publication date: Jul. 24, 2020

Letter to the Editor

Insurers’ moves to limit telehealth amid COVID-19 are inhumane and must  be stopped

This story is part of The Cancer Letter’s ongoing coverage of COVID-19’s impact on oncology. Our full coverage of SARS-CoV2 is available here.

To the Editor:

It is obvious to virtually everyone in the United States that the numbers of patients affected with COVID-19 are continuing to escalate. The impact of this is obvious, with many patients dying or permanently damaged from this dangerous virus.

However, an additional problem is the impact on patients with other medical illnesses including, of course, cancer. The Cancer Letter has reported on this several times and all of the national cancer organizations are making the same observations in trying desperately to continue to provide care hindered by the constraints imposed by the current pandemic.

One of the most effective strategies that was created was the reimbursement of telehealth visits at the same rate as in person encounters. This has allowed patients with many, but, admittedly, not all, cases to continue to receive medical care vital for their health.

It is therefore profoundly disheartening that one of these measures may expire at the end of July.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services are assessing “where these expanded telehealth policies should remain in place beyond the COVID-19 public health emergency (CMS Administrator Seema Verma Health Affairs Blog July 15).”

While CMS may well take a very appropriate position of continuing the current public health emergency designation past July this does not appear to be the case with private insurers.

The Cancer Letter has published the schedules that some insurers are using to end current telehealth reimbursement by the end of July, September or the end of 2020. Not surprisingly, United Healthcare is ending its cost-share waiver to out of network telehealth services on July 24. Moreover, in-network telehealth services will only continue through Sept. 30.

In the recent issue of The Cancer Letter, Patricia Goldsmith, CEO of Cancer Care, and Ted Okon, Executive Director of the Community Oncology Alliance, both took a disparaging view of these actions. We would like to add our voices to this conversation. [The Cancer Letter, July 17, 2020]

The decision to eliminate or restrict telehealth services at a time when the pandemic is, if anything getting worse, is appalling and fully demonstrates that the bottom line for these insurers has nothing to do with patient welfare and everything to do with profit.

We must focus attention on these insurers and let people know how much this will impact on their welfare and choosing insurance from companies that follow these policies should be avoided.

Inhumane actions such as this in the healthcare field are simply not acceptable and should be dealt with by Congress who can mandate that this not be allowed to happen.

The pandemic is killing patients in many ways and not just by the virus. Limiting access to health care for all other illnesses will ultimately prove to be equally if not more catastrophic to our patients.

Sincerely,

Christina Cone, DNP, APRN, ANP-BC, AOCNP®
Administrative Director, The Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke

William T. Dod, MBA
Senior Business Manager
The Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke

Henry S. Friedman, MD
James B. Powell, Jr. Professor of Neuro-Oncology
Chief, Division of Medical Neuro-Oncology
Department of Neurosurgery
Deputy Director, The Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke

Copyright (c) 2020 The Cancer Letter Inc.