The current COVID-19 outbreak and the use of social distancing in responding to it have produced an immediate need for Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield and Health Advantage to give fully insured members expanded health insurance benefits to promote greater access to remotely delivered services – including greatly expanded insurance benefits to help them deal with emotional/behavioral issues the outbreak may create or compound.
Accordingly, Arkansas Blue Cross and Health Advantage are encouraging fully insured members and healthcare providers to use audio-visual and telephone technology for certain services related to physical and/or behavioral health, in lieu of an in-person visit, where appropriate in the provider’s professional judgment. During this time, Arkansas Blue Cross and Health Advantage also are waiving costs their fully insured members normally would have to pay for such services, when received from an in-network provider. These temporary changes will be in effect through at least October 23, 2020.
Out-of-pocket costs for telehealth waived
“We are encouraging people to use technology, as advised and assisted by their healthcare provider, to get the care they need and also use the medically smart practice of social distancing,” said Mark T. Jansen, M.D., vice president and chief medical officer for Arkansas Blue Cross. “A provider may be able to help a member in their home, through a video chat or just a simple phone call. During this current public health emergency, we have temporarily waived all out-of-pocket costs for these services. It’s an option that may be easier and safer for members and their providers. Out-of-pocket costs for in-person coronavirus testing have been waived, as well, so members can get the care they need and do their part to help curb the spread of coronavirus at the same time.”
And while social distancing is a weapon in the battle against coronavirus, Arkansas Blue Cross and Health Advantage recognize that it can also affect the peace of mind of members.
“Concern for our health and that of our loved ones. Closings of schools and businesses. Cancellations of church activities, sporting events and gatherings. Added economic worries. These things are all products of the coronavirus outbreak, and they each can take a toll on our emotional well-being and mental state,” said Curtis Barnett, Arkansas Blue Cross president and chief executive officer. “Mental health is vitally important, and we want our members’ insurance benefits to make it easier, in this critical period, for them to gain access to professional help if they need it.”
Arkansas Blue Cross and Health Advantage fully insured members have access to an in-network, statewide panel of almost 2,300 behavioral health professionals already credentialed and ready to serve their emotional/mental health needs.
Please note: Any changes or enhancements to the benefits available to self-funded members served by BlueAdvantage Administrators of Arkansas or by Health Advantage are up to the employers or plan sponsors who fund those self-funded programs.
In addition, the specific conditions under which Arkansas Blue Cross and Health Advantage will implement and pay these temporary, enhanced benefits during the coronavirus crisis are spelled out in more detail on their respective websites.
Specifics of the expansion of services, through at least October 23, 2020, include:
- Telephone-based doctor’s visits – Arkansas Blue Cross and Health Advantage will provide payment for any in-network physician (M.D. or D.O) to visit by telephone with patients who are seeking advice or counsel on either physical or mental health needs. In addition to creating this entirely new, temporary benefit for our fully insured members, Arkansas Blue Cross and Health Advantage will also waive all copays, coinsurance and deductibles for these new telephone-based benefits.
- Telephone-based behavioral/mental health visits – We are also extending this same new, temporary insurance benefit for telephonic counseling by in-network behavioral health professionals. Specifically, Arkansas Blue Cross and Health Advantage will pay for telephone-based counseling to our fully insured members by any in-network psychiatrist, psychologist, advanced practice nurse practitioner, licensed clinical social worker or licensed professional counselor. As with telephone-delivered physician services, copays, coinsurance and deductibles will be temporarily waived.
- Temporary waiver of copays, coinsurance and deductibles for telemedicine (seeing a doctor, nurse practitioner or physician assistant via an interactive audio-visual communication system): The new, temporary insurance benefits outlined above are in addition to the normal telemedicine benefits that Arkansas Blue Cross and Health Advantage fully insured members already have and which they can continue to utilize. However, we are also waiving copays, coinsurance and deductibles for all telemedicine services to fully insured members.