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Three things COVID-19 has confirmed about health care

The COVID-19 crisis is teaching us a lot about preventing disease, the strength of our health care system, running a business and even social customs. Another important thing we’ve learned early in the pandemic is that physical distancing is effective in slowing the spread of a virus. We will emerge from this crisis wiser for the experience.

The pandemic is confirming that much of our work to change health care is bringing urgently needed results. We must continue on the path toward better, simpler, more affordable health care.

Providing an exceptional experience

While cost may be the most high-profile challenge in health care, it is far from the only urgent issue we face. The health care experience for consumers must be simpler and more convenient. During this period of physical distancing, that means providing access to care without the need to leave home.

Earlier this year, the nation’s health care needs shifted in a big way. To improve the patient experience, the system of providers, insurers and even patients made changes in a matter of days.

Resources have been moved to where they’re most needed, providers and patients are using telehealth, and insurers – including Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (Blue Cross NC) – are speeding up payments to providers and getting rid of official red tape to give patients better access to care. Governments have removed regulatory barriers at the local, state and federal levels to allow the private sector to respond faster and more effectively to our communities.

Engaging with the health care system shouldn’t be a hassle. We must continue on the path toward better, simpler, more affordable health care. The COVID-19 pandemic is confirming that much of our work to change health care is brining urgently needed results. The pandemic has sped up the move toward more patient-centered care. That’s the right direction.

Integrating behavioral and mental health into primary care

COVID-19 is affecting both our physical and mental health; physical distancing can make feelings of loneliness and depression even worse. The pandemic is confirming the importance of making mental health and substance use services a part of primary care to increase access and improve whole health.

In response, we're working to help primary care providers flag behavioral health problems and connect members to care. We launched Blue Premier Behavioral Health, a value-based payment model that rewards behavioral health providers who improve access and deliver high-quality care – the same sort of payment model we’ve launched for provider groups who’ve signed onto our Blue Premier model. Finally, we’re paying for telehealth during COVID-19 the same way we pay for in-person care, including telehealth visits for behavioral health therapy and medicine management.

Behavioral health is central to our overall well-being, not separate from our physical health. Our company believed this before COVID-19 and we will continue our work toward integrated health care.

Addressing non-medical drivers of health

Access to affordable care is vital, especially during a public health crisis. It’s important that we place equal emphasis on making care both accessible and affordable. After all, affordable health care doesn’t mean much if we’re not able to access it.

Several factors affect our access to care, things like reliable transportation, the number of health care providers nearby, technology for easy communication, even behavioral issues. The impact of COVID-19 on different populations and communities shows us the urgent need to address non-medical drivers of health for the benefit of all of us.

But we should also recognize that COVID-19 is not affecting all of us equally. Rural and minority communities most affected by less access to healthy food, safe housing, transportation and affordable care have had the highest rates of severe illness and death due to COVID-19. Healthy food is critical for health. You may have seen the recent images of long lines for food pantries in Charlotte, images that have played out across our state. Blue Cross NC is supporting those food pantries and helping to strengthen food systems to help farmers get their foods to those who need them.

COVID-19 is not derailing our efforts to make health care better, simpler and more affordable. In fact, the health care system’s response is proving we are on the right track. We must change health care even faster, working toward an exceptional experience, integrating behavioral health into primary care, and solving non-medical drivers of health.

These are the keys to better, simpler and more affordable health care. We are heading in the right direction and we will stay on this path after the crisis has passed.

authors photo
Gerald Petkau
Gerald Petkau

Senior Vice President, Commercial Markets

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