As coronavirus cases rise in R.I., health insurers adjust

PROVIDENCE – The state Department of Health on Tuesday afternoon announced two more cases of coronavirus disease, COVID-19, in Rhode Island: a woman in her 50s who traveled recently to Egypt and a woman in her 30s who is a healthcare worker at an unnamed hospital in the state.

“These results are considered presumptive positive cases until they are confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” the department wrote in a media release.

How the unnamed hospital worker became infected is unknown but is being investigated, the department wrote. Both of the women have quarantined themselves and are recovering at home, according to the department.

“As with all COVID-19 cases in Rhode Island, extensive contact tracing is being done for these cases,” the department wrote. “All people who have had direct, face-to-face contact with these people are being instructed to self-quarantine.”

Meanwhile, with coronavirus disease, COVID-19, prompting new practices and procedures on virtually a daily basis, insurance firms are adjusting their policies to continue serving the insured at a time when increasing numbers of Rhode Islanders are self-quarantined and healthcare providers seek to continue treatment in the safest manner possible.

“Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island is focused on ensuring that our members, customers, employees and the provider community have all they need to face this challenge, as well as access to the care they need during this time of heightened concern,” Dr. Matt Collins, executive vice president and chief medical officer, told The Journal on Tuesday.

The state’s largest insurer has announced it will allow members to fill prescriptions earlier than the customary 30 days, reimburse “participating primary care providers who treat patients over the phone without member cost sharing,” and reimburse “participating behavioral health providers who treat patients over the phone.”

Also, it will now “cover the cost, and waive member co-pays and cost-shares, for diagnostic testing related to COVID-19,” it said in a media release. “This policy change covers testing performed at an in-network lab and applies to commercial (fully insured), Medicare Advantage and direct-pay members who meet the testing guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

Starting Wednesday, events at Blue Cross/Blue Shield stores in East Providence, Cranston, Lincoln and Warwick are canceled until a tentative date of April 6. Sales appointments are not affected, the insurer said.

Like Blue Cross & Blue Shield, Neighborhood Health Plan of Rhode Island is also in contact with the CDC, the Rhode Island Department of Health and other agencies.

“We have also committed, in association with all other Association for Community Affiliated Plans members, to offer coverage for CDC-approved testing of COVID-19,” Neighborhood Chief Growth Officer Dave Burnett wrote in a media statement Tuesday.

“Neighborhood has implemented a temporary virtual visit policy that will cover the [telephone] triage of potential COVID-19 cases, effective [Monday] at the announcement of Rhode Island’s state of emergency,” Burnett said. And, “Neighborhood covers ‘telemental’ health services for members in need of behavioral health services.” Telemental therapy is conducted by phone, email, video conferencing or other online platforms.

Also, Tufts Health Plan “has activated its Pandemic Planning work group, established to respond to public health issues and crises,” the organization wrote in an email to The Journal. “The group meets regularly as it continuously prepares to respond to changing events.”

The group says it is following recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, state health departments around New England, and “other official sources on an ongoing basis.”

The organization also issued a reminder that it “reimburses contracted providers for Commercial Products, including Tufts Health Freedom Plan, for telemedicine services pursuant to the Telemedicine Services Professional Payment Policy. This policy allows for the diagnosis and treatment all conditions, including COVID-19.”

Also on Tuesday afternoon, Gov. Gina Raimondo and Health Department Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott held a conference call with more than 100 business leaders. The governor and director reiterated guidance they outlined to the media in a Monday conference.

“It’s clear to me that there’s a high level of anxiety,” the governor said on the conference call. “I understand that and share that.” She said that while “the risk to Rhode Islanders remains low, it’s going to get worse before it gets better.”

To make it through the outbreak, the governor said, the state needs the strong support of the business community. And it is believed that “aggressive” measures now, she said, will “absolutely benefit us” in the long run.

“Our ability to contain this disease is totally dependent on your cooperation,” Raimondo said.

For the latest updates, data, and contact information, visit The Journal’s coronavirus Question and Answers page, updated daily. https://www.providencejournal.com/article/20200228/NEWS/200229357

gwmiller@providencejournal.com

(401) 277-7380

On Twitter: @gwaynemiller

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