January 21, 2022

Covering COVID-19 is a daily Poynter briefing of story ideas about the coronavirus and other timely topics for journalists, written by senior faculty Al Tompkins. Sign up here to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.

Five days in, how are health insurance companies handling the federal order that they pay for COVID-19 instant tests? Kaiser Family Foundation surveyed 13 insurers who cover at least a million people and found exactly what nobody wanted: a disorganized mess that requires millions of people to pay for tests out of pocket and hope for reimbursement. Some insurers still do not instruct people on how to get reimbursement.

The government’s free tests, which could fix this debacle, won’t be in Americans’ hands for at least a couple of weeks, when the rate of infections is expected to be dropping in much of North America. Kaiser found:

(Kaiser Family Foundation)

7 insurers (Anthem, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Blue Shield of California, Care First, Cigna, CVS Group/Aetna, and Kaiser Permanente) are currently relying only on reimbursement practices (i.e., do not have a direct coverage option) and have varied reimbursement policies.

4 of the 7 insurers (Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Blue Shield of California, Care First, Cigna) require receipts and a form be mailed in (typically one submission per receipt per member). One insurer (Cigna) also offers a fax option. None of these appear to provide an email or online submission. One insurer (CVS Group/Aetna) notes they will reimburse enrollees but does not describe the reimbursement procedure.

2 insurers offer an online option for submitting reimbursement forms (Anthem and Kaiser Permanente).

3 insurers also require Universal Product Code (UPC) or product barcode information to be mailed with the receipt.

The remaining half of the top insurers had a direct coverage option set up at the time of review.

6 of the 13 top insurers have a direct coverage option at this time. Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, Centene/Ambetter, Health Care Service Corporation, Guidewell (Florida Blue), Humana, and United Health Group commercial plan enrollees can purchase rapid tests at an in-network or preferred pharmacy and will not have to pay anything up front. Kaiser Permanente says they will have direct coverage in the future but do not yet provide this option.

5 of the 6 insurers with a direct coverage option (Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, Centene/Ambetter, Guidewell (Florida Blue), Humana, and United Health Group) also lay out how enrollees can seek reimbursement for costs they have fronted with retailers outside the preferred network, typically by mail and one also providing an online option.

Another insurer, (Health Care Service Corporation) does not provide any specific information and instead instructs enrollees to contact their health plan administrator.

Pandemic pessimism grows

Just when some states report possible drops in new COVID-19 cases, Gallup is out with a new survey that says Americans are sharply more pessimistic about the pandemic:


Gallup found:

  • 20% think pandemic is improving, 22% staying same, 58% getting worse
  • 50% are worried about contracting COVID-19; up 12 points since late November
  • Social distancing behaviors on the rise; 72% continue to wear mask in public


The polling took place from Jan. 3 through 14. 82% of vaccinated people say they have worn a mask in the last week compared to about a third of unvaccinated people.

I wonder if these findings about face masks are wildly different in cities and rural areas and different parts of the country, especially when you consider how parts of the country are experiencing the omicron variant differently. The newest map shows a 151% drop in new cases in New Jersey and a near tripling of cases in Wisconsin in the last two weeks.


Americans are using more disinfectants, even though they do not prevent COVID

Two years into the pandemic, Americans are buying 15% more disinfectants — like sprays and wipes — than we did in 2019. Bloomberg reports that in 2020, we went wild buying disinfectants but then slowed down a little only to see sales rebound last year.

The big home cleaning supply companies like Proctor & Gamble and Clorox are telling investors that they believe we have become so used to cleaning and wiping everything that it may have become a long-term consumer behavior that will survive the pandemic.

IBISWorld produced a graphic with industry projections for the disinfectant industry:


IBISWorld reports:

  • The market size of the Disinfectant Manufacturing industry in the US increased faster than the economy overall.
  • The market size of the Disinfectant Manufacturing industry in the US has grown 7.7% per year on average between 2017 and 2022.
  • The market size of the Disinfectant Manufacturing industry in the US has grown 7.7% per year on average between 2017 and 2022.

Governor asks National Guard troops and state workers to teach school

We have seen governors call on National Guard troops to drive school buses, now, in New Mexico, Guard members are being deployed to fill in for sick teachers. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is also asking state employees to consider serving in classrooms. It is happening in Oklahoma, too, where government employees can serve as school substitutes while continuing to receive their salaries.

Members of Congress get KN95 masks made in China

Fox News is reporting that members of Congress just got KN95 masks from the Office of the Attending Physician of the U.S. Congress. And, Fox says, “The masks are printed ‘Made in China’ on the side in bold text, and the package includes a sheet of paper with a stamp of a red star.”  Republican members want to know why the federal government would contract with suppliers in another country rather than U.S. manufacturers.

Proof that civilization is dissolving: robotic umpires approved

Ron Besaw, right, operates a laptop computer as home plate umpire Brian deBrauwere, gets signals from a radar with the ball and strikes calls during the fourth inning of the Atlantic League All-Star minor league baseball game, Wednesday, July 10, 2019, in York, Pa. deBrauwere wore an earpiece connected to an iPhone in his ball bag which relayed ball and strike calls upon receiving it from a TrackMan computer system that uses Doppler radar. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

From the Associated Press comes news that Major League Baseball is expanding its experimentation with automated strike zone umpires. That’s right, robotic umpires. A computer feeds strikes and balls into the earpiece of a human who hollers out what the computer tells him.

MLB’s website posted a hiring notice seeking seasonal employees to operate the Automated Ball and Strike system. MLB said it is recruiting employees to operate the system for the Albuquerque Isotopes, Charlotte Knights, El Paso Chihuahuas, Las Vegas Aviators, Oklahoma City Dodgers, Reno Aces, Round Rock Express, Sacramento River Cats, Salt Lake Bees, Sugar Land Skeeters and Tacoma Rainiers.

The New Yorker included a quote that I think sums up what is happening here:

Joe Torre, the former Yankees manager, who now works in the commissioner’s office, has argued publicly against the robots. “It’s an imperfect game and has always felt perfect to me,” he said.

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Al Tompkins is one of America's most requested broadcast journalism and multimedia teachers and coaches. After nearly 30 years working as a reporter, photojournalist, producer,…
Al Tompkins

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