In the week or so leading up to the U.S. declaring a national emergency, Medicare Advantage and other insurers’ early response to the new coronavirus outbreak included waiving cost sharing related to testing, allowing early prescription refills and expanding access to and encouraging the use of telehealth services. But as more cases were confirmed in the U.S. — leading to school closures, restaurants shutting down, increased telework and so on — and conflicting messages came out of the White House, insurers at press time were having to take extra steps to protect the health of their most vulnerable members.
The World Health Organization on March 11 declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic. (The full name of the virus, which originated in China in late 2019, is SARS-CoV-2. The virus causes COVID-19, which stands for coronavirus disease 2019.) As of March 18, there were 7,038 known cases and 97 related deaths in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Symptoms include fever, cough and breathing trouble; older adults and people with serious chronic medical conditions are believed to be at higher risk for complications.