A professional group of more than 38,000 emergency room physicians wrote to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar earlier this month to request a government bailout because emergency room patient volume has decreased significantly since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, ProPublica reported.
"[W]hile it may seem counterintuitive, EDs across the country have actually experienced a reduction in volume of approximately 30 percent since the COVID-19 pandemic began," the letter from the American College of Emergency Physicians read. "Thus, without immediate federal financial resources and support separate from what is provided to hospitals, fewer emergency physicians will be left to care for patients, a shortfall which will only be further exacerbated as they try to make preparations for the COVID-19 surge."
What's the problem? A side effect of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States is that most people who aren't critically sick with the disease caused by the novel coronavirus are avoiding emergency rooms, presumably due to elevated risk of infection.
Many emergency physicians are not employed by hospitals, but by staffing firms that contract with the hospitals. One such firm is Envision, which employs 27,000 clinicians. Envision has cut doctors' pay and delayed benefits such as bonuses, profit-sharing, and retirement contributions. Some nonclinical employees have been furloughed.
"Where they lose their normal billing revenue, medical groups are losing money. Where medical groups are losing money, they have to reduce salaries and furlough workers," Envision CEO Jim Rechtin said in a statement, ProPublica reported. "Unfortunately, we are no different."
Bailout from the government? The American College of Emergency Physicians is requesting billions in financial assistance to emergency physician practices impacted by COVID-19. They want $2.5 billion to account for a reduction in emergency patient volume and $1.1 billion to account for the fact that the emergency patients that do come in are sicker and more costly to treat.
"For the safety and wellbeing of the American public, emergency physicians must be supported and protected," the ACEP letter read. "We believe that the $3.6 billion requested here will ensure that emergency physicians on the front lines have the resources they need to stay operational and manage future surges of COVID-19 cases."