The COVID-19 pandemic has led to unprecedented disruption of medical care in the United States, with over one-third of people ages 18 to 64 saying they delayed or skipped care since the onset of the pandemic, according to a new report from the Urban Institute (a policy research institution).
Based on a nationally representative survey of Americans within the target age group, the report found that as of September 2020, 36.0% of adults reported delaying or skipping healthcare because of either concerns about exposure to the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, or limitations on what kinds of services their healthcare provider offers. For example, many healthcare providers have scaled back in-person visits and recommended telemedicine appointments instead for many health conditions, but some people simply skipped seeing a doctor rather than signing up for a virtual appointment.
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Of course, skipping an appointment for a minor health concern isn’t necessarily detrimental to anyone’s health, but the report found that many people with serious and chronic conditions didn’t get recommended care. A staggering 76.0% of adults who delayed or skipped care had one or more chronic health conditions such as diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), lung disease, heart disease, kidney disease, cancer or a mental health disorder.
Among adults with one or more chronic health conditions, 40.7% reported delaying or skipping care, as did 52.0% of adults with a mental health condition. What’s more, 56.3% of adults with both a physical and a mental health condition reported delaying or skipping care, with 43.8% doing this for multiple types of care (such as for both a physical and a mental health condition).
Overall, the most commonly reported type of care that people delayed or skipped was dental care (25.3% of adults), followed by seeing a general doctor or specialist (20.6%), followed by preventive health screenings or medical tests (15.5%). Among people who delayed or skipped care, 32.6% reported that one or more of their health conditions got worse as a result, or that not getting care limited their ability to work or perform everyday activities.
There were some racial and ethnic differences when it came to delaying or skipping care. Black adults were more likely as a group to report doing so (39.7%) than either white adults (34.3%) or Hispanic or Latino adults (35.5%). The same trend applied to skipping or delaying multiple types of care, with higher numbers of Black adults (28.5%) than white adults (21.1%) or Hispanic or Latino adults (22.3%) reporting doing so.
“These results demonstrate the importance of addressing health issues that have not been attended to during the pandemic,” the report concludes. “Failing to do so could exacerbate health inequities by race and income and exacerbate health problems broadly, particularly among adults with mental health conditions.”
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