Articles Tagged with COVID-19

Even though most of us are still sheltering in place in an attempt to lessen the immediate spread and most severe health consequences of COVID-19, it is not too soon to start considering possible long-term health impacts that may arise in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Because the virus affects many organs and systems within the body – from the lungs and cardiovascular system to the liver, kidneys and likely the brain – it now appears likely that at least some patients will suffer long-term physical symptoms.  These long-term and even permanent problems may result from the virus itself, the body’s own immune response or even medical interventions, especially respirators, or a combination of all these factors.  But whatever the cause, doctors are already seeing heart damage, kidney and liver damage and, unsurprisingly, lung scarring and damage in a number of COVID-19 patients who are no longer actively infected.

And these are still early days. Some patients present during the illness with serious neurologic problems such as strokes and encephalitis, as well as other more mild neurologic symptoms such as dizziness, headache and loss of smell.  There have been reports of some patients suffering from Guillain-Barré Syndrome, an auto-immune disease where the immune system responds to an infection by mistakenly attacking the body’s own nerve cells.  It seems possible that at least some of these patients may continue to suffer neurologic and autoimmune issues, and related pain, fatigue and cognitive difficulties for at least some time.

Millions of people are affected by mental illness each year. While 1 in 5 people will experience a mental illness during their lifetime, everyone faces challenges in life that can impact their mental health. As the increase in the number of COVID-19 cases affects our entire country, so too will the need for access to mental health treatment and awareness of mental health issues. So far, older adults, along with those who have underlying health conditions, have been hit the hardest by the COVID-19 outbreak, with many developing severe, life threatening illnesses. Another group that is expected to be acutely affected by the pandemic include those who have severe mental illness.

Mental illness is a real and treatable set of conditions that includes major depression, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, panic attacks, generalized anxiety disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and schizophrenia, among dozens of others. These disorders are serious enough to significantly impact a person’s daily life functioning, whether at school, work or in their relationships with others.

Mental health issues often coincide with a unique set of challenges that make it difficult for people to access even the most necessities, such as food, medications, stable housing, and healthcare. Combined, all these factors put people with severe mental illness at a much higher risk for contracting and transmitting the new coronavirus and dealing with COVID-19.

As we might expect during this time of pandemic, state governments are not able to make progress on many pressing issues. In January, California governor Gavin Newsom unveiled a $47 billion proposal to expand health care coverage to all Californians. However, the coronavirus scourge has sidelined that proposal as California has scrambled to find funds to respond to it.

Due to these funding pressures, Governor Newsom has asked lawmakers to prioritize their legislative agendas and focus on the outbreak. One senator, however, is pushing ahead with a proposal to protect Californians suffering from mental illness.

As reported by Kaiser Health News, California State Senator Jim Beall, who is the chair of the Senate Select Committee on Mental Health, wants to toughen state parity laws to ensure that patients with mental illnesses are provided benefits on par with those received by patients with other medical conditions. California and the federal government already have mental health parity laws on the books, but Senator Beall argues that they are not stringent enough and are poorly enforced.

On April 28, 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) issued deadline relief and other guidance under Title I of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) to help, among other groups, disability plan participants who are impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, also referred to as the coronavirus outbreak.

The Department of Labor, Department of the Treasury, and the Internal Revenue Service issued a joint notice explaining the extension of time frames for healthcare coverage, portability, and continuation of group health plan coverage under COBRA, and time frames to file a benefit claim or appeal of denied claims.  They also issued COVID-19 FAQs for Participants and Beneficiaries that address a number of common questions concerning health and retirement benefits.

The final rule published by EBSA and submitted to the Office of the Federal Register (OFR) for publication contains information of the extension of certain timeframes under ERISA and the Internal Revenue Code for group health plans, disability and other welfare plans, pension plans, and participants and beneficiaries of these plans during the COVID-19 National Emergency.

The past few months have heralded an unprecedented situation. Millions of Americans are being laid off as COVID-19 shuts down businesses throughout the nation. This is frightening for everyone.  It is doubly difficult for workers who have physical or mental limitations.  For those workers, the specter of finding a new job in this economy, one that can accommodate their often significant limitations, may be overwhelming.

Workers experiencing health issues — including cognitive issues or mental illnesses — who have been having difficulties performing their jobs because of those limitations but have been fighting through them, may well be among the first to be laid off as underperformers. While these workers are in fact impressive in their drive to keep working in the face of daunting health issues, that very refusal to admit defeat may result in unemployment and a lack of income for them.

