Virus shutdown took a toll on routine health care for kids

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FILE - In this July 24, 2020, file photo Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Seema Verma speaks during an event with President Donald Trump to sign executive orders on lowering drug prices, in the South Court Auditorium in the White House complex in Washington. Federal officials say a sharp decline in routine medical care for low-income children during the coronavirus shutdown will cause long-term harm if not reversed. A data snapshot released Wednesday by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, found that vaccinations, screening for childhood diseases, visits to the dentist, and even mental health care, dropped precipitously from March through May of this year. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

WASHINGTON – A sharp decline in routine medical care for low-income children during the coronavirus shutdown could cause long-term harm if not reversed, federal officials warned Wednesday.

A data snapshot from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS, found that vaccinations, screening for childhood diseases, visits to the dentist and even mental health care dropped precipitously from March through May of this year, when doctors' offices and hospitals put elective services on hold to confront the coronavirus.

“The absence of these vital health care services may have lifelong consequences for these vulnerable children, and I call on states, pediatric providers, families, and schools to ensure children catch up," CMS administrator Seema Verma said in a statement.

The data, based on an analysis of billing records, come from Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program, which together cover nearly 40 million low-income children.

Among the findings:

— Early childhood vaccinations declined by 22%, or 1.7 million fewer immunizations for kids up to age 2.

— Time-sensitive screenings for cognitive or developmental problems fell by 44%.

— Even after accounting for increased use of telehealth, there were 6.9 million fewer mental health visits.