Recognizing – and Addressing – COVID-19’s Newest Side Effects
September 17, 2020
We face two immense crises in the U.S. today – the pandemic and systemic racism – and they’re interlinked. As has been widely reported, the pandemic is hitting Black and brown people in our country harder– particularly those who are less healthy and less securely employed (and, consequently, less well-insured). According to Johns Hopkins, Black Americans are three times more likely to get COVID-19 than whites, and twice as likely to die from it.
But the pandemic and racism are devastating people’s health in more ways than one. A new survey conducted by Civis Analytics and released today by Civis and Finn Partners reveals that COVID-19-related unemployment is leading millions of Americans to lose their health insurance coverage, with people of color facing a disproportionately high risk of becoming uninsured.
While 8% of Americans overall said they lost their health insurance coverage due to COVID-19, the impact was dramatically higher for Black Americans; by September, more than a quarter (26%) of Black Americans were uninsured, following a steady rise from 17% in February. Latinx Americans, too, saw uninsured rates climb from 18% in February to 21% in both June and September. In comparison, 11% of white Americans were uninsured in February, rising only slightly to 12% in September.
The loss of health insurance coverage unfolding before our eyes adds insult to injury – restricting access to healthcare for millions of already vulnerable Americans, and creating a new layer of inequity in an already inequitable health system.
In the face of this reality, the health sector has a responsibility to act. Organizations across the ecosystem – product innovators, payers, providers – must rally to their patient-care mission in deed as well as word. Here are three approaches to consider:
- Help patients stay on their meds: With more than 10 million people estimated to lose their insurance coverage by year’s end, product developers must seriously consider ramping up their patient-assistance programs. Rebates, coupons, and providing needed drug products free of charge in the short term to those who have become uninsured can help keep people on their medication. The needs of those without insurance are pressing right now, especially for Black Americans, so there is no better time for drug companies to be good corporate citizens.
- Ensure open doors for the uninsured: Hospital systems must marshal their public affairs divisions and ramp up efforts to help those who have lost their insurance. There has not been a moment comparable to the current situation since the Great Depression, and hospitals can improve the health of local communities and aid in their economic recovery by offering free clinical care to those who have no job and no insurance. For hospitals, now is the time to be a good neighbor.
- Shifting the fee model: Payers need to consider how fee-for-service is failing our most vulnerable, and how they can support patients’ immediate needs during this emergency — for example, by scaling up support for affordable care and moving to value-based care or primary care capitation. Approaches like these to increase affordability and access will help the millions of Americans who have become uninsured – including the hardest-hit: communities of color – now and after the pandemic is over.
These and other health-sector responses must be undertaken genuinely – not because they will boost reputation, but because, as gatekeepers to and providers of care, we have a responsibility to help. We must do it because it is right.
In adversity, our true natures shine through. This is not only true of people, but of companies as well. Right now, the twin crises of the pandemic and systemic racism in America are requiring companies to act. As communicators, we must counsel our client partners to do so with responsibility and humanity.
[Special thanks to our FINN colleague Michael Heinley, senior partner, Health Practice, for his contributions to this post.]