Insurers scramble to clarify what Trump meant during his major address on the coronavirus

President Donald Trump appeared to mix up that insurers agreed to cover out-of-pocket costs for coronavirus treatments and not testing, for which they have agreed to waive costs. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

Insurer groups are scrambling to clarify they will pick up the tab for coronavirus testing and not treatment, as President Donald Trump said during an address to the nation Wednesday night.

Currently, there is no antiviral or vaccine for the coronavirus that has spread throughout much of the U.S., but people can get treatment for the symptoms of the virus. Insurers have agreed to waive cost-sharing for testing but not for treatment.

America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the industry’s leading lobbying group, pointed FierceHealthcare toward a meeting with insurer executives at the White House where Vice President Mike Pence said insurers would waive cost-sharing for coronavirus tests and expand coverage for treatment.

How insurers are responding:

All of the biggest health insurers have committed to waiving cost-sharing for coronavirus tests. Here's a look at the steps they're taking:

  • UnitedHealthcare – waived cost-sharing for testing, encouraging use of telehealth
  • Aetna – waived cost-sharing for testing, $0 copays for telehealth visits in next 90 days
  • Anthem – waived cost-sharing for testing, encouraging use of telehealth
  • Cigna – waived cost-sharing for testing and for telehealth screening through May 31
  • Humana – waived cost-sharing for testing and for telehealth visits in next 90 days
  • Centene Corporation waived cost-sharing for testing, telehealth visits
  • Blue Cross Blue Shield Association – waived cost-sharing for testing, encouraging use of telehealth

RELATED: Medical specialty group wants Trump to declare national emergency over coronavirus

The Association of Community Affiliated Plans, which represents more than 70 safety net plans, said that many of its member plans agreed to waive cost-sharing for tests and others are working on finalizing their plans for testing.

"But we can't characterize where our plans are with a broad brush at this point," said spokesman Jeff Van Ness. 

He added that the plans "won’t deny coverage for medically necessary care."

But Trump’s slip of the tongue comes amid scrutiny on how people suffering from the coronavirus will have their treatment covered.  Experts say that consumers with high-deductible insurance plans, an increasingly common type of plan design, may not get care due to cost concerns even if the testing for the coronavirus is waived.

Meanwhile, the Internal Revenue Service put out guidance Wednesday that a high-deductible plan will not fail to be one if the plan gives health benefits associated with testing or treatment of coronavirus without a deductible. AHIP cheered the notice, saying it provides insurers with “more flexibility to respond to this public health emergency.”

RELATED: CMS issues guidance to allow MA, Part D plans to waive coronavirus cost-sharing

The Trump administration is also getting tough questions from policymakers about how to ensure the uninsured get tested.

Rep. Katie Porter, D-California, said during a congressional hearing Thursday that the federal government has the authority to pay for testing for uninsured individuals. She asked Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield whether the agency will employ that authority.

“We live in a world where 30% of Americans put off medical treatment last year,” Porter said during a hearing of the House Oversight Committee.

Redfield said the CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services are working to "operationalize" that authority but didn't elaborate.

“Do not let a lack of insurance worsen this crisis,” Porter responded.

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