BCBSMA offers free telehealth to members affected by storms

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Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts is offering free medical and behavioral telehealth visits through August 1 to its members dealing with strong storms and flooding across the upper Midwest.

BCBSMA’s national Blue Card plan provides coverage for more than 2,300 people in the wake of the storm in parts of Ohio and South Dakota.

The telehealth visits will be offered through Well Connection, BCBSMA’s telehealth platform. The Blues plan is also letting members affected by the storms to refill prescriptions early and is waiving referral, authorization and pre-certification requirements for medical and pharmacy services.

“Members dealing with the aftermath of severe weather shouldn’t have to worry about how they'll get the services and medications they need,” says Andrew Dreyfus, president and CEO of BCBSMA. “Our hope is that this will make it easier for them to access care when and where they need it, even if they’re displaced.”

BCBSMA launched its latest telehealth platform, Well Connection, in April 2018—it enables members to gain access to treatment from their doctors using smartphones, tablets or a computer.

In a natural disaster, telemedicine can play a crucial role, according to Nathan Sykes, a writer for the Arizona Telemedicine Program at the University of Arizona.

“One of the most influential applications for telemedicine is disaster preparedness and recovery,” he writes in a blog entitled, “In a Natural Disaster, Telemedicine Has a Crucial Role.”

“A hurricane or raging forest fire can make it difficult, if not impossible, for those affected to receive food and other needs, especially healthcare,” Sykes says. “But remote medicine can provide support to those who urgently need it.”

After natural disasters, most people turn to emergency departments, but these facilities are often not adequately equipped to care for disaster-stricken populations, Sykes says. This is where telemedicine can help bridge the gap in care.

A study published in the Journal of Medical Systems entitled, “Implementing telemedicine in medical emergency response: concept of operation for a regional telemedicine hub,” shows that when an organization sets up a telemedicine hub as a central command center during natural disasters, it facilitates specialty care, improves health outcomes and saves lives.

Lisa Doggett, MD, senior medical director at HGS AxisPoint Health, a population health management company with decades of experience helping in natural disasters, advises payers to show flexibility in times of natural disaster, by letting members get their prescriptions refilled early and covering the replacement of damaged durable medical equipment if any is ruined or lost. She also says it’s helpful to permit members to use out-of-network services in the event that they can’t go to their usual providers.

“During crisis, everyone’s needs increase,” Doggett says. “Vulnerable people become even more vulnerable.”

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