As coronavirus crisis deepens, hospital leaders seek more emergency help from an administration they distrust.
The Trump administration is struggling to win back the confidence of hospital leaders after three years of pitched battles, with the industry pushing for urgent help from the White House as the coronavirus crisis begins to swamp emergency rooms.
Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma on Friday announced new moves to roll back industry regulations, two days after hospitals pled their case to Verma in a White House meeting that left many unsatisfied. Among the changes: Streamlined deployment of doctors, fewer time-consuming inspections and less red tape around how hospitals run operations during a crisis.
“It gives hospitals and providers on the front lines the maximum flexibility so that they can focus on patients that need help,” Verma said on “Fox and Friends” on Saturday. The American Hospital Association hailed the moves as a “solid step.”
But hospital leaders say that the new announcements only touch the surface of their needs, as they worry about shortages of crucial supplies, risks to their workers and the possibility of an industry bailout as coronavirus patients swarm their facilities. An expert on an American Hospital Association webinar last month predicted as many as 1.9 million ICU admissions from the coronavirus outbreak over the next few months, swamping existing facilities. There are only about 100,000 ICU beds across the U.S. health system.
Meanwhile, the cost of care for some severely ill coronavirus patients has already been estimated in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, as hospitals deploy significant measures to keep the patients alive while protecting their own workers against infection. At least three hospital systems in Seattle, the center of the nation’s most extensive outbreak, have already announced a halt on elective procedures in order to devote more resources toward the coronavirus patients already swarming their facilities.
“I think there will be hospitals that could be pushed to the edge financially,” said Chip Kahn, head of the for-profit Federation of American Hospitals, warning that hospitals will absorb a surge of coronavirus cases while postponing elective procedures that tend to be better for hospitals’ bottom lines. Some hospital leaders have quietly floated that they’ll need federal funding to pay for rented hotels or other arrangements as their hospital wards are quickly overrun by the coronavirus outbreak.
The risk of failure is severe: Public health experts have warned that the U.S. coronavirus outbreak, which is in its early days, could be on track to resemble the increasingly dire situation in Italy, where patients have overwhelmed that nation’s health system. That’s left hospitals calling for extreme measures from the White House and scrambling to prepare emergency steps of their own while they wait for a response.
But in the face of the looming crisis, hospital executives said that leaders were underwhelmed by their Wednesday meeting with Verma, who spent much of the hour-long session taking notes but failed to calm industry fears about swamped emergency rooms and medical supply shortages, according to three individuals with direct knowledge of the meeting. Vice President Mike Pence briefly joined the meeting but departed to join other officials as they worked to prepare the president for his Oval Office address.