Health Insurers Begin to Waive COVID-19 Costs Through March 31December 4, 2020
- Blue Cross, Blue Care, Priority Health and Total Health have announced no-cost waivers
- Other Michigan health insurers and plans are expected to follow
- COVID-19 pandemic expected to intensify in coming winter months
Several Michigan health insurers and HMOs are extending no-cost treatment for COVID-19 through March 31 as the pandemic continues to ramp up.
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Blue Care Network, Priority Health and Total Health Care are among a growing number of insurers waiving cost sharing for the next four months, including co-pays, deductibles or coinsurance, for inpatient, outpatient, laboratory testing, ER visits, ambulatory services and medications and vaccines associated with the virus.
Under an agreement in September with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the state Department of Insurance and Financial Services, more than 11 health insurers and health plans agreed to waive COVID-19 treatment costs through the end of this year.
Temporary benefits began in March for some health insurers and were set to expire Dec. 31. Crain’s was unable to contact all major health insurers to ascertain if they also will extend no-cost COVID-19 coverage to Michiganders.
“Since the early days of the public health emergency, Blue Cross has stood behind our members, removing barriers in access to care and making sure their health care is affordable,” said Dan Loepp, president and CEO of the Michigan Blues, in a statement.
BCBSM has paid more than $25 million to support these cost-share waivers. More than 55,000 members have had their COVID-19 treatment cost share waived through Sept. 30.
But over the past month, positive COVID-19 tests, hospitalizations and deaths have been increasing at double-digit rates, a trend infectious disease experts expected as people flocked indoors as the weather turned chilly in November.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and public health experts have been imploring people to wear masks, maintain social distancing and wash hands often to reduce the spread of coronavirus. Studies have shown that wearing a mask can reduce the risk of exposure by 70 percent.
On Monday, the 15 percent positivity rate for COVID-19 was a 32-week high. Public health experts say any positivity rate above 3 percent is a sign of uncontrolled community spread.
Hospitalizations continued to ramp up with one of five inpatient beds filled with a COVID-19 patient, although the rate of admissions have dropped to 4 percent this week from 40 percent earlier last month.
Michigan’s 9,405 deaths from COVID-19 ranks third in the country, according to the CDC. Older patients continue to be hit harder by the virus. Only 9 percent of the COVID deaths were among individuals younger than 60, said the state Department of Health and Human Services.
Under federal mandates, health insurers must offer free of charge the coronavirus vaccine, once it is made available to the general public, which is expected in early spring.
Earlier this week, CDC officials announced frontline health care workers at hospitals and nursing homes, along with nursing home residents, will be first in line to receive the vaccine. Michigan officials expect the Pfizer vaccine to be available after Dec. 15, but only 90,000 doses, which will cover about 36 percent of the state’s 250,000 hospital workers. Second doses that will come 21 days later will be delivered to Michigan in a second shipment.
As health insurers see COVID-19 numbers increase, the numbers of claims are also increasing.
“Throughout this pandemic our main focus has always been, and will continue to be, the health and safety of our members,” said Joan Budden, Priority’s president and CEO, in a statement. “We are not out of the woods yet with COVID-19, and that is why we will continue to make sure our members have access to the health care they need, when they need it, without having to worry about cost. We will get through this together.”
Priority Health and Detroit-based Total Health Care, which are part of Grand Rapids-based Spectrum Health, have also decided to extend no-cost treatment of COVID through March 31 for commercial individual, Medicaid and Medicare plans.
Priority also said it will waive all cost sharing for Medicare Advantage members for in-person and telehealth primary care visits through March 31.
Patients must have a confirmed primary COVID-19 diagnosis and be receiving evidence-based care for treatment to be fully covered, Priority said. People experiencing COVID-19 symptoms should contact their health care provider to determine eligibility for testing.
Priority and Total Health Care asked members to use virtual care whenever possible, to prevent further spread of the virus and help avoid overwhelming health care providers and facilities.
“There is nothing more important than the health and safety of our members, and we are committed to doing whatever is necessary to ensure that people have access to the health care they need, without having to worry about cost,” said Randy Narowitz, CEO of Total Health Care, in a statement. “This has been a difficult year for many people, but we will get through this together.”