Ensuring Access to Needed Health Services During the COVID-19 Pandemic
In the midst of a pandemic that caused many Americans to fear visiting a doctor, Humana engaged in extensive outreach to its members to provide safe, accessible and reliable care, showing that it “had its members’ backs.” This included giving members tablets so they could use telehealth and home test kits to help them identify cancer and other health conditions. How does this build trustworthiness? Through its efforts, Humana provided a strong message of caring, compassion, safety and reliability, hallmarks of building trust.
How It Works
During the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, Humana began direct outreach to connect with members and find out more about their specific needs during these challenging times. To date, Humana contacted more than 1.2 million members, focusing first on those at the highest risk of social isolation and vulnerability to COVID-19. During these calls we heard that many of our members were delaying medical care and preventive appointments out of fear of contracting COVID-19.
As a result, Humana developed a comprehensive direct outreach and communications effort to encourage our members to connect with their doctors — in person or virtually. We expanded our telehealth services and sent tablets and broadband connectivity kits to our members and partnered with a leading supplier of technology services to connect 1 million older Americans with online services. We also launched a national #StopMedicalDistancing campaign to raise awareness about the importance of continuing medical and preventive care and at the same time invested in at-home prevention, supplying more than 1 million members with test kits to help identify cancer and other health conditions that may go undetected as people stay away from their doctors’ offices.
To ensure that affordability was not a barrier to access to care, we changed our benefit design and coverage policies. For instance, we waived all out-of-pocket spending for primary and out-patient behavioral health care for our Medicare Advantage members through 2020.
Skills and Competencies
At Humana, the needs of our members are at the core of everything we do. Throughout the pandemic, a guiding focus on member health shaped our actions and created a willingness to rapidly adapt to a changing environment, alter policies, and think creatively to develop new solutions. Further flexibility came from the fact that, through the Medicare Advantage program, Humana is fully accountable for the clinical outcomes of beneficiaries enrolled in their plans. This allows us to adopt a holistic, long-term view of member health. This orientation has been crucial during the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing for rapid, innovative, personalized responses to support members.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began in March, Americans scaled back in-person visits to their doctor due to concerns of contracting the virus. As a result, preventive care screenings plummeted dramatically. In April, vaccinations dropped by nearly 60%. Preventive procedures like mammograms fell 77% at the height of the pandemic, as did colonoscopies, which declined 88%. Overall visits to doctors’ offices declined 60% in April.
As Humana conducted direct outreach to members, we heard that our members were delaying care for fear of the virus. Putting off essential medical care can have severe long-term impacts on health, financial security, and costs at the system level. This was the motivation behind making it easier for our members-many of whom are seniors–to get the care they needed by delivering preventive care kits, increasing access to telehealth, removing cost barriers, and improving access to broadband and connectivity.
Of the 1 million at-home preventive test kits mailed to members this summer, thousands have been completed, and 10% of returned preventive screening kits led to a recommendation of follow-up care. This has helped our members with early identification of colon cancer and diabetic complications.
Member experiences suggest our efforts during the pandemic have helped build trust by getting members the care they need. When Dorothy P., a Humana member with a history of COPD, needed a new inhaler but wasn’t going to the doctor because she was afraid of contracting COVID-19, Humana scheduled a telemedicine appointment and her doctor quickly prescribed the inhaler she needed to stay healthy.
This practice was deployed across the nation from the outset and has already impacted millions of people. Through our efforts, we have found that direct member engagement and efforts to break down barriers, including waiving costs, providing safety kits, and helping people connect to broadband does result in increased utilization of preventive care. These practices could be scaled nationally by other payers or provider organizations.