posted by Devin Plote, Clinical Policy Analyst, AHIP
on May 5, 2021
The beginning of the COVID-19 crisis delayed many older Americans from seeking or receiving important preventive and routine health care services in order to avoid unnecessary exposure to the virus, and to preserve the health care system for patients who became seriously ill and required hospitalization. Data shows that during the first months of the crisis:
By missing regular care to avoid potential COVID-19 exposure, older Americans with chronic conditions including cancer, heart disease, depression, and mental health issues may face greater risk for complications from those conditions—unrelated to COVID-19.
Among Medicare beneficiaries who have foregone medical care during the pandemic, 43% reported missing dental care; 36% missed their regular checkups; 36% delayed treatment for ongoing conditions; 32% delayed diagnostic or medical screening tests; 24% waited longer to seek vision care; and 17% delayed surgeries. Delays in routine cancer screenings, particularly mammograms, have resulted in delayed and later-stage diagnoses that may result in higher mortality rates, The Wall Street Journal reported. And 57% of those who delayed care said they experienced negative health consequences, according to a study conducted by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the National Public Radio.
Fear of COVID-19 exposure kept many people away from their health care providers for weeks or months. Notably, the primary barriers to care included being unable to get an appointment, finding a physician who would see them, or difficulty in safely accessing the care site.
Health insurance providers are encouraging their members, particularly older people, to get their preventive screenings, routine care, and chronic condition management despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
Health insurance providers know that many Americans are homebound, or rely on caregivers and family members to manage their health, even under normal conditions. Plans are playing a leadership role in helping provide emotional support to members, their families and caregivers, and making sure individuals and caregivers have access to peer coaches and support specialists with information on social services. For example, upstate New York health plan CDPHP uses video visits to keep family members informed about a loved one’s care and to provide emotional support, in the absence of in-person visits.
In addition to supporting their members in getting routine care, health insurance providers are helping to vaccinate homebound Americans against COVID-19:
As the COVID-19 crisis disrupted lives and livelihoods, it also worsened health disparities and access to care for vulnerable populations. Seniors are particularly vulnerable in the socially distant world, and we all have to continue to adapt to ensure that no one is left behind.