Humana’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. William Shrank recently participated in USA Today’s “Just the FAQs Live! A Coronavirus Conversation” a weekly webinar live-streamed on their Facebook page. Moderated by Megan Finnerty, host of the USA Today Network Facebook Live Show, Dr. Shrank was joined by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel health and science reporter Mark Johnson and USA Today health reporter Ken Alltucker. 

Dr. Shrank focused on how Humana is addressing COVID-19 (Coronavirus) and helping members and providers navigate the crisis. This included highlighting Humana’s recent announcement to waive member costs for treatment related to COVID-19-covered services, including inpatient hospital admissions, for its Medicare Advantage plans and other populations. “At a time where there is incredible anxiety and stress, both in terms of our economic stability and in terms of our health, the last thing we want is for anyone to be worried about their finances when they’re combating this disease,” said Dr. Shrank.

Dr. Shrank also touched on Humana’s expansion of telehealth to members to help them continue getting the care they need from their homes. “Telemedicine may be one of the really transformative pieces of our healthcare system throughout this pandemic,” Dr. Shrank said. “We know that if we have a patient or a member who is potentially infected but not that sick, the last place we want them to go is to a clinical setting where they’re going to be exposed to others.”

Humana is using telemedicine to make it easier for physicians and patients to engage. “We’ve opened up the opportunity for everyone’s doctor – a primary care doctor, a specialist, a behavioral health physician – to call their patients just using a cell phone,” said Dr. Shrank. “We will pay the provider the full cost that they would have charged us had it been a face-to-face visit, and we are eliminating all cost sharing for our members. The rationale here is that we have a role to play by leveraging the right set of financial incentives and policies to keep our members safe and at home and to reduce the spread of the disease.”

Four months ago, some of the most progressive primary care practices were not using telehealth. Now Dr. Shrank said we are seeing that 90 to 95 percent of patient visits are being conducted via telehealth.

Beyond expanding telehealth and waiving member costs related to COVID-19, Humana is also working to address social isolation.

“I think every one of us is struggling with social isolation in one way or another. Personally, my parents are both around 80,” said Dr. Shrank. “They would not describe themselves as elderly or fragile, but they’re there around 80 and they have a number of medical problems and very much at risk during this time period.”

“We call them regularly and try to get our grandkids involved, we tell them not to watch TV all day…we recommend that they go out and get a little walk in and that they call people that they think are most in need of help so that they feel like they’re participating and engaging. The goal is really to somehow try to maintain some sense of a new normalcy and ideally keep their spirits and energy up so that they can come out the other side even stronger.”

At the end of the conversation, Dr. Shrank stressed the importance of ensuring that we do everything we can to supporting the physicians and clinicians who are caring for patients. “We believe and trust wholeheartedly and holistically the providers who are out there really doing great work, risking themselves, risking their families to try to take care of patients.”

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People across America are struggling to comprehend and combat COVID-19, worrying about their health, the well-being of family and friends, and their financial security.  Working with leaders across the industry and across the nation, Humana is removing potential barriers to care and taking other steps to help. This week the national health company has:

  • Waived consumer costs for treatment related to COVID-19-covered services. Now, costs related to subsequent treatment for COVID-19—including inpatient hospital admissions— will be waived for enrollees of Medicare Advantage plans, fully insured employer health plans, Medicare Supplement and Medicaid.
  • The waiver applies to all medical costs related to the treatment of COVID-19 as well as FDA-approved medications or vaccines when they become available.
  • Humana President and CEO Bruce Broussard wrote more about that and the company’s commitment to collaboration on his LinkedIn blog.
  • Updated with the latest information on assessing your risk, understanding your coverage, practicing healthy habits, and staying safe from COVID-19 scams.
  • Updated the list of members’ most frequently asked questions.

These recent moves are part of the company’s overall effort to accelerate and stabilize access to care for members affected by COVID-19. Humana is also:

  • Lifting administrative requirements for members infected with coronavirus and for all patients in settings where capacity is stretched by the needs of those infected by coronavirus. The change allows for unencumbered movement from inpatient hospitals to safe, medically appropriate post-acute care settings, including home health, long-term acute care hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, etc. The company continues to evaluate additional measures needed to eliminate administrative burdens across a broader spectrum of care.
  • Waiving member cost share for all telehealth services delivered by participating/in-network providers and accepting audio-only telephone visits for reimbursement
  • Waiving the out-of-pocket costs (copays, coinsurance and deductibles) associated with COVID-19 testing, including related visit costs in a range of clinical settings such as a physician’s office, urgent care center or emergency department
  • Allowing early prescription refills, so members can prepare for extended supply needs – an extra 30- or 90-day supply as appropriate
  • Providing a member-support line with specially trained call center employees to help support members with specific coronavirus questions and concerns, including live assistance with telehealth.

“We know we’re uniquely positioned to help our members during this unprecedented health crisis,” Bruce said in the most recent news release. “It’s why we’re taking this significant action to help ease the burden on seniors and others who are struggling right now. No American should be concerned about the cost of care when being treated for coronavirus.”

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See Humana Chief Medical Officer Dr. William Shrank as he appears on @USA TODAY’s Just The FAQs LIVE: Coronavirus Conversations. Experts and USA Today Network from across the country talk about America’s most urgent questions – what does the pipeline look like for a cure; new developments in testing; what insurance companies are doing to support you; and how hometown businesses are adapting to stay open.

