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'An Arm and a Leg': Health Care Takes a Financial Hit in the Midst of Pandemic

Analysis  |  By Kaiser Health News  
   May 11, 2020

Health care runs a lot like the restaurant industry. When people stop showing up for Sunday brunch — or for elective hip replacements, colonoscopies and face-lifts — the enterprise runs short of cash fast.

This article was first published on Monday, May 11, 2020 in Kaiser Health News.

By Dan Weissmann

You've probably noticed that the U.S. economy is crashing. What you might not expect is that almost half of the economic devastation comes from just one sector — health care.

That's according to a first-quarter 2020 estimate of U.S. gross domestic product from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, which pundits later shared on social media.

Much of the slowdown came after hospitals postponed elective surgeries and as Americans skip routine medical care to avoid potential exposure to the coronavirus.

The episode includes interviews with Kaiser Health News senior correspondent Jenny Gold, who spoke with struggling pediatricians; and ProPublica reporter Isaac Arnsdorf, who found that even emergency room docs fighting COVID-19 aren't immune to the economic downturn.

As a society, we need health care workers like never before to fight COVID-19, but many medical professionals are feeling the financial pinch because of the way we pay for health care in this country.

Health care runs a lot like the restaurant industry. When people stop showing up for Sunday brunch — or for elective hip replacements, colonoscopies and face-lifts — the enterprise runs short of cash fast.

Episode 5 explores the COVID downturn, how health care is fueling the recession and what that could mean for our wallets.

“SEASON-19” of “An Arm and a Leg” is a co-production of Kaiser Health News and Public Road Productions.

To keep in touch with “An Arm and a Leg,” subscribe to the newsletter. You can also follow the show on Facebook and Twitter. And if you've got stories to tell about the health care system, the producers would love to hear from you.

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Kaiser Health News is a national health policy news service that is part of the nonpartisan Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

Almost half of the economic devastation caused by the coronavirus pandemic comes from just one sector — health care.

That's according to a first-quarter 2020 estimate of U.S. GDP from the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Much of the slowdown came after hospitals postponed elective surgeries and as Americans skip routine medical care to avoid potential exposure to the coronavirus.


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