The real cost of delayed care
For many, stay-at-home orders, scaled back operations and other COVID-19-related safety measures caused patients to put off or delay medical care—from routine care, such as health screenings, vaccinations and check-ups, to elective surgeries and, in some cases, emergency room visits.
As part of Aspen Ideas: Health 2021, Blue Cross Blue Shield Association President and CEO Kim Keck shared her perspective on what these delays in care mean for the long-term health of Americans, as well as for our health care system.
Putting health at risk
One in three American delayed or skipped medical care during the COVID-19 pandemic, and more than three-quarters of those who delayed care have one or more chronic conditions. For many with a chronic condition, health can deteriorate quickly, especially when proper care is not administered. In fact, a third of those who skipped or delayed care reported their conditions worsening, limiting their ability to work or participate in daily activities.
Delaying care may exacerbate disparities
For generations, disparities and inequity within the health system have led to different levels of care for different populations. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Black Americans were dying at a rate of 1.4 times that of white Americans, and they also had an increased prevalence of care avoidance during the same time, potentially impacting COVID-19 treatments as well as exacerbating existing health disparities.
For example, Black women are 3 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications, and Black Americans have both the highest death and shortest survival rate for most cancers. Delaying care could worsen these already alarming statistics.
To combat the many disparities plaguing the U.S. health system, BCBSA recently launched a National Health Equity Strategy comprised of a comprehensive series of initiatives that rely on close collaboration with health care providers, community leaders and advocates with the initial goal of reducing maternal health disparities by 50 percent over the next five years. The new strategy will scale programs from local BCBS companies proven to improve equity, creating standardized, national measures.
An antiquated system: No services means no fees
Delayed care brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic exposed the financial risk the current delivery system faces. The fee-for-service model led to a reduction in independent practitioners and often makes it difficult to be a patient. Lessons from the pandemic may lead to an acceleration in the shift to the budget-based models rooted in primary care that fared better during the pandemic and offer better cost over time.