At a unique time where most of the world is grappling with the spread and management of COVID-19, we at TailorMed understand that for certain communities there is an acute sense of confusion and lack of resources. Individuals managing chronic and rare diseases are met with greater challenges when accessing care and support, and can be left feeling isolated or abandoned. It is important for these communities to be aware that while care and support has had to adapt to the current situation by moving remote, there is still a wide range of resources and services to help people get the care they need, while following state and nation-wide restrictions. 

How COVID-19 is impacting vulnerable communities

The difficulties faced are both financial and emotional, and have been compounded by the wave of coronavirus cases across the country. Patients with existing medical conditions are vulnerable, and therefore asked to stay home and shelter in place. This restricted movement makes it difficult for patients to operate the way they are used to when it comes to care and daily routines. 

For example, filling prescriptions, accessing medical care, and meeting with a financial navigator in person might not be an option at the moment. In addition, financial toxicity has been exacerbated because of increased unemployment, leading to the loss of income or healthcare coverage, as well as changes to insurance. 

Actions to take in response to the challenges of COVID-19

There has been a range of responses to the increased financial and personal challenges due to COVID-19, and there are a number of things you can do to ease the burdens that have come with this outbreak. 

1. Check the recent changes to unemployment insurance.

If you are unemployed for reasons due to COVID-19, you may be eligible to receive unemployment benefits. The Department of Labor issued guidance for states to be flexible with unemployment insurance during the COVID-19 outbreak. The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act has expanded eligibility for unemployment insurance to include people who have experienced the following: reduced work hours, required quarantine, inability to work due to risk of exposure, or the need to care for family members. You can find out more about unemployment help in this guide, and you can also search for the specific qualifications in your state using this search tool

2. See if you qualify for the healthcare special enrollment period.

If you lost your job-based health plan due to losing your job or reduced employment hours, you may qualify for a special enrollment period for a Marketplace plan. It is important to check the qualifications, and you can find detailed information and FAQs at https://www.healthcare.gov/coronavirus/

3. Find out if your insurance policy was amended.

A number of insurance companies have eased up on their policies by covering measures such as telemedicine to speak with your doctor remotely, relaxed prescription refill policies to cut down on pharmacy visits, and mail order and delivery for prescriptions to eliminate the need to head out altogether. 

4. Get in touch with your financial navigator.

Even though hospitals have had to cut back on resources during this time, some financial navigators are finding innovative ways to work remotely and finding avenues to help you cover medical costs. 

5. Explore lists of financial resources.

Lists such as this one curated by TailorMed help identify ways to mitigate the outbreak’s financial impact. It shows options based on the type of beneficiary and location, and it is being updated on a regular basis to include new funding sources. 

6. Find new ways to continue daily life.

When managing a chronic or rare illness you have already made significant changes to your daily life, so additional COVID-19 restrictions can feel overwhelming. But there are innovative ways to continue with your routine that will still keep you safe from risk of exposure. One example is using grocery delivery services that minimize the amount of person-to-person contact, with most stores offering low-contact pickup or delivery. 

7. Reach out to the community.

It can be a source of comfort to connect with a community going through similar struggles, especially during the coronavirus outbreak. There are a number of ways to connect and receive support from experienced counselors, such as the Cancer Support Community, which runs a support phone line and live chat 7 days a week, and MyLifeLine.org which allows you to join thousands of others in discussion and sharing stories. 

It’s difficult to know how long we will be experiencing an adjusted way of life due to the coronavirus outbreak, so it’s important for those with chronic and rare illnesses to know that there are resources available to assist them. Medical providers and the healthcare community are working to maintain a high level of care, and patients should feel empowered to reach out and not be afraid to ask for this assistance.