How health insurers are helping members, employees affected by Hurricane Harvey

Texas Guardsmen from the 386th Engineer Battalion, first responders from Texas Task Force One and the Cypress Creek Fire Department move residents from severely flooded neighborhoods to safety on Aug. 28. (Department of Defense)

As flooding from Hurricane Harvey continues to batter Texas and Louisiana—sparking declarations of a public health emergency in both states—health insurers are joining the ranks of organizations helping those affected.

Though health plans don’t provide medical care directly, they do play a role in ensuring patients have access to it when they need it most. During a natural disaster, that can mean anything from relaxing certain coverage restrictions to making sure members know the right number to call when they need help.

RELATED: HHS declares public health emergency in Texas as Hurricane Harvey forces hospitals to close, evacuate patients

“Just like their members, health plans are a part of their communities and deeply committed to the wellness and safety of those who live there,” America’s Health Insurance Plans said in a statement. “When a community is impacted by a tragic, disastrous event like we’re seeing unfold with this storm, plans connect immediately with state and local officials to offer support and ensure those impacted have swift access to the healthcare, resources and medical services they need.”

RELATED: Houston health systems rely on robust IT infrastructure to weather Hurricane Harvey

Here’s a look at what some major health plans are doing:

  • Cigna is lifting prescription refill restrictions; waiving prior authorization requirements for acute care; and forgiving late payment of premiums for customers in affected areas. It is also offering a free 24/7 telephone help line through which members can speak to a clinician about issues like coping with loss, anxiety, stress resulting from the hurricane. Finally, the insurer noted that MDLIVE, which provides telehealth services to Cigna customers, is offering one free medical consultation through Sept. 8.
  • Humana is taking steps like waiving all requirements for primary care physician referrals; providing enrollees with the same cost-sharing they would get at an in-network facility; and removing prescription drug limitations that prevent replacing lost medications. For its own employees, the insurer is also conducting well-being checks and offering financial aid, lodging, food and transportation to those affected.
  • Anthem says that for members in affected areas, it will allow them to refill lost or damaged prescriptions at any pharmacy. For those in certain Texas counties, it’s also relaxing time limits for prior authorization, pre-certification or referral requirements. The temporary policies, however, don’t apply to those in Medicare Advantage, Part D, Medicaid or Federal Employees Health Benefits Program plans, as those programs have specific guidelines. Further, Anthem's telehealth subsidiary, LiveHealth Online, said it will offer a free online doctor visit for Texas and Louisiana residents who have been affected by Harvey.
  • Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas provided a list of important phone numbers for members, saying it stands ready to help them with tasks such as finding a provider or dialysis center, coordinating or transitioning their care, refilling prescriptions, or understanding their benefits.
  • Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana says that for a limited time, it will offer early medication refills for members with Express Scripts pharmacy benefits. However, all other standard procedures, including copayment obligations for medications and prior authorization requirements, are still in place. The insurer also provided checklists and resources for members affected by the storm.

For its part, the Texas Department of Insurance has issued bulletins outlining what health plans should do to help members, such as waiving penalties and restrictions to ensure that their members can get services out-of-network and authorizing payment for up to a 90-day supply of covered prescriptions.

Editor's note: This article has been updated to include information about an offer from LiveHealth Online.