Arielle Levin Becker / CTMirror.org

ConnectiCare on Monday said it would cover the cost of coronavirus testing, following other insurers with customers in Connecticut that have already declared they won’t charge out-of-pocket costs for a COVID-19 test.

The announcement from ConnectiCare comes the same day the Connecticut Insurance Department issued a bulletin encouraging insurance companies to waive copays and authorize 90-day supplies of medication, among other steps, to help mitigate the public health crisis.

The question of who pays for tests comes as private labs are joining government labs in testing for coronavirus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention covers the cost of testing at public labs. But patients – or their insurers – pay for private tests.

Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s immunization and respiratory disease department, said Monday that the majority of testing will likely come from the private sector from now on because private labs will have more testing kits.

Democrats in Connecticut’s state Senate pressed Gov. Ned Lamont late last week to follow other states in requiring insurers to cover the testing. California, New York, Vermont and Maryland have ordered insurers to cover the costs of coronavirus testing. But Connecticut does not give that authority to the governor, leaving the state dependent on insurers’ goodwill.

Several insurance companies have already stepped up.

“Once commercial testing is available, the test will be covered by ConnectiCare at no cost to our members,” said company spokeswoman Kim Kann.

Bloomfield-based Cigna was the first insurer to voluntarily adopt a policy to pick up the cost of coronavirus testing. Other major health insurers have since followed suit. Blue Cross Blue Shield, AetnaCVS, Anthem Health, United Healthcare and Emblem Health have also said they will waive out-of-pocket costs for coronavirus tests for individuals and companies who purchase their policies and for Medicare Advantage and Medicaid patients.

Cigna was the first insurer to say it would pick up the tab for coronavirus testing. Cigna Corp.

Some insurers have gone even further.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, for instance, said it will also cover the cost of a COVID-19 vaccine when it is available, and will waive co-payments for COVID-19 treatment at doctor’s offices, emergency rooms and urgent care centers

The insurer is also removing administrative barriers such as prior authorizations and referrals, waiving telehealth copays and allowing early access to refills of prescription medications.

United Healthcare said it will cover the cost of doctor visits and testing for COVID-19 and opened an “Emotional-Support Help Line,” which is free of charge to anyone who may be suffering from fear or stress of COVID-19. The insurer’s generosity could result in higher premiums down the road as insurers try to cover costs related to COVID-19.

But there are questions about a large group of Americans with health insurance – workers covered under an employer’s self-insured policy.

Large companies often self-insure, paying claims out of their own funds and determining benefits. They contract with an insurer to manage the plan, but those insurers can’t alter any benefits without the self-insured company’s approval.

Nationally, about 100 million Americans receive their coverage through self-insured employers — more than 60% of all those covered by employer plans.

States are preempted from regulating self-insured employer plans. So whether or not someone pays for a coronavirus test may be up to their employer.

Representatives of the nation’s largest health insurers plan to meet with Center for Medicare and Medicare Services Administrator Seema Verma, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services head Alex Azar and Ambassador Debi Birx, the Trump administration’s new coronavirus response coordinator.

Ana has written about politics and policy in Washington, D.C.. for Gannett, Thompson Reuters and UPI. She was a special correspondent for the Miami Herald, and a regular contributor to The New York TImes, Advertising Age and several other publications. She has also worked in broadcast journalism, for CNN and several local NPR stations. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Journalism.

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