Most private Oregon insurers will waive the patients' share in the cost of testing for COVID-19, Gov. Kate Brown's office announced Thursday afternoon, March 5, as the state braces for a growing number of cases of the novel coronavirus.
Brown's office reached an agreement with eight major private insurers to spare insured Oregonians from co-pays and other such costs for testing and a vaccine if one becomes available.
"I'd like to thank Oregon's insurers for partnering with the state, so that medical providers can issue COVID-19 tests to anyone who needs one," Brown said in a news release. "No one should have to ask if getting a COVID-19 test is something they can afford. I hope this agreement sets a framework that other states can follow nationwide."
The deal comes with come caveats. It only applies to testing at in-network providers or urgent care facilities, as well as all emergency rooms.
Participating insurers are:
• BridgeSpan Health Co.
• Health Net Health Plan of Oregon Inc.
• Kaiser Permanente
• Moda Health Plan Inc.
• PacificSource Health Plans
• Providence Health Plans
• Regence Blue Cross Blue Shield
• Samaritan Health Plans Inc.
Collectively, they insure about one million Oregonians and include most health plans sold on the state's individual and group insurance markets.
Not yet participating are four of the state's 10 largest insurers, who collectively cover about 92,000 people, according to data from the Department of Consumer and Business Services. They are United Healthcare, Cigna, Aetna and Health Care Insurance Corp.
Oregon Health Plan, which is run by the Oregon Health Authority, does not charge co-pays or deductibles to patients seeking testing.
Brown's office is exploring a similar deal with self-insured plans, though one has not yet been reached, the release said. Short-term health insurance plans, health insurance ministry plans and other types of coverage that aren't full insurance aren't included.
The governor's staff has also reached out to the federal government to clarify whether the state can take the same steps of waiving costs for those with Medicare Advantage plans and health savings accounts.
In Washington, Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler issued an order Thursday morning requiring insurers to waive cost-sharing for COVID-19 testing. He could to issue the order because Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has declared a state of emergency over the outbreak, a step Oregon hasn't taken.
"Our typical approach is to collaborate with the insurance company to get them to do things like this for the benefit of Oregonians…versus mandating," said Brad Hilliard, spokesman for Oregon's Department of Consumer and Business Services, which regulates insurance companies.
Hilliard said the negotiations took place over about two days as insurers worked to change billing codes and update systems to process the change. Talks are ongoing with insurers not currently participating, he said.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.