In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, Aetna Insurance has extended its coverage of cell-free DNA screening tests, previously reserved for pregnant women over 35, to all expectant mothers. While Aetna has taken an encouraging step towards safeguarding maternal health during the COVID-19 pandemic, Stand Up! 4APA urges the insurance provider to make this policy change permanent. The organization also expects other insurance providers, including UnitedHealthcare, to promptly follow Aetna’s example.
Following updated Society for Maternal Fetal Medicine (SMFM) Ultrasound Practice Suggestions and COVID-19 MFM Guidance published in AJOG-MFM, Aetna is taking steps towards containing the spread of Coronavirus by expanding coverage of noninvasive prenatal tests (NIPTs), which limit the need for obstetric ultrasound, including nuchal translucency screening where possible. NIPTs can be conducted at home using remote services such as mobile blood draw networks. This means more expectant mothers will be able to safely access the healthcare they need during the pandemic, with limited interpersonal contact.
Though most insurance providers in the U.S. cover NIPTs for average-risk women, i.e. women under the age of 35, big players like Aetna and UnitedHealthcare (UHC) still restrict coverage to include only traditional serum screening and other similar tests for young pregnant women. By limiting NIPT access to women over the age of 35, these insurers in-effect put young women at high risk of false positives and false negatives. False positives can lead to unnecessary, expensive and stressful referral to specialists that can put the baby at risk. False negatives rob the family of a precious opportunity to prepare, including planning to deliver the baby in a tertiary facility.
For years, Stand Up! 4APA, a non-profit organization, has raised awareness against the age-related discrimination amongst pregnant women that deprives access to the advanced and accurate NIPTs for young moms-to-be. Stand Up! 4APA’s President, Cori Simmons explained, “It’s fantastic news that during this global crisis, a major player like Aetna has decided to finally do the right thing for pregnant women in this country. Such an act is to be applauded, and I am hopeful that companies such as UnitedHealthcare respond urgently during these unprecedented times.”