We are facing a global pandemic. Leaders have been wise to issue stay-at-home orders, encourage social distancing and allow virtual clinic visits when appropriate.
The unfortunate consequence is that many families face enormous economic challenges. Affording basics like food and rent will be a struggle for many in the months ahead.
Despite the situations that many face, there are some companies looking to help consumers in these tough and uncertain times. Although others, not so much.
As we all drive and travel less, put off visits to the dentist and checkups with family practice physicians, auto insurance companies are paying out far fewer claims. In fact, a recent study by researchers at University of California Davis found that traffic collisions and fatalities dropped by over 50% in the 10 days that followed California Gov. Gavin Newsome's "shelter in place" order.
In response, nearly all of the top names in auto insurance have announced rebates or reductions in premiums that they charge consumers. Consumers can expect anywhere from 15% to 25% savings this spring. And while some say that those insurers should be doing more — I pause and wonder why health insurers and pharmacy benefit managers aren't doing the same.
It's well documented that local medical clinics and rural hospitals are literally fighting for their lives as they see significantly fewer patients than they normally would. The drop in patients — and ultimately claims paid out by insurers — is so significant that local clinics and hospitals alike have announced major layoffs.
While some insurers are assisting physicians with loans — while charging interest — and accelerating the rate at which they pay out on claims — it's about time — what's being done to help patients?
Hoarding savings owed to patients is hardly a new approach for our nation's largest insurers. For years, pharmaceutical companies have paid billions in rebates to entities know as Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs) that serve as obscure middlemen negotiating costs between drug-makers and health insurance companies. And for all those years, these PBMs — often owned by some of our nation's largest insurance companies — have hoarded those rebates rather than pass them along to patients at the pharmacy counter.
So, is it any wonder that we are not hearing a peep out of our major health insurers?
Small businesses, working-class families and our government agencies — via our tax dollars — are the biggest customers of these major health insurers and PBMs. With so many businesses shuttered and over a quarter of a million workers filing new unemployment claims over the past weeks, can you think of anyone more deserving of a little help right now?
I hope that Cambia, Moda, Cigna, UnitedHealth, OptimRX, Express Script and others are listening. It's time for them to do their part and share their huge savings with hurting Americans right now.
Dr. Carl Erickson is a osteopathic physician who practices family medicine at Cascade Family Practice in Milwaukie.
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