Amid the clamor, payers seek to find their role in addressing coronavirus

Coronavirus
Health plans are using their reach to inform members about coronavirus prevention and care. (Getty/ababil12)

Amid growing fears about the coronavirus, health plans are seeking to help aid in prevention by educating members—and preventing the spread of misinformation.

Many health insurers and industry groups are posting updates related to the virus and providing details on best practices for prevention, such as hand-washing. They’re also offering a more in-depth look at the benefits that are most useful in the outbreak, including telehealth. 

Michelle Ammirati, a senior analyst at Corporate Insight, which provides research into user experience, told FierceHealthcare that making this information clear and easily accessible can have a variety of benefits, from furthering price transparency to preventing unnecessary emergency department visits.

“It’s a good example of preventive care, and I know that right now that’s trending a lot on the health plan side,” Ammirati said. 

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America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) said in a release (PDF) that health plans are serving as a key conduit to share the latest from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) and spread advice from health agencies. 

They’re also working to maintain a nimble position to adapt new policies for changing treatments and tests, AHIP said. 

“Those plans include determinations about whether policy changes are needed to ensure that people get essential care,” the group said. “That may include easing network requirements, prescription drug coverage, referral requirements, and/or cost-sharing.” 

How in depth they’re going into educating members fluctuates. Aetna, for example, has a lengthy coronavirus FAQ page that, in addition to listing CDC best practices, explains how parent company CVS Health is harnessing its MinuteClinics and presence in the pharmacy supply chain to mitigate issues. 

RELATED: Experts urge surge plan discussions as coronavirus begins spread in U.S. 

The page directs Aetna members to consider a virtual visit instead of an in-person visit to the doctor—which it can provide through CVS’ MinuteClinics in 40 states and the District of Columbia.

“We’re seeing this not in a very alarmist but very information type of way,” said Jose Santana, digital health user experience analyst and consultant at Corporate Insight.

Aetna’s page also includes details on how CVS would respond in the event of a drug shortage. 

Cigna released a lengthy FAQ page (PDF) as well, which documents both key information about symptoms and explains how it will cover tests or medical supplies such as masks and gloves. The document is geared toward the insurer's global members, a notable business line. UnitedHealthcare took a similar approach with a special report (PDF) on the virus that details the spread and symptoms. 

Many are making this information easily accessible and noticeable through large homepage banners or direct-to-consumer communications, Santana said. 

“I think it’s still early on in terms of the sort of communications that these organizations are doing,” he said. 

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