Katrina: Health plans help victims access care

October 1, 2005

National Reports—Health plans continue to modify medical and pharmacy benefit policies to serve members affected in the Gulf Coast region. Those adjustments range from allowing those members to have access to any provider, even if that provider is out-of-network, to suspending pharmacy restrictions on medication refills.

NATIONAL REPORTS-Health plans continue to modify medical and pharmacy benefit policies to serve members affected in the Gulf Coast region. Those adjustments range from allowing those members to have access to any provider, even if that provider is out-of-network, to suspending pharmacy restrictions on medication refills.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana (BCBSLA) in Baton Rouge has approximately 304,000 members in the severely affected parishes in Louisiana. It estimates that about 70% of its membership in those parishes, more than 210,000 members, have been displaced or seriously affected by the hurricane. BCBSLA is reaching out in a number of ways to enable its members in those areas to receive care.

Beginning August 29, the company relaxed certain requirements in 14 parishes for as long as the official state of emergency remains in effect. "We're giving customers in these areas access to all doctors and hospitals for covered medical services-even if they are not part of the Blue Cross network," says John Maginnis, vice president, corporate communications, BCBSLA. In addition, customers in these parishes who need extra time to pay their premiums have until November 1 to pay all past-due amounts.

BCBSLA also offers a special Katrina Support section on its Web site, http:// www.bcbsla.com/, with up-to-date information for customers, employers, providers and the general public.

INDUSTRY COLLABORATION

Although heavy damage to communications and electrical infrastructure along the Mississippi Gulf Coast has made it difficult to gather an accurate figure, Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi (BCBSMS), in Jackson, estimates that about 25% of its members were affected by the hurricane.

"BCBSMS is complying with a directive from the Mississippi Commissioner of Insurance for a 60-day grace period on insurance premiums for members in areas affected by Katrina," says BCBSMS spokesman John Sewell. BCBSMS also has been working with the Mississippi Hospital Assn. and the Mississippi State Medical Assn. to determine provider needs.

In Birmingham, UnitedHealthcare of Alabama, HealthSpring of Alabama and VIVA Health each are working on ways to ease the burden for members affected by the devastation, says Michael J. O'Malley, executive director, Alabama Association of Health Plans.

Two years ago, the association formed Get Healthy Alabama! to help the state achieve optimal health through industry collaboration. "While optimal health might not be the primary objective now, I believe the industry could rebuild quicker and put aside corporate agendas if we do it cooperatively," O'Malley says.

Aetna, CIGNA, Humana and WellPoint, are among those plans that also have revised guidelines to help members who have been impacted by Katrina.