Nearly a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, many in Michigan are asking what a post-COVID world will look like. COVID-19 has exacerbated many of the existing challenges within our healthcare system, including disparities in access to health coverage, high costs of care and medicine, inequitable outcomes, and more. As of this writing, over 475,000 Americans have died as a result of COVID-19. The American healthcare system is moving towards a value-based payment model, one in which quality of care and better health outcomes are incentivized. Our current system pays for the cost of delivering care regardless of outcome, spending an estimated $11,000 per person, compared to the $5,400 average per person in peer countries. The United States spends more on health care than almost every other developed nation in the world, yet we do not see improved health outcomes.
Prior to COVID, the use of telehealth services was restricted due to rigid regulations and guidelines put on providers. Since March 2020, however, many health systems around the nation have seen a significant uptick in the use of telehealth services. Looking forward, telehealth will no doubt become a standard practice throughout medicine.
Dr. Sherry Glied spoke about the history of our healthcare system and how entrenched the ties between insurance coverage and employment really are. Since the start of the COVID pandemic, 22.2 million jobs have been lost in America, leaving over 22 million people with potentially no health insurance coverage amidst the largest global health crisis in a century.
Tasha Blackmon discussed the illumination of health equality and health equity from the COVID pandemic. Ms. Blackmon shared that 4 in 10 adults have avoided care since the start of the pandemic, a number that rises when considering individuals with disabilities and/or two or more chronic conditions. In seeking to expand access to these populations, telehealth services has become a norm at Cherry Health and around the nation.
When discussing the future of healthcare, Dr. Darryl Elmouchi referenced lifestyle medicine and the idea of looking at health and wellness overall, taking social needs into account. This includes education level, quality of housing, access to reliable transportation, food security, and many other variables. Health Net of West Michigan works every day in this arena, walking alongside residents of Kent County to help navigate the wide array of social needs services available in our area in order to maintain optimal health for themselves and their families.
As the healthcare system evolves and we work towards a system reflective of universal coverage, it is imperative that we do not create more inequity within an already inequitable system. Our goal is health justice, in which no one needs support or accommodations because the systemic barriers of inequity have been removed. Ms. Blackmon said it best: “If population health is the goal, then set money aside to make people well!”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Doug Booth is currently the Chief Operating Officer for Health Net of West Michigan. Doug’s career has spanned higher education, nonprofit, and medical practice management. Doug is passionate about creating equitable systems change wherever he may be. Doug sits on the Board of Directors for The West Michigan Partnership for Children, as well as The Grand Rapids LGBTQ Healthcare Consortium where he also is serving as their treasurer. Doug is also the proud pet dad of his cat, Obi and his quarantine puppy, Chisme.