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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Emergency room visits decreased drastically at the beginning of the pandemic, even among patients suffering from the most severe health conditions, according to a new study released yesterday in Health Affairs.

Why it matters: The study suggests that patients avoided a wide range of care — including for some life-threatening conditions — and not just care that is easily delayed.

By the numbers: The study found that emergency room visits decreased by 35% overall across a health system in the St. Louis metro area after the announcement of a stay-at-home order.

  • The most serious visits — those for emergency, nonpreventable care — decreased by 40%, and nonemergency visits decreased by 52%.
  • Mental health visits decreased by 32%, and visits due to alcohol and drugs didn't see a significant decrease.
  • Patients with Medicaid and private insurance saw larger decreases than those with Medicare. There were no observable differences by race.

Between the lines: High-stakes emergency room visits dropped a concerning amount, while low-stakes visits didn't decrease enough.

  • A decrease in ED visits for non-emergency care could be seen as a good thing for the system which too often sees overuse.
  • However, the data indicates many people who truly needed care didn't seek it out, while many of those who could have waited or gotten care elsewhere still showed up.

Go deeper

Updated Jun 7, 2021 - Health

UnitedHealthcare changes ER coverage

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Starting July 1, UnitedHealthcare says it plans to reduce coverage of — or stop paying for — non-emergency trips to the ER.

Why it matters: Unnecessary emergency room visits are a major source of wasted spending in U.S. health care. But critics say this policy from the nation's largest health insurer could hurt patients who mistakenly believe they'll be covered.

Updated 15 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Emergency room visits of all kinds dropped amid the pandemic — NY smart-thermometer network could predict next COVID wave.
  2. Vaccines: FDA clears 10 million J&J vaccine doses from contaminated Baltimore plant — Moderna asks FDA to expand COVID-19 vaccine authorization to adolescents.
  3. Cities: Seattle becomes first major city to get 70% fully vaccinated — Schools nationwide prepare for packed kindergartens this fall.
  4. Work: Goldman Sachs requires U.S. employees to report vaccination status.
  5. Politics: U.S. to buy 500 million Pfizer doses to share with the world — State Department eases travel advisories for dozens of countries.
  6. World: Moscow orders new restrictions amid surge in COVID-19 cases — 12 Venezuela players, staff contract COVID-19 before Copa America opener — 2021 already has a higher global coronavirus death toll than 2020.
  7. 🎧 Podcast: Back to normal without herd immunity.
  8. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.
Jun 7, 2021 - World

India's PM announces free coronavirus vaccines

Photo: T. Narayan/Bloomberg via Getty Images

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced Monday that the government would offer free COVID-19 vaccines to all adults later this month, Reuters reports.

Why it matters: Previously, India had only provided free vaccines to elderly adults and front-line workers — meaning most people within the 18–45 age group would have to pay a fee in order to be vaccinated.