Blog: The Short- and Long-Term Impacts of COVID-19 on Utah’s Health and Health Care Industry

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Blog: The Short- and Long-Term Impacts of COVID-19 on Utah’s Health and Health Care Industry

By: Laura Summers

Note: The opinions expressed are those of the author alone and do not reflect an institutional position of the Gardner Institute. We hope the opinions shared contribute to the marketplace of ideas and help people as they formulate their own INFORMED DECISIONS™.

Rising COVID-19 cases, social distancing, and potential shut-downs are changing the way we think about our health and how we intersect with the health care system. On Wednesday, July 15, the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute hosted a Newsmaker Breakfast that focused on the short- and long-term impacts of COVID-19 on Utah’s health and health care industry.

Attendees had an opportunity to hear from Dr. Amy Khan, M.D., M.P.H., Executive Medical Director of Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Utah; Mikelle Moore, Senior Vice President, Chief Community Health Officer at Intermountain Healthcare; and Steve Walston, Ph.D., Director, Master of Healthcare Administration Program at the University of Utah. Sterling Petersen, Analytics Lead for the Utah Department of Health’s Office of Health Care Statistics (OHCS), also presented data from OHCS’ Preliminary COVID-19 Healthcare Trends report.

Panelists focused on a range of topics, including (1) Is Utah better positioned to handle the effects of COVID-19 than other states? (2) How can we balance the need to protect our short-term health, while mitigating the long-term impacts of COVID-19 on our health, mental health, and well-being? And (3) What positive changes have been made as a result of COVID-19 that help improve health care accessibility and affordability?

While panelists agreed that Utah’s young, healthy population puts us in a better position to deal with the negative impacts of COVID-19 in terms of hospitalizations and deaths, they all noted there are still areas for concern. Like other states, Utah needs to expand testing capacity and learn how to better protect individuals hardest hit by the disease, including those with chronic conditions, minority populations, and essential workers. Panelists also noted that while Utah ranks high on healthy measures compared to other states, we also have less hospital capacity. Our health care system was built to meet the needs of a healthy population and may not be fully equipped to deal with a rapid rise in the number of individuals who require immediate hospitalization.

Panelists were also concerned about the long-term impacts COVID-19 could have on Utah’s health, mental health, and well-being. Particularly since Utah has long struggled with mental health issues and high suicide rates, both of which could be exacerbated by this pandemic. Panelists noted more needs to be done to ensure integrated, affordable, and culturally appropriate access to health and mental health services. That said, the transition to telehealth in response to social distancing directives has helped in maintaining—and in some ways expanding—access to behavioral health services.

In addition to increased use of telehealth, other positive changes that have occurred as a result of COVID-19 include (1) decreasing inappropriate use of health care, (2) expanding access to prescription refills and supplies, (3) improving case management, and (4) maintaining low transmission rates of COVID-19 within the hospital system.

Panelists concluded by discussing the need to shift to value-focused care and value-based payments to reform the health care industry in ways that reduce health care costs, improve health care outcomes, and allow for a better response to pandemics like COVID-19. Paying for value, rather than volume, enables health care systems to be more responsive to community needs, more consumer-focused, and more financially able to weather downturns in service volumes.

These are just a few highlights discussed at this Newsmaker Breakfast. If you missed the event, the video link is now available.

Laura Summers is the senior health care analyst at the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.