like, and it is ugly. 

Here’s a way to think about it. When we first saw COVID-19 arriving in America, we already knew that there were demographic groups more vulnerable than others. In particular, the elderly were at a higher risk then the balance of the population. Those who had serious medical conditions fit that same category. If you were aged and infirm, you were in the highest risk zone.

Based on unreliable models, state government officials were warned that there would be a surge of patients inundating hospitals to receive treatment for the infection. They quickly banned “elective surgeries” to make sure they had adequate bed space, personal protection equipment (masks, gowns, gloves, etc.), other equipment (ventilators), and personnel to treat the predicted massive influx to the hospitals.

In a centralized fashion, government began running the medical care system. Of course, government can always be trusted to run everything it does in a perfect way. Perfectly awful, usually.

And this was not different.

Many voices now acknowledge that a surge never came. Some say that the surge failed to materialize because of the lockdowns. Others argue that the surge was never going to come.

But, at least in New York City, there was a surge.

When the surge came, government officials and their guidelines failed to recognize what was seemingly obvious. The surge was in the nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and the congregant care environments that housed the most vulnerable and infirm population — the sick and elderly.

Places like New York City refused admittance or transferred elderly patients, including those with the coronavirus, back to nursing homes. Turns out, the majority of COVID-19 patients, and those who perished in deaths related to the virus, were in those facilities.

The surge was the nursing home residents. 

If there had not been government interference into the decision-making of the highly-trained hospital administrators, those patients would have been properly treated and cared for in hospitals where equipment is available, where trained professionals are working and where the patients had a better chance of survival.

The fear of most Americans has been that if the government takes over health care then we will be subject to bureaucrats making decisions on personal health care issues. Things, perhaps like, “should my ill mother remain in an assisted living center or be hospitalized?”

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo took that decision out of the hands of the patient with his demand that hospitals be vacated even by elderly, COVID-sick patients.

This looks likea death panel, doesn’t it? In March, New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg noted that mismanagement of the coronavirus could lead to rationing. She was right. A death panel is a descriptive term for rationing of medical care which might deny medical care necessary to save one’s life.

By determining that hospitals could only take emergency patients and COVID-19 cases, governors rationed health care.

Elective surgery isn’t a cosmetically desired nose-job, it is defined as a scheduled surgery. It is estimated that 80 percent of brain surgeries were missed because of government edict.

To digress, the panic that was induced by the media and government leaders, and policies such as rationing of medical care, reports indicate that 50 percent of the hundreds of thousands of patients on chemotherapy went without their treatments.

More than a month ago, I was on a conference call with hospitals in my home state of Arizona. Because of the restriction prohibiting elective surgeries these hospitals were losing massive amounts of money, looking to furlough employees and in danger — in some instances — of closing. I asked them to suggest a solution. They wanted to be able to make the determination of whether they had the capacity to perform elective surgeries and still be prepared for a potential surge of virus patients.

In other words, the solution in Arizona was to resort to market-based decisions made by people who are experts and have skin in the game, not by government bureaucrats and officials who have limited knowledge and nothing to personally lose if they enforce a lousy policy.

Medicare-for-All and other broad attempts to centralize and nationalize health care will create the scarcity and rationing that prevent treatment necessary to preserve lives. The lesson from government intrusion into the handling of the coronavirus cannot be forgotten.

Market-based decisions save lives.

• Andy Biggs is a Republican U.S. representative from Arizona.

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