Teva survey finds COVID has 'widened the chasm' on health disparities

By now, it’s no surprise that the global pandemic has worsened long-standing health inequities—and pharma has stepped up with a flood of initiatives to try to tackle the problem. 

But a new Harris Poll commissioned by Israel-based generics giant Teva Pharmaceuticals and the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta shows just how much work the industry and others have left to do.

The drugmaker and the historically black university's medical school released the wide-ranging survey this morning to coincide with the start of Black History Month.

Called "State of Access to Healthcare in America," it polled more than 4,000 consumers and 600 healthcare professionals and reinforces previous studies showing a wide gulf between people of color and white Americans when it comes to healthcare access and outcomes. 

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“The survey results are clear: COVID-19 has widened the chasm,” Morehouse School of Medicine President and CEO Valerie Montgomery Rice, M.D., said in a press release, adding that the results should “further our resolve to address and eliminate” the disparities.

For example, 34% of Black, Indigenous or people of color said they found it difficult to access a good-quality doctor or hospital, compared to only 19% of white Americans; 20% said they faced difficulty accessing their prescription medications compared to 14% of whites. 

When it came to the impact of COVID itself, the differences were striking, with 42% of people of color saying someone in their household has had the virus, compared to just 18% of whites. Hispanic respondents reported being hit hardest, with twice as many as whites saying that a close friend, family member or loved one had died from COVID-19 (41% versus 21%, respectively).

The survey, which was conducted last September and October, reinforces the concern among many health officials that the steep drop in check-ups and screenings that has occurred during the pandemic may worsen existing health disparities. 

Half of all consumers said they’d postponed or canceled health appointments during COVID-19, but people of color were more likely to do so than whites (64% versus 53%, respectively). The most common reason for the missed appointments was fear of catching COVID-19, but others, particularly Hispanics, said they couldn’t miss work or didn’t have child care or transportation.

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Healthcare providers echoed consumers’ concerns about access, with 85% saying COVID-19 prevented many of their patients from getting the care they needed during the pandemic. 

Christine Baeder, senior vice president and chief operating officer of U.S. generics for Teva, said in an interview that the company commissioned the study in hopes the data would advance an industrywide conversation about the problem, involving not only Teva's pharma competitors but also payers, HCPs, pharmacists and other stakeholders. 

“We’re digesting the data, and we are definitely looking at places where we can dig in and be able to help in a more meaningful way,” she said. Specifics are still being discussed, but one area Teva will likely explore is improving access to telehealth and digital health, she said.

The survey points to the need. While three-fourths of doctors said they’d likely to continue to offer telehealth visits after the pandemic —and 58% of consumers said they’d likely to keep using them—more than 25% of physicians worried about patients who wouldn’t be able to access the technology.