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Ebola: Health insurers stay calm but alert

Nimmagadda also says that Cigna is closely monitoring the situation in Dallas and “will work with public health professionals, customers, clients, and local health care professionals as necessary.”

Aetna, too, is monitoring the situation closely but agrees with the CDC, which has said that even with the latest developments, Ebola poses no significant threat to the general population in the U.S.,  says spokeswoman Cynthia Michener.

Duncan has been given brincidofovir, an anti-viral drug that has shown promise in the laboratory but had not yet been tested in humans. The manufacturer of the drug, Chimerix, received special permission from the Food and Drug Administration to provide it to him.   

Generally, health insurance companies don't cover the cost of “experimental” treatments. Michener says Aetna would “continue to follow the guidance of health authorities closely on any treatment options they determine are viable.” Currently, she notes, the treatment given Duncan “is still in trials, unproven in humans, and not yet approved by the FDA.”

In fact, "experimental" is one of 12 words never to say to your insurance company.

Manufacturers generally cover the cost of such ad-hoc treatments that have not yet gone through FDA trials and approval. So health insurance companies would not be on the hook for what could be costly medications.

Health insurance companies help keep everyone informed

While an Ebola outbreak is not likely here, Nimmagadda says, Cigna, like all health insurance companies, takes any possibility of an outbreak seriously and works with its providers and patients to keep them informed about unusual health threats.

Health insurance companies, including Cigna and Aetna, also are taking steps to raise awareness of Ebola among their customers, clients, health care professionals and employees.

Cigna continually educates its health care providers and members about what they can do to prevent the spread of infectious diseases, whether it's the flu, whooping cough or other viruses and infections. For example, Nimmagadda says, "We remind them of the need to wash their hands and to avoid coming in contact with bodily fluids from infected patients," she says. In today's health care settings in the U.S., she says, "you can isolate any contagious [patients] pretty effectively and you take precautions even if you didn't know what it is they might have."

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