- Healthcare providers pleaded with the American public Tuesday to stay home in an attempt to limit spread of the novel coronavirus. But the remarks were in stark contrast to President Donald Trump, who said he wanted the nation to be "opened up" by Easter — April 12 — despite strong advice from public health experts that the U.S. continue social distancing efforts.
- Congress, meanwhile, reached a deal on stimulus legislation that Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said includes $130 billion for the healthcare system "to be injected right away to help with the shortage of ventilators, equipment and other things as well as whatever else they need." The American Hospital Association had asked for at least $100 billion to increase surge capacity through alternate care sites.
- And payers have continued to make adjustments aimed at making COVID-19 testing and treatment available and affordable, such as increasing telehealth access and waiving cost-sharing.
As the coronavirus continues to sweep across the country, tightly packed New York City has emerged as a hotspot. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, said Tuesday the apex had come faster and higher than expected. "I will turn this state upside down to get the number of beds we need," he said.
But he said staff were still needed. Toward that end, The New York University Grossman School of Medicine will let this year's class graduate early "to get more physicians into the health system more quickly," pending approval from regulatory bodies, according to a statement.
Tuesday the American Medical Association asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to work with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to ensure non-citizen international medical graduates "can either continue, or begin, to serve a vital role in caring for patients during the COVID-19 pandemic."
Payers have also taken distinct steps to open up access to COVID-19 testing and treatment in recent days. Aetna, the nation's third-largest commercial insurer, will waive cost-sharing and copays for some of its members admitted to a hospital with COVID-19 or complications from the disease, the company said Wednesday.
The policy applies to its commercially insured population, which totals about 18 million people including self-insured groups, which can opt-out at their discretion, a spokesman told Healthcare Dive. Across all its lines of business, Aetna covers nearly 23 million people, according to an SEC filing from parent company CVS Health.
The policy goes into effect immediately and, as of now, applies to in-network admissions through June 1, building on the insurer's previously announced measures to eliminate cost-sharing for diagnostic testing and telehealth visits related to COVID-19.
UnitedHealthcare, the nation's largest insurer, said Tuesday it would offer a special enrollment period for some of its existing commercial members, allowing those members who opted out of coverage originally to choose a plan.
The company also said it was reducing some of its prior authorization requirements to ease access to care and will continue to waive cost-sharing requirements for COVID-19 testing.
And Humana on Tuesday said it would expand access to telehealth services by waiving cost sharing, reimbursing virtual sessions at the same rate as in-person visits and accepting audio-only treatments. That applies for Medicare Advantage, Medicaid and commercial plans, including the self-insured.
The stimulus package now before Congress is just the latest major piece of legislation to address the novel coronavirus, as earlier this month, President Donald Trump signed an $8.3 billion bill freeing up funds to combat COVID-19.
The American Hospital Association this week asked for further clarification on the law, saying that without increased funding for hospitals, some of its members could be forced to miss payroll or even close.
The group urged the U.S. Department of Labor, to "accurately define" what a healthcare worker means under that law, which exempts such employees from certain medical, family and paid leave requirements.
"Hospitals and health systems are on front lines of COVID-19, and their ability to care for their communities during this unprecedented time requires all hands on deck. Every single function is critical to the provision of health care services — from the clinical staff collecting specimens, running tests, and providing direct care, to the facilities management staff who ensure a sterile environment and maintain the availability of critical supplies. No single position is more important than the other — hospitals simply cannot function without each type of provider," AHA argued.
Also this week, a number of health systems and other private industry organizations came together to form the COVID-19 Healthcare Coalition to gather and use data that can inform who needs diagnostic testing, community spread of the virus and where supply chain pain points are developing.
Participants include HCA Healthcare, Mayo Clinic, Rush University System for Health, Intermountain Healthcare, Epic, athenahealth, Microsoft and Amazon Web Services.