DETROIT, April 29, 2020 – Substance abuse treatment and services continue to be important during the COVID-19 pandemic as patients seek care and support. To help address the need, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan is developing telehealth programs with behavioral health providers so certain patients with substance use disorder can undergo detoxification and treatment at home. “Our program meets people where they live. By treating substance use disorder patients at home using secure telehealth technology, we also look at ways to help bring the family into the treatment process and treat the whole person,” said Dr. William Beecroft, medical director for Behavioral Health at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. “We may find this approach could change the status quo for substance use disorder treatment in the future.” Substance use disorder is a disease that affects a person’s brain and behavior and makes the individual lose control of their use of a substance. Substances can be legal – like alcohol, nicotine or prescription opioid painkillers – or illegal, like heroin or illicitly obtained medication. In collaboration with providers, Blue Cross is using evidence-based research to repackage existing services into a virtual format to minimize the risk of exposure to COVID-19 for low- to moderate-risk patients with substance use disorders. These patients would traditionally be in treatment programs that require frequent office visits and potential hospitalization. Many people with substance use disorder have underlying health conditions, including heart disease and liver diseases, that put them at higher risk of problems in the detoxification process and these factors need to be weighed against the risk of severe illness from potential exposure to COVID-19. Telehealth treatment for substance use disorders varies by patient and provider but could include an initial medical assessment and vital signs check, multiple check-ins with doctors, nursing and social workers throughout the day, virtual group therapy, psychotherapy sessions and medication-assisted or facilitated treatment. Patients are also connected to online meetings provided by Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. The program uses telehealth to deliver services provided through traditional Intensive Outpatient Programs and Partial Hospitalization Programs. The Department of Veteran Affairs has successfully used telehealth to treat veterans with substance use disorders, especially in reaching veterans who live in rural areas. Blue Cross and Blue Care Network members seeking help for substance use disorder can find providers participating in telehealth programs by calling the BCBSM or BCN Behavioral Health Services phone number on the back of their member I.D. card. Call center clinical team members will direct members with information and referrals. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and Blue Care Network have enacted several measures to increase the safety and convenience of accessing health care to all members during the pandemic. These include free COVID-19 diagnostic lab testing and treatment when consistent with CDC guidelines, offering telehealth medical and behavioral health visits for common services at no cost through June 30 for members with existing benefits, a free 24-hour nurse line and waived refill limits for 30-day and 90-day prescription maintenance medications. More information on the company’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic is available on the company’s blog – www.mibluesperspectives.com – and website – www.bcbsm.com/coronavirus. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, a nonprofit mutual insurance company, is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association. BCBSM provides health benefits to more than 4.7 million members residing in Michigan in addition to employees of Michigan-headquartered companies residing outside the state. The company has been committed to delivering affordable health care products through a broad variety of plans for businesses, individuals and seniors for 80 years. Beyond health care coverage, BCBSM supports impactful community initiatives and provides leadership in improving health care. For more information, visit bcbsm.com and MiBluesPerspectives.com.
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