COVID-19 and Unmet Healthcare Needs of Older People: Did Inequity Arise in Europe?

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Background: The disruption in healthcare provision due to the COVID-19 pandemic forced many non-urgent medical treatments and appointments to be postponed or denied, which is expected to have huge impact on non-acute health conditions, especially in vulnerable populations such as older people. Attention should be paid to equity issues related to unmet needs during the pandemic. Methods: We calculated concentration indices to identify income-related inequalities and horizontal inequity in unmet needs due to postponed and denied healthcare in people over 50 during COVID-19, using data from the Survey on Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE). Results: Very few countries show significant income-related inequalities in postponed, rescheduled or denied treatments and medical appointments, usually favouring the rich. Only Estonia, Italy and Romania show a significant horizontal inequity (HI) in postponed healthcare, which apparently favours the poor. Significant pro-rich inequity in denied healthcare is found in Italy, Poland and Greece. Conclusions: Although important income-related horizontal inequity in unmet needs of European older adults during the early waves of the COVID-19 pandemic is not evident for most countries, some of them have to carefully monitor barriers to healthcare access. Delays in diagnosis and treatments may ultimately translate into adverse health outcomes, reduced quality of life and, even, widen socio-economic health inequalities among older people.
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