While disrupting and even ending the lives of many people across the globe, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the hands of many health insurance providers to work with patients and providers to make healthcare more affordable and accessible to all.
As the healthcare industry was hit in unprecedented ways this year when an influx of patients put a strain on resources, supply chains, and the workforce in general, the growing telemedicine industry received a significant boost. Patients were taking advantage of virtual doctor’s visits as much as possible in order to stay out of overcrowded facilities and to minimize their exposure to the coronavirus. In order to help people maintain their healthcare appointments as much as possible, many major insurance providers waived copays and deductibles for non-COVID communications.
Anthem and UnitedHealthcare have both reinstated their fees. How much that will mean to customers out-of-pocket of course depends on their coverage plans and medical needs, but in some cases, the same copay applies to virtual visits as applies to in-person office visits, despite the difference in level of care provided.
Insurance companies have faced some tough criticism in recent months. Many customers feel like they could have been doing more to alleviate financial strain. The pandemic provided insurers opportunities to rake in large sums of money and make huge profits due to the sudden downturn of regular visits. Routine checkups and non-emergency care were often deferred, as patients chose to stay home rather than increase their risk of illness by attending appointments. Without the need to provide payouts to healthcare providers, insurance companies were maintaining their income. Fee and deductible waivers were certainly helpful, but amidst the global economic crisis caused by COVID-19, some feel the decision to lift the waivers before vaccines become widely available is inappropriate at best.
“The downward economic pressures on families are only building,” said Shawn Martin, Chief Executive of the American Academy of Family Physicians. Even relatively small copays in the $20-30 range could inspire patients to put off or reschedule visits when money is tight, and families are looking for any corners to cut that could possibly help to make ends meet. Unfortunately, other insurance companies may continue to follow suit as operations begin to return to normal.