The former health insurance boss implored consumers to "keep an eye" on industry moves, arguing that they'll prioritise profit over customer safety


For many, coronavirus treatment will be way more expensive than testing (Credit: Pixabay)

Cigna’s former vice president Wendell Potter has warned consumers not to trust health insurers as they continue to roll-out commitments to waive fees related to COVID-19 testing.

The self-described “reformed insurance propagandist” – who now champions Medicare for All – explained in a series of tweets, on 13 March, that treatment for the disease would be “way more expensive” than testing for it.

Potter’s tweets came on the same day his old firm updated its commitments to waive copays for testing to include any related visits to health departments within its networks, but did not include any mention of absorbing treatment costs.

In his tweets, Potter said: “During this coronavirus crisis, keep an eye on every move of my old industry: Health insurers.

“Behind the PR spin, they will be doing everything they can to deny care & maintain profits.”

On March 11 US president Donald Trump wrongly announced that health insurance firms would cover the cost of COVID-19 treatment, on top of testing, forcing vice president Mike Pence to appear on a programme from US news broadcaster CNN to clarify that cost-sharing would still apply for treatment.

Former VP of Cigna Wendell Potter (Credit: Twitter/@wendellpotter)

In his series of tweets, Wendell suggested that the industry’s unwillingness to waive treatment costs alongside those associated with testing revealed that the priority of health insurance companies was their shareholders, not their customers.

Wendell said:  “You can be sure Trump’s comment sent shockwaves through the industry.

“For many, treatment will be way more expensive than testing.

“If insurers let their enrollees (YOU) off the hook for out-of-pocket expenses related to treatment, their shareholders would be apoplectic.

“Case in point: My old company Cigna says it will cover the cost of COVID-19 testing — but makes no mention of waiving copays or deductibles for treatment.”


What steps has Cigna taken to address COVID-19 testing?

Cigna’s 13 March announcement brought additional promises to a previous commitment laid out on 6 March that cost-sharing fees would be waived for COVID-19 testing.

The health insurer’s updated stance includes waiving out-of-pocket costs for testing-related visits with in-network providers, whether at a doctor’s office, urgent care clinic, emergency room or conducted virtually through a telehealth provider.

Cigna President and CEO David Cordani said: “We are relentlessly focused on keeping our customers and communities safe.

“We are taking all precautionary safety measures and making it easier for our customers to protect themselves against COVID-19 by accessing medical care virtually, over the phone, or in person.”

According to Cigna, the new commitments apply to employer and union-sponsored health plans, including those that cover employees working out-of-country for short periods, as well as those on private policies and those subsidised by the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

The firm also said employers that self-insure with a stop-loss policy administered by Cigna “will be given the opportunity to adopt a similar coverage policy”.

The fee-waiving arrangement is currently set to last until 31 May 2020.