New Report Outlines Dramatic Reduction in Access to Primary Care – Including Oral Health Care – During Pandemic

Harvard Center for Primary Care, CareQuest Institute, Milbank Memorial Fund support expert analyses of COVID-19 impacts to identify opportunities for future of primary care

The COVID-19 pandemic dramatically reduced access to primary care worldwide, including oral health care, especially for those who were already disproportionately at risk for COVID-19, according to a new report released today.

The Harvard Center for Primary Care, with support from the CareQuest Institute for Oral Health and the Milbank Memorial Fund, released, “Primary Care in the COVID-19 Pandemic,” which provides analysis of primary care trends over the course of the pandemic from top health care leaders. The report also includes a range of strategies for primary care clinical teams, health care industry leaders, and policy experts to improve access to high quality primary care, accelerate transitions to alternative forms of care delivery, and address health disparities.

Authors of the report seek to uncover and provide a deeper understanding of the following:

  1. How access to high quality primary care is being preserved or improved during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  2. Which primary care practice challenges and responses during the COVID-19 pandemic provide opportunities for accelerating transitions to alternative care delivery models including virtual care and value-based payments for population health.
  3. Specific care strategies that can best address health disparities highlighted or heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Primary care suffered greatly at the hands of COVID-19. In-person visits were eliminated nearly everywhere, loss of revenue threatened the survival of several, especially small, primary care practices and concerns about exposure to the virus kept at-risk patients from seeking primary care services for months. This has exposed disparities that have long existed in health care and are deeply rooted in structural racism, poverty, and other social determinants that disproportionally impact marginalized communities,” said Russ Phillips, Director of the Harvard Center for Primary Care. “That is why we partnered with some of health care’s most brilliant minds to identify opportunities to best advance primary care in support of health equity.”

Oral health is a critical, yet often disregarded, aspect of primary care that was particularly impacted by the pandemic. According to research by CareQuest Institute for Oral Health, more than six million adult Americans lost their dental insurance due to the pandemic and nearly two-thirds of them had a symptom frequently linked to oral diseases. Many others cancelled or put off important preventive care over the last year – nearly 4 in 10 adults delayed care because of concerns ranging from cost and lacking insurance to risk of exposure to the virus.

“Oral health care is a significant, yet overlooked, driver of health disparities,” said Dr. Myechia Minter-Jordan, president and CEO of CareQuest Institute. “The communities hit hardest by the pandemic are those that have historically faced structural barriers to accessing dental care, including low-income communities, rural communities, and communities of color. Americans in poverty are 2.5 times more likely to have an unmet dental need due to lack of insurance, and Black adults are 68% more likely to have an unmet dental need than white adults.  Moreover, oral health providers working to meet the needs of these patients and communities in the midst of the pandemic have experienced financial and operational challenges that affect their ability to reliably provide care. The research and analysis by leading experts in primary care and oral health included in the report released today offer practical solutions for a better, more equitable health care system moving forward.”

The oral health chapters included in the report can also be found at,

About CareQuest Institute for Oral Health

CareQuest Institute for Oral Health is a national nonprofit championing a more equitable future where every person can reach their full potential through excellent health. We do this through our work in grantmaking, research, health improvement programs, policy and advocacy, and education as well as our leadership in dental benefits, care delivery, and innovation advancements. We collaborate with thought leaders, health care providers, patients, and local, state, and federal stakeholders, to accelerate oral health care transformation and create a system designed for everyone. To learn more, visit and follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram.

About HMS Center for Primary Care

The Center for Primary Care was founded in 2010 to strengthen primary care education and innovation at Harvard Medical School. Over the past 10 years, the Center has grown successfully by facilitating innovations in practices, conducting original research by studying exemplar primary care systems, launching new training programs, assisting with curricular change at HMS, supporting entrepreneurs in primary care delivery, and engaging students.  Now, the Center looks to a future focused on saving and improving lives through primary care, and commits to fostering a dynamic community at Harvard Medical School to promote and support primary care resilience, equity, and value in order to improve health and wellbeing. To learn more, visit and follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram.

About Milbank Memorial Fund

The Milbank Memorial Fund is an endowed operating foundation that works to improve population health by connecting leaders and decision makers with the best available evidence and experience. It does this work by: identifying, informing, and inspiring current and future state health policy leaders to enhance their effectiveness; working with state health policy decision makers on issues they identify as important to population health, particularly in areas related to primary care, aging, and total costs of care; and publishing high-quality, evidence-based publications and The Milbank Quarterly, a peer-reviewed journal of population health and health policy

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