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Researchers examine lost medical care among Medicare beneficiaries during pandemic

Physician-induced factors, such as closed physician offices, have played a major role in the lack of medical care for Medicare beneficiaries during the pandemic, according to a study.

The lack of medical care for Medicare beneficiaries during the coronavirus pandemic declined over time, and the lack of medical care was more pronounced among Medicare beneficiaries who reported mental health issues, a recent study find.

Before the pandemic, delayed or abandoned medical care was a known health problem and Previous search had linked it to poor health outcomes that unfairly impacted vulnerable patients. Other Previous search showed that about 40% of U.S. adults reported forgoing medical care during the pandemic, with fear of COVID-19 exposure cited as one of the reasons.

The recent study, published by JAMA Health Forum, includes data collected from over 23,000 Medicare beneficiaries over three time periods: June 7 to July 12, 2020, October 4 to November 8, 2020, and February 28 to April 25, 2021. Data was collected from Medicare Public use file of the current beneficiary survey COVID-19 supplement.

The recent study presents several key data points.

  • 11.5% of Medicare beneficiaries reported forgoing medical care due to COVID-19
  • Dental care was the most frequently delayed or abandoned care (4.3% of survey respondents), followed by prevention (4.0%) and examinations (3.9%)
  • The rates of abandoned medical care declined over the three time periods examined in the recent study, with the largest drop seen between June 7 and July 12, 2020 (22.4% to 15.9%)
  • Most Medicare beneficiaries foregone medical care due to physician-related factors, with the percentage of beneficiaries who foregone medical care due to physician-related factors dropping from 66.2% the week of July 7, 2020 at 44.7% the weeks of April 4. until April 25, 2021
  • From June 7 to July 12, 2020, the obstacle most often reported by doctors was the closing of the doctor’s office.
  • From April 4 to April 25, 2021, the barrier most often reported by doctors was that the doctor had reduced his appointments
  • The factor most frequently reported by the patient for previous care was that the patient felt a risk of exposure to COVID-19 and wanted to stay home
  • Medicare beneficiaries who reported feeling more stressed or anxious than those who were unlikely to forego medical care 4 percentage points higher
  • Medicare beneficiaries who reported feeling more alone or sad than those who were not likely to forego medical care by 3 percentage points higher
  • Medicare beneficiaries who reported feeling less socially connected than those who were unlikely to forego medical care 3 percentage points more

“The results of this cross-sectional investigative study suggest that public health emergencies, such as pandemics, may exacerbate existing barriers to care and cause patients to delay needed care. Factors unique to the pandemic included the shutdown of clinics. doctors’ offices, reduced appointment availability and fear of contagion. Medicare beneficiaries who experience increased mental health issues associated with the COVID-19 pandemic appear to be particularly vulnerable to the lack of of medical care, ”the study co-authors wrote.

Christopher Cheney is the editor of clinical care at HealthLeaders.

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