March 2020

What we’re doing for our members to protect them from COVID-19

At Blue Shield of California, we’ve been monitoring the trajectory of COVID-19 since January. This includes tracking the spread, planning to keep our members informed and healthy, and ensuring our more than 6,800 employees are working – and safe.

“Thanks to our dedicated and hard-working employees, COVID-19 will not affect our ability to serve our members,” said Paul Markovich, president and CEO. “Our focus on transforming and modernizing our operations in recent years led us to implement new processes and technologies, enabling Blue Shield to adapt and respond quickly to the realities of the novel coronavirus.”

Blue Shield has taken multiple steps to provide coverage and information to members such as:
  • Waived prior approval and testing costs associated with COVID-19 on March 6. The plan also announced it was monitoring prescription drug supplies and decided members can request early refills of their prescriptions.
  • Provided information on the mental health challenges in coping with the outbreak.
  • Waived costs for use of Teladoc and telehealth: online, telephone, and smartphone tools used for consulting with doctors and other providers without a trip to an office or hospital.
  • Continues to communicate with federal, state, and local officials, agencies, and regulators to coordinate an effective response.
  • Created a dedicated COVID-19 website on March 17 to inform members of their coverage under specific plans.
  • Announced a new digital tool for its network hospitals at no additional cost to help them triage the influx of patients seeking advice on COVID-19 or other medical care. Blue Shield has 347 hospitals in its preferred-provider network.

In addition, members haven’t had unusual hurdles to getting answers or help. Call centers and member points of contact with Blue Shield are running without disruption. The customer service team hasn’t seen any significant spikes in call volume or requests from members. And they’ve been prepped in five key areas:
  • Members with questions about COVID-19, including testing
  • Prescription/pharmacy questions
  • Medicare members, largely made up of high-risk populations
  • Medi-Cal members, which includes many of our state's most vulnerable populations
  • Consumer groups, who have no other means for coverage

March 2020

How we’re preparing our workforce to serve our members’ needs

From the office to the home

One of the most effective tools for curbing the spread of COVID-19 is social distancing. However, this poses a serious challenge for our in-office workforce.

By mid-February, the plan’s business leaders were planning for what could be a major disruption. A working group, the Coronavirus Business Continuity Task Force – an extension of the group that deals with how to keep Blue Shield running during disasters and emergencies – was formed and began meeting daily. Keep in mind, just 10 percent of Blue Shield employees had work-from-home capability before COVID-19 arrived in California.

At issue: How to get nearly 7,000 employees to work from home without disruption for members – at a time when members may tax Blue Shield’s call centers and other customer-facing operations. Additionally, Blue Shield has seven major offices. It’s headquartered in Oakland, but operates locations in El Dorado Hills, Lodi, Monterey Park, Rancho Cordova, Redding, and Woodland Hills.

The good news: Blue Shield’s information technology team had a network in place to get all employees network access. And the internal communications team has been notifying employees of policies and procedures. The not-so-good news: not everyone had a portable device, such as a laptop, to make the transition easily. That left roughly 2,000 employees without the ability to work from home.

“We’ve needed some sacrifices and some long days from our teams for which we’re deeply grateful,” said Shayna Schulz, senior vice president of enterprise transformation. “But we’ve also had some great planning in place. All of those factors have led to our success and readiness.”

By Tuesday, March 17, all but a handful of employees were at-home workers. Just 50 employees were considered essential for coming into the office. The task force is taking all necessary steps to ensure private health information is protected as a priority during this transition.

Preparing for the long run

The task force continues to troubleshoot and aid employees. The group has been led primarily by Schulz, who manages the plan’s back-office operations – including claims and enrollment – and Jeff Robertson, senior vice president and chief marketing and customer officer, who manages all call centers, among other duties. Lisa Davis, Blue Shield’s newly named chief information officer, has also played a key role.

“In just five business days, we moved an entire workforce to work from home, including 2,000 front-line team members,” Robertson said. “I’m so proud of every team member who worked effortlessly over the past few days and over this weekend, in an effort to continue to serve our members.”

Separately, new policies were put in place for compensation and leave for employees who test positive for COVID-19.

There are risks the spread of COVID-19 could reach critical levels. There’s a plan for that, too. The task force has scenarios and plans for the, hopefully, unlikely event that 40 percent of workers won’t be able to work.

March 2020

Who’s talking: Our leadership shares some perspectives

“We are supporting our members, employees, friends and families, and communities to slow the spread of COVID-19. The safety and well-being of our employees and members is a priority, and our decisions as a company are guided by that.”

Read the full message from our president and CEO, Paul Markovich (March 17).

What employers can do for their employee benefits during this time

As employers across the nation face unprecedented challenges resulting from COVID-19, they are likely wondering how best to care for their employees’ and families’ health and well-being, including how their health benefits may be affected. While it can be challenging in a time of such rapid and widespread change, the good news is that there are a few steps employers can take to maximize the health and well-being of their employees and loved ones.

Read the full message from Don Antonucci, our senior vice president of commercial markets (March 17)

How do I deal with social distancing? Blue Shield of California's top medical official has some suggestions

Several counties in California have been placed under a shelter-in-place order – and there may be more in the coming weeks. While these recommendations are critical to flattening the curve of COVID-19 cases, we can't ignore the fact that these orders – along with the voluntary social distancing that we've already been doing – can easily lead to feeling isolated and stressed. Those feelings can be compounded when we're anticipating the potential of several weeks with very little human contact. The irony of social distancing is that it's only successful if we do it together.

Read the full message from Dr. Terry Gilliland, our executive vice president and chief health officer (March 17)

March 2020

Digital hospital-triage tool to help handle anticipated surge of COVID-19 patients

Blue Shield of California is offering a new digital tool to its network hospitals at no additional cost. This will help them triage the influx of patients seeking advice on COVID-19 or other medical care. This innovative system is customized by each hospital’s emergency response plan and can be implemented on hospital websites in 48 hours.

The “COVID-19 Screener and Emergency Response Assistant” (COVID-19 SERA) is a tool that patients can access via an internet-connected smartphone, tablet, or computer on a participating hospital’s website. COVID-19 SERA can be customized for each health system’s emergency response plan, and it is updated in real time with the latest guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO). GYANT, a San Francisco–based company providing virtual triage and patient navigation services, developed this tool.

Patients would access COVID-19 SERA on a hospital’s website, answer a few basic questions, and – based on their reply – they would be directed to the appropriate medical settings for their health situation. The idea is to guide patients to the most appropriate care setting so hospitals can better manage the inflow of patients.

Read the complete news release here on our Blue Shield News Center.

March 2020

Where to find information about Blue Shield’s response to COVID-19

Blue Shield is connecting members to relevant resources, information, and support on the member portal. The site includes general information on COVID-19, Blue Shield’s responses, and member-specific plan information for those registered and logged in. Visit the site.

Our News Center is the central hub for information on Blue Shield’s response to COVID-19, with updates daily.
  • Click here to see all News Center stories about the novel coronavirus/COVID-19.
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Broker Connection has a dedicated page for information and resources related to COVID-19 and Blue Shield’s response. Included here are all broker, employer, and member communications, as well as detailed FAQs for complete understanding of the policies Blue Shield is putting in place.