Health Plans Dropping Out-of-Pocket Cost Waivers for COVID-19 Treatment

As the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel gets brighter, more health insurers are ceasing to offer cost-sharing waivers for COVID-19 treatment.

After legislation was enacted in 2020 that required health insurance companies to cover COVID-19 tests and vaccines, many insurers voluntarily waived all deductibles, copayments and other costs for insured patients who fell ill with COVID-19 and needed hospital care, doctor visits, medications or other treatment.

Not all health insurers extended these waivers to their enrollees, but many did.

Insurers are still required to provide free COVID-19 testing and vaccinations to their enrollees. That’s because federal guidance requires them to waive such costs.

Also, guidance issued in February after President Joe Biden assumed office, reinforced the Trump administration rule about waiving cost-sharing for testing. Biden’s guidance took an extra step, saying that it applies even in situations in which an asymptomatic person wants a test before traveling or seeing a relative.

Almost 90% of individual and group health plans enrollees were in plans that waived cost-sharing for COVID-19 treatment, according to the Peterson-KFF Health System Tracker.

What insurers are now doing

However, starting in late 2020, more and more insurers have quietly been dropping those waivers. For example:

  • UnitedHealthcare started curtailing its waivers in November.
  • Anthem stopped its cost-sharing waivers on Jan. 31.
  • Cigna stopped offering cost-sharing waivers for COVID-19 treatment on Feb. 15.
  • Aetna ceased offering deductible-free inpatient COVID-19 treatment waivers on Feb. 28.

Not all insurers are doing this though. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota extended eligibility for telehealth benefits and COVID-19 treatment waivers through the end of 2021.  Humana, meanwhile, has left the cost-sharing waiver in place for Medicare Advantage members, but dropped it on Jan. 1 for those in job-based group plans.

A study by the Peterson Center on Healthcare and the Kaiser Family Foundation released in November 2020, found that 88% of Americans who have health coverage — including employer-sponsored health plans and individual plans purchased on exchanges — had policies that waived cost-sharing for COVID-19 treatment.

Despite the fact that vaccines are rolling out quickly across the country and in light of a significant percentage of people who are hesitant to get vaccinated for COVID-19, the coronavirus is expected to be a presence in society for some time to come. And that means people will contract it and get sick.

There are also concerns about mutant strains that have developed in South Africa and Brazil, and possibly in India during the massive outbreak in April.

The takeaway

You may want to check with your group health plans to see if they have waived any cost-sharing for COVID treatment, and have since dropped or are planning to drop it.

You should meet with your employees or send them a memo explaining any impending changes for them if they have a health plan that is ending or has ended waivers.  

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