Congress appears deadlocked over the vast differences between the latest $3 trillion House-passed coronavirus relief bill and the Senate’s more targeted and temporary bill that includes a reduced extension of federal unemployment insurance, another round of direct payments, liability protections for businesses and doctors, and $105 billion in school funding.
As the battles on Capitol Hill continue, the battle against the virus has heated up in hotspots around the country, especially in Texas, California, Arizona, and Florida, and officials at the federal and state levels are threatening another round of lockdowns.
That would be a terrible mistake. We know too much to use this sledgehammer approach in the futile attempt to kill or corral the virus. We must manage our response to the killer pathogen, targeting resources to the hotspots and especially focusing on protecting seniors with co-morbidities who are at the highest risk of hospitalization and death.
We must avoid the epic damage the shutdowns have done to our economy and to the mental and physical health of hundreds of millions of Americans.
The Wall Street Journal editorialized yesterday about “The Lockdown’s Destruction,” following the announcement that U.S. GDP plummeted 32.9% in the second quarter, the worst ever recorded. Consumer spending fell by 25%, with spending on transportation, recreation, food services and hotels falling sharply.
“But the biggest surprise was the plunge in health-care spending during a health-care crisis. Health care represents about 12% of the U.S. economy and its collapse subtracted 9.5 percentage points from GDP,” the Journal wrote. “How does that happen in a pandemic?”
“Blessedly… far fewer hospital and intensive-care beds were needed. But the economic harm from stopping all elective surgeries and barring visits to doctors was severe and unnecessary,” the Journal wrote.
“It was also a terrible public-health blunder. That harm will play out for years as Americans discover cancer, heart-disease and other diagnoses that were missed or delayed.”
Doctors saw this coming. More than 600 physicians, led by California physician Dr. Simone Gold, sent a letter to President Trump in the spring as they watched this “mass casualty event” unfold. My piece for Forbes in May reporting on the letter has had more than 1.9 million hits, showing that Americans are tuned in to the problem.
From missed cancer diagnoses to untreated heart attacks and strokes to increased risks of suicides, “We are alarmed at what appears to be a lack of consideration for the future health of our patients,” the doctors wrote.
Patients fearful of visiting hospitals and doctors’ offices have died because COVID-phobia kept them from seeking care. One patient died at home of a heart attack rather than go to an emergency room. The number of severe heart attacks being treated in nine U.S hospitals surveyed dropped by nearly 40%. Cardiologists are worried “a second wave of deaths” indirectly caused by the virus is likely.
Cigna reported yesterday that use of non-COVID health services is recovering, saying utilization of health care services was “closer to normal” in June. The company expects similar trends in July despite COVID-19 spikes. That’s good news.
The American Hospital Association estimates a total four-month financial impact of $202.6 billion in losses for America’s hospitals and health systems, or an average of $50.7 billion per month due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The federal government moved quickly to provide relief.
The best relief that Congress, governors and mayor can give now is to be smarter about how they respond to the virus, as Doug Badger has been explaining over at The Daily Signal, and avoid slamming both our economy and Americans’ health care with another round of shutdowns.