Louisiana health plans promoting access to coronavirus testing, industry rep says

By David Jacobs | The Center Square

Major health plans in Louisiana are not charging certain fees to their members as part of their efforts to help contain the spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, an industry representative said Wednesday.

“The health plans are exclusively focused on the COVID-19 right now,” Jeff Drozda, CEO of the Louisiana Association of Health Plans, told a state Senate committee.

Co-pays for coronavirus testing and for telemedicine plans are being waived, as is the need for prior authorization for the test, Drozda said. Plans also are lifting limits on 30-day refills of medicines, he said, adding that members are being encouraged to order their drugs by mail.

The state Office of Public Health as of Wednesday morning had conducted 43 tests, officials said. Six people, all from the New Orleans area, have tested positive.

State officials have sent the tests to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for confirmation. In the meantime, officials are treating all six cases as positives and working to identify people who came in close contact with those patients.

The state lab is not charging for tests, though private companies now are offering testing, state officials said.

Fever, coughing and shortness of breath are all symptoms that may appear within two to 14 days of exposure, the CDC says. People showing symptoms are asked to stay home.

People who have come in contact with a COVID-19 patient but are not showing symptoms are being asked to stay home for 14 days as a precaution against spreading the virus. However, other people in those households who are not showing symptoms don’t need to stay home, as long as they have taken precautions such as staying at least six feet away from the quarantined person and washing hands frequently and thoroughly, officials said.

People who are not in high-risk groups are being asked not to wear face masks in order to save the limited supply for those who are, such as the elderly and people with underlying respiratory problems. People are also being asked not to visit nursing homes or jails.

“The whole [goal] is to slow this thing down, because we’re at the peak of flu season,” State Health Officer Dr. Jimmy Guidry said.

Public health officials hope that, much like the flu, spread of the new coronavirus will slow down during the summer, though it could come back strong in the fall. A vaccine is likely at least a year to 18 months away.

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell has canceled events scheduled for this weekend, such as the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade. Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, who is the state’s top tourism official, has publicly criticized the mayor’s decision. Guidry said it was “not a bad idea,” though he worried about the impact in Baton Rouge if New Orleans residents decide to celebrate in the capital city instead.

Guidry also said Lafayette’s upcoming Festival International de Louisiane might be a concern, since it brings together people from so many countries. He said schools that haven’t had an outbreak probably don’t need to close.

“We want to incentivize the right people staying home,” Guidry said, meaning people who are sick or high-risk.

COVID-19 is the official name of the disease caused by the new coronavirus. There have been more than 1,100 confirmed cases in the United States and 32 deaths, according to the CDC, which says 39 states including the District of Columbia have reported cases.

Symptoms of COVID-19 can include fever, coughing and trouble breathing. Most people who have it develop only mild symptoms. But some people, usually the elderly and those with other medical complications, develop more severe symptoms, including pneumonia, which can be fatal.