This week, Florida TaxWatch (FTW) released “Beyond the Pandemic: Long Term Changes and Challenges for Health in Florida,” a report which addresses a unique confluence of factors that are contributing to important outcomes for the state’s health care system and consequently, the economy.
The analysis is the first installment in the taxpayer research institute’s COVID-19 Legacy Series, examining the impact of the pandemic on a particular focus area (like health) as well as the economic implications of those changes.
Florida TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic Calabro weighed in on the report on Tuesday.
“Florida TaxWatch is proud to kick off our COVID-19 Legacy Series by focusing on Floridians’ physical and mental health. Medical care and behavioral issues resulting from prolonged isolation have created challenges for Floridians of all ages. Widespread adoption and accessibility of telehealth is a potential solution, but for the foreseeable future, our efforts must focus on confronting those lingering issues and their associated costs, while also adapting to a rapidly aging population with a need for elderly care,” Calabro said.
During the early months of the pandemic, many Floridians decided to forgo non-COVID-19 -related care – primarily due to safety concerns and government directives to limit elective surgeries – leading to a 38 percent decrease in emergency department visits and a 32 percent decrease in outpatient centers. This forgone care and isolation has an estimated cost of $98.1 billion resulting from nearly 32,000 excess deaths in less than a year and a 12.7 percent increase in reports of anxiety or depression since April 2020. Psychological trauma from social isolation gave way to growing rates of behavioral health issues, and currently, Florida is the eighth highest among all 50 states for the average rate of anxiety and depression.
Additionally, while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that telehealth visits across the nation rose by 154 percent at the end of March 2020 when compared to the same timeframe in 2019, there are concerns of inadequate or inequitable accessibility, especially in low-income or rural areas. This is indicative of another health factor affecting Florida: An aging population, with residents 65 years of age or older expected to increase by 1.4 million in the next 25 years. The demand for Medicaid, which covers long-term care and is partly financed by the state, is therefore expected to increase over time as well.