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Scott Harris updates House Health Committee on coronavirus crisis

respirator masks and paper with text Coronavirus, originating in Wuhan, China

Wednesday, House Health Committee Chairman Paul Lee (R-Dothan) asked Alabama Public Health Officer Scott Harris and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama Vice President for Governmental Affairs Ted Hosp to provide an update on the coronavirus theat.

Harris said as you know, we have not had a lot of testing.

“I have no doubt,” we will find the coronavirus here with more testing. “Two weeks ago only seven states were testing. Now 47 states are. We all agree if we look more we are going to find cases.”

Harris said that the state really needs “to ramp up our testing abilities” but that was underway.

“Talk to your doctor or provider and ask them if you need to be testing,” Harris said.

Dr. Harris said that testing is not available at this time at county health offices.

“We are not doing testing in county health departments; but we are arranging testing,” Dr. Harris said. “The first thing to do is pick up your phone and call your provider.”

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State Representative Arnold Mooney (R-Indian Springs) praised Harris for “the lack of sensationalism,” in his report.

Rep. Neal Rafferty (D-Birmingham) asked, “What if you do not have a primary care provider?”

“That is a barrier for people who do not have coverage, we recognize that,” Dr. Harris said.

Rep. Pebblin Warren (D-Tuskegee) said, “I am concerned about the costs and how we are paying for it.”

Harris said, “We are not charging for testing. There are commercial labs that provide that. They have their own policies about how they charge people. We are not charging people.”

Harris acknowledged that the rate of new infections in China has been going down. “They had a lockdown,” and that officials are looking at what lessons we can learn from that.

Rep. Rhett Marques (R-Enterprise) asked, “How are y’all coordinating down to the municipalities?”

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We have been coordinating with the hospitals, Harris said. “We are also working with the EMA. The Governor has set up a task force. They are going to add representatives from the municipalities.”

“If you are sick or have question call your provider,” Harris emphasized. Harris acknowledged that some sick people without insurance will use emergency departments for their medical providers and that is not ideal.

“This disease is not serious for most people,” Harris said. “If you are sick stay home.”

Ted Hosp with BCBS said, “In respect to testing, for all of your plans testing does not require prior authorization.”

“Any treatments that are medically necessary will be covered,” Hosp assured the Committee. “We are going to be allowing you to get an early refill if you are self-quarantining.”

“We will be announcing later today expanded telehealth capability,” Hosp said.

Hosp said that Blue Cross would be able to transition to telework for our employees so claims will still be paid even if there is an outbreak in Alabama.

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As of press time, the only states that did not yet have confirmed COVID-19 cases were: Alabama, Idaho, Montana, and West Virginia. There are 1,762 cases in the U.S. with 41 death. Worldwide there have 134,930 diagnosed COVID-19 cases and 4,990 deaths.

Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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