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Reproduced from The Commonwealth Fund; Chart: Axios Visuals

Outpatient visits have returned to their pre-pandemic levels after declining by nearly 60%, according to a new analysis by the Commonwealth Fund.

Why it matters: The massive drop-off in people seeking medical care was bad both for providers and for patients, many of whom delayed care for conditions that may have worsened.

Yes, but: Visits vary by age, provider specialty and insurance type.

  • Visits by young children still are still well below the baseline.
  • And while dermatology and adult primary care visits are substantially up, behavioral health and cardiology visits remain down.

What we're watching: Telemedicine visits initially surged, but have since dropped off. However, they're still above pre-pandemic levels, and experts predict that this may be a lasting side effect of the pandemic.

Related: As people return to their doctors, health insurers will have to start paying claims again.

  • UnitedHealth Group's profit in the third quarter dipped 10% as people sought health care at rates "more closely approaching normal," executives said on an earnings call yesterday.

Go deeper

Jan 16, 2021 - Health

Majority gives Dems new health care goals

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A narrow Democratic majority increases the odds that significant health care legislation could become law.

What they're saying ... The Kaiser Family Foundation's Larry Levitt listed health policies that Democrats may enact with a Senate majority:

  • Nullifying the pending GOP lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act.
  • Making ACA premiums more affordable.
  • Offering incentives for states to expand Medicaid.
  • Allowing the government to negotiate drug prices.
  • Eliminating cost-sharing for coronavirus treatment.

Who to watch: Most Democratic policymaking on health care will come from the administration — specifically President-elect Biden's pick to head up the Department of Health and Human Services, Xavier Becerra.

  • Biden has also announced a task force, led by Marcella Nunez-Smith, on racial disparities in health care — a longstanding problem that got more urgent during the pandemic. 
Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Updated 7 hours ago - Technology

A dark view of the future of autonomous weapons

A still from the video "If Human: Kill ( )." Image: Future of Life Institute

A new short film warns of the coming risks posed by the development and proliferation of lethal autonomous weapons.

Why it matters: Drones with the ability to autonomously target and kill without the assistance of a human operator are reportedly already being used on battlefields, and time is running out to craft a global ban of what could be a destabilizing and terrifying new class of weapon.

Updated 8 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus variant surveillance varies widely by state — Omicron cases confirmed in 5 U.S. states America probably won't lead the effort to understand Omicron.
  2. Vaccines: Omicron adds urgency to vaccinating world — Omicron fuels the case for COVID boosters — Moderna loses patent battles tied to COVID vaccine — Pfizer could have vaccine data for children under five by end of 2021, CEO says.
  3. Politics: Nevada to impose insurance surcharge on unvaccinated state workers — New Jersey GOP lawmakers defy statehouse COVID policy — Oklahoma sues Biden administration over Pentagon vaccine mandate — Omicron travel bans are sign of what's to come.
  4. World: WHO: Delta health measures help fight Omicron — COVID cases surge in South Africa in sign Omicron wave is coming — Germany approves new restrictions for unvaccinated people.
  5. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.