The Ban on Elective Procedures is Killing More People Than COVID-19

Written by A. J. Kay

On March 15th, Janet Mills of Maine became the first US Governor to recommend statewide cancellation of all elective medical procedures. Governor Mills proclaimed that such action would, “relieve the strain on the healthcare system as Maine prioritizes COVID-19-related cases.”

That same day, the American Hospital Association (AHA), in cooperation with three other healthcare advocacy organizations, published an open letter to the Surgeon General rejecting the idea that the COVID response necessitated such sweeping measures. They stated declaratively,

Our ability to respond to patients must not be prevented by arbitrary directives.”

In the following weeks, a cascade of 35 states included similar restrictions on elective procedures in their stay-at-home and shelter-in-place (commonly known as “lockdown”) orders. These directives ranged from instruction on the prioritization of “grey area” elective surgeries to compulsory cancellation and postponement of all non-emergent procedures. Orders in seven of those states outlined explicit civil and criminal penalties (some including imprisonment) for doctors who failed to comply.

In the weeks since the unprecedented multi-state lockdowns, the US Healthcare system has been left with an opaque patchwork of the very same ‘arbitrary directives’ against which the AHA cautioned. The lockdown orders and elective procedure bans were instituted with the intent to save lives. However, our failure to safely and quickly resume elective surgeries when lockdowns helped blunt the impending crisis has financially crippled our hospitals and private practices, led to mass furloughs, and denied healthcare to those who need it most. 

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