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(Thursday, April 2, 2020) JOE’S CORNER: New CoronaVirus update

UnitedHealthcare Latest To Waive Patient Out-Of-Pocket Costs For Coronavirus Treatment Bruce JapsenSenior Contributor Healthcare I write about healthcare business and policy UNITEDHEALTH EARNS The UnitedHealthcare website, the health benefits [+] © 2018 BLOOMBERG FINANCE LP The nation’s largest health insurance company is the latest to waive customer cost-sharing and co-payments for all treatments related to the Coronavirus strain COVID-19.

UnitedHealth Group’s UnitedHealthcare health insurance unit said on its web site Tuesday morning it is “waiving member cost-sharing for the treatment of COVID-19” through May 31 for its fully-insured commercial, Medicare Advantage and Medicaid plans.” The company said it will also work with its self-funded accounts, which would include large self-insured employers.

In addition, UnitedHealthcare said it will also “waive cost-sharing for in-network, non-COVID-19 telehealth visits” for its fully-insured commercial, Medicare Advantage and Medicaid members effective Tuesday until June 18.

“This builds on the company’s previously announced efforts to waive cost-sharing for COVID-19 testing and testing-related visits and the expansion of other member services,” UnitedHealthcare said.

The coverage moves unveiled Tuesday morning on UnitedHealthcare’s web site follow similar moves announced Sunday at the White House by Cigna and Humana and will likely bring lower cost medical care service to thousands of Americans given the rapid spread of the virus across the country.

The decisions by Cigna, Humana and UnitedHealthcare this week are the latest by health insurance companies that are expanding coverage and eliminating plan member cost-sharing for everything from in- person doctor office visits for Coronavirus tests to telehealth consultations for screening of the disease.

But these latest moves by the health insurance industry are likely more significant to customer finances and access to care because co-payments for hospitalizations and related cost-sharing for all treatment beyond a diagnostic screening or office visit are likely more expensive for the health plan. The expansion of coverage also comes as the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus hurtled past 160,000 on Tuesday morning.

Last week, CVS Health said it will waive co-payments and related out-of-pocket cost-sharing of commercially insured Aetna members’ inpatient admissions related to the Coronavirus strain COVID-19.

Across the country, health insurance companies are expanding coverage and making efforts to reduce barriers to gaining access to care amid the Coronavirus outbreak. America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), which represents most U.S. health insurers including CVS, Anthem, Centene, Cigna and many Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans, has a running tally of health plan efforts here.

(Monday, March 30, 2020) JOE’S CORNER: CoronaVirus Update!

UnitedHealth Group To Roll Out Coronavirus Test To 46,000 Doctors Bruce JapsenSenior Contributor Healthcare

UnitedHealth Group will roll out a patient-administered test for the Coronavirus strain COVID-19 to 46,000 of its OptumCare physicians.

The nation’s largest health insurer, which owns the giant Optum health services company, has under its umbrella 46,000 OptumCare physicians who can provide a patient-administered test process UnitedHealth executives say is as effective as the current clinician-administered test process.

“We expect them, and many others, to begin to adopt this new testing process,” a UnitedHealth spokesman said Thursday morning of the 46,000 OptumCare doctors.

A study funded by UnitedHealth Group earlier this week shows people can self-administer a diagnostic test with a much smaller swab, a process that should save potentially thousands of clinicians from being exposed to the virus while at the same time making the testing simpler.

Researchers say such a self-administered process eliminates the need for the healthcare worker to be “up close to the patient” with patient protective equipment when the patient can merely swab their own nostril and had the test to the medical care provider.

The test is already being used in Seattle where doctors at an Optum-affiliated clinic have been using the self-administered method and led a study UnitedHealth Group released Wednesday.

“We know that broad, rapid and accurate testing is essential to addressing the COVID-19 crisis, yet the current clinician-administered process significantly limits testing capacity, puts frontline health care workers at risk of COVID-19 exposure, and is unpleasant for patients,” Dr. Yuan-Po Tu, an infectious disease expert at The Everett Clinic and the study’s lead author said. Everett Clinic is a part of OptumCare, the medical care provider business of UnitedHealth.