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    Elective Surgical Procedures Decline in Worsening Economy

    By Jennifer Huddleston, staff writer    

    With the majority of Americans feeling the pinch of a declining economy, it seems everyone is trying to save money any way they can—even if that means delaying or canceling that knee replacement, breast augmentation or bariatric surgery.

    According to a survey of 112 not-for-profit hospitals conducted by Citi Investment Research, overall inpatient hospital admissions were down 2 to 3 percent in September 2008 when compared to September 2007.

    It appears that given the current economy and financial and job markets, many Americans are hesitant to take time off work or pay out-of-pocket costs for elective procedures. Many of these procedures, such as hernia repairs and weight-loss surgeries, are among the most profitable for hospitals and usually fund the unpaid medical bills that continue to grow as the economy worsens.

    The combination of a decrease in paying patients and an increase in uninsured patients seeking care from hospital emergency rooms that are legally required to offer treatment, has negatively affected hospitals’ bottom lines.

    The current situation has highlighted a weakness in hospitals’ practice of using private health insurance to fund other medical services: Without money coming in from lucrative procedures paid for by privately insured patients, hospitals have less to offset the lower fees they are paid from Medicare and Medicaid.

    In response to the present circumstances, hospitals are halting construction, freezing spending and laying off workers.

    “It’s safe to say that hospitals are no longer recession-proof,” said David A. Rock, a healthcare consultant at Carl Marks in New York. Rock also predicts that hospitals will soon reassess their service offerings and eliminate or reduce certain procedures.

    Cosmetic surgeons have been talking about the decline in business for about a year, according to Dr. Alan Gold, president of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.

    “Everybody talks about it, nobody really has any numbers, so we polled our membership,” said Gold. Of the 700 physicians who responded to the survey, more than half said business is down. Some even estimated a decrease of as much as 30 percent.

    In a poll of surgeons who are members of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), 62 percent reported a decrease in overall cosmetic procedures during the first six months of 2008 compared with the same time period in 2007.

    “It is very clear the economy is affecting the demand for surgical cosmetic procedures. We are hearing that from consumers and plastic surgeons,” said Dr. Richard D’Amico, president of ASPS.

    However, it seems non-surgical procedures have not taken as a great a hit from the economy as invasive treatments.
    [11] Of those patients that do opt for elective procedures, more are choosing cheaper, less invasive alternatives such as Botox and wrinkle fillers. [12]

    “It appears more consumers are choosing the less invasive cosmetic procedures, both to give them a boost or to buy time if they need to postpone a more costly invasive surgical procedure because of the economic downturn,” said D’Amico.

    [1] Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report. “Hospitals Experience Decline in Admissions as Some Patients Delay Elective Treatments.” Nov. 7, 2008.
    [2] Abelson, Reed. “Hospitals See Drop in Paying Patients.” The New York Times. Nov. 7, 2008.
    [3]  Ibid.
    [4]  Ibid.
    [5]  Ibid.
    [6]  Ibid.
    [7] “As Economy Sags, Faces Do Too, Say Cosmetic Surgeons.” The Associated Press. Oct. 3, 2008.
    [8]  Ibid.
    [9] “Consumers and Plastic Surgeons Say Economy Is Cutting into Cosmetic Procedures.” ScienceDaily. Oct. 29, 2008.
    [10]  Ibid.
    [11] Darcé, Keith. “Less Nip and Tuck.” The San Diego Union-Tribune. April 27, 2008.
    [12] “As Economy Sags, Faces Do Too, Say Cosmetic Surgeons.” The Associated Press. Oct. 3, 2008.
    [13] “Consumers and Plastic Surgeons Say Economy Is Cutting into Cosmetic Procedures.” ScienceDaily. Oct. 29, 2008.

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