You can find the program here on Tuesday, March 31, 12:30 pm ET:

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  • How do we make sure seniors can get to the store to get food?
  • How do we help support those seniors who have some anxiety or depression so that those conditions are not exacerbated during this time?
  • How do we continue caring for seniors with chronic conditions?

These are just a few of the questions that Richard Carmona, MD, MPH, FACS, 17th Surgeon General of The United States, Distinguished Professor University of Arizona, and Humana Chief Medical Officer William Shrank, MD, MSHS, discussed with the International Council on Active Aging (ICAA).

The webinar conversation focused on concrete steps that seniors and others at risk for can take to help protect their physical, emotional and mental health during the coronavirus pandemic.  

Understanding the differences between social distancing and social isolation

Research shows that seniors who are lonely or socially isolated are four times more likely to be re-hospitalized within a year of discharge.

Right now, “we are in a setting where we’re asking seniors to stay home,” said Dr. Shrank. “Social distancing is important, but we don’t want social distancing to be the same as social isolation. We have seniors at home alone or at home with just a caregiver. We need to keep seniors engaged.”

“It is absolutely essential that we stay engaged with our senior populations,” Dr. Carmona argues, because many are not getting to see their friends and family and they need to stay connected so they can still feel good.”

In particular, Dr. Carmona recommends using digital tools like FaceTime to stay connected to families, grandchildren, attend church services or even exercise. “We should be doing everything we absolutely can to keep our senior population engaged, reading, writing, sharing information, music, things that help to defray the stress of the situation.”

Taking the precautionary steps to protect seniors from food insecurity

Access to healthy food can have a big impact on seniors’ overall health. The coronavirus paired with the current economic situation can exacerbate food insecurity among older Americans. Right now, a large percentage of seniors are food insecure, have very few opportunities for additional income, face a lack of transportation options and are concerned with going outside at all.

To help combat food insecurity, “agencies on aging, Meals on Wheels, and food banks in the community are all working together to ensure that the vulnerable populations who can’t go to the store and can’t shop have access to food,” said Dr. Carmona. “This is a time that really brings out the best in America. There isn’t one size that fits all…but what’s remarkable is how each community is coming together to identify those that are vulnerable – especially the senior population – and what they need to sustain life.”

Humana is also helping address food insecurity by proactively making phones calls to its seniors most at risk and connecting them with local community-based organizations like food banks.  

How telehealth can help seniors manage their chronic conditions

Despite the current situation, Dr. Shrank struck a tone of optimism by asking Dr. Carmona about the “unintended good consequences” and lessons learned that come out of the COVID-19 pandemic, citing how the adoption of telehealth has exploded because it keeps people from being infected and is a good way to access care in the home. Telehealth also enables seniors to bring their primary care physician into the home, which helps them with their chronic condition management.

Dr. Shrank also spoke about how telehealth can play a key role in keeping seniors safe. “At Humana, we’ve waived co-pays for all telehealth. Not just telehealth to see physicians for suspected coronavirus, but for primary care, for behavioral health visits. The goal is to keep our members away from health care settings so they reduce the likelihood that they’ll either be exposed to others or expose them.”

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Olympic medalist Bonnie St. John joined Humana President and CEO Bruce Broussard on March 4 at Humana’s Inaugural International Women’s Day Celebration.

Humana’s workforce is 72 percent women, with 59% of management and 43% of senior leaders represented by women. We couldn’t miss the opportunity to celebrate the rich contributions women make at Humana and in the healthcare industry.

Bonnie, who had her right leg amputated at age 5 and was the first African-American ever to win medals in Winter Olympic competition, sat down with Bruce to discuss inclusion, diversity and advancing women in the workplace.

Bruce said that when diversity – whether it’s reflected in gender, birthplace, veteran status or otherwise – is present in a group, better decisions emerge. He also noted that women play active roles in healthcare decision-making.

“We need a workforce that reflects the communities we serve,” Bruce said.

He also said that this work is the right thing to do. “Every organization should give everyone the opportunity to grow,” he said. “It’s a reflection of company values.”

Bruce and Bonnie provided advice to women wanting to advance.

  1. Speak up. In her experience coaching women, Bonnie said, “You think your work will speak for itself, but work doesn’t speak.” Keeping your head down and hoping someone will notice will not suffice in the workplace.
  2. Be part of the conversation. If you want to advance and lead, then don’t be afraid to tell people what you want. Women can be perfectionists, but you don’t need to have it all figured out before jumping in. 
  3. Take risks. Bruce said, “I find that when you (take risks), you grow, you learn. You might trip, but you can get up, brush off, and go on. Being a perfectionist limits your ability take risks.”

The audience also heard from Kathy Driscoll, Vice President and Chief Nursing Officer; Charlon McIntoch, Vice President of Consumer Experience and Transformation; and Ty Richardson, Vice President in Human Resources.

Each discussed the various roles women play in healthcare, both as decision-making consumers and caregivers, as well as women in the healthcare profession.

“Women are serving as Chief Medical Officers for their families,” Charlon said, “with tremendous impact in the health of their families.”

Kathy noted that over 85 percent of nurses are women and that women are more represented in direct-member roles.

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