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Elective medical procedures should resume in Florida, doctors’ group says

A March order by Gov. Ron DeSantis has served its purpose and physicians should get back to work, the Florida Medical Association contends.

The Florida Medical Association is urging Gov. Ron DeSantis to allow doctors to resume elective medical procedures.

In a letter Tuesday, association president Dr. Ronald F. Giffler asked that DeSantis lift a March 20 executive order that halted all non-essential medical procedures as the coronavirus began to spread in Florida.

The order was meant to “conserve all medical supplies, including personal protective equipment" needed during the crisis, and had "served its purpose, the letter said.

Under recommendations by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the order could be lifted "in the regions of Florida with low and stable incidence of COVID-19,” the letter said.

Most hospitals in Tampa Bay canceled elective-type surgeries by mid-March. BayCare Health System said it would postpone non-urgent procedures until April 30. Tampa General had canceled elective procedures for patients from out of Florida last month.

The shift has created a financial predicament for many medical facilities and has left other specialists with no work. Some hospital operators, including HCA Healthcare, which has 15 hospitals around the Tampa Bay area, reduced the hours of employees not working in critical care areas.

The CARES Act passed by Congress delivered $30 billion to hospitals across the country earlier this month as a way to alleviate some of the strain from canceled surgeries and other coronavirus-related financial factors. This first wave of funding is based on individual hospitals’ Medicare revenue.

“It is essential that Florida physicians get back to seeing patients as soon as it safe for them to do so," Giffler’s letter stated. "Patients needing joint surgeries to alleviate chronic pain have been put on hold, and there are patients with serious medical conditions that need treatment who elect not to go to the hospital or their doctor’s office due to the ‘safer at home’ order.”

Many medical practices “have seen their revenues plunge and face imminent closure," Giffler said.

The Florida Medical Association represents more than 25,000 doctors of medicine and osteopathic medicine on legislation and regulatory affairs, among other industry issues.

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The full text of Giffler’s letter:

Dear Governor DeSantis:

The Florida Medical Association greatly appreciates the leadership you have exhibited during the COVID-19 pandemic and the thoughtful approach you have taken in dealing with the myriad of problems this pandemic has presented. We understood the necessity of and supported your decision at the time to impose restrictions on non-essential surgeries and medical procedures through the issuance of Executive Order 20-72. The primary purpose of this order was to “conserve all medical supplies, including personal protective equipment, to only that which is necessary to be used in response to this emergency or for any other medical event of urgent or emergent nature.”

As this order has served its purpose, the FMA respectfully requests that you follow the recommendations of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and lift Executive Order 20-72 in the regions of Florida with low and stable incidence of COVID-19. The reopening of physician practices for procedures postponed due to the mandates of Executive Order 20-72 should take place in a coordinated fashion with the local physician community working with state public health officials to ensure that the availability of personal protective equipment and other supplies, workforce availability, facility readiness, and testing capacity are sufficient to ensure a safe resumption of in-person care.

It is essential that Florida physicians get back to seeing patients as soon as it safe for them to do so. There are thousands of patients with chronic kidney disease who are being asked to postpone visits. There are delays in treatment for certain cancer, cardiac bypass and congestive heart failure patients. Patients needing joint surgeries to alleviate chronic pain have been put on hold, and there are patients with serious medical conditions that need treatment who elect not to go to the hospital or their doctor’s office due to the “safer at home” order. While the state has understandably focused on the immediate needs of fighting COVID-19, it is imperative that we not ignore a potential second crisis: a wave of emergencies and fatalities among the people delaying care or going untreated. Many of the physician practices that would deal with this pent-up demand have seen their revenues plunge and face imminent closure. It is essential for the health and safety of all Floridians that the state do all it can to keep these practices open.

Lifting Executive Order 20-72 is an important first step to opening up Florida pursuant to the CMS guidelines and to ensure that patients will be able to continue to access the high-quality health care services they need. The FMA stands ready to assist you in this difficult task.

Sincerely,

Ronald F. Giffler, MD, JD, MBAPresident, Florida Medical Association

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