The COVID-19 pandemic has forced federal, state, and local policymakers to respond by legislating, enacting, and enforcing social distancing policies. However, the impact of these policies on healthcare utilization in the United States has been largely unexplored. We examine the impact of county-level shelter in place ordinances on healthcare utilization using two unique datasets—employer-sponsored insurance for over 6 million people in the US and cell phone location data. We find that introduction of these policies was associated with reductions in the use of preventive care, elective care, and the number of weekly visits to physician offices, hospitals and other health care-related industries. However, controlling for county-level exposure to the COVID-19 pandemic as a way to account for the endogenous nature of policy implementation reduces the impact of these policies. Our results imply that while social distancing policies do lead to reductions in healthcare utilization, much of these reductions would have occurred even in the absence of these policies.
The study is available in Journal of Health Economics.