Updated: Oct 5, 2021
It comes as little surprise to anyone that America's healthcare system was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, in more than one way. Unfortunately, as 2022 approaches, we are showing few new positive indicators. The damage done by this pandemic continues to occur on a weekly, daily, and even hourly basis.
People need help.
The Affordable Care Act, or ACA, requires a bit of national introspection. The big question today is: where are we heading as a nation? What does the post-COVID-19 year of 2022 look like for our country?
An analysis conducted by PwC's Health Research Institute suggests a continued trend of year-over-year increases in medical costs of 6.5%, a modest .5% drop from the prior year. If we look at all years between 2016 and 2020, we find medical costs continue to escalate more aggressively than wages.
Many health procedures were tabled or deferred during the heart of the pandemic's initial year. While this trend substantially dwindled in 2021 as hospitals began accepting more nonessential treatments, the medical infrastructure as a whole hasn't caught up. The consequence of deferrals meant fewer healthcare claims for employer healthcare plans. However, in 2022, those procedures are likely back on the table and the deferrals may add additional costs.
There's a cost associated with testing for COVID-19 and attempting to end the pandemic. However, a Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) analysis projects that COVID-19 testing and the dissemination of vaccines (boosters or initial doses) will continue into 2022.
The number of people in need of mental health assistance has increased, most likely due to pandemic-related stress. Likewise, increased stress has prompted an uptick in substance abuse.
Poor health choices such as unhealthy eating habits, less gym time, and increased smoking and drinking are also related to the pandemic and continue to contribute to increased medical costs.
Future Pandemic Preparedness
If we've learned anything from the COVID-19 pandemic, it's that we were somewhat ill-prepared for the fallout. But now, our experience continues to teach our medical infrastructure what's needed for the next pandemic.
According to the KFF analysis, the supply chain needs a revamp. When COVID-19 hit the United States in early 2020, the medical supply chain showed signs of weakness. As a result, we expect pharmaceutical companies to lead the charge in upgrading our medical supply chain to make our future pandemic response more efficient. In addition, the cost of personal protective equipment (PPE) remains inflated, adding more complexity to the matter. There will also be spending in areas that look to close the gaps of racial inequality in healthcare.
Investments In Digital Medicine, Technology
Prior to 2020, the emphasis placed on remote medical services hardly prompted meaningful conversation. But today, the focus on digital medical initiatives is front and center. Unfortunately, while the long-term effects likely result in decreased costs, the short-term developmental phases presumably spike expenses.
Remote appointments have ushered in a new, safer, and more convenient way to interact with doctors and patients. The use of mobile apps has helped both patients and doctors grow more comfortable with digital-based appointments. But apps must be developed, tuned, upgraded, and evolved forward. Such endeavors will take time and labor. The vast restructure of the way we interact with medical professionals is sure to pay back enormous dividends both financially and medically.
When viewing the analysis by PwC's Health Research Institute, there is clearly a disparity between short-term and long-term medical expense conditions. COVID-19's continued detrimental influence over the short-term prognosis remains apparent; however, a better long-term forecast likely emerges in the coming years. Creating broader, more inclusive, and more affordable healthcare plans alongside the evolution of sophisticated remote medical services offers new methods of delivering medicine.