According to the latest National Health Expenditure data released Dec. 16 by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, health spending grew by 4.6% in 2019. It is not surprising that costs continued to rise in 2019, as these numbers do not reflect the COVID-19 pandemic. A recent article from the Kaiser Family Foundation revealed that in 2020, health services revenues have fallen by 2.4% compared to last year. Ambulatory care settings such as physician offices and outpatient care centers saw the largest drop in utilization (4% and 4.7%, respectively). Though the use of telehealth rapidly increased, it did not make up for the loss of in-person visits.

No one should celebrate reducing health spending this way, because it means patients are skipping important care. As of late April, according to an analysis by Epic Health Research Network, cancer screening rates have fallen rapidly, with patients more hesitant to leave home due to COVID-19. A follow-up review by the organization estimated there has been 285,000 missed breast cancer screenings, 95,000 missed colon cancer screenings, and 40,000 missed cervical cancer screenings so far in 2020.

Why It Matters: A reduction in overall care does not necessarily translate to the elimination of low-value care. Due to the pandemic, patients opted out of both necessary and unnecessary services. While a decrease in low-value care services is a step in the right direction, missed high-value care services such as cancer screenings will have long term impacts on our system, and more importantly, on patient outcomes. As our health system recovers from this public health crisis, we must continue to persuade clinicians and policy makers to stay focused on optimizing our system to promote high-value care.