As the weeks pass, we’re starting to see more deferred care get rescheduled across the country. But we’re not totally out of the woods yet, and it could be dangerous if people get too comfortable. Experts are predicting at least one resurgence of COVID-19 this year and we must use the lessons learned from the last few months to enable consumers to continue accessing non-emergent care, while also handling COVID-19 patients and any potential resurgence.
During the pandemic, we witnessed many regular, non-emergent procedures canceled or deferred as the focus was, understandably, on treating COVID-19 patients and keeping non-infected patients safely at home. Even now as the initial surge is behind us and many states have reopened, some patients are still deferring their care – some due to continued fear of going back into a medical setting and the potential risk of contracting the virus, and others because they are strained financially from the pandemic and care has become increasingly less affordable. This is supported by our recent survey findings that found that half (47%) of Americans age 18-64 are more concerned about the cost of health care now than they were before COVID-19.
However, one lesson learned is that deferring care, for weeks or months, can be detrimental to health. Conditions can grow more severe which can lead to more expensive care down the road, not only for the consumer, but for their plan sponsors as well. It’s important to balance the health risks of COVID-19 with the health risks of skipping non-emergent medical care. Now is the time to establish the most efficient balance in order to help consumers get the care they need. We need to provide the tools and support to help consumers access non-emergent care safely and cost efficiently. If patients continue to put off care it will translate into significant financial and operational strain on payers, providers and the rest of the health care system.
Consumers can and want to become savvy shoppers of their health care. Not only does this allow consumers who are financially strained to find high quality care at a lower cost, but it also helps consumers compare different care locations as well. Our latest survey found that only 16% of consumers plan to return to a hospital setting to receive their care post-COVID. For those who don’t feel comfortable returning to a hospital, there are other options, including ambulatory surgery centers (ASCs) and imaging centers where they can receive care and feel safe. Consumers want tools to help them identify and access safe, cost-effective options for their care.
Our recently released 2020 SmartShopper Performance and Savings report demonstrates that consumers will shop for care and save money, when they have the right information, tools and support. In the past year, our SmartShopper digital shopping platform, supported by concierge services, saved over $33.5 million for plan sponsors, paid $4.7 million in cash incentives to consumers and achieved $654 in claims savings for every incentive paid to a consumer.
As we think about the rest of 2020, it’s important that we keep the elective care train rolling. Of course, we must prioritize care for COVID-19 patients, but we must also continue to provide access to elective and preventative care. Through empowering consumers with digital shopping tools and personalized support, they can continue to get the care they need in a safe environment and at a low cost.