Minnesota-based insurers UnitedHealth Group and HealthPartners have each introduced programs to guide businesses through safe reopening as the nation tries to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.
Each program relies on guidelines provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with UnitedHealth Group’s being a more generalized free app and HealthPartners’ a more individualized approach that features fee-based services.
Each incorporates some monitoring and potential testing of employees to try to keep the spread of COVID-19 at bay while the country’s economy gets back on track.
Participants need not have their employees’ health insurance plans with the companies.
United’s ProtectWell program partners with Microsoft to offer a combination of health care expertise and technology. It relies on a “ProtectWell smartphone app that screens for COVID-19 symptoms and clears employees for daily work.”
The program uses artificial intelligence (AI) provided by a Microsoft bot that the companies said “is being used around the world for AI-assisted COVID-19 symptom triaging.”
United has applied the ProtectWell regime to it “front-line staff.”
“This is currently available to U.S. employers at no cost,” United spokesman Eric Hausman said.
HealthPartners’ Back to Business program promises individualized plans that suit companies’ specific needs that include fee-based services. Among other things, these services include health screening and testing best practices.
HealthPartners has already had hundreds of businesses participate in webinars explaining the program, which it announced May 15.
“We will have an array of services,” HealthPartners medical director Dr. Patrick Courneya said. “Employers will tell us what they want.”
Individual plans, drawn up in consultation with business owners, will draw from HealthPartners’ experience in prevention, diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19, as well as its understanding of federal, state and local guidelines. Courneya said individual plans will be refined over time to accommodate changes in the pandemic.
“This is not one and done,” he said.
Determining whether employees returning to work are infected with COVID-19 will in many ways determine the ability of the country to safely reopen its economy after most states ordered shutdowns of businesses such as restaurants and sports venues where large groups gathered in close quarters.
Screening protocols by both UnitedHealth and HealthPartners rely on self-reporting of symptoms by workers rather than mandatory testing for COVID-19. Employees answer questions about how they feel and take their own temperatures to check for fever.
The ProtectWell app screens for information that may suggest COVID-19 “symptoms or exposure.”
“If risk of infection is indicated, employers can direct their employees to a streamlined COVID-19 testing process that enables closed-loop ordering and reporting of test results directly back to employers,” United said in a news release.
Courneya said HealthPartners has its own “testing capacity” and can supplement it as needed.
Both companies stress that their first priority is controlling the spread of coronavirus in workplaces.