Beth Bates, physiotherapist and co-owner at Lab Health Physio, performs tele-rehabilitation services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Lab Health was offering the service for free before April 2. (File contributed/ Mark Dale)

B.C. health care workers gain access to virtual health care options

During COVID-19 many clinics have closed, leaving health care workers with nowhere to turn

Health care workers will now be able to access mobile health services after insurance providers for hundreds of thousands of frontline staff in B.C. made concessions.

Many health care workers in the province are covered collectively by an umbrella policy at Pacific Blue Cross (PBC). Under this blanket term there are many different employers and contracts in place with variations to individual plans, but it generally refers to health care workers. The Health Benefits Trust (HBT) is the benefits provider and administrator for this policy. HBT helps administer and process these plans on behalf of employers and plan sponsors, ensuring that employees receive the benefits they are entitled to once claims are sent to Pacific Blue Cross.

Up until Thursday, April 2, these policy holders were not eligible for video treatments, known as telehealth, from health specialists like physiotherapists and chiropractors despite the fact that most, if not all, of these paramedical clinics are closed.

That meant hospital staff seeking treatment for an injury would have no one to speak with about continued care.

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This pushed some businesses, such as Greater Victoria-based physiotherapy clinic Lab Health Physio, to offer telehealth services for free to health care workers until other options became available.

“We decided to offer it for free because we want to make sure our health care workers can still access physiotherapy care while clinics are temporarily closed,” explained Mark Dale, co-owner of Lab Health. “They are working hard for all of us and we wanted to do our small part to help keep them functioning physically in the days and weeks ahead. Tele-rehab is a great way to still provide trusted physiotherapy care while maintaining physical distance.”

As of this week, however, Pacific Blue Cross extended that any plan members who currently have physiotherapy and/or chiropractic care coverage will be able to access them via telehealth, along with counselling, psychology and naturopathy, which were already covered.

According to the April 2 announcement, this coverage will continue until June 23.

Changes from Blue Cross were quickly aligned with plans administered by the HBT. The HBT is a benefits provider and administrator that helps process these plans, making sure employees receive the benefits they are entitled to, and by using Pacific Blue Cross to reimburse employee claims.

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“This extension into tele-health will be provided for the next three months and is in direct response to COVID-19. This access supports social distancing while allowing for the continuance of care during the pandemic,” said Elisabeth Whiting, vice president of operations and administration at HBT. “These treatments must comply with the respective Colleges and their practice guidelines as well as PBC requirements for the practitioners to be reimbursed.”

Now, everyone with plans administered through HBT will have these telehealth appointments – but only for pre-existing conditions. PBC will only cover subsequent visits, not new injuries.

Whiting noted that if a health care worker does receive an injury on the job, the claim would need to go through WorkSafeBC.

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