For more than a year, COVID-19 has been the dominant healthcare headline, but other public health issues have been lurking behind it – many resulting from the pandemic itself.
The decline in Americans’ overall health during COVID-19 threatens to loom long after the pandemic. It’s already significant enough to prompt some medical professionals to call it the country’s “shadow health crisis.”
“The danger that our overall health will continue to suffer for some time after we gain control of COVID-19 is real,” said Dr. Jennifer Chambers, chief medical officer at Capital BlueCross. “During the pandemic, fears over safety, as well as facility closures, limited facility capacities due to social-distancing protocols, economic hardships, and other factors have led people to forgo not only preventive and primary care, but care for chronic conditions. This has the potential to present a separate, ongoing crisis.”
A pandemic-fueled decline in the public’s health is not just a concern for individuals and clinicians. It is also perilous for post-pandemic business, potentially increasing absenteeism while decreasing performance and productivity.
A series of sobering studies and statistics suggest persistent post-pandemic health problems.
The National Cancer Institute projects 10,000 excess breast cancer deaths in the United States in the next 10 years due to pandemic-related screening delays. This prediction excludes all other cancer types, so the projection may grossly understate total cancer deaths due to delayed or canceled care.
According to the Urban Institute Coronavirus Tracking Survey, 76% of people avoiding care during the pandemic have chronic conditions. Overall, the survey showed, 40.7% of people with chronic conditions have avoided or delayed care during the pandemic, as have 26.4% of all adults. Because chronic health conditions often worsen without proper treatment, it’s likely this will be another driver of declining post-pandemic health.
Medicare claims early in the pandemic dropped sharply, according to an Avalere Health analysis, which found 51% fewer outpatient Medicare claims in April 2020 vs. April 2019. The analysis concluded “there could be lasting effects (on Medicare beneficiaries’ health) even as the pandemic recedes.”
The Kaiser Family Foundation says the best way for employers to fight this decline is to offer broader access to virtual care, emphasize continued care for chronic conditions, and urge continued maintenance of preventive and primary care.
Capital BlueCross follows that roadmap.
The health insurer has temporarily expanded the types of providers whose services are covered through telehealth, and it has also waived member telehealth fees through June 30, 2021, for medical, psychiatry, and counseling visits made through its Virtual Care app.
For members with certain chronic conditions, Capital BlueCross offers free educational resources and phone support. It works with members, their families, caregivers, and providers to coordinate care throughout treatment for, and recovery from, complex medical conditions.
Capital BlueCross covers many in-network preventive services for most of its employer groups. It also:
- Helps members identify “best next actions” they can take to actively participate in their healthcare and make beneficial changes, including adding preventive services like cancer screenings.
- Offers fitness, nutrition, and other products and services at a discounted rate through Blue365®.
- Reminds members – through newsletter articles and employer awareness campaigns – about preventive screenings, immunizations, and well visits, and encourages them to schedule them.
Capital BlueCross also is innovating and broadening its mental wellness offerings. It recently announced a new, free employer toolkit to address mental wellness issues in the workplace. It also has introduced NeuroFlow, a self-guided, mobile mental wellness app available to fully insured and some smaller employer groups.
“The pandemic is rightfully many people’s chief health concern right now,” Dr. Chambers said. “But that only makes it more critical that we remain vigilant in maintaining our overall health so that we can all enjoy life more fully once COVID-19 wanes.”