Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota said Monday it will waive fees on doctors' visits for its Medicare Advantage customers for the rest of the year, joining a growing number of health insurers to offer discounts in response to COVID-19.
Blue Cross said it will waive cost-sharing fees for in-network primary care, mental health and substance-use office visits.
The move will affect about 100,000 Minnesotans who access Medicare through the firm's Medicare Advantage products. Eagan-based Blue Cross is Minnesota's largest health insurer and a leading provider of Medicare services in the state.
The elderly are particularly at risk to the worst effects of COVID-19. Of the more than 700 deaths from the virus in Minnesota, about 80% have been residents of long-term care facilities, chiefly nursing homes and senior apartments.
"In the midst of this crisis, seniors have been greatly impacted and are at disproportionate risk," Dr. Craig Samitt, chief executive of Blue Cross, said in a statement. "With our hope to keep our senior members safe and assure that they receive the preventive care they need, Blue Cross is both expanding coverage and proactively reaching out to help them navigate options to get the care they need."
The company said it will start calling its Medicare Advantage customers next month to make them aware of new benefits and ask about further needs.
Blue Cross earlier announced that it was waiving all in-network fees to customers who were checking on COVID-19 symptoms or getting treatment for the illness.
The firm also waived limits on early refills of medications.
The insurer also increased coverage for telemedicine services, including the use of videochat apps for patients to interact with clinicians. Medical offices have seen significant drops in patient visits of all kinds and pushed for more telemedicine to continue providing care.
Nearly two weeks ago, Minnetonka-based UnitedHealth waived copays and other fees through September for Medicare Advantage beneficiaries, a move that in part recognized that many seniors are delaying certain treatments and procedures to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.