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As the COVID-19 outbreak encroaches into communities across the US, payers, providers, and vendors are using telehealth to expand access to care.

 By Samantha McGrail

March 10, 2020 – Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) recently announced that its network of 36 independently owned BCBS companies will increase access to prescription drugs, enhanced telehealth, and other clinical support systems to combat COVID-19. 

BCBS is making the shift to ensure that patients have access to care during the outbreak and to boost community support. 

“It is important that our members feel safe and secure knowing that they are able to pursue the proper care and testing they need to protect their health during this time of concern,” Vincent Nelson, MD, president, medical affairs and interim chief medical officer at BCBSA said in the announcement. 

The shift will include BCBS waiving prior authorization for diagnostic tests for covered services that are medically necessary for members diagnosed with COVID-19. Companies will also guarantee dedicated clinical staff will address inquiries related to medical services. This will ensure quick response times. 

BCBS will also cover any medically necessary tests at no cost share to members. These tests will be consistent with the CDC guidelines and will be done with the federal, state, and public health authorities.

BCBS will waive early medication refill limits on 30-day prescription maintenance medications. By boosting patient access to prescription medications, patients will be guaranteed flexibility if there is a drug shortage or access issues. Patients will not be charged for receiving a non-preferred medication. 

During the outbreak, it is challenging for patients to seek in-person medical care. Therefore, BCBS will expand access to telehealth and nurse-provider hotlines. 

“BCBS companies have significant experience handling previous international disease outbreaks including SARS and the Swine Flu and continue to work closely with local, state, and federal governments during the coronavirus outbreak to ensure that members get the information testing and care they need,” the announcement concluded. 

Spectrum Health Offers Free Virtual Screenings for Potential COVID-19 Patients 

Spectrum Health announced that it is now offering free virtual screenings for individuals in Michigan who are experiencing possible COVID-19 symptoms. 

“We want to provide a community health service for people who may have symptoms and are concerned about the virus, while allowing them to stay at home and prevent the spread of the illness,” Darryl Elmouchi, MD, MBA, chief medical officer and president at Spectrum Health, said in the announcement.

“The first step is to call to schedule a free virtual screening visit through our Spectrum Health Now telemedicine service. This will let people know if they need further evaluation.”

Spectrum Health providers will advise individuals if they need to seek additional care based on a series of questions about their symptoms. The patient has the freedom to select the caregiver they prefer. 

Bright.md is now offering a free COVID-19 evaluation and screening tool to all hospitals in the US to tackle to spread of this virus. The tool will ensure patients’ access to advice from home, 24 hours a day, to allow patients to stay quarantined during the outbreak. 

“The COVID-19 scare will likely cause an overwhelming demand for hospital facilities and clinical resources, making it difficult to treat patients who need care the most,” Ray Costantini, MD, Bright.md CEO and co-founder, said in the announcement.

“Crowded emergency departments also raise the risk of spreading viruses-whether it’s COVID-19 or the common flu- to sick people at the facility, as well as to the larger community.” 

Hospitals are able to add Bright.md’s screening tool for free based on their individual delivery platform. The tool guides the patient through a medical review including health history, possible travel history or general exposure to COVID-19. If the software detects that the patient has COVID-19, it will direct the individual to care.

If a patient does not have a high risk for COVID-19, they will receive instructions for at-home care. As the CDC updates recommendations and guidelines, Bright.md will update the COVID-19 screening tool. 

“When it comes to public health threats of this magnitude, we’re all in this together,” said Costantini. “Hospitals that have already implemented asynchronous digital health tools are well-positioned to deal with the potential onslaught of patients presenting with COVID-19. For others that do not currently offer asynchronous telehealth, the negative community health impacts of overcrowded EDs could be devastating. Offering this free tool to hospitals is one small contribution Bright.md can make to assist health systems and the communities they support during this trying time for our country.” 

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