by Angie Gossett, Greenville Regional Marketing Director, BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina, with Sharon Purvis
BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina has been offering medical benefits to South Carolinians for more than 70 years and is one of the largest employers in the state. The company is also a major supporter of community and charitable organizations, including Ten at the Top. As the pandemic crisis unfolded, BCBS of SC mobilized to support its members and providers, but also communities across the state, providing funding for food for seniors as well as PPEs for doctors’ offices.
Q: Catriona Carlisle of Meals on Wheels Greenville told us in last week’s TATT Chat about a program that is funded by BCBS to feed seniors in 15 counties in South Carolina. Which other Upstate counties does that cover, and how did that partnership come about?
BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina has had a very long association with Senior Resources. We recognize that Seniors are a vulnerable population and based on data from the South Carolina Department on Aging there are roughly 200,000 South Carolinians over 60 years of age who are food insecure. The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically increased the number of affected individuals. We saw an immediacy to the need and we wanted to do what we could to help. Through BlueCross and the BlueCross Foundation, we are providing nearly $1.6 million to expand Senior Resources’ emergency senior nutrition program, which is giving five free meals weekly to eligible homebound elderly. This contribution is anticipated to provide 245,000 meals. Through this model, we are able to assist seniors in Richland, Anderson, Clarendon, Lexington, Barnwell, Calhoun, Fairfield, Greenville, Horry, Kershaw, McCormick, Newberry, Oconee, Orangeburg and Williamsburg counties.
Q: As someone who is covered by BCBS, I received an email explaining that I can access a free telehealth consultation through BCBS (using my membership number). What has been the response to that? Have a lot of people used this benefit?
With the Stay At Home order and the need to socially distance from others, we recognized that members likely would not feel comfortable going to the doctor’s office, so we are supporting both of these efforts and offered for anyone to use our special coupon code with our telehealth product Blue CareOnDemand. When members use the coupon code, COVID19, they can access a telehealth provider at no cost until June 1. This code allows for a member to have a video visit, regardless if the visit is related to COVID-19 or for another reason such as urgent care, behavioral health, or lactation consulting. When we made this option available, we saw a spike in utilization, which meant longer wait times for those calling in; however, the wait times have decreased as more providers have been added to be able to assist members with these services.
Q: Does BCBS have a role in COVID-19 testing?
BlueCross BlueShield is not administering COVID-19 testing; however, we are covering testing and the associated visit at no cost to the member. We are also waiving any pre-authorizations for members with COVID-19-related conditions and treatment. For our fully insured employer group customers, we are also waiving out-of-pocket costs for members with COVID-19 related services with in network providers. If a member has questions about how we are covering COVID-19 services for their plan, they should call the number on the back of their ID card.
Q: What other initiatives has BCBS launched to help with the COVID-19 outbreak in South Carolina?
We have donated $100,000 to the Red Cross and are encouraging employees who feel comfortable donating blood to find their local blood bank to help support the local blood shortage.
Q: Have there been unexpected impacts on your company and industry that people may not know about?
BlueCross BlueShield is considered an essential company, so when the Stay At Home order went into effect, we quickly made changes to support this effort through moving employees to a work from home status or staggering shifts to maintain social distancing while still maintaining the service levels that our providers and members have come to expect from us.
Q: What partnerships has BCBS formed to help with the pandemic that may seem surprising?
BlueCross BlueShield collaborated with the Charleston County Medical Society to help coordinate delivery of 300,000 pieces of personal protection equipment (PPE) that independent physicians and medical practice representatives had pre-ordered. This effort, dubbed Action PPE South Carolina, came about because of the lack of access to PPE for physicians and medical personnel practicing in clinics and small or independent practices. Since priority to PPE was given to hospital systems and government agencies, it meant that doctors and their staffs had to create their own solution, and the Charleston County Medical Society and BlueCross were pleased to help. We know that these practices are seeing our members too, and the safety of our providers and members is important to us.
Q: Is there anything else you would like people to know about what BCBS is doing during the pandemic?
We have had many employees volunteering outside of their normal jobs during the pandemic through various activities. They have been making masks to donate, assisting others to get needed supplies, delivering groceries to those unable to get out and providing financial support to those organizations who are being negatively impacted. Through our outreach we are touching members, providers, and the community. We have been doing our part and stepping up as we always do as a good corporate citizen in our support of vulnerable citizens.