COVID-19 and the Impact on Primary Care

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The pandemic has wreaked havoc on just about every aspect of life with the need to make almost instant changes. While much of the focus has been on hospital capacity and inadequate supplies of personal protective equipment, the plight of primary care practices and, in particular, independent community-based primary care practices has not gotten the same level of attention.

The financial devastation caused by physical distancing is substantial. A study by researchers from Harvard Medical School and the American Board of Family Medicine projected $15.1 billion revenue losses caused by COVID-19 among primary care practices based on volume data for general practices, general internal medicine practices, general pediatric practices and family medicine practices. 

Telehealth Reimbursement Relief

Amid the pandemic, Medicaid and Medicare lifted reimbursement restrictions and more than 35 states have passed parity laws requiring private healthcare insurance companies to reimburse providers for telehealth delivery. Telemedicine technical assistance is available from the Primary Care Development Corporation (PCDC) to help practices set up and effectively run telehealth visits.

One obstacle is that not all insurers cover phone calls as telehealth, which is problematic for patients without reliable access to the internet.  A study by Microsoft in 2018 estimated that about half of Americans—163 million people—do not have high-speed internet at home. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) puts the number even higher, noting that as the US races to be the first country to roll out superfast 5G internet connectivity nationwide, 21 million Americans remain without any broadband connection at all in 2017. BroadbandNow, a consumer website, puts the figure at double that.

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It is especially a problem in rural areas. Before the pandemic, many people in excluded rural areas found workarounds. Small business owners visited friends’ houses to communicate with customers or file online accounts. Students would go to their local libraries or even fast-food restaurants to do homework. But now, with public buildings closed and people confined to their homes, people can no longer rely on those options.

It’s unknown whether the government will continue to embrace the flexibility realized during the pandemic.

Meeting the Challenge

We remain dedicated to strengthening primary care to ensure that everyone, especially the most vulnerable and underserved, have access to excellent healthcare. From health “supercenters” in rural California to serving the homeless in NYC; expanding LGBTQ healthcare in Brooklyn to increasing the reach of Connecticut’s largest federally qualified health center (FQHC) serving three urban areas; helping HealthCore Clinic in Kansas execute innovative strategies to promote population health to transforming primary care in New Orleans—PCDC has been at the forefront of helping underserved communities for more than 25 years.

We are committed to helping healthcare providers through the tough challenges of the pandemic. We urge you to investigate our available resources and to contact us to see how we can assist you.

PCDC’s COVID-19 Resources

Through advocacy, investment, and quality transformation, PCDC is committed to helping create the system we need. Learn more about PCDC’s financing options, training and technical assistance services, and tips for implementing telehealth.