Health experts fear another crisis as people lose health coverage during the pandemic

Updated: Jun. 9, 2020 at 6:35 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) -There are growing concerns there could be another health crisis because of pandemic-related job losses and people having their health coverage terminated. Doctors and health policy experts urge those without health coverage to take action to ensure they can get the medical care they need.

Dr. Mark Diana is Chairman of the Department of Health Policy and Management at Tulane’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.

"In terms of coverage and in terms of being able to provide or pay for care that's a serious challenge for folks who may have had private insurance, who may have lost their jobs and may have lost their coverage,” he said.

Diana and others say it is important that people who have lost health coverage and cannot afford to buy insurance on their own apply for Medicaid.

"I would encourage people if they lost insurance, they've lost employment, that they should apply for Medicaid coverage,” said Diana.

Dr. Nicholas Van Sickels, Chief Medical Officer at Crescent Care, which operates in the inner-city also stressed the importance of people applying for government-funded health coverage if they cannot afford to purchase it on their own because a lot is at stake. He said doctors are seeing people die of conditions unrelated to COVID-19.

And Dr. Diana says the federal Affordable Care Act’s health insurance marketplace may not be much help to people who are unemployed.

“The individual marketplace through Obamacare, of course, there are income requirements. You know, you have to be within a certain income range to be eligible for subsidies there, or to even be eligible. If you're below that 138 percent of the poverty level, then you're eligible for Medicaid,” said Diana.

But for those individuals who can afford to buy their own health coverage, there is a marketplace for that, said Jeff Drozda, Chief Executive Officer of the Louisiana Association of Health Plans.

"We're looking to offer various products on the private, individual markets that will be able to be affordable and also provide adequate healthcare coverage,” said Drozda.

He said premiums have not changed in Louisiana during the pandemic.

"Right now, premiums are holding fairly steady, they're set for the entire year right now,” said Drozda.

He also acknowledged that even some people with health coverage are delaying medical procedures.

“And so there is the pent-up utilization aspect of what the health plans are looking at because with COVID and with the quarantine there were a lot of individuals who were withholding or holding off on elective surgeries until they were able to get back in to see their doctor or to the clinic and so what we will see is possibly a dramatic increase of utilization over the next six months,” he said.

Drozda said insurers are prepared to offer temporary health coverage.

"Also, in Louisiana we have what's called short-term health insurance that is good for 30, 60 days, maybe six months,” Drozda stated.

Delays in seeking healthcare can lead to more serious complications and may result in hospitalizations, health experts say.

“And when they get too sick they end up having to go and then we spend more taking care of someone who's sicker than they would have otherwise been so, it’s sort of a triple whammy there,” Diana said.

He was asked if America’s safety net healthcare system is able to handle what is occurring due to the pandemic.

"In a word, no, no. I think this pandemic has exposed a number of weaknesses in our healthcare system,” said Diana.

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