ST. PAUL — Removing a barrier to medical care and a variable that could have exacerbated both the pandemic and financial hardship, state officials announced on Thursday, April 2, that Minnesota health plans have agreed to waive cost-sharing for the treatment of coronavirus.
"Minnesotans in the fully insured and Medicare markets will have no cost-sharing for COVID-19 testing and beyond that, Minnesotans in the fully insured markets who are hospitalized will have no cost-sharing for their in-network hospitalization," State Commissioner of Commerce Steve Kelly told reporters during an afternoon press conference.
Kelly said that the agreement runs through at least May 31, and that the state was working with health plans to waive cost-sharing for unexpected out-of-network coronavirus care as well.
"Our goal was that if you get sick with COVID-19, your focus should only be getting better and recovering. You shouldn't have to worry about getting a bill that could ruin you financially, especially during this difficult time."
The death rate from coronavirus rose by one case on Thursday, a patient age 69 from Hennepin County, bringing the statewide death toll to 18.
Confirmed cases jumped by 53 on Thursday, bringing the new statewide total to 742 with Koochiching County in far northern Minnesota reporting its first case. Health officials caution the reported case number and location of cases is a substantial undercount, and that the coronavirus is circulating widely throughout the state.
Also on Thursday, state officials addressed the rising concern over the lack of access by the public to the names of long-term care facilities that have had outbreaks of coronavirus.
The state encourages long-term care facilities to report outbreaks to family members, but it does not require the disclosure, nor post the information. Responding to pressure from the media, beginning Friday, the state health department will post the names of all facilities larger than 10 beds with a case of coronavirus among staff or residents.
"The media's questions about health in long-term care facilities have been entirely fair," said health commissioner Jan Malcolm, who addressed the reasoning for health officials in protecting anonymity of health data in order to enable full participation in public health.
"This is such an important value that we hold dear in public health," Malcolm said, " that people need to have a measure of confidence that we will not use the information in any way that will expose them to attention or stigmatization. That said, with current level of concern, we believe it's important to balance that value with the value of government transparency."
Long-term care locations are the source of 71 cases of coronavirus in the state and most of the deaths from the virus. Out of the 18 deaths in the state, 11 were among congregate living residents.
To date, 47 congregate care facilities have reported at least one case of coronavirus to health officials, with 36 reporting one case, five reporting two cases, six reporting more than two cases, and the largest number of cases in a single facility at eight.
Residents made up 49 long-term care cases in the state, and workers made up 22 cases.
Gov. Walz said the state is wrestling with how to protect those within state prison from coronavirus and said that inmates are doing a reduced number of group activities, but conceded that they are still dining in groups of 200.
"They're doing the best they can," Walz said, "but these are places that are proving difficult to instill social distancing across the country," Walz said.
"Locking people in a small setting for 24 hours a day doesn't work in these settings," Walz said. He added that the prisons are releasing inmates 30-60 days earlier from their scheduled release and looking to expand that if it can be balanced with public safety.
"It is a unique challenge because we can't just social distance inside that space, especially in these older facilities."
Finally, state health officials said they plan to provide a public-facing dashboard on the state health department web page offering real-time data on the state supply of personal protective equipment, ventilators and ICU beds. In an added strain on the health care system, the number of Minnesotans currently treated in an ICU setting for coronavirus jumped by 11 to 38 persons on Thursday.
Containing the number of patients treated within an ICU setting is viewed as a critical metric in slowing the spread of the illness. The state currently has an excess ICU capacity of roughly only 250 beds, but is busy trying to expand those resources with emergency sources based on repurposed care settings.
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Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 hotline: 651-201-3920.
School and childcare hotline: 651-297-1304 or 800-657-3504.
MDH COVID-19 website: Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) website.