Health Care Claims Data May Be Useful For COVID-19 Research Despite Significant Limitations

Although health care billing claims data have been widely used to study health care use, spending, and policy changes, their use in the study of infectious disease has been limited. Other data sources, including from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), have provided timelier reporting to outbreak experts. However, given the scope of SARS-CoV-2—the causative agent responsible for the novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic—and the multidimensional impact of the crisis on the health care system, analyses relying on health care claims data have begun to appear. Claims-based COVID-19 studies have a role, but it is critical to understand the limitations of these data. We are concerned that many weaknesses are not recognized by those familiar with other forms of patient-level data. Below, we examine several major considerations and make suggestions about where claims data may be best leveraged to inform policy and decision making.