In the first quarter, UnitedHealth Group Inc. executives continued to see COVID-19 have a push-and-pull effect on health care claim costs.
The third COVID-19 wave did push up COVID-19 care costs in January, but the wave also reduced use of other types of care, according to John Rex, UnitedHealth’s chief financial officer.
Patients avoided use of elective care, and social distancing reduced the impact of illnesses such as influenza, Rex said.
In February and March, the number of COVID-19 cases fell, and COVID-19 care costs fell to about half of what they were in January. But the reduction in pandemic intensity pulled use of other types of medical care close to normal levels, Rex said.
“Over the course of the first quarter, total care activity, including COVID-19-related care, ran marginally below the seasonal baseline,” Rex said.
Executives said they expect to see the amount of care used increase later in the year, as more people get vaccinated, the COVID-19 pandemic recedes, access to care improves, and the lack preventive care during the pandemic leads to an increase in health problems.