CMS reports on use of healthcare services by vulnerable people during pandemic

May 17, 2021

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released data highlighting the continued impact the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE) is having on how the beneficiaries of Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) utilize healthcare services.

The data show that, from March through October 2020, beneficiaries have foregone millions of primary, preventive, and mental healthcare visits due to the COVID-19 PHE, compared to the same time period in 2019, CMS said.

The preliminary findings show that more than 1.2 million beneficiaries have received treatment for COVID-19 through October 2020, with nearly 124,000 hospitalizations. Further, the secondary impacts of COVID-19 on service utilization have been significant.

For COVID-19 treatment and outcomes, over 1.2 million beneficiaries have received treatment, and nearly 124,000 Medicaid and CHIP beneficiaries have been hospitalized through the end of October 2020. Further, Medicaid and CHIP have paid for more than 9.9 million COVID-19 tests or testing-related services since the start of the public health emergency, not including tests or testing-related services provided free of charge or covered by other insurance programs, including Medicare.

Although some data suggest that children may have less severe illness from COVID-19 compared to adults, their service utilization across many key domains — such as primary, preventive, dental, and mental health services — has dropped over the course of the pandemic.

Although utilization rates are rebounding in many key areas and across the majority of states, millions of services still need to be delivered to make up for those services missed between March and October 2020, CMS noted. For service delivery, there has been a notable increase in the number of services delivered via telehealth compared to prior years, with a peak in April 2020 and a gradual decline since. For beneficiaries with mental health or substance use disorders, service utilization dropped substantially in April 2020 and has continued to decline in nearly all states. Compared to prior years’ rates, there is a notable gap in services for mental health conditions and SUDs.

There has been a decline in service use among this population across a number of key domains. When compared to data from the same time period in 2019 (March through October 2019), preliminary data for 2020 show 1.8 million (9%) fewer vaccinations for beneficiaries up to age two, 4.6 million (21%) fewer child screening services, 14 million (34%) fewer mental health services, and 11.4 million (39%) fewer dental services.

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