COVID-19: Get answers

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have made temporary changes to our policies to help you access the care you need—with no added worries about cost. These FAQs highlight changes to your employees' benefits.

These changes apply to all plans in the small group and large group fully insured markets. Some self-funded groups chose to opt out of some of these changes. As these temporary changes end, we will update the information on these pages to keep you informed about your employees' benefits.

What we're doing to support your business

Federal and state governments have taken action to support employers and their employees during the COVID-19 pandemic. Please check the Resources page on this site for more information.

You also can find resources that you can download and share with your employees on the Employer Toolkit.

BCBSRI is continuing to provide service to our members through this pandemic. 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 work at home while also providing uninterrupted service to our customers
  • Communicating regularly with members, employers, and providers about COVID-19 updates
  • Adding new protocols at Your Blue Store locations and offering online exercise and mindfulness classes through Your Blue Store Studio on our Facebook page

Yes, our service providers also have emergency plans in place and are prepared to meet the needs of our customers.

We have reopened all Your Blue StoreSM locations with new protocols. We also are offering online exercise and mindfulness classes as well as educational workshops at Your Blue StoreSM Studio. Your employees can join us at Your Blue Store Studio LIVE on our Facebook page every weekday at 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. If they can’t make the live classes, they can view the videos anytime on the BCBSRI Facebook page. We offer 10 different classes each week, and all fitness levels are welcome.*

*If it's been a while since your employees have exercised or they have health issues or concerns, it's a good idea to talk to their doctor before starting to exercise.

Getting back to work

Learn more at ReopeningRI.com

The State of Rhode Island has created a helpful website called ReopeningRI.com. It includes guidelines, checklists, and regulations organized by business type, such as retail stores, restaurants, and childcare centers, as well as general business guidelines.

You can find current guidelines from the State of Rhode Island at ReopeningRI.com. They also provide a template you can use for a COVID-19 Control Plan, a COVID-19 screening tool, checklists, and more specific information depending on your type of business, for example, retail, restaurant, daycare, or transportation.

You can download information, including an employee poster, at ReopeningRI.com, the website created by the State of Rhode Island.

Public transportation, both transit and rail, is still available, although there may be reduced hours or other limitations. Additionally, there are guidelines that passengers and employees must follow, including the use of face masks, capacity limits, social distancing, and more. Your employees should consult the State of Rhode Island website, ReopeningRI.com, for more information.

What your employees need to know

Yes. The vaccine itself will be made available to healthcare providers at no cost. Your employees' BCBSRI health plan will cover the cost for the vaccine to be administered. Your employees will not pay any costs when they receive the vaccine from a pharmacy or other provider approved by the government. 

The vaccine’s availability will be based on the phased distribution schedule being developed by each state. The plan enables everyone to be vaccinated but not all at once. When the vaccine is available to your employees, they’ll be able to receive it at a pharmacy or from a provider. You can find more information on COVID-19 vaccines through the Rhode Island Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There should be no costs or paperwork for your employees, as the government-approved pharmacy or provider should bill BCBSRI directly.
 

The type of vaccine available will depend on the geographic location and provider. However, their coverage will be the same for all approved COVID-19 vaccines.
 

You can share the Member section of this site with your employees for important benefit updates and other information related to COVID-19. Check back often—we are working to update the information whenever there are changes.

On our Employer Toolkit, you can also download ready-to-use emails and guides that you can share with your employees. Please review the content of the emails to make sure they apply to your benefit plan.

The Rhode Island Department of Health provides information specifically for businesses, including:

  • Use of cloth face coverings
  • Returning to work
  • Financial resources for employees

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also updates guidance for businesses:

  • Cleaning and disinfection guidance
  • Best practices for conducting social distancing
  • Strategies and recommendations that can be implemented now

During this time, BCBSRI is allowing employees on unpaid leave or furlough to remain eligible for enrollment in the employee health plan until July 31, 2021, as long as the employee was actively employed the day prior to the leave/furlough and the account stays current on premium. You will need to update your employee policies and/or plan documents to reflect that eligibility continues during such unpaid leave or furlough. We will take this approach through July 31, 2021, at which time we will determine whether to extend the date.

