coronavirus outbreak

RI Gov. Announces Steps to Improve Access to Health Care Amid Pandemic

The state on Tuesday reported 218 additional cases of COVID-19, bringing its total to 7,926.

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo faces reporters during a news conference, March 1, 2020, in Providence, Rhode Island.
Steven Senne/AP

Gov. Gina Raimondo on Tuesday said her administration was cutting red tape in a bid to increase access to health care amid the coronavirus pandemic.

In a news conference, Raimondo said she signed an executive order mandating "burdensome regulations" be relaxed to ensure residents can access affordable health care in a timely manner.

"We want to do everything we can to make sure... Rhode Islanders can have access to the health care that they need, when they need it; and that our health care providers, at this time, don't have to jump through hoops -- and any excessive red tape or bureaucracy -- with insurance companies to be able to provide the care they know their patients need," Raimondo said.

The order prevents insurers from changing the drugs they cover unless the changes benefit the patient, Raimondo said. No increases to out-of-pocket and prescription costs can be made while the order is in place.

The order also allows patients to talk with specialists via telehealth without a referral from a primary care physician.

Mass. Gov. Charlie Baker extends the stay-at-home advisory and closure of non-essential businesses until May 18.

The order requires insurance companies to drop pre-authorization requirements for in-patient and long-term care as well as telehealth services. Additionally, no referrals are necessary for anyone to access behavioral health care.

The measures will remain in effect until May 27.

The state on Tuesday reported 218 additional cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, bringing Rhode Island's total to 7,926. There were six new fatalities reported, bringing the state's death toll to 239.

Earlier in the day, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker extended his state's stay-at -home advisory until May 18, a move Raimondo said she hoped she would not have to make.

The coronavirus pandemic is taking an increasing toll on the nation's meat suppliers. Last week Tyson's largest pork plant announced it was suspending operations indefinitely after nearly 200 workers there fell ill. Tyson says millions of pounds of meat will disappear from store shelves until its plants can reopen safely.

"I would really like to not have to do that in Rhode Island, and that's going to depend on the people of Rhode Island staying hunkered down for the next couple weeks, obeying the stay-at-home order," she said.

The appearance comes after the governor on Monday laid out her plan for reopening the economy, saying she hoped to lift the state's stay-at-home order in two weeks amid signs coronavirus cases were reaching a plateau.

Raimondo plans to begin reopening using a phased approach starting on May 9 if the state sees a consistent downward trend in number of cases or hospitalizations between now and then.

The federal government has announced a new testing "blueprint" to place more testing sites in stores and minority communities to ramp up testing from one to two percent. Critics say two percent is not enough.

The stay-at-home order is set to expire on May 8.

Raimondo said Phase 1 of her reopening plan involves the resumption of some business and social activity on a limited basis and with "significant restrictions" in place.

Raimondo said Phase 1 will include allowing social gatherings of 10 or fewer people and the opening of parks and public spaces such as beaches, with strict guidelines in place.

Some child care centers will be allowed to open with strict guidelines in place as well as additional cleaning protocols. A pilot program for dentist offices will begin.

The Animal Rescue League is helping Boston-area pet owners in need during the coronavirus pandemic.

Raimondo emphasized that Phase 1 will still require strict social distancing, and that people able to work from home would be required to continue to do so.

Retails stores will be able to offer in-store pickup in addition to curbside pick up and delivery. Toward the end of Phase 1, pilot programs will begin allowing some restaurants to open to dine-in guests and some hair dressers and barbers to open as well.

Medical offices that have closed down or reduced hours, such as behavioral therapists and physical therapists will be allowed to "start to reopen" during Phase 1.

The governor said if at any point the state sees a spike in cases, she may have to reintroduce strict measures.

If cases or hospitalizations continue to steadily decline, the state could then enter Phase 2, Raimondo said, during which "new models for doing business and living while social distancing" would be implemented. Hair salons could open and restaurants could resume dine-in operations, but with strict guidelines in place. More workers could return to their offices, and gatherings of up to 15 people would be allowed.

In Phase 3, most business would be open with new guidelines in place, though travel restrictions may remain in place.

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