Health insurers mobilize for SandyNews added by National Underwriter on November 1, 2012
National Underwriter

National Underwriter

Joined: April 22, 2011

By Allison Bell

Hurricane Sandy has created a strange, creepy new universe for consumers, employers, producers and health insurance company staffers in the Northeast.

The self-proclaimed center of the media universe is now going through what communities in states like Florida and Texas have gone through regularly for years, without having as much experience with disaster preparedness.

Storm-related incidents have killed dozens, and floodwater has invaded thousands of homes and destroyed many cars. The National Guard was working Tuesday and Wednesday to get residents in communities like Hoboken, N.J. -- the location of a office -- out of buildings surrounding by ponds of oily water that are three to four high in places and contain large numbers of wriggling worms.

In a much wider area, storm damage has forced utility companies to turn off the power system to keep the damaged lines from causing transformers to explode.

Officials in New York, New Jersey and other affected areas have shut down flooded mass transit systems, bridges and tunnels, including the famed Holland Tunnel that links New Jersey with Manhattan. That has interfered with workers' efforts to get to work.

Crews are working around the clock to restore power, but many cellular telephone towers have exhausted their backup batteries and gone dark. Cell phone users in some areas wander the streets looking for points with a steady cell phone service and places where they can charge their phones.

The result has been that even banks, insurance companies and other companies that think of themselves as having extensive disaster plans have had trouble connecting bosses with workers in non-core areas and workers with the computer systems that are supposed to help the workers work at home.

Patients with worrisome, urgent problems that are not emergencies have had to go to hospital emergency rooms because, in many cases, physicians lack the physical ability to get to their offices and the electricity to run their offices. The hospitals have been the only health care facilities that are open, and, in some cases, the hospitals have been knocked out by the storms.

New York University Langone Medical Center had to evacuate due to a loss of power, Bellevue Hospital tried to keep going with diesel-powered generators, but it had to evacuate patients today when the power stayed out and it appeared that the diesel fumes were affecting the patients.

Health insurers tried to prepare for Sandy before the storm came ashore.

Aetna, Cigna, UnitedHealth and WellPoint's Empire BlueCross BlueShield are some of the health insurers that announced relaxations of the normal network provider and prescription refill rules.

Aetna, for example, brought in generators before the storm and was able to give employees the ability to work from home before the storm started. It also provided alternative work locations for employees unable to work either at their usual offices or at home.

UnitedHealth is providing free access to an emotional support line at its Optum health unit. The telephone number for the unit is (866) 342-6892.

Cigna is making free access to its own emotional support line at (866) 912-1687.

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