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Ebola: Health insurers stay calm but alert

Should an outbreak of infectious disease occur, Cigna would follow the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and local health authorities, Nimmagadda says. It would inform its providers and members about the steps they should take and how they can receive the best possible care if they are affected, Nimmagadda says. "We help our customers get the care they need, regardless of the disease -- whether it's an Ebola outbreak or any situation."

Health insurance companies would be able to spot an outbreak quickly from the insurance claims coming in, says Clare Krusing, director of communications at America's Health Insurance Plans, a trade group. “The CDC would be the point of contact on how to handle outbreaks of this nature.” 

Access to care

Cynthia Michener, a spokesperson for Aetna, says it, too, monitors reports of infectious diseases worldwide. When outbreaks are reported, the health insurer does what it can to ensure its members are able to access necessary care, she says. If, for example, a vaccine or a medicine to treat an outbreak is available, Aetna works with providers to ensure that supplies are sufficient and easily accessible to those who need them.

Aetna also stays abreast of announcements from the CDC and other federal agencies and state and local health departments. Should it become necessary, Aetna would help promote awareness of treatment and preventive care options to its providers and subscribers in the affected communities, Michener says.

Aetna and Cigna would put announcements on their websites and send letters via email or the U.S. mail alerting those who need to take action and telling them exactly what to do, the health insurers say.

Nimmagadda leads a work group at Cigna that includes doctors, customer service reps and provider-relations personnel who look ahead and are charged with supporting unusual situations such as an Ebola outbreak. The team makes sure Cigna's providers would have the resources they need to assist their subscribers in the event of an outbreak or natural disaster. How often the team meets depends on the need. "During the influenza season," Nimmagadda says, "we might meet once a week." Other times, it's less often.

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