With Covid-19 hospitalizations spiking once more in lots of components of the nation, public well being officers have expressed considerations a few perennial supply of pressure on the well being care system: seasonal flu. As threats of a “twindemic” loom, well being care staff have pressured the necessity for vaccination and different preventive measures to sluggish the unfold of flu.
One insurance coverage firm goes additional to attempt to mitigate the results of flu season: UnitedHealthCare, the nation’s largest medical insurance firm, plans to offer at-risk sufferers with 200,000 kits that embody Tamiflu, the prescription antiviral therapy; a digital thermometer; and a coronavirus P.C.R. diagnostic check. Folks can take the check at residence after which mail it in for laboratory evaluation, serving to sufferers and docs decide the reason for their signs, which is especially necessary as a result of the coronavirus and flu have related signs however differ in therapy.
“These viruses have confirmed themselves extremely able to placing pressure on our well being care system alone,” stated Dr. Kelly Moore, an affiliate director of the Immunization Motion Coalition. “Their mixed affect is actually worrisome.”
In late September, UnitedHealthcare started inviting its Medicare Benefit members to join the kits both on-line or by cellphone, beginning with a deal with these at highest danger of problems from Covid-19 and the flu based mostly on their age and well being standing. Since then, 120,000 individuals have enrolled, and the corporate has begun delivery the kits. The corporate has greater than 5 million Medicare Benefit members.
The corporate stated supplying individuals with Tamiflu upfront may assist to mitigate the severity of flu infections as a result of the antiviral treatment will get much less efficient with each hour that passes from onset of signs and is nearly ineffective after 48 hours. Tamiflu on common shortens the length of sickness by one to 2 days if taken quickly, in keeping with Dr. Moore. It might probably additionally assist forestall sickness in somebody at excessive danger of problems who has been uncovered to the flu, however will not be routinely really useful for preventive use in most populations.
All members signing up for the flu kits needed to affirm the state the place they dwell in order that the Tamiflu prescription could possibly be disbursed by a doctor of their state. They needed to attest, both over the cellphone or via an internet type, that they might wait to take the prescription drug or the coronavirus check till after receiving path from a doctor via a telemedicine appointment, although there is no such thing as a further system for verifying this course of as soon as they obtain their kits. Members additionally needed to agree to not give the treatment to others.
“We thought, ‘Think about when you begin getting sick and already had a mini pharmacy at residence,’” stated Dr. Deneen Vojta, government vp for analysis and growth at UnitedHealthcare. The purpose, she added, is to lower the variety of emergency room visits, hospitalizations and deaths ensuing from seasonal flu.
There is no such thing as a cost for the Tamiflu or the coronavirus check, so long as individuals obtain recommendation from a physician through telemedicine. An organization spokesman stated that the kits may produce financial savings by lowering hospitalizations via preventive care.
Flu package recipients will probably be directed to schedule digital physician’s appointments in the event that they expertise viral signs. The initiative has turn out to be attainable largely due to the general public’s elevated acceptance of telemedicine amid the pandemic. A nationwide survey from Deloitte launched in August discovered that the proportion of well being care shoppers utilizing digital physician’s visits rose to twenty-eight % in April 2020 from 15 % in 2019, as sufferers have averted in-person visits to clinics the place they’re at elevated danger of coronavirus publicity.
UnitedHealthcare’s initiative focused Medicare sufferers as a result of the aged are extra susceptible to extreme an infection from each the coronavirus and the flu. Covid-19 sufferers who’re over the age of 80 are tons of of instances extra prone to die from the illness than these underneath 40. They’re additionally extra prone to die from the flu — between 70 and 85 % of flu-related deaths happen in individuals 65 or older, in keeping with knowledge from the Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention.
UnitedHealthcare additionally plans to gather knowledge on co-infection with the coronavirus and flu. Evaluation from Public Well being England confirmed that individuals contaminated with each viruses had been greater than twice as prone to die, and most instances of co-infection had been in aged populations.
Whereas no different insurance coverage firm has stated it plans to ship out prescription antiviral medication, Aetna introduced it could ship its 2.7 million Medicare members kits containing a thermometer, hand sanitizer and face masks. Anthem has partnered with group organizations to create 500 native pop-up clinics administering free flu vaccines.
There’s some trigger for optimism about efforts to mitigate the unfold of the flu this yr, in keeping with Dr. Marc Lipsitch, an epidemiologist at Harvard. Australia reported a 99 % lower in reported flu infections this yr in contrast with 2019, partly on account of widespread social distancing.
People ought to nonetheless be making each effort to forestall flu an infection via vaccination. “If there’s an overlapping demand from the 2 viruses, it would compound the issue of delivering well being care,” Dr. Lipsitch stated. “Our well being methods are already normally stretched by flu season, and could possibly be much more stretched by Covid.”