FLORENCE — Antibody treatments that may reduce the severity of COVID-19 are available to employees covered under Pinal County’s health insurance, but supplies are short and there’s a waiting list.
“All current plans through Banner Aetna support both monoclonal antibody treatments (and) oral antiviral therapy options for eligible covered patients,” Randy Tracy, Pinal County interim human resources director, told the Board of Supervisors Wednesday.
These treatments are given under the guidance of a physician, either in or out of the county’s network, in an approved treatment facility. The treatment must be documented as a medical necessity, Tracy said.
Regeneron Pharmaceuticals offers a monoclonal antibody combination that is infused directly into a vein, Tracy told the board. These antibodies are protective proteins that may help clear the virus faster and reduce symptoms when given soon after a diagnosis. As of Dec. 29, it was the only type of monoclonal antibody treatment provided through Banner Aetna.
A chart distributed to doctors statewide sets priorities for administering these treatments. But because of shortages, referrals were suspended Dec. 29.
“It’s not available and as this thing continues to develop, omicron and so on, the effectiveness of those treatments is now being questioned,” Tracy said. “So this is a moving target. When we started doing research to bring it here, several things changed by the time we could even get it on the agenda.”
Each treatment will require a patient copay. But it is available if it’s prescribed and there is a facility to administer it, Tracy said.
Supervisor Steve Miller, R-Casa Grande, previously had asked for a report on the availability of these treatments through the county’s health insurance.
“I’m very concerned about the lack of availability of these treatments and what might be the policy,” Miller said Wednesday. “… This country needs to pivot to therapeutics going forward.” Early in the pandemic, he asked the county’s previous health director if the coronavirus would ever go away, and she replied no.
“I don’t know why society as a whole has not demanded that we focus our efforts on treatment, on therapeutics,” as the virus continues to mutate, Miller said. He said he wanted to make sure that if there are therapeutics and doctors willing to prescribe them, that county employees can receive them.
Supervisor Mike Goodman, R-San Tan Valley, asked if it’s something the board can take an active role in.
Mary Ellen Sheppard, deputy county manager, said she didn’t have the answer, but the county would continue to communicate with providers that it’s an issue for county employees and their dependents. County staff can also ensure that health plan liaisons are prepared to answer questions from employees about available treatments.
Supervisor Kevin Cavanaugh, R-Coolidge, asked if county insurance covers the broad spectrum antiviral Remdesivir.
Regeneron’s product is what is currently supported, Danielle Watkins, Pinal County human resources manager for benefits and wellness, told the board. At any time someone says they’re not recovering and have additional medication needs, they contact their doctors and are placed on a referral list. The referral list was temporarily suspended due to a shortage of supplies, but it’s a wait list for monoclonal or oral antivirals.
“Those are part of our network, they are being shared out on the Banner Aetna page, so that you can log in there at any time and receive additional information,” Watkins said. “… We’re actually getting weekly updates for what’s available, what’s supported, what’s new, what’s FDA-emergency-use-approved, and other such items.”