Pam Kehaly is president and CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona (BCBSAZ), the state’s largest locally owned healthcare insurer.
BCBSAZ leader: COVID-19 offers chance to pull in the same direction
Our system of healthcare is complex and confusing. Making care more convenient, personalized, and affordable is one of the biggest opportunities in our future. While COVID-19 has stressed the system to its limits (past its limits in some cases), it has also created an opportunity for providers, government, hospitals, and insurers to step up together and do the right thing for patients.
Providers have found the shift to virtual care challenging but have stepped up at a record pace. Physicians and their office teams rapidly and successfully pivoted to deliver healthcare online. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona (BCBSAZ) data shows that telemedicine visits spiked to 50 times higher than before the pandemic. According to the Harris Poll COVID-19 Tracker, 89% of the public agrees that everyone should have access to telehealth. It has not been easy, and it has not been perfect, but our talented medical community is delivering excellent, compassionate care in a virtual setting.
Government is known to move slowly. In the case of COVID-19, however, swift movements directly supported virtual care, something that previous regulations often worked against. And now, there is work afoot on a pledge to embrace technology to advance America’s health. It’s time to lean into a new era and leverage technology to connect patients with providers who deliver high-quality clinical care, and monitor health to save and improve lives. Everyone wins when we deliver quality care for lower cost.
Thankfully, many hospitals and physicians are weathering the storm. BCBSAZ data shows that, through July 2020, payments to Arizona hospitals were up more than 5%, an increase well over $100 million compared to the same period last year. These increased payments, coupled with further financial relief from the CARES act, have been critical to assisting hospitals with the added expenses associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, such as personal protective equipment and higher patient staffing ratios required for COVID-19 patients.
I am grateful that our hospitals have been nimble and flexible in meeting Arizonans’ needs around this challenging situation. Physicians followed suit, quickly evolving their model of care to include a massive shift to telehealth, protecting their patients from exposure to the virus. I would also be remiss not to mention the extraordinary courage and kindness of the healthcare workers on the frontline of this pandemic. The sacrifices they’ve made to ensure Arizonans are cared for in this time of need is inspirational.
Insurers deliver on the essential roles of health advocate and payer. We are working to improve our member experience and help guide them to the best clinical and most economical options for care. Now, more than ever, we are checking in with our members and encouraging them to pay close attention to their health and ongoing care needs. As an advocate for health, we will continue to do our part by investing millions of dollars in COVID-19 support for our members, communities, and providers.
BCBSAZ is projecting up to $50 million in additional claims related to COVID-19 in 2020, and more are expected into 2021. Being there for our members, their families, and all Arizonans during uncertain times is what we do. We stay financially strong and manage reserves carefully so that we can be ready to keep our promise and pay these extraordinary costs during these extraordinary times.
COVID-19 has provided a valuable view of what can be done by working together on behalf of patients and in pursuit of a healthier nation. By continuing to pull in the same direction, we can do so much more.
Pam Kehaly is president and CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona.