Government, Insurers Turn to Telehealth in COVID-19 Response

March 5, 2020
Blue Cross NC takes steps to encourage the use of virtual visits and allow doctors to monitor members at home

Telehealth continues to be seen as a valuable option in the coronavirus response toolset. The U.S. House of Representatives’ $8.3 billion package, passed on March 4, included almost $500 million to expand the use of telehealth.  

The Telehealth Services During Certain Emergency Periods Act of 2020, which is Division B of the supplemental appropriations bill, would allow the Secretary of Health and Human Services to waive certain requirements during the coronavirus public health emergency to ensure Medicare beneficiaries can receive the care they need at home without unnecessary potential exposure to COVID-19.

 Insurance companies are also changing their telehealth policies in response to the situation. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (Blue Cross NC) announced it is taking specific steps to improve its members’ access to doctors and medications, as it monitors COVID-19. This will further encourage the use of virtual visits and allow doctors to monitor members at home, minimizing the spread of infection and easing the burden on emergency rooms, Blue Cross NC said.

In a tweet, Rahul Rajkumar, M.D., chief medical officer, said BlueCross NC will cover telehealth services the same as in-person provider visit (at parity) for dates of service starting March 6. “This change is effective for 30 days. We will re-evaluate as the situation evolves and are open to extending this period.” He also noted that it included reimbursement for mental health services.

Blue Cross NC will work to expedite approvals for acute care in order to support members needing care related to COVID-19; specifically relating to hospitalization, post-acute care and medical equipment needed in the home.

Blue Cross NC also will waive early medication refill limits on 30-day prescription maintenance medications consistent with the CDC recommendation to have a 1-month supply of medication on hand. Member cost sharing will apply as normal.

 “The health and safety of our members is always our top priority,” said Von Nguyen, M.D., vice president of clinical operations and innovations at Blue Cross NC, in a statement. “By taking these steps, we are helping our members stay home if need be with the goal of keeping them and others well. If you have concerns about whether you have been exposed, please call your primary care doctor.”

In his prior job, Dr. Nguyen was part of the CDC teams responding to Cholera, Zika, MERS, and fungal meningitis.

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