How to protect yourself and your employees from the coronavirus
This page was last updated 4-6-2020
At Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island (BCBSRI), our top priority is the health and well-being of our members, our employees, and our community. We are in contact with state officials to make sure you have the information you need about the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
To increase access to care and protect our members, customers, and employees during this pandemic, we have made temporary changes, including:
- Covering COVID-19 testing consistent with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines without any copays, deductibles, or other cost-sharing for all members who meet testing guidelines
- Covering clinically appropriate doctors’ visits, emergency room visits, or inpatient care related to COVID-19 without any copays, deductibles, or other cost-sharing
- Removing prior authorization and referral requirements for testing and clinically appropriate treatment of COVID-19
- Allowing members to fill most prescriptions earlier than the standard 30 days
- Expanding coverage by eliminating copays, deductibles, or other cost-sharing for care that is delivered by phone or virtually, such as through telehealth, by in-network providers (including dentists) when clinically appropriate
You can find out more about these changes and other COVID-19 related information in the FAQs:
What should I tell my employees?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Rhode Island Department of Health recommend these strategies for businesses:
- Have all staff who can work at home do so.
- Ensure your sick policies are flexible to accommodate changing circumstances.
- Remind your employees to wash their hands and cough or sneeze into their elbow.
- Ask employees who have traveled internationally in the last 14 days and going forward to remain at home until 14 symptom-free days have passed since their return to the U.S.
Visit the CDC page for businesses for more detailed information.
Does BCBSRI have information I can share with my employees?
Yes, you can share the bcbsri.com/coronavirus page with your employees for important information related to COVID-19 and their BCBSRI benefits. Check back often—we’ll be updating the site regularly.
On our new Employer Toolkit, you can also download a ready-to-use email that sends your employees directly to the COVID-19 information on the BCBSRI website. Visit the Employer Toolkit to download the email.
What actions has BCBSRI taken in response to COVID-19?
BCBSRI has made temporary changes to our policies to help increase access to care for your employees during this time of heightened concern about COVID-19. These temporary changes include:
- Covering the cost of the COVID-19 test without any copays, deductibles, or other cost-sharing for all members who meet testing guidelines set by the CDC
- Allowing members to fill most prescriptions earlier than the standard 30 days (does not include opioids)
- Reimbursing participating primary care providers and most participating specialists who treat patients over the phone—with no copays, deductibles, or other cost share for members
- Closing all Your Blue Store locations, effective March 18, 2020, until further notice
What if an employee is feeling sick and thinks they may have COVID-19?
Anyone experiencing a fever, cough, or difficulty breathing should not go to a doctor’s office, urgent care center, or emergency room without calling their doctor first (except in a medical emergency). Your employees should tell their doctor if you have been in close contact with a person known to have COVID-19, or if they live in or have recently traveled from an area with ongoing spread of COVID-19. Their doctor will tell them whether, when, and where to receive care. Their doctor will also work with your state’s public health department and the CDC to determine if your employee needs to be tested for COVID-19.
The Rhode Island Department of Health (DOH) has a COVID-10 Info Line at (401) 222-8022, which is available Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. After hours, your employees can call 211. Employees can also call your state’s epidemiology office if they suspect a COVID-19 exposure or infection.
As part of BCBSRI’s new temporary policy changes related to COVID-19, primary care providers will be reimbursed for treating patients over the phone. Your employees will not need to pay any copays, deductibles, or other cost-sharing for this telephone consultation.
Are there any specific recommendations for my employees who have health conditions and may be at higher risk of developing serious COVID-19 illness?
Yes, the CDC has recommendations for people at high risk that you can share with your employees. Detailed information is available on the CDC website.
Will BCBSRI cover costs related to COVID-19?
Yes, your plan will cover any medically necessary healthcare costs related to COVID-19 under employees’ usual health plan benefits. Their particular plan’s copay, deductible, and/or other cost-sharing will apply to all benefits except COVID-19 testing. If your employee meets the testing guidelines set by the CDC, BCBSRI will cover the cost of the test, and they will not need to pay any copays, deductibles, or other cost-sharing.
Will my employees be covered for tests for the virus?
If their doctor believes your employee needs to be tested and they meet the COVID-19 testing guidelines set by the CDC, there is no preauthorization required, and BCBSRI will cover the cost of the test. Your employee will not need to pay any copays, deductibles, or other cost-sharing.
Can my employees get care from their providers over the phone?
