Humana to waive patients’ share of some costs for rest of 2020

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(Bloomberg) --Health insurer Humana Inc. will waive the costs its Medicare customers are normally expected to pick up for primary care, behavioral health and telehealth visits through the end of the year.

The change will apply to Humana’s 4.5 million members in private Medicare Advantage plans, , the company said Tuesday, covering co-pays, co-insurance and deductibles at in-network providers from May 1 through the end of 2020.

Chief Executive Officer Bruce Broussard said in an interview that the change should help members who have deferred care because of the coronavirus pandemic and improve the finances of medical practices hurt by the falloff in patient visits. He didn’t give an estimate for how much the change would cost Humana but called it “fully manageable.”

As an intermediary between patients and doctors, insurers have benefited in the short-term from patients staying home. They have continued to collect premiums from employers and government programs even as medical claims dry up.

The services affected include primary care, mental and behavioral health visits for issues like depression that could be exacerbated by the pandemic, the company said.

The move is intended to help members reconnect with clinicians they may not have been able to see while states enforced distancing measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Cost-sharing can discourage people from getting care, potentially allowing medical conditions to deteriorate.

“People that are on fixed incomes, we have found they will delay care for financial co-pay reasons,” Broussard said.

Safety Kits
Humana has been reaching out to its most vulnerable members to ensure they get needed services, he said. The company is also sending members “safety kits” that include masks and information on how to seek medical care. It is encouraging members to only resume in-person care in accordance with authorities’ guidelines on physical distancing.

Efforts to slow the spread of the virus by closing much face-to-face business have hit the medical industry hard. Canceled office visits and delayed surgeries have strained hospitals, medical practices and other care providers.

Health insurers have seen drops in medical claims since mid-March, and may book higher-than-expected profits in the second quarter as a result. The largest publicly traded insurers, including Humana, have also maintained their profit forecasts for the year. Some insurers said they expect demand for care to recover later in the year.

Many insurers have waived cost-sharing for both testing and treatment of Covid-19 and raised reimbursement rates for telehealth. The industry may come under more pressure from regulators to expand access for patients. Regulators in New York, for example, last week required insurers to cover essential workers’ share of the costs for behavioral-health treatments.

Bloomberg News