Your employee can find information on testing on the Rhode Island Department of Health website. On the CDC website, they can find detailed information on what to do if they feel sick or if they are caring for someone who is, including how to keep others from getting sick, emergency warning signs, and tips for disinfecting their home.

Yes. If COVID-19 antibody testing is ordered for your employee by their healthcare provider and is consistent with FDA guidelines, they will not pay any copays, deductibles, or other cost-sharing. Your employee does not need preauthorization or a referral for testing. BCBSRI does not cover testing for employment-related or “return to work” purposes.

Yes, your employees have coverage for clinically appropriate video and phone visits from certain in-network providers. This telemedicine coverage is a standard part of your BCBSRI health plan. It’s in addition to the video visits available through BCBSRI Doctors Online if that service is available with your plan. Your employees’ cost share for COVID-19-related telemedicine treatment will continue to be covered without any copays, deductibles, or other cost sharing if you’ve chosen to offer that temporary coverage.

For employees with Commercial coverage 

  • For in-network providers 
    Your employees will be able to access a comprehensive list of services via video or phone. This includes visits with primary care providers, specialists, and therapists. If your plan requires a referral to see a specialist, your employees will need to get that referral for telemedicine visits as well as in-person visits. Their share of the cost will follow their standard benefits as outlined in their benefit booklet or subscriber agreement. 
  • For BCBSRI Doctors Online (if that service is available with your plan)
    Your employees pay the designated telemedicine provider cost share in their subscriber agreement or benefit booklet. Doctors Online provides access to top-rated, board-certified doctors via smartphone, tablet, or computer. They can receive 24/7 care for common, non-emergency health concerns as well as pre-schedule virtual behavioral healthcare appointments with licensed therapists and psychiatrists. Referrals for Doctors Online are not needed. Find out how to register for Doctors Online

For members with a Medicare Advantage plan 

  • For in-network providers 
    Your members have $0 coverage for clinically appropriate video and phone visits from certain primary care and behavioral health providers, including in-network primary care providers, clinical psychologists, registered dietitians, and clinical social workers. During the COVID-19 pandemic, they also temporarily have telemedicine benefits for select other providers at the same cost share they’d pay for an in-person visit. These providers include specialists, chiropractors, urgent care centers, retail-based clinics, and diabetes educators. If their plan requires a referral to see a specialist, they’ll need to get that referral for telemedicine visits as well as in-person visits.
  • For BCBSRI Doctors Online 
    Your members pay $0 for services received through BCBSRI Doctors Online, which provides access to top-rated, board-certified doctors via smartphone, tablet, or computer. They can receive 24/7 care for common, non-emergency health concerns as well as pre-schedule virtual behavioral healthcare appointments with licensed therapists and psychiatrists. Referrals for Doctors Online are not needed. Find out how to register for Doctors Online

For members with Plan 65

  • For providers  
    Your members will be able to access a comprehensive list of services via video or phone for $0. This includes visits with primary care providers, specialists, and therapists. 

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.

If your BCBSRI plan includes coverage for Doctors Online, your employees can video chat with a board-certified doctor or licensed therapist on their smartphone, tablet, or computer. BCBSRI Doctors Online is available for common, non-emergency health issues 24/7 as well as for scheduled therapy sessions and psychiatry visits. Your employees will pay their designated telemedicine provider cost share for those services.

Your employees can download the BCBSRI Doctors Online1 app from the Apple App Store or Google Play2 or visit drs-online.com.

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.

