Amid pandemic, state sees 'concerning’ drop in preventive care visits for Hawaii keiki

Amid pandemic, state sees 'concerning’ drop in preventive care visits for Hawaii keiki

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Almost half of Hawaii’s keiki ― 150,000 kids ― are on Medicaid. That number is up by 10,000 because of the pandemic.

And a new report finds that in the early months of the outbreak, health care for all was largely ignored.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the federal agency that oversees Med-QUEST, has issued a new report that shows Hawaii near the bottom in several keiki health indicators.

The preliminary data tracked health visits, telehealth appointments, mental health services and immunizations, among other things for all the states and territories from January to June.

In March and April, as many state shut down, wellness checkups for children dropped just about everywhere after doctors nationwide closed their offices except for emergencies.

But by the summer, many other states showed a recovery in the number of kids getting checkups.

Only California and Hawaii continued to decline.

“To see us drop that much was very, very concerning. Well child visits are a lot of times also associated also with vaccinations,” Judy Mohr Peterson, Med-QUEST administrator,

She said immunization numbers dropped, too.

Before the COVID-19 closures, Hawaii scored either above the median when it came to checkups for children three years and under, but slightly below the median for adolescents.

Many of the medical providers resumed non-emergency visits by June, but parents didn’t follow up with appointments, expressing fear about exposing their kids to the virus.

Peterson noted, both adults and children can now get immunizations at a local pharmacy.

Dr. Melinda Ashton, executive vice president of Hawaii Pacific Health, said pediatricians also stepped up outreach in the summer.

“Working hard to reach out and get their patients to come in. We don’t want to have an outbreak of a disease that could have been prevented,” Ashton said.

She wants parents to know many offices now separate sick kids from well kids and space out appointments.

Another category Hawaii fell short in: Mental health services for children. According to the report, Hawaii was low to begin with but dropped even more.

Probably the most affected by the pandemic was telehealth.

The CMS report showed appointments using tele-conferencing spiked everywhere in April and May and many states showed steady progress.

Hawaii’s numbers rose sharply then quickly dropped again.

Peterson pointed out that many on Medicaid don’t have access to the necessary technology so the agency made adjustments, allowing appointments over the phone.

“It’s missing the video element and may not be appropriate for everything, but we did make that change because essentially, it’s an equity issue that not everybody would have had access," she said.

Med-QUEST said the telehealth numbers have since gone back up as more are comfortable online, especially in August and September, which were not included in the data.

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