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Medicare Insurer Taking Proactive Steps Ahead of Flu Season

As winter approaches, COVID-19 infection rates have started to climb again.  At the same time we are entering influenza season.  Health officials have talked for some time about the potential double whammy caused by COVID infections and flu cases occurring at the same time.  The symptoms of the two illnesses are similar which further complicates things.

One insurer is attempting to be proactive.  UnitedHealthcare insures more than 5 million seniors via Medicare Advantage, the Part C coverage that is managed care, operating similar to an HMO.  Last month UnitedHealthcare began reaching out to its members who are at the highest risk of complications from COVID-19 and the flu.

What the company is offering is interesting.  It’s members can sign up for kits that include Tamiflu, (the prescription antiviral flu treatment), a digital thermometer and a COVID PCR diagnostic test.  These will be mailed to its members.  If you feel sick, you can take the COVID test at home and mail it in for the results.

If the COVID test comes back negative, then the assumption is you have the flu and then having the Tamiflu already means you can take start taking it sooner which helps lessen the severity of the illness.  In order to receive the kit, however, members must agree to wait until receiving direction from a doctor via a telemedicine visit before taking the medication.

The hope is that reducing the impact of the flu will allow hospitals and medical providers to have more resources to treat COVID patients.  It would keep emergency room visits and hospitalization rates for the flu down.

Something like this has never been done before so there is no way of knowing how successful it might be.  Giving people prescription medicine now with instructions not to use it until you consult with your doctor is a bit risky.  It is also critical to the program that the COVID test result turnaround be as quick as possible.  Nevertheless, this program could be a lifesaver for many seniors and we’ll see if other insurers follow UnitedHealthcare’s lead.