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Medicare to Hospitals: Halt Nonessential Surgeries and Dental Care in Wake of COVID-19 Outbreak

Christian Worstell by Christian Worstell    |    Published Mar 25, 2020

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The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is urging health care providers to halt nonessential medical and dental services in the midst of the deadly novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

The CMS on March 18 recommended that all elective surgeries as well as all nonessential medical, surgical and dental procedures be delayed until further notice. The recommendation was made during a White House Task Force press briefing. 

What types of procedures should be delayed during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Hospitals and surgery centers were encouraged to delay less urgent procedures such as:

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome treatment

  • Cataracts treatment and surgery

  • Colonoscopies

  • Joint replacements

More serious procedures that should continue as scheduled include treatments such as:

  • Cancer treatments

  • Brain surgeries

  • Organ transplants

  • Trauma care

  • Major heart surgeries

The measures are part of an effort to keep as many hospital beds open as possible for COVID-19 patients, as well as keeping enough respirators and personal protective equipment (PPE) in stock to handle the potential rash of incoming patients.

Additionally, some health care workers are being asked to cease their regular duties to assist with COVID-19 treatment. 

Medicare urges beneficiaries to delay non-essential dental procedures

Dental procedures not only use PPE, but they pose one of the biggest risks of coronavirus transmission due to the close proximity of the healthcare provider to the patient’s mouth. 

“The reality is clear and the stakes are high: we need to preserve personal protective equipment for those on the front lines of this fight,” said CMS Administrator Seema Verma in a press release.

The CMS released a tiered guideline for determining whether or not to postpone a procedure.

The criteria used in these determinations include:

  • The supply of available PPE

  • Staffing availability

  • Availability of beds, particularly intensive care unti (ICU) beds

  • Ventilator availability

  • The health and age of the patient

  • Urgency of the procedure

Delaying nonessential services will also keep more patients at home and help to mitigate the spread of the infection. 

The decision to proceed with non-essential surgeries and procedures will ultimately be made at the local level by the clinician, patient, hospital, and state and local health departments.


Christian Worstell is a health care and policy writer for MedicareSupplement.com. He has written hundreds of articles helping people better understand their Medicare coverage options.

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