As researchers seek to better understand the COVID-19 virus, employers, schools and communities are seeking to better understand how to safely return to normal. How do we know when to reopen? What should reopen, and when? Which employees should be the first to return to work? What precautions are the most effective?
As an employer and a health services provider, we too are seeking answers to these questions and working to find the right path. One thing we know for sure is that the right data can help us – and other employers – make informed decisions to guide our way to a safe and healthy return to normal.
Understanding Your Risk
When plotting how to reopen, plan sponsors should be guided by the data available to them, both at a national level and within their own member populations.
The number of COVID-19 infections fluctuates widely by state and even by county, which illustrates why a comprehensive view is essential when determining the best environment to reopen. Another factor to consider is that employees with certain underlying medical conditions are at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Being able to cross-reference higher-risk employees with high COVID-19 infection areas is crucial when deciding when to reopen and which employees can return to work.
To help employers do just that, Express Scripts recently launched its COVID-19 Risk Dashboard. By showing where COVID-19 case data intersects with data about patient health, such as age and comorbid conditions, this tool helps employers quickly identify vulnerable populations within high- and low-risk areas at the national, state and county levels. It also helps with state and county-level comparisons.
Keeping Tabs on Non-COVID-19 Health and Wellness
Potential second, third and fourth waves of non-COVID-19 health and wellness issues as a result of the pandemic will present unique challenges to employers and communities.
The first wave magnified the need for a hyper-focused plan to address the virus itself. Entirely different levers will be needed to minimize economic injury, mental health impacts, non-COVID-19 health emergencies and the exacerbation of chronic diseases caused by millions of people delaying care or bypassing it altogether. To keep people healthy over the long term, plan sponsors need to address immediate needs and the evolving nature of this crisis.
Specifically, experts believe that the third wave will threaten an influx of non-COVID-19 conditions, because nearly half of Americans say they or someone they live with has delayed care since the beginning of coronavirus outbreak and one-third of them plan to wait at least three months longer to receive care or say they will not seek it at all.
The fourth wave could see an exacerbation of chronic conditions, which is why it’s important for patients to stay adherent to their therapy, even in the face of potential loss of benefits.
Adjusting Your Strategy
Four key areas are essential as plan sponsors establish their return-to-the-workplace strategy:
- Workplace health and safety, including plans to reopen workplaces safely and establishing processes to follow if an employee contracts the virus, to keep employees safe and healthy at work.
- Population health and clinical care to avoid exacerbating chronic diseases through better condition management, especially among those at highest risk for complications from COVID-19 infection, such as older people or those with specific risk factors.
- Greater affordability to help plan sponsors navigate financial challenges and economic uncertainty for their businesses and to ensure members can afford the care they need.
- Resiliency to cope with change by addressing whole-person and behavioral health needs in this stressful and uncertain time. In fact, according to research done as part of our America’s State of Mind report, prescriptions for anti-anxiety medications increased 34.1 percent from mid-February to mid-March as a result of COVID-19.
We don’t know what the next six months will bring, but we do know that flexibility to address upcoming challenges will be imperative for success, and that Express Scripts is uniquely positioned to partner with employers and plan sponsors along this journey.