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As Coronavirus Gains Momentum, Pence Calls for Cancellation of All Elective Medical, Dental Procedures

Analysis  |  By Mandy Roth  
   March 18, 2020

Trump administration asks providers to preserve medical supplies in the fight against COVID-19.

The federal government is stepping up pressure on hospitals and other providers to cancel all elective medical and dental procedures.

At a midday briefing today, Vice President Mike Pence said the action was needed to preserve medical supplies and resources for the fight against COVID-19.

"We're asking every American, and our medical community leaders, and hospitals to partner with us and [delay] elective procedures across the country and our healthcare system to ensure that medical supplies and medical capacity go where they're needed," said Pence, who leads administration's Coronavirus Task Force.

The initiative has the support of the American Medical Association, according to Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma, who also said the American College of Surgeons and the American Dental Association have taken a "proactive approach and already posted these recommendations."

In a statement issued this afternoon, Rick Pollack, president and CEO of the American Hospital Association (AHA) said, "As we make additional preparations, it’s important to recognize that the cancellation of elective procedures—which the medical community needs to be prepared to implement—should be determined at the local, community level in consultation with hospitals and the clinical recommendations of physicians and nurses. It is important to recognize the definition of 'elective' procedures includes important life-saving measures that will continue to be necessary. In issuing this framework, CMS took an appropriate step that provides a balanced approach to address this matter."

Earlier in the week, HealthLeaders reported that the nation's largest hospital associations, including the AHA pushed back against a recommendation from U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams that providers "consider stopping elective surgeries" until the coronavirus threat subsides. The Federation of American Hospitals, the Association of American Medical Colleges, and the Children's Hospital Association joined the AHA in signing a letter to Adams.

"We're making sure that the healthcare system is prepared, and that those on the front lines have the support that they need," Verma said in today's press conference. "The reality is the stakes are high, and we need to preserve personal protective equipment for those that are on the front lines of this fight."

Later today CMS will announce detailed recommendations to further promote this needed conservation, Verma said.

"We fully appreciate that this is going to have a major impact on the healthcare system," said Verma, "but the shared sacrifice is essential to help those that are on the front lines."

Other announcements at the press conference included:

  • The Veterans Health Administration is adhering to the request to cancel nonessential procedures, according to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie.
  • Pence said the Department of Health & Human Services will be issuing a regulation today that will allow all doctors and medical professionals to practice across state lines. [Editor's Note: As of March 24, no such action has been taken.]
  • As part of the U.S. Defense Department’s domestic response, two Navy hospital ships will be deployed to alleviate the projected strain on overburdened hospitals, with one situated on each coast. One will be located in the New York harbor; the West Coast location is still being determined.

This story will be updated as new information becomes available.

“The shared sacrifice is essential to help those that are on the front lines.”

Mandy Roth is the innovations editor at HealthLeaders.

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