Let's care for America's health care workers like they care for us
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Think back to March. Stores and businesses closed, transit halted and the nation watched as America’s heroic health care workers fought off the first wave of a deadly novel coronavirus.

Images of patients on ventilators being cared for by masked, bruised faces and exhausted health care professionals flooded the airwaves. We didn’t know back then what we know now: the fight against COVID-19 will be a long and difficult one.

We entered our first quarantine thinking we could get this under control, but wherever the virus is given an opportunity to spread, it will. What started as a surge of extremely sick patients in the Northeast last spring, transitioned to the Sunbelt over the summer, and by the start of October, the virus spread throughout the Midwest and the Mountain West.

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Despite the efforts of public health officials, our nation now faces uncontrolled spread of the coronavirus in almost all 50 states with hospitals facing a third wave of overwhelmingly sick patients. There is no clear end in sight. As COVID-19 cases surge in states across America, many of my colleagues are asking, “how are we going to get through this again?”

Since the beginning of the pandemic, clinicians have made tremendous sacrifices while continuing to provide care in what many of my colleagues have called the most difficult circumstances of their lives. Not only have clinicians faced the personal pain of seeing friends and family succumb to the disease, they have worked through shortages of personal protective equipment, and moved into basements and hotel rooms to avoid spreading the virus to their loved ones.

More than 1,300 health care workers in the U.S. have died from COVID-19. This heart-wrenching loss is paired with the more than 400 physicians who die each year from suicide. Our elected officials should honor their commitment to serving on the frontlines of this pandemic by providing more support and resources to a population we all rely on. My colleague Dr. Stefanie Simmons, a national expert in clinician well-being, said,“Clinicians are expected to portray perfection in the face of adversity, but even — and I’d argue especially — heroic health care workers suffer the physical, mental and emotional burdens of living and working in a global pandemic. We constantly de-prioritize self-care to be there for our patients, but we need to remind ourselves and others that we’re human too.”

We must care for our clinicians with the same research-backed methods they use to take care of their patients. Which is why Congress should pass legislation like the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Act to create a national campaign encouraging health care professionals to seek support and treatment. The senators who introduced this bill, Jack ReedJack ReedFive questions about Biden withdrawal from Afghanistan Biden sparks bipartisan backlash on Afghanistan withdrawal  Overnight Defense: Biden nominating first female Army secretary | Israel gets tough on Iran amid nuclear talks | Army's top enlisted soldier 'very proud' of officer pepper sprayed by police MORE (D-R.I.) and Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineSenators in the dark on parliamentarian's decision Progressives put Democrats on defense Senators reintroduce bill to block NATO withdrawal MORE (D-Va.), recognize the need to support our health care workers, but Congress can and should act now to stand up for America’s health care workers.

At a time when health care workers and physicians face these unprecedented challenges, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is proposing steep payment cuts for some specialties. The American Medical Association (AMA), among several other prominent groups, is calling for changes to the proposed rule, which would result in a 5.5 percent cut to physician payments in 2021, bringing total cuts to nearly 11 percent after accounting for other proposals in the rule.

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The American Hospital Association (AHA) said in a letter that the clinicians who have put themselves on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic — such as critical care and emergency medicine providers, respiratory specialists, radiologists, lab pathologists and many others — are the very ones who face the most significant financial losses from this proposed policy. This is unacceptable.

With cases and hospitalizations rising in nearly all states — and the nation’s single-day case numbers climbing higher than we’ve seen ever seen before — America’s health care workers are preparing to once again meet the extraordinary demand for patient care. These clinicians have earned the respect and gratitude of all Americans. After all they’ve done and continue to do for patients on the frontlines of COVID-19, our clinicians deserve to be protected. Congress must act to halt CMS’ ill-timed physician payment cuts.

Adam Brown, MD MBA FACEP, is President of Emergency Medicine at Envision, a leading medical group.