July 28,2021

Wyden Calls on Oregon Insurers to Provide Seniors With Cooling and Air Filters

Wyden-Authored Law Allows Medicare Advantage Plans to Fund Preventative Non-Medical Safeguards to Keep Seniors Out of the Hospital

Letters Come as Oregon Experiences Record-Breaking Heat Waves and Wildfires

Washington, D.C. – Oregon Senator Ron Wyden today asked leading health insurance companies in Oregon to provide seniors who have Medicare Advantage (MA) plans with air conditioning units and air filtration units to improve their health during a record-breaking summer of heat and fires.

“Excessive heat and wildfires have been deadly for Oregon seniors this summer – we need an all-hands-on-deck approach to keep older Oregonians safe and healthy,” Wyden said. “I’ve made it a priority to update the Medicare guarantee to take on the health challenges of the modern era, which includes preventing life-threatening situations at home. I urge Oregon insurance companies to use the tools at their disposal to protect seniors who count on their coverage.” 

Last month, Oregon experienced extreme heat, with temperatures in Portland peaking at 116 degrees Fahrenheit, 117 in Salem and 118 in The Dalles. Because of the heat over 100 people across the state also perished, including more than 50 people in Multnomah County. Preliminary data from Multnomah County noted that only one of the people in Portland who died had an air conditioning unit in use, and none had access to central air.

Congress passed a Wyden-authored law in 2019 known as the CHRONIC Care Act, which updated Medicare to focus on the chronic illnesses that dominate seniors’ health concerns as well as Medicare spending. One provision of the law allows Medicare Advantage plans to offer benefits that are “non-primarily health-related” in order to maintain or improve the health or function of the individual. Recent guidance from the federal government specified that this category includes indoor air quality and equipment and services, and under the ongoing public health emergency, MA plans are allowed to apply for mid-year benefit changes to best serve their members.

Over 440,000 Oregon seniors – more than one out of every 10 Oregonians -- have a Medicare Advantage plan, representing half the Medicare beneficiaries in the state. In the letters, sent to, AllCare, ATRIO, Regence BlueCross BlueShield, Health Net, Trillium, Aetna, CareOregon, Humana, Kaiser, Moda, PacificSource, Providence, Samaritan, and UnitedHealthcare, insurance companies with significant MA membership, Wyden called on the companies to make use of the laws on the books to provide their members with cooling and filtration during this dangerous time.

The full letter can be found here. The individual letters to all companies can be found here.