SCHENECTADY — After squeezing evolution that might normally take several years into a few months, MVP Health Care is entering the second year of the COVID pandemic with some permanent changes in place and some others still to come:
- MVP members used telemedicine 10,000% more in 2020 than 2019, and the remote technology is expected to be a permanent part of the health care scene, if not quite at pandemic levels.
- The Schenectady-based health insurer may swing to an operating loss in 2021 after six years in the black, if members catch up on all the diagnostic tests and preventative care they skipped in 2020.
- Addressing the social determinants of wellness — the non-medical things in people’s lives that diminish their health, and which proved so damaging with COVID — will continue to increase in priority and importance.
“I think the pandemic has changed the trajectory of healthcare, and how healthcare is delivered to patients and our members,” CEO Chris Del Vecchio said Thursday, the one-year anniversary of the World Health Organization declaring COVID-19 a global pandemic.
Beyond health care itself, the business model for delivering it changed during the pandemic, with insurers and hospitals that normally compete with one another collaborating instead.
“The virus was and is bigger than any one individual or organization,” Del Vecchio said.
MVP has about 1,800 employees maintaining a network of 54,000 providers at 2,100 facilities in 70 counties across New York and Vermont for about 700,000 insured members.
2020 revenue was roughly $3.5 billion.
Its imposing headquarters on State Street is, in normal times, the workplace for 900 people, the largest single workforce in the downtown district.
Now, only a handful of people are working there — all but 60 MVP employees are still remote.
“I don’t think it’s going to be an easy time for people to come back to work,” Del Vecchio said, noting the continuing effects of the pandemic on the public psyche even as infectivity decreases and vaccination increases. There’s a tendency, he said, to underestimate the stress and anxiety involved in a prolonged crisis.
That said, MVP happened to be very well-prepared for remote work when the need suddenly arose a year ago — it had invested in mobile and remote technology to create flexibility for its employees working across MVP’s wide footprint.
Not everyone is hunkered down at home: MVP has had employees out at community events all through the pandemic, and that continues now with volunteers at vaccination sites.
There’s also talk of using the nearly empty MVP parking garage in downtown Schenectady as a centrally located mass vaccination site that’s both open to fresh air and sheltered from sun and rain, but no decision has been made, nor is there enough vaccine available yet to keep such an operation going.
Another big role for technology at MVP was telemedicine, by which doctors interview, diagnose and order treatment for patients via video links on computers or smart devices, with all the benefits of face-to-face conversation but none of the potential germ transmission.
MVP set up a virtual emergency room in two weeks, Del Vecchio added.
MVP members went from about 9,000 telemedicine visits in 2019 to 925,000 in 2020, a 105-fold increase. The surge was even greater among members living in the Capital Region: 180 times more visits in 2020 than 2019.
“Televisits are still up significantly” in 2021, despite medical offices being open and patients being more comfortable using them, Del Vecchio said.
One trend so far in 2021 is a result of the stress and anxiety Del Vecchio mentioned: Behavioral health visits now account for 49% of telemedicine visits through MVP, compared with 17% in 2020.
“I do believe telehealth and telemedicine is here to stay,” Del Vecchio said, calling it a game changer for health care — meeting people where they want to be seen. Some of the…