Highmark, Inc.


Highmark Protects Customers, Supports Communities During COVID-19 Crisis

Highmark’s roots trace all the way back to the 1930s and the Great Depression. Ever since, the insurer has put the customer first and rallied around the communities it serves during good  times and bad. The COVID-19 crisis, which has brought forth unprecedented health and economic challenges, demands an unprecedented response. Highmark has stepped up by taking a number of proactive measures to ensure that its members and communities are safe and continue to have access to care throughout and beyond the pandemic.

Removing Barriers to Care

“It’s crucial that patients continue to have safe and simple access to care — not just for COVID-19-related matters, but also for preventing and managing a variety of other physical and behavioral health conditions,” says Highmark Inc. President Deborah Rice-Johnson. “That’s why we’re removing financial burdens for our members and harnessing technology to promote safety and care continuity.”

In early March, as the virus began to spread, Highmark made the decision to cover COVID-19 testing, both in-network and out-of- network. This allowed members to get tested for the virus (when ordered by a clinician) with no out-of-pocket costs so that its members did not face any barriers in getting tested for the virus.

Highmark members who require in-network, inpatient hospital care for COVID-19 will not incur any deductibles, co-insurance and co-pays through September 30. This applies to members with group employer coverage (self-funded groups may elect to opt into the program), as well as ACA and Medicare members. “Again, this allows our members to focus on what matters most: Getting healthy, and returning to their family and work lives,” states Rice-Johnson.

To augment these efforts, Highmark has collaborated with the CDC Foundation and Microsoft to develop and launch the COVID-19 Symptom Checker Healthbot. All consumers can use the Healthbot to check their symptoms, which will then provide guidance on seeking appropriate medical care when necessary during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Expanding Virtual Visits

Telehealth has been a major asset throughout this pandemic and
will continue to be in the years to come.

In mid-March, Highmark expanded coverage for telehealth
services to all members, including customers who previously did
not have telehealth coverage. The insurer has waived cost-sharing (deductibles, coinsurance and copayments) for fully insured and most self-funded clients on all covered telehealth services from contracted vendors and providers through September 30.

Telehealth is an important care delivery channel for two reasons: It allows individuals that suspect they have COVID-19 to avoid hospitals and physician offices before contacting a provider from home, and it provides a safe link for more routine health and care management issues during a time when in-person visits were limited.

“Our members are using telehealth not just for primary care, but also to see dietitians, physical therapists and mental health professionals, among other specialties,” says Rice-Johnson. “This may be the ‘new normal,’ now that members have experienced the convenience and effectiveness of telemedicine.”

Highmark also expanded access to a comprehensive, technology- enabled opioid use disorder (OUD) program to its members in Pennsylvania and Delaware. The company initially launched this program in West Virginia in January 2020. Members are connected to a multidisciplinary care team. The program offers individualized treatment plans and medication-assisted therapy (MAT) that allows individuals to stop or reduce the use of opioids while managing drug cravings or negative symptoms of withdrawal. This effort will help preserve treatment access and promote recovery during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

Getting Back to Business

With businesses ordered to close and social distancing recommendations, many of Highmark’s employer group customers are experiencing economic hardship during this crisis. “We are doing all we can to help employers maintain their coverage because it’s important for employees and their families to stay healthy and have access to care at this time,” states Rice-Johnson.

Highmark is also consultants for its employer groups and are helping them find assistance through the federal aid packages that have been passed into law in recent weeks. These aid packages provide emergency loans to help businesses — especially small businesses — meet payroll and pay expenses such as rent and utilities.

Supporting Communities

The global health crisis has caused an economic crisis for some families in the communities that Highmark serves. In response, the insurer is providing $2 million in grants to support COVID-19 relief efforts. These funds will address food and financial insecurity as well as strengthen safety net health-care providers in Pennsylvania, Delaware and West Virginia.

“We also know that there are outstanding organizations ready to assist with urgent needs such as housing, utilities, medical supplies, government benefits and legal services,” adds Rice-Johnson. “But knowing where to go for help is hard. Now, you can ask Aunt Bertha.”

Highmark, Allegheny Health Network (AHN) and Gateway Health have teamed up to launch a free, online social care network called Aunt Bertha. Through this platform, members and broader communities in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Delaware can access trusted, verified and community-based programs that address social determinants of health. Users also will be able to receive and track referrals from participating community and health-care organizations.

During National EMS Week in May, Highmark also announced a donation of nearly 40,000 cloth face coverings to help mitigate the spread of the coronavirus and preserve valuable PPE for direct patient care. This effort spans across Pennsylvania, Delaware and West Virginia.

Saluting the Front Line

“With Highmark being a blended health organization that connects health insurance coverage and care, I am privileged to work closely with our clinical partners, including those at AHN Saint Vincent in Erie,” states Rice-Johnson. “I am astounded by their professionalism, courage and kindness each day.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has further reinforced that frontline workers are essential to protecting our community and powering our economy. “I want to thank Erie’s business community for its perseverance and continued service,” says Rice-Johnson. “Highmark will continue to be here for you, and our Erie region, throughout and beyond this crisis.”

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