Arkansas insurance holders won't pay for coronavirus testing

Mar 18, 2020

Though no new presumed cases of COVID-19 were announced in Arkansas on Tuesday, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said more diagnoses can be expected as the state's testing capability grows.

Some health insurance companies, such as United Healthcare and Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield have adjusted their policies to cover testing for the coronavirus for its customers. Member Station KUAR's Sarah Kellogg spoke with Curtis Barnett, president and CEO of Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield on the changes the health insurer has made due to COVID-19.

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CURTIS BARNETT:  "We want to be sure that people know that the testing for the COVID-19 is covered. It is not only covered, it's covered with no patient co-pay or co-insurance or deductible, so basically there's no cost on behalf of the patient to get the testing done. So we want people to have that piece of mind., Also, any type of prior approval, prior authorization, those requirements will not be applied to the testing. So if they have a doctor's order to have the testing done then it's going to be covered by us with no cost sharing. So those are the first two. We don't want there to be a financial barrier or an administrative barrier for them to receive the testing. 

BARNETT:  The third thing is really around prescription drugs. It's very common under health plans that a prescription drug has limitations on when a prescription can be filled. And we've lifted those so that if somebody needs to a prescription refilled now, even though they may not be close to the end of the current one, they can get it refilled. Also, they have the ability to increase their fill of that prescription up to 90 days. There's not edit that limits that either. 

SARAH KELLOGG: So looking at testing kits. Right now, it's only the RT-PCR that's been CDC approved correct?

BARNETT: That's correct yes. 

KELLOGG:  And so then if there were to be an expansion on tests, would Blue Cross Blue Shield approve of those as well?

BARNETT:  Yeah, and Sarah, what we would do is look to the CDC for that and if the CDC approves that, then we're going to follow suit. Wherever possible, we're trying to follow the science on all of this and really, we've looked to the CDC and the Arkansas Department of Health to really be…to provide good leadership on that. 

KELLOGG:  And, I know a vaccine is a while away, but when it does become available, would Blue Cross, Blue Shield cover that?

BARNETT:  I can't imagine that we would not. Yes, we would be prepared to cover that. 

KELLOGG:  And what is Blue Cross, Blue Shield's current coverage criteria that you can get a test? Like what has to happen for you to be able to get a coronavirus test, if you feel like you need one?

BARNETT:  Really it's up to the physician. And so if the physician, if they place the order, if they feel like somebody has the condition or is at risk for the condition…if they place that order then we're going to…we're going to cover it in that case. So it's really physician driven. 

KELLOGG:  And talk to me a little bit more about telemedicine. How would it work under insurance? What happens there?

BARNETT:  Arkansas has had certain regulations and laws that have affected telemedicine codes and how they can be provided. The governor stepped out last Friday and issued an executive order that changed some of that. So we're changing some of our policies and procedures to make sure that we can accommodate that and make sure that the telehealth services are probably more available than they have been previously, and we're still working though that today. 

KELLOGG:  And you mention since the governor's executive order, you've made some changes or are making some changes. What are some of those changes?

BARNETT:  Well some of the changes have really been around… there's been a requirement in the past that for the telemedicine to be covered, there first has to be a personal visit to the doctor. And the governor, with his executive order changed that requirement. And so we're lifting that requirement going forward to make that more accessible.

KUAR is a content partner of KASU based in Little Rock.  Read more news from central Arkansas here.