Insurers offered new benefits in response to COVID-19. Where do they stand 6 months later?

COVID-19 insurance policy
Insurers rolled out a slew of benefits early on in the pandemic, but some are set to expire in the near future. (farosofa/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images)

Health insurers rolled out a slew of benefits aimed at helping members through COVID-19.

But as the pandemic wears on, some of those benefits are set to expire, drawing concern about patient access to crucial services such as telemedicine. 

For instance, cost-sharing waivers covering telehealth visits for non-COVID-19 needs will expire this week for individual and fully insured health plans at both UnitedHealthcare and Anthem. Virtual visits will continue to be made available with no cost sharing for Medicare Advantage and Medicaid members through the end of the year at both insurers.

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It's a change that's expected to be closely watched as the pandemic wears on.

In particular, telehealth has become a critical lifeline for many patients amid social isolation under the pandemic, and Congress has indicated it aims to keep policy changes to extend access to these services after COVID-19 is under control.

Meanwhile, health insurers' response to the pandemic has drawn scrutiny from policymakers as they raked in eyebrow-raising profits due to large drops in care utilization. The money these companies have brought in amid COVID-19 has prompted a congressional investigation

Here's a look at the status of some of the other benefits major national insurers have rolled out so far this year:

How other payers tackled telehealth

Aetna adopted a similar policy to UnitedHealthcare and Anthem earlier this year.

Virtual visits for non-COVID-19 needs are still available at no cost to members in Medicare Advantage members through Dec. 31, but such benefits for commercial plans ended June 4.

Aetna is still offering no-cost virtual visits for outpatient behavioral health services and counseling across its plans through the end of the year.

Cigna offered cost-sharing waivers for telehealth visits Medicare Advantage members make to in-network telehealth providers, as did Humana, that will extend through the end of the year. For both insurers, those waivers include specialty care and behavioral health care.

Waivers for COVID-19 care, testing

Across the board, insurer waivers for care or testing related to a COVID-19 diagnosis will remain in place for the foreseeable future. For UnitedHealthcare members, these waivers will be in place through Oct. 22 across plan types, with self-funded employers also having the option to offer them.

Cigna is waiving out-of-pocket costs for treatment related to COVID-19, including in-person visits with providers related to diagnostics, through Oct. 31, with waivers in place for testing costs beyond that point. 

RELATED: UnitedHealthcare, Anthem to waive cost-sharing for COVID-19 treatment

Aetna and Anthem will waive COVID-19 cost sharing through Dec. 31, and Humana said there is no end date for its benefit for now, though it's reassessing its policies "as circumstances change."

Other benefits offered under the pandemic

Health plans have also rolled out or enhanced benefits such as prescription fills and social needs programs amid COVID-19. Humana, for example, will allow for early 30-day and 90-day prescription refills through Oct. 23. Anthem is offering early prescription refills as well.

In addition, Humana trained some of its call center workers in addressing COVID-19 concerns through its free member helpline, and executives have said the line has received a slew of calls over the past several months.

Cigna is offering a care card in its employer plans that clients can load funds on to assist in covering employee expenses. The debit cards are tax-free for employees and fully deductible for employers.

UnitedHealthcare members can access a free emotional support line staffed by Optum behavioral health experts, which is free to call at any time.