Since the COVID-19 pandemic forced more seniors to stay at home and maintain a physical distance from loved ones, the impact to their mental health has been a key concern of Medicare Advantage organizations over the last year. In response, many MAOs ramped up efforts to address social isolation and loneliness and expanded their telehealth benefits to include visits with behavioral health providers. And while health plans also eased Part D restrictions to smooth members’ access to medications, a recent Health Affairs study shows that new starts of antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs among seniors were well below expected and historical levels, suggesting there may be an opportunity for insurers to better integrate pharmacy management into their whole-person care of MA members.

Antidepressant New Starts Fell in 2020

The June study, “Decline In New Starts Of Psychotropic Medications During The COVID-19 Pandemic,” sheds some light on prescription drug statistics from the first five months of the pandemic. Researchers analyzed IQVIA Longitudinal Prescription Data collected from Jan. 1, 2018, to Aug. 8, 2020, to assess changes in the number of new starts for three categories of psychotropic medications — antidepressants, anxiolytics and antipsychotics — compared with pre-COVID norms and forecasted levels. During the initial stay-at-home period of mid-March to mid-May, new starts of all three medication types fell dramatically from expected levels, and over the first five months of the pandemic, there were approximately 7.5% fewer new starts of antidepressants, 5.6% fewer new starts of anxiolytics and 2.6% fewer new starts of antipsychotics, according to the study.

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