COVID-19 ISO Insights

Indirect Health Impact Trends Resulting From COVID-19 Are Surfacing

November 2, 2020

By David Geller, CPCU, SCLA

With over 1.1 million deaths worldwide (over 200,000 of which in the United States), coupled with various long-term issues and concerns, the direct impacts resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak are clear.

Less certain are how the indirect impacts – specifically to health – will manifest. For example, our Featured Post for October dove into concerns pertaining to mental health and how this will be impacted in the long-term from the mitigation measures implemented to limit the spread of the virus.

Recently, the Wall Street Journal dove into some data that is surfacing pertaining to various second-order impacts of individuals not going in for checkups during the pandemic. Per the article, “hundreds of thousands of cancer screenings were deferred” after much of the U.S. healthcare system was closed this spring due to COVID-19.

Earlier in 2020, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) reportedly projected that these missed screenings and appointments could result in an additional 10,000 deaths from breast and colon cancer. As 2020 is coming to a close, the director of the NCI told the WSJ that this estimate may now appear to have been low.

Trends reported by 21st Century Oncology, a cancer-care provider with nearly 300 locations throughout the U.S., appear to support these fears. For example, from 2015-2019, the WSJ reports that the share of breast-cancer cases that were detected at an advanced stage was between 11% and 12.5%. In 2020 through August, 18% of diagnosed patients were deemed to be an advanced stage. This trend could have major consequences. Per the American Cancer Society, the likelihood of surviving cancer is much higher when diagnosed in early stages compared to later, as displayed in the below table:

Survival Rate Chart

Additionally, UnitedHealth, per the WSJ, found that in the first eight months of 2020, there were nearly one million less mammograms, colorectal, and cervical screenings than in the same period of 2019.

As the WSJ notes, given that many cancers can advance quickly, not being able to diagnose and treat at an earlier stage can have dire consequences for patients.

Deaths linked to other medical conditions – such as Alzheimer’s and heart attacks – have reportedly surpassed totals from previous years; a trend that some physicians and researchers believe, per the WSJ, potentially emanates, in part, from stress caused by the COVID-19 crisis as well.