Why Going Back to the Doctor Is Important
During the height of the pandemic, many doctors’ offices and healthcare facilities had postponed care that was not related to COVID-19 or was not an emergency. This helped ensure that there was capacity to care for COVID-19 patients and helped preserve supplies, such as masks and ventilators.
Now that Rhode Island and other states are reopening, many doctors’ offices and other healthcare facilities have already begun to offer all types of healthcare services, including preventive care, ongoing care for chronic health conditions, and surgeries that were postponed. They have put many precautions in place to keep you safe. (See “Keeping you safe” later in the article for details.)
To help you get the care you need during the pandemic, BCBSRI is temporarily expanding Medicare Advantage plan benefits due to the public health emergency associated with COVID-19. The benefits start on August 17, 2020 and last through December 31, 2020. This includes $0 primary care provider (PCP) visits and $0 Tier 1 prescription copays across all plans—plus the $0 benefits listed below.
If you are going back to the doctor’s office or are feeling unsure about doing so, here are important things to know and to discuss with your PCP and other healthcare providers.
1. Have regular preventive screenings.
Having regular screenings can help prevent health issues or help treat them in earlier stages. Talk with your PCP about how often to have your vision, blood pressure, hearing, and blood sugar checked. Your PCP can also help you determine what preventive cancer screenings, such as a colonoscopy, you may need.
Your $0 benefits
Many of these preventive services are covered at no cost:
- $0 routine vision exam
- $0 routine hearing exam
- $0 preventive cancer screenings
- $0 annual well visit
2. Get care for ongoing health conditions.
If you see your PCP or specialist regularly to manage conditions such as diabetes, asthma, congestive heart failure, or depression, be sure to follow up and see if you need to schedule a visit. Not receiving the care you need could lead to health complications. If you are undergoing care for cancer and had to postpone treatment, find out when you can resume care. Many services for ongoing conditions are covered at no cost under your plan. The benefits listed below are temporarily covered at $0 from August 17, 2020 to December 31, 2020.
Your $0 benefits (temporary)
- $0 mental health/substance use disorder copays
- $0 physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy
- $0 diagnostic labs, X-rays, and imaging – now across all plans
- $0 cardiac rehabilitation
- $0 pulmonary rehabilitation
- $0 most inhalers1
- $0 most insulin drugs1
- $0 Part B infusion and injection
- $0 dementia drugs
3. Don’t delay care in an emergency.
Since March, emergency rooms have seen a steep decline in the number of people seeking treatment,2 and doctors are concerned that people are not seeking potentially life-saving care for heart attacks, strokes, and other conditions. If you feel your health is in serious jeopardy, do not hesitate to call 911 or go to the emergency room. You should go to the emergency room for symptoms such as difficulty breathing, persistent chest pain, heavy bleeding, suicidal thoughts, or suddenly feeling weak or drooping on one side of the body. From August 17, 2020 to December 31, 2020, your hospital care is covered at $0 if you are admitted for observation or an inpatient stay for any health issue, including mental health or a substance use disorder.
Your $0 benefits (temporary)
- $0 observation in a hospital
- $0 inpatient hospital stay
4. Have needed vaccinations.
We’re all hoping for a COVID-19 vaccine, but there are other important vaccines that you may need as well, including a pneumonia vaccine and, later this year, an annual flu vaccine. Ask your PCP if you are up-to-date on all your vaccinations.
Your $0 benefits
- $0 Part B vaccinations such as flu and pneumonia vaccines
5. Talk to your providers about telehealth.
For certain health issues, you can receive care from your provider over the phone or by video. Ask your provider if that is an option for any treatment that you need. You can temporarily receive treatment over the phone or through video from providers you typically see in person, when clinically appropriate. You can also receive care virtually through BCBSRI Doctors Online3. BCBSRI Doctors Online can be used for common, non-emergency health issues 24/7 as well as for scheduled therapy sessions and psychiatry visits.
Your $0 benefits
- $0 Doctors Online visits (24/7 care, therapy, or psychiatry)
- $0 for phone or video visits from providers you usually see in person4
Keeping you safe
To protect you from COVID-19, your provider’s office and other healthcare facilities may be taking the following precautions:
- Screening patients for COVID-19
Before you enter a healthcare facility, you may have your temperature taken and/or be asked questions about your health status.
- Requiring face masks
A face mask can help reduce your risk of getting or spreading disease. Providers will wear personal protective equipment during an exam.
- Separating patients with COVID-19 symptoms from other patients
This may include having separate entrances, separate exam rooms, and even separate providers dedicated to caring for patients with COVID-19 symptoms.
- Keeping patients socially distant while waiting
Sometimes you will be asked to wait in your car until your visit. Waiting rooms should have chairs spaced far apart to keep you and others safe. Magazines and other items may also be removed from waiting areas.
- Sanitizing exam rooms between visits
This helps reduce the spread of germs. Providers may schedule telehealth visits between in-person visits to allow more time for cleaning.
- Limiting visitors or people who go to your appointment with you
Try to limit visitors or the people who accompany you to visits to one person (if allowed). Visitors should also wear a face mask.
- Encouraging handwashing
Wash your hands often by using soap and water for 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer if washing your hands is not possible.
For more information and resources related to COVID-19, please see our Keeping You Well and Well-Informed site.
1Please ask your pharmacist or provider if your drug qualifies.
2Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
3In 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.
4Temporarily covered at $0 until the benefit change expires—subject to change