We in health care are receiving so many wonderful and appreciated thanks these days. People understand that putting one’s own family and health at risk to care for others is a generous act. Like Patriots coach Bill Belichick, many in health care would probably answer that they are just “doing their job.” But it takes something special to win six Super Bowls in 18 years, just as it takes something special to get up in the morning and put on personal protective equipment and care for the sickest of patients.

Many have heard about the shortages of PPE, but there is another big problem that hospitals are facing: They are going broke. Why are hospitals in financial trouble? For most it is not the direct costs of providing care to COVID-19 patients. Instead, hospitals are going broke because they are doing the right thing and not seeing patients for routine problems. They are not doing hip replacement surgery or well-child checkups. And when the hospitals do not provide these services, patients and insurance companies are not paying the hospitals and doctors. Hospitals are running on financial fumes right now.

If you ask most Mainers how much of the COVID-19 rescue package should go to hospitals, we bet that very few would say, “Only 5 percent.” Unfortunately, 5 percent – about $100 billion – is how much of the recently passed $2 trillion federal stimulus package that is going directly to hospitals and health care organizations. It is more than the airline industry received, but not by much.

Central Maine Healthcare announced last week that they have to furlough 300 employees without pay. What? In the middle of the worst epidemic this country has seen in over 100 years, the system is decreasing the size of its staff by 10 percent? It is not the fault of the administrators; it is simply that they cannot pay their staff with money that they do not have. Other hospital and health care systems are being forced to make similar, painful cuts. Some hospitals will not survive this crisis, especially in more rural parts of the state that are already underserved.

Today we received notice from our car insurance company that we will be receiving a 15 percent refund because with “social distancing“ we are all driving less, having fewer accidents and so there are fewer claims that the auto insurance company has to pay. Health insurance companies are also seeing far fewer claims. This is perhaps counterintuitive, but despite increased expenses for the sickest patients with COVID-19, health insurance companies are absolutely flush with cash because the vast majority of people are still paying their premiums, but are staying at home and not using their benefits.

What to do? Here is a suggestion we call “15 percent for Health”:

• Those of us who can afford it, let us take the unexpected 15 percent car insurance refund we receive and donate it to our local hospital or health care organization.

• Let us together pressure our health insurance companies to return 15 percent of our premiums, and those of us who can afford it also donate that money to our local hospital or health care organization. Why should health insurance companies make obscene profits in the midst of a global pandemic while Central Maine Healthcare is forced to furlough employees?

• Let us inform our representatives, locally and in Washington, that any rescue package should focus on the health care organizations we admire and thank before any conversations about rescuing the airlines and cruise ships. The total value of government dollars to health care should be a minimum of 15 percent of the total bailout. We truly bear no ill will toward the people who work in tourism and travel, but if we don’t secure our hospitals now, we may not have many people around to take those cruises and airplane trips.

The best way to thank health care workers is to make sure they get paid for “doing their job.”


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