43M Americans could lose health insurance due to pandemic — 'financially impossible' for many to have orthopedic surgery


The ripple effect of the COVID-19 pandemic has been felt throughout the healthcare industry, with the orthopedic sector suffering a particularly seismic blow.

Prior to the pandemic, 160 million Americans — roughly half the population — received health insurance through their job, but up to 43 million people could lose their employer-sponsored coverage.

Although elective surgery volumes have restarted in the U.S., many patients will be unable to undergo surgery due to the economic difficulties caused by the virus.

"Many have been out of work and without a paycheck for several weeks", said Richard Kube, MD, of Prairie Spine in Peoria, Ill. "It is now financially impossible for them to take time off just as they are returning to work — if they still have a job to return to."

There will be many patients who will be unable to see local orthopedic surgeons, according to Brian Gantwerker, MD, spine surgeon and founder of Craniospinal Center of Los Angeles. "There will be a lot of people who will be on COBRA, Medicaid ... or change insurance carriers due to job losses."

Roughly 6.3 million orthopedic surgeries are predicted to be postponed worldwide, according to a study published in the British Journal of Surgery. It could take up to one year for patient volumes to return to pre-pandemic levels.

A study published in The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery indicated that seven months would be an optimistic projection to reach 90 percent of pre-pandemic volumes, with 16 months representing a pessimistic projection.

Currently, the "real barrier" is OR time and a lack of open rooms to perform surgeries due to coronavirus-related accommodations, according to Jeffrey Wang, MD, chief of orthopedic spine service at Keck Medicine of USC and co-director of the USC Spine Center in Los Angeles. 

"It will be some time before we are able to resume the surgical volume that we had prior to the pandemic," Dr. Wang said.

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