State calls on insurers for help against flu

Companies are being asked to review and revise policies to help deal with the illness.

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The Washington state Office of Insurance Commissioner and the Department of Health have urged health insurance companies operating in the state to take a close look at the upcoming flu season.
In a letter to insurance companies, Insurance Commissioner Mike Kriedler and state Secretary of Health Mary Selecky asked for their help, specifically in working with public health agencies to ensure Washington residents have the best possible access to care and treatment.
In a letter dated Sept. 8, the two agencies said that although the H1N1 flu doesn’t seem overly virulent, "national experts still believe that 30 to 50 percent of the U.S. population could become infected this fall and winter, with millions becoming ill."
In particular, the two government agencies are asking health insurers to:
Reach out to tell enrollees how and where they can receive covered vaccinations.
Review policies and programs to optimize coverage of the H1N1 vaccine. Timely and appropriate provider compensation or patient reimbursement for vaccinations and treatment is critical.
Review policies and programs regarding coverage of the regular seasonal flu vaccine. Fewer seasonal flu cases mean more medical system capacity to deal with H1N1 cases.
Review and augment drug coverage and requirements to ensure access to the anti-viral medications.
"Ensuring that your members are provided with coverage for these medications for both H1N1 and seasonal flu treatment will help in the effective treatment of those who are ill," Kriedler and Selecky wrote.
The agency heads also asked companies to develop a plan to communicate pandemic-related policy changes to enrollees, employers, network providers, the media and others.
"We’re tracking H1N1 closely in our state so we can learn from every case and be even more prepared this fall," Selecky noted. "Once the new H1N1 vaccine arrives in October, kids and pregnant women will be among the first to receive it. By working with insurance companies now we can make sure nothing slows us down as we work to get these high-risk groups vaccinated and protected."
H1N1 influenza A — better known as swine flu — first hit Washington state last spring. Since then there have been around 160 hospitalizations and 14 deaths from the virus, she added.
Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322. Check out her blog at blogs.ublabs.org/fromthestorageroom.

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