New challenges, new tools, new world: health care in the age of coronavirus – news you should know.
Last month Google launched new features that assist user searches for health care. According to a recent article in Becker’s Hospital Review, functionalities in Search and Maps will direct people to available virtual care options. In a search for a nearby provider, for instance, users may see the link “Get Online Care.” If clicked on, they will be directed to the provider’s website and can schedule a telehealth visit. Additionally, updates to the provider’s operating hours and walk-in policies — often subject to change during the COVID-19 pandemic — can be accessed via a link that will automatically display in a search. Another related roll out from Google: a pilot program that will include information such as out-of-pocket costs for virtual care.
Plans change; cause and mileage don’t
Tim and Ann Moe’s planned 2020 fundraiser for friends stricken with ALS and PSP hit a snag: COVID-19. As their ages put them in the high-risk category, the Moes had to rethink a cross-country walking/biking trip which was to start April 26 on the Elroy-Sparta Trail and end in San Francisco four months later. No problem. The Neenah, Wis., couple is doing the trip (400 miles walking/400 miles biking) from their front door, dedicating each week to one of the original ten states they were going to traverse. No travel, eating at home, sleeping in their own bed — and social distancing — is the plan now (“Take that, COVID-19,” said Tim). At press time, the Moes have virtually crossed California, Nevada, Utah and are headed to Colorado. To follow their progress, visit timannmoe.com. Donations go directly to finding cures for ALS and PSP.
A recent episode of the podcast The Dose discussed the history of medical-legal partnerships in the U.S. One of the country’s oldest is between the New York City Health and Hospital System and New York Legal Assistance Group, which offers legal support to the under-served. Via this partnership, some of the city’s poorest patients can get the necessary support needed to resolve issues that if left unresolved could take a toll on their health. The partnership is based on the practical concept that any group — in this case doctors, lawyers, nurses, social workers — can achieve far more for patients and families than any one of them working alone. This notion strongly resonates with the strategic partners of NOVO Health, who combine their expertise in a variety of areas including health care, law, finance, accounting and construction to develop bundled products and services that maintain company and employee health.
Pandemic reveals primary care vulnerabilities
Long before COVID-19, the U.S. was seeing declines in metrics evaluating performance criteria for its primary care system, including visits to primary care physicians, numbers of Americans with a usual source of primary care, and overall trust in their physicians. The pandemic has placed a spotlight on these weaknesses. A blog post from The Commonwealth Fund states people seeking routine care now face additional barriers that limit regular checkups, resulting in patients turning to more costly hospitals and urgent care centers for testing and treatment. Particularly at risk are those with co-morbidities and the poor. Another impact of the coronavirus: primary care practices, like many small businesses, are at risk of closing permanently. Less than half of primary care providers think they have the patient volumes or cash reserves to remain open for the next month. Policymakers are encouraged to develop solutions — alternative payment models and the telehealth infrastructure among them — to help patients and providers in the primary care space.
Despite concerns, small-business health insurance market healthy
The Commonwealth Fund’s blog To the Point reported that enrollment in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) regulated small group market has shown a decline, but it’s a decline they characterize as “steady” and not “precipitous.” Moreover, authors state, it continues a trend that preceded the ACA and is attributable at least in part to an increasing number of employers opting to go self-insured rather than paying premiums to an insurer. Characterized by critics as overly burdensome to small businesses, the reform was linked to predictions of skyrocketing premiums. Premiums since ACA have remained relatively stable (up 5% versus large group market increase of 4.5%), while annual double-digit increases were common a decade before the law was enacted.
Employers vs. health care industry
A number of large employer groups recently refused to sign on to requests for funding they regard as a “handout” for hospitals and insurers. According to an article on Axios.com, spending bills triggered by COVID-19 are escalating tensions between employers who fund a large portion of the U.S health care system and the operators of that system — hospitals, doctors and insurers. Adding fuel to the employers’ fire: legislative requests have been primarily penned by lobbying groups working for hospital systems and health insurers. Despite the understanding that employers get charged more — a lot more — for health care services vis a vis public insurers, they bristled at the notion of establishing a government program to pay commercial reimbursements. NOVO Health collaborates with employer partners and use their input to develop solutions that contribute to company and employee health through the delivery of high quality, cost-effective health care and related services. Partners pay for the health care they need when they need it and not legacy overhead costs while supporting other small businesses in their community — the independent providers. Visit novohealth.com to find out more.