Even as many industries continue to suffer devastating setbacks due to the COVID-19 pandemic, one sector that has enjoyed an “embarrassment of profits” is health insurance.
Even as many industries continue to suffer devastating setbacks due to the COVID-19 pandemic, one sector that has enjoyed an “embarrassment of profits” is health insurance. UnitedHealth Group, Anthem, and Cigna all recorded over $1 billion in profits in the second quarter fueled by unprecedented deferrals of elective surgeries and routine care, resulting in fewer claims being paid.
In sum, the revenue insurers have incurred during COVID-19 has far surpassed the costs they have avoided. These eye-popping profits led house lawmakers in August to declare they would launch an investigation into insurers’ business practices, and has cast an extremely unfavorable light on insurers at a time when their support for hospitals and healthcare systems is critical.
Providers have seen their revenues plummet, pushing some to the brink of bankruptcy, particularly in rural areas, while others have accelerated their efforts to merge with partners in order to survive the pandemic.
At a time when millions have become infected with COVID-19, and hospitals and healthcare systems are undergoing one of the greatest challenges they have ever experienced, insurers are in danger of being viewed through the same unflattering lens as big tobacco or pharma. Indeed, the tragedy of the pandemic has caused many insurers to evaluate what their roles should be right now. But rather than focusing primarily on counteracting public perception, insurers ought to identify areas where they can meaningfully improve their outcomes and demonstrate considerable value to providers, employers, and members.
Several insurers have taken actions in recent months that should be applauded and emulated. For instance, United Health has spent billions of dollars to support its providers amid the COVID-19 crisis and has lowered premiums and copayments for its members. Meanwhile, ten insurers have returned millions in premium refunds and rebates to members due to help lower members’ healthcare costs during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Other insurers including BCBS of South Carolina and BCBS of Minnesota have actively participated in statewide “Slow the Spread” public health campaigns aimed at sharing current health information and best practices with the general public. As part of that effort, BCBS Minnesota put forth employees as volunteer contact tracers for the state’s health department, and BCBS South Carolina has supported television and social media ad campaigns that encourage the public to take steps to reduce transmission.
These efforts are commendable and demonstrate that many insurers are taking steps to address the needs of providers and members. But there is even more to be done. Here are four additional actions they can take in the coming months to contribute in meaningful ways.
The more payers are able to propose and enact practical solutions like these, the sooner they will work together with providers as one cohesive healthcare system positioned to tackle one of the greatest health crises we have ever experienced. By taking decisive action, insurers can seize the opportunity to make a long-lasting impact for their members and providers, as well the greater community, and ultimately, population health.
Mary Ellen Beliveau is CEO and founder of Knowledge to Practice (K2P).