When COVID-19 began its rampage around the world, a critical crisis evolved. It delayed much 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, many senior citizens of the USA faced troubles in procuring medical services.
- Worsened state of the seniors: 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 a greater risk for complications from those conditions—unrelated to COVID-19. Data shows that during the first months of the crisis 1 in 6 older adults (70+) delayed or canceled essential medical treatment, almost 40% put off non-essential treatment and a third went without preventive care.
- Vulnerability deprived medical care: 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.
- Survey brings out the real condition of the nation: Among Medicare beneficiaries that have forgone 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.
- Plans to mitigate the situation: 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.
- Role played by insurers: Big health insurers like Humana, Bright Health, Priority Health are supporting their members in getting routine care and helping to vaccinate homebound Americans against COVID-19. Not only they waived telemedicine costs for all urgent care and allowed early refills on regular prescription medications but also have implemented 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.