GREENVILLE — It is no secret that hospitals and health care workers have been on a roller coaster for much of 2020.
In the early days of the pandemic, many services were cut and departments closed, with shifts cut, jobs lost, and future plans derailed. This is especially true for many of Ohio’s rural hospitals. We are now beginning to see more stability and predictability, but we also know the current situation is not over.
To pile on to this uncertainty, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is scheduled to cut reimbursement rates in early 2021 that our doctors depend on. Our healthcare system is still vulnerable from this deadly pandemic. We cannot afford to damage it further.
In January 2021, the federal government is set to adopt a rule that will shift how physicians are reimbursed for their services, effectively resulting in lower payments from CMS to physicians for treatment provided to patients covered by Medicare. Unfortunately, the new CMS rule will effectively undercut many physicians based on their type of practice. The federal government’s decision to cut re-imbursement rates for treatment provided to patients on Medicare is coming just as our doctors, nurses and frontline providers are beginning to recover. CMS’s decision will result in a loss of pay for doctors who use these reimbursements to pay the healthcare workers we all depend on.
Medical providers had been warning against this cut prior to the pandemic. The stakes are even higher now that hundreds of thousands of healthcare jobs have been lost. CMS’s move was misguided before the pandemic. Now it is downright dangerous.
With lower reimbursements, doctors will be forced to lay off more healthcare workers needed to treat COVID-19 patients. Cash-strapped hospitals and clinics in rural and underserved communities will struggle even further, and some may even close. An ongoing study from the University of North Carolina found that 132 rural hospitals and healthcare facilities have closed since 2010. In each of these communities, patients have been forced to wait and travel further for the critical care they need.
Fortunately, Congress has the ability to stop this destructive pay cut from being implemented. Congress already stood up for our physicians and allocated much needed financial relief to healthcare providers in the CARES Act earlier this year. Congress now has the power to ensure that the damage to the healthcare system caused by COVID-19 is short-lived.
We cannot afford to let our healthcare system suffer further. The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed that we need every doctor, nurse and clinician fighting on the frontlines. Lawmakers must stand up for our healthcare heroes just as thousands have risked their lives and safety for us.