Pittsburgh-based Highmark Health, owner of a Blue Cross and Blue Shield plan and integrated health system, said 8,000 of its roughly 35,000 employees began working from home on Friday, as part of its efforts to protect staff from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The not-for-profit healthcare company sent customer service, technology, call center and some logistical employees to work from home, and it purchased 3,000 laptops to allow another set of critical support staff to telecommute, Highmark Health CEO David Holmberg said Monday on a call with news media.
With public schools closed across Pennsylvania, the company is exploring options to help workers with childcare that will not expose children to large groups, Holmberg said. It has also restricted employee travel.
Highmark Health's integrated hospital system, Allegheny Health Network, has not yet seen an influx of coronavirus-related cases at its hospitals or emergency departments. Visits and types of cases have been more in line with a typical flu season. But the system anticipates that this could change and it is taking action to ensure it has enough capacity to care for a flood of sick patients. Allegheny Health Network could begin postponing procedures as soon as this week.
"We are looking at every single case right now, either elective or nonelective, to make sure they are getting done in the right places and that we can unload the schedules so we have capacity if needed," Allegheny Health Network CEO Cynthia Hundorfean said.
Holmberg said postponing surgeries would affect the health system financially but it is more concerned about making the right decision for its patients and plan members.
"The moment we conclude that elective surgeries should be delayed, we will do it, and it will not be an economic decision," he said.
Allegheny Health Network has implemented enhanced screening processes at all of its facilities to check patients with symptoms of an infectious respiratory disease and has limited the number of visitors to patients' hospital rooms.
The company's health plan, Highmark, waived members' prior authorization requirements and cost-sharing for the COVID-19 lab test. It also eliminated cost-sharing for telemedicine services for 90 days.
"We're in the face of a storm and from our perspective, it couldn't be a better time to have strong financials and a strong balance sheet," Holmberg said.
Highmark Health on Monday reported 2019 revenue of $18 billion compared with $18.8 billion in 2018, and net income of $843 million, up from $570 million the year before.
The company said its operating gain of $241 million, down 54.2% from 2018, was driven by the divestiture of its vision business, Visionworks, and "solid" equity market performance. It had $9.1 billion in cash and investments at the end of 2019 with net assets of $7.6 billion.
The health plan segment's membership grew to 5.6 million from 4.5 million in 2018, with growth in both the commercial and senior business lines. The health plan's operating earnings totaled $360 million.
Meanwhile, Allegheny Health Network reported operating income of $44 million, up $5 million year over year, as inpatient discharges and observations and outpatient visits both increased 3%. Highmark Health's diversified business segment, which includes its dental, stop loss and health solutions businesses contributed $170 million to operating earnings, the company said.
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