Blue Cross leverages longstanding statewide collaborations to facilitate COVID-19 response

By: Debbie Reinheimer

scientist looking at sample in laboratory

The COVID-19 pandemic is challenging the speed and resiliency of many health organizations as situations and protocols rapidly change. Because of the statewide collaborations already in place through Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan’s Value Partnerships platform, physician organizations and practices throughout the state have been able to connect and share vital information on patient testing and care protocols for addressing this crisis.

Information sharing is helping physician practices, who have reported difficulties keeping up with the recommended testing protocols that are rapidly evolving.

Blue Cross and the Value Partnerships team are leveraging their established communication channels available through the Physician Group Incentive Program (PGIP) to keep physicians and health leaders updated on issues related to COVID-19 testing, lab operations, and best practice protocols.

“Our team has been working relentlessly with the state health department, laboratories and the greater provider community to try to iron out logistics issues in test processing,” said Faris Ahmad, MD, medical director at Blue Cross. “We’re issuing ongoing updates, using teleconferencing, webinars and website posts.”

A scheduled 300-person day-long PGIP quarterly meeting with providers across the state was seamlessly converted into a webinar over the course of two business days to adhere to CDC recommendations for social distancing. During the webinar, representatives from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services answered questions about how state and local health departments are tracking COVID-19 cases.

“I would like to applaud BCBSM for leveraging the digital world to connect physicians and their physician organizations to representatives from MDHSS to learn the latest on dealing with COVID-19,” said attendee Marie Hooper, executive director of Northern Physicians Organization. “Even though it would have been much easier to cancel the PGIP meeting, BCBSM revised the agenda and had all of us gather virtually to share and learn from the providers who are closest to the patients. The venue provided an exchange of information between BCBSM leadership, MDHSS, and the participants so we could all benefit from the shared learning.”

Another concern is the added strain to test and care for patients with COVID-19, which can pose a financial risk to practices, and a health risk to medical office staff.

To cushion the financial burden and help practices prepare for the public health threats of the coronavirus, Blue Cross has put a variety of financial incentives in place including the establishment of a new capability for primary care practices. Now, Blue Cross designated patient-centered medical home practices are eligible to receive additional payment if they perform COVID-19 testing on high-risk patients using established criteria. Samples must be collected according to recommended guidelines.

“We are tapping into our statewide connections and leveraging our network to help providers address what is rapidly becoming a major public health challenge,” said Thomas Leyden, director of Value Partnerships at Blue Cross. “We want to encourage testing as appropriate, and the additional payment should assist physician organizations and their primary care physician practices as they try to manage increased demand for care.”

The Value Partnerships team will continue to provide weekly meetings during the COVID-19 public health crisis to share the latest information, support providers and provide a forum for physicians to share best practices.