What You Need to Know
- Some former ER users might have permanently shifted to urgent-care centers, the insurer's CEO says.
- UnitedHealth's net income fell in the second quarter, and revenue increased.
- Medicare Advantage and Medicaid enrollment were up.
The COVID-19 pandemic could lead to a permanent reduction in patients’ use of hospital emergency room services.
Executives from UnitedHealth Group talked about that possibility Thursday, during a conference call the company held to go over earnings for the second quarter with securities analysts.
Andrew Witty, the Minnetonka, Minnesota-based health insurer’s CEO, mentioned emergency room use in response to an analyst’s question about whether some of the health care skipped as a result of the pandemic may have been low-value care.
UnitedHealth executives believe that health plan enrollees skipped important checkups and sick visits because of social distancing efforts, medical office procedure changes and other pandemic-related factors. The company is assuming that it will eventually receive extra claims because of the impact of deferred, high-value care.
But Witty said he sees tantalizing signals about emergency room use in the claim trend figures. Emergency room use fell sharply during the pandemic, Witty said.
“It looks pretty sustained down, and it doesn’t seem to be coming back up,” he said. “A lot of people don’t expect that utilization to come back.”
The reduction in emergency room use could be the result of patients making more use of urgent care centers, he said.