Anyone experiencing a fever, cough, or difficulty breathing should not go to a doctor’s office, urgent care center, or emergency room without calling their doctor first (except in a medical emergency). However, we understand that members who need routine care or care for a condition other than COVID-19 may also not want to go to a provider’s office. To ensure all members have access to the care they need, they can receive treatment over the phone from their participating primary care provider and most participating specialists with no copay, deductible, or other cost-sharing. These temporary policy changes allow members to continue to receive needed care from their providers in their own homes, limiting their potential exposure to COVID-19. Please note that employees may still have to pay their copay, deductible or other cost-sharing if they video chat with a provider through BCBSRI Doctors Online.
Will waiving cost-sharing have any tax implications for employees with health savings accounts (HSAs)?
For the waiving of copays for COVID-19 testing: The Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Treasury recently released Notice 2020-15 to allow coverage of testing and services related to COVID-19 before the deductible for people with high-deductible health plans and health savings accounts (HSAs). The Notice is being issued "due to the unprecedented public health emergency posed by COVID-19, and the need to eliminate potential administrative and financial barriers to testing for and treatment of COVID-19."
For speaking with a primary care provider (PCP) on their phone: Since the service is not typically subject to any charge or cost-sharing, we do not anticipate that the IRS will impose any penalty on individuals for waiving this copay; however, the situation is not directly addressed in any IRS guidance.
Can my employees get an advance fill or early refill at the pharmacy in case they are quarantined or the pharmacy shuts down?
Yes, if you offer pharmacy coverage through BCBSRI. We have temporarily changed our policy so your employees can refill prescriptions earlier than the standard 30 days. This applies to all medications except a few, such as opioids. For medications that treat chronic conditions, your employees may have access to a 90-day refill. Upon request, they can obtain a six-month supply of their prescription. They can talk to their pharmacist about this option.
Are Your Blue Store locations still open?
Protecting the health of our members, employees, and community remains our top priority at BCBSRI. With this in mind, we have made the difficult and precautionary decision to close all Your Blue Store locations starting March 18, 2020. The stores will be closed until further notice.
Can my employees use the BCBSRI Doctors Online telehealth service?
If your BCBSRI plan includes coverage for Doctors Online, your employees can video chat with a board-certified doctor 24/7 on your smartphone, tablet, or computer. They and family members on their plan (including their children) can receive convenient care for common, non-emergency health issues.
1BCBSRI Doctors Online is not available with all plans. In the case of an emergency, you should always call 911. Doctors Online is not intended to replace these services and should not be used in those circumstances. Doctors Online is a telemedicine service provided by American Well®, an independent company that administers Doctors Online on behalf of BCBSRI.
2Apple and the Apple logo are trademarks of Apple Inc., registered in the U.S. and other countries. App Store is a service mark of Apple Inc. Google Play is a trademark of Google Inc.
How will BCBSRI continue serving my employees if COVID-19 becomes widespread in Rhode Island?
BCBSRI has emergency plans in place to ensure we can continue providing quality service to our members through any outbreak. To help protect the health and safety of our employees and members, we’re following the recommendations of the Rhode Island Department of Health and the CDC. This includes:
- Having all staff who can work at home do so while also providing uninterrupted service to our customers
- Communicating regularly with members, employers, and providers about COVID-19 updates
- Encouraging employees to regularly wash their hands and follow other hygiene precautions
- Encouraging employees to stay home if they’re not feeling well
- Asking employees who have traveled internationally in the last 14 days and going forward to remain at home until 14 symptom-free days have passed since their return to the U.S.
- Closing all Your Blue Store starting March 18, 2020, until further notice
Are BCBSRI’s partners—such as Prime Therapeutics and Beacon Health Options—prepared to continue business as usual in periods of increased volume?
Yes, our partners also have emergency plans in place and are prepared to meet the needs of our customers.
Should I encourage employees to wear face masks?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not recommend that people who are well wear a face mask to protect themselves from respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19. People should only wear a mask if a healthcare professional recommends it. A face mask should be used by people who have COVID-19 and are showing symptoms. This is to protect others from the risk of getting infected.
What can my business do to prepare?
You may want to review your business continuity plans. You can tell your employees that they could plan as they would for other emergencies: have backup plans for work and child care and keep extra food and medical supplies on hand.
If my employees are traveling outside of the United States, are they covered for medical evacuation or repatriation?
Standard BCBSRI medical plans don’t cover medical evacuation or repatriation to those overseas who may become ill. Plans cover ambulance transport for a medical emergency, when a person’s health is in serious danger and an ambulance is the only safe way to get to the closest medical facility equipped to treat their condition. Transport from a hospital capable of treating the patient because the patient and/or the patient’s family prefer a specific hospital or physician isn’t considered medically necessary.
Currently, COVID-19 is treatable at many facilities. In the event a patient is transported to a facility under the direction of the Department of Health and Human Services and is otherwise not covered, BCBSRI will review the situation to determine eligibility for benefits.