COVID-19: 6 updates for health insurers

Here are six notes on how COVID-19 is affecting health insurers and how they're responding:

Note: This is not an exhaustive list.  

1. Insurers are instructing their workforce to work from home. Most recently, Molina Healthcare temporarily moved thousands of employees to remote status. UnitedHealth Group had instructed its employees — half of whom are already remote — to work on-site if they weren't sick, high-risk or facing other obstacles. However, the health insurer updated its policy March 19 to let employees who aren't serving patients in hospitals or clinics to voluntarily work from home.

2. Commercial payers are feeling COVID-19 pain in the stock market and in claim costs. UnitedHealth alone has lost $76 billion worth of market capitalization since the start of 2020. Nearly all U.S. insurance companies are seeing huge losses because of COVID-19. Estimates also project a severe COVID-19 pandemic could cost health insurers in the U.S. more than $90 billion in medical claims.

3. Regulations are requiring cost-sharing be waived for COVID-19 testing. While some insurers voluntarily waived cost-sharing for COVID-19 testing, the recently passed Families First Coronavirus Response Act requires most private insurers to do this. When it comes to treating complications from the disease, fewer changes have been considered, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation

4. Insurance employees are getting sick. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan said two workers — one who is remote and one who is on-site — tested positive for COVID-19, according to Click On Detroit

5. Medicare and commercial insurers are expanding telehealth coverage and other digital tools. CMS expanded Medicare telehealth coverage and reimbursement rules to allow beneficiaries to participate in virtual visits with their physicians amid the COVID-19 pandemic. UPMC Health Plan, UnitedHealth, Cigna and Aetna are among the many insurers waiving cost-sharing for telehealth services. Blue Shield of California is offering its network hospitals a free digital tool to help triage COVID-19 patients.

6. Contract negotiations are being extended. Fort Wayne, Ind.-based Parkview Health and Anthem are extending their contract deadline three months to July as healthcare providers face unprecedented burdens from COVID-19, according to The Journal Gazette

Editor's note: This article was updated March 19 at 3:42 pm CDT.

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