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The COVID-19 pandemic and resultant shelter-in-place orders disrupted nearly all business activity, especially access to medical care. While the specific timing of disruptions varied by state, April 2020 saw many healthcare facilities suspend all nonurgent medical procedures.

In a newly published study, the National Council on Compensation Insurance associated costs with the time to treatment for WC claims based on historical information to provide some insight into the impact of postponed medical care for specific WC injuries.

The pandemic’s impact on medical services includes:

– – A decline in active claim volume
– – An increased use of telemedicine
– – Minimal change in both the share and seriousness of injuries treated in an emergency room (ER)
– – An increase (after April 2020) in the use of ambulatory surgical centers (ASCs) above pre-pandemic levels

With respect to time to treatment, the pandemic:

– – Did not adversely impact access to care, as measured by the time from injury to initial treatment
– – Produced a backlog of surgeries in April and May 2020 that diminished throughout the summer
– – May have resulted in greater use of noninvasive treatments that, with comparable outcomes, are often preferred over invasive procedures

For four common WC injuries (one back, one shoulder, and two knee injuries), we studied historical experience of how the total incurred cost per case is associated with the time from injury to surgery and found:

– – Post-pandemic delays are typically too short to impact the average incurred cost per case
– – The largest cost increases occur for back and shoulder injuries – and only after exceptionally long delays to surgery
– – For these four WC injuries, the cost impact due to pandemic – based suspensions is minimal

While NCCI found clear evidence of small delays in access to care associated with the pandemic, it found no convincing evidence that either access to care or the quality of care was adversely impacted. The overall impact on claim costs directly associated with postponed medical care is uncertain. While still preliminary, it found no convincing evidence that access to quality care was adversely impacted.