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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.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

So what’s up with “Zoom fatigue”?

It’s a real thing. The science backs it up — there’s new research from Stanford University. So why is it that the technology can be so draining? Jeremy Bailenson with Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab puts it this way: “It’s like being in an elevator where everyone in the elevator stopped and looked right at us for the entire elevator ride at close-up.” Bailenson said turning off self-view and shrinking down the video window can make interactions feel more natural and less emotionally taxing.

How are Americans spending their money these days?

Economists are predicting that pent-up demand for certain goods and services is going to burst out all over as more people get vaccinated. A lot of people had to drastically change their spending in the pandemic because they lost jobs or had their hours cut. But at the same time, most consumers “are still feeling secure or optimistic about their finances,” according to Candace Corlett, president of WSL Strategic Retail, which regularly surveys shoppers. A lot of people enjoy browsing in stores, especially after months of forced online shopping. And another area expecting a post-pandemic boost: travel.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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