The novel coronavirus pandemic forced some unfortunate realities on people who lost their jobs, suffered adverse health issues or were just rocked by their way of life turning completely on its head. Often, their concerns were tied to one another — most Americans have their health insurance coverage through their employment, and with tens of millions finding themselves out of work in the past year, the prospect of losing coverage in the middle of a pandemic was a major concern.
While public sentiment about the course of the pandemic is slowly shifting toward more positive outlook, that feeling still isn't particularly widespread or strong, according to the latest polling from Gallup. As of early January, 63% of Americans felt the pandemic was actually getting worse, but that number was down from 73% who felt the same way a few weeks earlier.
These were actually two of the highest numbers since the pandemic began, but the decline in negative sentiment was matched more or less directly by increases in people who felt things were getting better (rising by half from 12% to 18%) or staying more or less the same (a one-third increase from 15% to 20%). Interestingly, these changes have roughly coincided with the changes in percentage of new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. from one month to the next. Overall, though, 57% of respondents still say they are moderately or very worried about the coronavirus, a number that has pretty much held steady for the past several months, and is unchanged from the first poll Gallup conducted on the subject.
Protections are there, but varied
The COVID crisis caught most people and companies by surprise, but to their credit, health insurers were quick to respond and provide their policyholders with assurances. The industry group America's Health Insurance Plans reports that many of the nation's largest coverage providers are waiving certain costs for in-person and telemedicine visits, and have continually pushed back the dates by which they previously planned to end those allowances due to the ongoing and unpredictable nature of the outbreak. Many are also covering a larger share of health care costs related to testing for or even treating COVID than they would for other health issues.
However, industry polling data suggests that even these measures may not have been enough to convince Americans that they should continue pursuing potentially necessary health care amid an economic downturn. For instance, 3 in 5 respondents said they have either canceled or delayed a planned appointment because they are worried about becoming infected by COVID themselves, and half say the virus has had a negative effect on the health of at least one person in their household.
Of course, this all comes as the various COVID vaccines are starting to roll out, slowly but surely, across the U.S. and around the world, and that fact alone may help people feel better about the overall situation in the near future. A recent survey of Medicare beneficiaries from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services found that almost 60% of respondents say they will probably (24%) or definitely (34%) get the COVID vaccine, and another 26% weren't sure.
This comes as the vast majority of those polled have taken preventative steps to reduce their risk of getting or spreading the virus: 99% have increased use of hand sanitizer or washing, 97% have worn a face mask, 93% have avoided contact with sick people, and 92% have engaged in social distancing and avoided large groups, among other measures. However, fewer than 1 in 4 said they had consulted with a health care provider about the coronavirus, and fewer than 2 in 3 say their usual providers allow them to book telemedicine appointments.
It's not just physical health
Meanwhile, it's worth noting that physical health concerns aren't the only issue that has accompanied the pandemic. Between financial stress, the difficulty of going a long time without seeing friends and family and just a general sense of "cabin fever," mental health for many Americans has become a major issue over the past year. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention recently found that nearly 21% of Americans took a prescription medication for a mental health issue, up from just over 19% in August. Moreover, this share has been on a more or less growing trend throughout the intervening time, slowly creeping upward over the course of several months.
Sadly, the number of people taking such medications pales in comparison with the 33.6% who say they have experienced symptoms of anxiety and depression in the previous four weeks.
For these reasons, and many more, health insurers and care providers would be wise to do more outreach with their policyholders or patients. Something as simple as letting them know what options might be available to them for low- or no-cost treatment, as needed, could help them find the care they need without increasing their stress or health risks.