Let the Doctors Work

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Buried in the recent announcement by the Bureau of Economic Analysis that real gross domestic product (GDP) decreased at an annual rate of 4.8 percent in the first quarter of 2020 was a remarkable fact: Nearly half of the GDP decrease was due to reduced spending on health-care services. You read that correctly — in the middle of the worst pandemic in over a century, and after decades of unrelenting expenditure growth, we spent less on medical care. How can one explain this anomaly?

It is because Americans, in response to government guidance and fear of an unfamiliar pathogen, are putting off medical care — care that is often essential to their health. Both the CDC and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) instructed hospitals and outpatient facilities to delay elective procedures and to reschedule all non-urgent ambulatory visits and hospital admissions, in order to preserve medical manpower, hospital beds, ventilators, and personal protective equipment (PPE) for treatment of an expected surge of COVID-19 patients. State and local authorities issued stay-at-home guidelines and travel bans.

Hospitals, health-care providers, and patients have complied. Hernia repairs, hip replacements, colonoscopies, mammograms, and a variety of other common procedures are no longer performed unless urgent need can be demonstrated. Visits to physicians’ offices have plummeted as patients shelter in place and as fear of contracting COVID-19 at a medical facility has taken hold.  Primary-care visits have dropped by 50 percent. Visits to specialists are down even more — cardiology, pulmonary medicine, and surgery have declined by about two-thirds; dermatology, otolaryngology, and ophthalmology are down by three quarters or more. Telemedicine has partially offset these declines, but many patients lack the wherewithal for video communications, and most procedures just cannot be done remotely.

Read the full article on National Review.