Some surgical centers and physician and dental offices across New Jersey that closed during the coronavirus outbreak or dramatically cut back their patient visits may have to shutter permanently, New Jersey’s health care leaders told state lawmakers Monday.
Despite Gov. Phil Murphy’s announcement that elective and invasive medical and dental procedures can resume next week, many medical practices won’t survive at a fraction of their normal capacity as they adjust to a new way of doing business, the health care lobbyists said.
For two months, outpatient surgical centers have been restricted to emergency surgeries only. Most dental services were suspended. And people across the state deferred doctor visits for ailments unrelated to the coronavirus.
The financial toll has been devastating, said Dr. Tom Rossi, president of the New Jersey Dental Association, who suggested 20 percent — or about 1,200 — of the state’s dental practices may not reopen.
“The vast majority of dentists report their volume of total collections is less than 5 percent of what is typical,” said Rossi, citing American Dental Association research. “Modeling predicts that U.S. dental care spending could decline by up to 66% this year in 2020 and possibly 32% in 2021.”
Likewise, many physicians offices have not seen a patient or generated income in two months, said Dr. Marc Levine, chairman of the Medical Society of New Jersey. But even once they begin to ramp back up he said, long term social distancing may hurt their bottom line.
“Many of these practices require 100% volume to make a living,” he told a small Senate committee on New Jersey’s economic recovery. “At 75% or 85% of capacity, they’re losing money.”
“I think that the citizens of New Jersey and our patients unfortunately may be affected by practices shutting down and not coming back,” he said.
“We want to hear from the health care providers whose hospitals and staffs are heroically responding to the COVID-19 crisis while their facilities are losing the revenue they need to function,” state Sen. Paul Sarlo, D-Bergen, said in announcing the hearing.
Jeff Shanton, president of the NJ Association of Ambulatory Surgery Centers, said next week’s resumption of elective surgeries “is not a panacea” and the centers predict they’ll operate at about half their normal capacity for months after reopening.
“I can tell you right now there are some that are not coming back from this,” he said. “Centers estimate that it could take them up to a year to recover to pre-pandemic levels — if indeed they ever do.”
The American Hospital Association estimated that between March 1 and June 30 hospitals and health systems in the U.S. will face a $202.6 billion hit, including $161.4 billion in losses from canceled procedures and non-coronavirus patients delaying primary and speciality care.
At the same time, they’re spending more than $40 billion more on their coronavirus response, according to the report.
“No doubt about it … This crisis has taken a huge financial toll on hospitals, on the health care system,” Bob Garrett, CEO of Hackensack-Meridian Health, said Monday. “All of those factors together paint a rather gloomy fiscal situation.”
Moving forward hospitals will need more federal support and appropriate reimbursements for telemedicine as health care moves in that direction, Garrett said.
Hospitalizations for the coronavirus over the week reached their lowest levels in six weeks. The number of patients being at New Jersey hospitals for the coronavirus peaked at 8,084 on April 14. On Sunday, the state’s 71 hospitals reported 3,509 patients with confirmed or suspected coronavirus cases.