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First Person: How Health Insurance Provider Aetna Has Been Operating Through The COVID-19 Pandemic "During the COVID-19 pandemic, our 800,000 members around the world witnessed our commitment to them, as we addressed their concerns over the risks associated with visiting care centers and alleviated their worries about the cost of healthcare during an unprecedented economic downturn."

By Catherine Darroue

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

You're reading Entrepreneur Middle East, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.

Most of us probably won't remember any one event that touched as many lives as deeply as the COVID-19 pandemic. Each and every one of us have likely experienced worrying uncertainty, or at the very least, stressful isolation.

A toll has been taken; and we are only now starting to see a possible end. Our emergence from this unprecedented challenge was made possible by resolution- by governments taking strict measures to protect us, but mainly by frontline workers that preserved economies, and by medical professionals, who have been saving lives while risking their own.

Meanwhile, those in the health insurance sector have played their part too. Aetna celebrates its 20th anniversary in the region this year. Over the decades, we have been committed to bringing personalized, convenient, and affordable health and wellbeing services to people in the Middle East and Africa, when and where they need them. During the COVID-19 pandemic, our 800,000 members around the world witnessed our commitment to them, as we addressed their concerns over the risks associated with visiting care centers, and alleviated their worries about the cost of healthcare during an unprecedented economic downturn.

Stay home, stay safe

As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded, Aetna was there to offer support to the community- to employers, members, and their loved ones. As early as March, we provided all members with free access to our vHealth services (launched in 2018, in line with Dubai Health Authority's vision of a Doctor for Every Citizen), to help ensure continuous access to health care during the outbreak. This allowed members to speak to a doctor at any time, about any aspect of their health and well-being, without having to travel to a clinic or hospital.

The 90-day extension for telemedicine was critical not only to our members and their families, but it was also vital in managing the allocation of medical resources, and in supporting the well-considered decisions of governments to impose lockdowns for the sake of public health. As we now know, these efforts went a long way towards curbing the spread of the virus.

Members also continued to benefit from 24-hour access to clinical counsellors via our Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) and could access WorldAware (red24) to stay informed of any significant travel, safety, or security-related incidents. In addition, they gained free access to myStrength, a highly interactive, personalised app that helps address depression, anxiety, and stress, and Wysa, a leading well-being app with an AI-driven chat function.

Bringing costs down

We were also acutely aware of the economics of the COVID-19 world. So, any Aetna International member that required diagnostic testing for the coronavirus was subsequently reimbursed in full for both the test and the associated consultation. In early April, Aetna also started waiving all deductibles for inpatient hospital admissions related to COVID-19.

As the number of cases continued to rise, Aetna recognised the importance of having simple and affordable access to treatment as needed. As matters progressed, we made sure that if a deductible applied to a member's inpatient benefit, we waived it for all in-network facilities if the treatment applied to COVID-19 or health complications associated with the virus.

Also in April, we extended support to all our SME plan sponsors that were renewing Summit group policies in May or June. They received a month of free cover, as did any new plan sponsor taking out this policy between April and June. We considered this move a natural extension of our earlier efforts to support members and healthcare providers as they navigated through the pandemic. Our priority had become alleviation of financial burden and other pressures encountered by our customers as a result of these unprecedented situation. As such, all SME employers renewing or taking out a new Summit group policy were invited to discuss options for more flexible billing cycles.

Reaching out

Following quickly after the extension of telemedicine access, access to resources, the waiver of deductibles and the discounts and flexibility applied to group policies, Aetna launched its Care Management Outreach programme, in which we proactively contacted members that were suspected or confirmed of having contracted the virus and at risk to develop severe complications from COVID-19. Such contacts were a major contribution to the tracing and treatment of the coronavirus, as Aetna team provided care-management support, offered reassurance and peace of mind and made members aware of options such as vHealth, WorldAware, myStrength, and Wysa.

Throughout the outbreak, Aetna has operated against the simple premise that we are all in this together. For 20 years, we have been there for our clients and members in the Middle East and Africa, and now more than ever, we've taken all these measures to support them in any way we could.

Rest assured- Aetna remains at the heart of your health and well-being. Click here to find out how you can share in the health and well-being benefits we bring to your community.

Related: A Look At How Businesses In Dubai Are Ensuring The Physical And Mental Well-Being Of Their Employees Amid COVID-19

Catherine Darroue

Senior Director of Customer Proposition, EMEA, Aetna International

Catherine Darroue is the Senior Director of Customer Proposition, EMEA, at Aetna International.
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