If you are among these workers, now is the time to evaluate whether a disability claim makes sense for you. While you still have access to your job-related insurance, you can preserve some of your income and access to health insurance.  If you have ongoing medical issues for which you have already been treating that significantly impact your ability to work, be it physical pain, chronic illness, depression, anxiety, or auto-immune issues, talk to your doctor about whether he or she would recommend disability for you.

The COVID-19 pandemic has uprooted the lives of millions of Americans in many ways and has taken its toll physically and mentally on millions of Americans across the country. But for people who suffer from mental health issues, the COVID-19 pandemic has created a new wave of panic, chaos, stress, and uncertainty.

More than 2 million Americans are estimated to be affected by obsessive compulsive disorder (“OCD”), according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Nearly 7 million people in the U.S. are affected by generalized anxiety disorder and about 6 million people in the U.S. are affected by panic disorder. Fear and anxiety about COVID-19 can be overwhelming and cause stress in both adults and children.

Stress during COVID-19 might include:

The effect of COVID-19 on the lives of every American cannot be overstated.  What we cannot know yet is how those effects will continue into the future.  We buy insurance to protect us in the event of future calamities. A variety of different types of insurance could potentially be triggered by the varying effects of the disease.  As it can be hard to know what the future could hold, the points below summarize the different ways your insurance could be involved in COVID-19 repercussions in the months and even years ahead.

It is difficult to know with certainty the range of long term health issues that could be caused by COVID-19, as the virus has only plagued us for approximately six months. Doctors predict the long-term effects will be similar to other coronaviruses like SARS.  While 80% of sick patients had “mild” cases, of the 20% who did not, they could experience a variety of long term effects.  COVID-19 survivors are expected  to follow the path of severe respiratory issues often seen after recovery from other respiratory illnesses.  That could mean lung fibrosis, reduced lung capacity and difficulty breathing and fatigue. Preliminary data out of China demonstrates that 20% of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 had heart damage. Patients also experience increased blood clotting.  Early studies from Asia show that COVID-19 attacks T-cells in a manner similar to HIV. Doctors are also finding that close to half of those hospitalized for COVID-19 have blood or protein in their urine, which is an early indicator of kidney damage, and up to 30% of patients in New York and Wuhan lost some level of kidney function. Liver damage, intestinal damage, and neurological malfunctions have also been reported.

Health Insurance

In this unprecedented time of COVID-19, one thing hasn’t changed: the disparity between medical and mental health care. As a physician is quoted in the New Yorker article, Why Psychiatric Wards Are Uniquely Vulnerable to the Coronavirus by Masha Gessen: “What has really kept me awake at night is that there is always, always less consideration for psychiatric services than for medical services.”

The fact is that mental health treatment is different, it requires patients to decidedly not self-isolate but to be in community for everything from group therapy sessions to meals. Those differences make it harder to treat mental health patients in a global pandemic where isolation and distancing is part of prevention. Health insurers are challenged to accept this new norm, as temporary or permanent as it might be, and adjust its coverage requirements to the reality of evolving treatment settings and protocols.

If you or a loved one is experiencing difficulties working with your insurance company, please call us at 800-449-7529 for a free consultation with one of the attorneys who specializes in getting individuals the mental health care they deserve.

 

Obviously, the coronavirus pandemic has affected everyone to some degree, and that includes the insurance industry and the people who rely on insurance to protect themselves from disaster.

Fortunately, the California Department of Insurance has been active in an effort to protect policyholders who are affected by the pandemic. As we already reported, on March 30 the DOI directed health insurance companies to increase access to services delivered via telehealth during the current state of emergency.

On April 3, the DOI took even more significant action. It issued another notice, this time directed at all insurers doing business in California, regarding claim deadlines. The DOI instructed all insurance companies to stop enforcing policy or statutory deadlines on policyholders for claims or coverage until 90 days after the COVID-19 state of emergency has ended.

Millions of Americans have lost jobs — and often the health coverage that came with those jobs. Millions of Americans had their work hours reduced or have received drastic pay cuts, so monthly premiums that may have been manageable before are now out of reach. It is important to understand your options and take action right away, so you don’t have gaps in health insurance coverage.

First, find out when your coverage is ending. You may have coverage until the end of the month you’re laid off or longer, depending on your employer. After your employer’s coverage ends, you can usually continue your employer’s coverage (but pay much higher premiums) or buy a policy on your own. Your best choice depends on each policy’s premiums, coverage, provider network – and what medical needs you and/or your family members have.

Here are some things to consider when evaluating your options.

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