Health Insurance in Times of Crisis

When natural disasters strike, people whose lives are disrupted may find a partner in an unexpected place: their health insurance provider.

In the aftermath of disasters like Hurricane Harvey, Blue Cross and Blue Shield Plans mobilize resources to help members. PHOTO CREDIT: iStock

Hurricanes. Wildfires. Tornadoes. Flooding. Mother Nature’s wrath can upend thousands of lives and doesn’t discriminate.

When natural disasters strike, people whose lives are disrupted get help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and charities such as the American Red Cross. They may also find a partner in a less expected place: their health insurance provider.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield Plans in Illinois, Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas deploy multiple resources to assist members before, during and after natural disasters in some traditional and less traditional ways.

Proactive outreach

As people in the path of severe weather start to pick up the pieces after the storm passes, they may be surprised to pick up the phone and hear the following greeting on the other end of the line:

“Mr. Smith, I see you may be located in an area impacted by severe weather. If so, I just wanted you to know that Blue Cross and Blue Shield is prepared to assist you with any access to care or health insurance needs you may have.”

The Seasons of Life team starts out each of hundreds of phone calls with that message. A computer program flags every member who lives in a declared disaster area, and the team’s customer advocate specialists call as many of those members as possible.

The team is authorized to help members by doing the things they might do for themselves in better circumstances — replacing insurance ID cards, refilling lost prescriptions or accessing in-network doctors if the member or their doctor is displaced.

But their skill set doesn’t stop at needs related to health insurance. If members mention other problems caused by the disaster, the Seasons of Life team may help put them in contact with organizations like the American Red Cross, FEMA, local utility providers, food pantries and others to help make sure their needs are met.

The name behind the team

Seasons of Life is a team that has the everyday job of reaching out to the loved ones of members recently deceased, to help them navigate insurance claims and processes during a time when they don’t need to be worrying about insurance.

“The Seasons of Life team was the ideal place to go when building a disaster recovery program,” says Scott Alexander, vice president of group service delivery. “They are trained that empathy is a powerful benefit we can provide, and that a natural disaster can mean a life-changing loss of another kind.”

In the seven days after Hurricane Harvey hit the Gulf Coast and caused massive flooding throughout southeast Texas and western Louisiana, the Seasons of Life team attempted 2,462 calls and reached over 500 members who said they were affected by the hurricane. The team then quickly pivoted to begin outbound calls to members living in areas in the path of Hurricane Irma. They reached more than 100 members with offers of assistance.

As wildfires continue to burn across western Montana, some members have been displaced from their homes. The team called more than 500 members and connected with about 100, many who primarily needed replacement ID cards.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield assists with needs such as refilling lost prescriptions, obtaining a new ID card and finding a doctor. Members that the Seasons of Life team do not reach may still get help after a disaster.

“One of the first efforts by Blue Cross and Blue Shield during a disaster is to run a list of all members living in areas impacted,” Alexander says. “If a member who lives in a declared disaster area calls the customer service number on their insurance card, any customer advocate can see that the member may need help related to that disaster. Every customer advocate has the same authorization as the Seasons of Life outreach team to do whatever they can to take care of the member holistically.”

That help can get a little creative. For instance, one member needed a refill on a prescription that had expired, but his doctor’s office was now “in the middle of a lake.” The Seasons of Life customer advocate was able to get the member a virtual visit with a doctor who could authorize a refill to hold him over until he could see his doctor again.

Boots on the ground

Blue Cross and Blue Shield also helps in person, getting involved in community-level programs after severe weather events to help ensure members’ health needs are met.

Blue Cross mobile assistance center and care vans in some cases travel to shelters housing people displaced by severe weather. The mobile assistance center provides charging stations and access to news, and customer advocates can answer questions about insurance coverage. Clinicians from city or state health departments work alongside the care vans to provide recommended immunizations, like tetanus shots after a flood.

During these times of crisis, Blue Cross and Blue Shield may be an unexpected but welcome source of support for its members.

RELATED STORIES

5 Things to Read on Improving Health

An Approach to Diabetes Prevention that Works

5 Things to Read on Health Care Access

Interested in ways we can make the
health care system work better?

Interested in ways we can make the health care system work better?