COVID-19

Insurers’ offers to cover COVID-19 treatment are expiring

Erika Beras Aug 21, 2020
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A health care worker swabs a patient during a COVID-19 test. While testing is covered by insurance under federal law, treatment isn't. Joe Raedle/Getty Images
COVID-19

Insurers’ offers to cover COVID-19 treatment are expiring

Erika Beras Aug 21, 2020
Heard on:
A health care worker swabs a patient during a COVID-19 test. While testing is covered by insurance under federal law, treatment isn't. Joe Raedle/Getty Images
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If you need a COVID-19 test, that’s covered by insurance. It’s federal law. But when it comes to treatment, that’s another story. A lot of insurers initially said they’d fully cover the cost of care, but a lot of those provisions have or are about to expire.

Insurers covering the complete cost of COVID-19 care? That’s pretty unusual. Also unusual? A pandemic.

Kate Baicker, a health economist at the University of Chicago, said people hesitate to get care when they have to pay, and that’s why many insurers said they’d cover the cost of treating the disease. Treatment is valuable to the individual but “also really valuable for the community because it’s a contagious disease,” she said.

But covering COVID-19 costs isn’t a completely altruistic move on the part of insurers, according to Nisha Kurani, an analyst with the Kaiser Family Foundation.

“Insurers had more cash on hand and had more profits than they expected,” Kurani said.

A lot of people skipped out on elective care for months, which meant insurers were spending less than usual. By covering COVID-19 care, insurers brought up their spending.

Now more people are back to seeing their doctors.

Rachel Sachs, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis, said that means insurers now face a difficult financial calculation “as they think about how much routine care is being foregone and how that relates to the amount of COVID-19 treatments.”

A lot of these coverage provisions were already set to expire in May or June. Vanderbilt University health policy professor Stacie Dusetzina said insurers extended them based on what they knew at the time.

“We’re just kind of guessing about how long these things will last, you know, how long will you need to cover all of the treatments,” she said.

Some insurers are planning to extend coverage until COVID-19 is not a public health emergency while others may wait until open enrollment starts later this year.

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