You can share these tips, which can help your employees keep their information confidential while they are using video to talk with their doctor:

  • Find a private location within your home or wherever you are using it so there is no one looking over your shoulder or listening to you.
  • Don’t use a public computer, and try not to use a public or unsecured internet connection.
  • Make sure you know who you’re talking to. If you’re not sure, verify the provider’s phone number and call their office to confirm.
  • Be on guard against unsolicited calls offering services, such as COVID-19 testing, or medications or supplements that offer protection from COVID-19.

Yes, we have made temporary changes to our policies to help your employees access the care they need—with no added worries about cost. Your employees will not pay any copays, deductibles, or other cost-sharing for clinically appropriate:

  • Doctors' visits, urgent care or emergency room visits that result in COVID-19 testing
  • Treatment for COVID-19 including emergency services, inpatient services, and professional services when received in-network*

You do not need preauthorization or a referral for these services.

*Not all employers have chosen to cover all of these services without cost share. Please check to see if these temporary benefits are available under your plan.

Yes, the CDC has recommendations for people at high risk. You can find detailed information on the CDC website.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the flu shot for everyone six months of age and older. Here’s why getting a flu shot is more important than ever this year:

  • The flu vaccine prevents tens of thousands of hospitalizations each year.
  • You can get the flu and COVID-19 at the same time.
  • Getting vaccinated may also protect those around you.

As BCBSRI members, your employees can get a flu shot at no cost at participating pharmacies, in-network doctors' offices, and Rhode Island flu clinics.* In addition to the flu shot, a nasal spray flu vaccine is available for those ages 2 to 18. Find out where to get a no-cost flu shot at bcbsri.com/flu.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there may be different procedures in place for getting the flu vaccine than in other years, so your employees should check with the location.

*This benefit is not available to Plan 65 members or members who only have dental coverage from BCBSRI.

As BCBSRI members, your employees can get a flu shot at no cost at participating pharmacies, in-network doctors' offices, and Rhode Island flu clinics.* In addition to the flu shot, a nasal spray flu vaccine is available for those ages 2 to 18. Your employees can find out where to get a no-cost flu shot at bcbsri.com/flu.

*This benefit is not available to Plan 65 members or members who only have dental coverage from BCBSRI.

The Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Treasury have issued guidance that allows coverage of testing and services related to testing and treatment of COVID-19, as well as telemedicine services, before the deductible for people with high-deductible health plans and health savings accounts (HSAs).

Under the Governor’s Executive Order, everyone in Rhode Island must wear face coverings when in a public place, both indoors and outdoors, with limited exceptions. All employees of customer-facing businesses, office-based businesses, manufacturers, and nonprofits, also must wear cloth face coverings when they are at work with limited exceptions. Businesses must provide face coverings for their employees and all customer-facing businesses must take steps to remind customers to wear face coverings by putting up signs at the door reminding customers to wear a face covering inside. You can find detailed information about these regulations at the Reopening RI website as well as on the Commerce RI website.

We’ve extended our standard time frame for submitting claims during the public health emergency. We won’t count time after March 1, 2020 and before the end of the emergency toward the 365-day timeframe to submit claims.

We’ve extended our standard time frame for filing an appeal during the public health emergency. We won’t count time after March 1, 2020 and before the end of the emergency toward the 180-day time frame to file an appeal.  

Effective December 1, 2020, doctors do not need to get prior authorization for:

  • The following in-network services: inpatient facilities, long-term care facilities, inpatient rehabilitation, skilled nursing facilities, and telemedicine
  • Treatment for COVID-19, including emergency services, inpatient services, and professional services when received in-network
  • Inpatient services related to COVID-19 that are received out-of-network

Please note that this is a temporary change. Doctors will need to request prior authorization for any other services as indicated in your employees' subscriber agreement.

Sources: Rhode Island Department of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The above information is a summary of benefit and practice changes that apply at this time, and is subject to change. It is not a contract. For details about coverage, including any limits and exclusions not noted here, please contact your account management team at BCBSRI.