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Public health workers, doctors, and nurses protest over lack of sick pay and personal protective equipment outside a hospital in the Bronx on April 17, 2020.

Public health workers, doctors, and nurses protest over lack of sick pay and personal protective equipment outside a hospital in the Bronx on April 17, 2020. (Photo: Giles Clarke/Getty Images)

Private Insurers Urged to Extend Free Covid-19 Coverage Until Pandemic Over

"If you are going to contract Covid-19, you'd better hurry up or you're out of luck!"

Andrea Germanos

Public Citizen on Wednesday urged all private health insurers to waive coronavirus-related fees for the duration of the pandemic—a demand that comes as consumers of seven major insurers face the prospect of previously granted fee waivers expiring in just five days. 

According to the advocacy group, the insurers with a June 1 end day for partial or full fee waivers are United Health, Anthem, Health Care Service Corporation, Blue Shield of California, Anthem Blue Cross of California, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee.

For consumers of five other plans—Centene, Independence Health Group, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, and UPMC Health System—the end date for fee waivers is also fast approaching, at the end of June.

"There's no question now how serious the Covid-19 pandemic is and will continue to be for many months to come," Eagan Kemp, healthcare advocate at Public Citizen, said in a statement. "I guess these private insurers with rapidly approaching deadlines for their fee waivers are saying to their consumers: 'If you are going to contract Covid-19, you'd better hurry up or you're out of luck!"

In a report released earlier this month, Public Citizen said that most major insurers were offering at least partial fee waivers for coronavirus treatment, though many insurers were imposing restrictions like excluding those in self-insured plans and barring costs for out-of-network care. Another problem with the waivers, said Public Citizen, is that "most are set to expire long before the pandemic can reasonably be expected to end."

Public Citizen's demand came as the coronavirus claimed the lives of over 99,000 Americans and as the pandemic strengthened advocates' call for Medicare for All. 

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.)—one of the co-sponsors of legislation to empower Medicare to provide healthcare for all during the global pandemic—said earlier this month that key to helping end the "historic crisis Americans are facing" is to making sure Americans have access to healthcare.

 "At least 27 million people have already lost their health insurance during a pandemic because they live in a country that still foolishly ties health care to employment," Jayapal said in a Tuesday tweet. "That's why we need Medicare for All."

Public Citizen had a similar message in its report from this month.

The coronavirus fee waivers, said the group, merely "serve as a temporary solution to the broader problem that plagues American healthcare. The system is unfathomably complicated, ridiculously expensive to administer, and rations care according to people’s ability to pay."

"This is not only morally bankrupt but, as the spread of coronavirus indicates, it is also dangerous from a public health standpoint because we are all affected by the community's overall health and ability to obtain needed care," said Public Citizen.

"The most sensible way to untangle the thicket of our healthcare system, protect Americans from crushing costs, and create a healthier and more productive society," the group continued, "is to implement Medicare for All."

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