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Rhode Island governor Gina Raimondo has signed an executive order designed to give patients greater access to health care during the coronavirus pandemic.

It freezes out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs and prevents insurers from making changes to the drugs they cover unless recommended by a doctor.  The directive, which is in effect through May 27th, also negates the need for referrals for telehealth services. 

"We all know what a burden it is for primary care doctors to provide a specific referral so a patient can go see a specialist to receive specialty care,' Raimondo said.  'Insurers are going to have to relax this process to allow much more time and leniency."

In addition, the executive order prevents insurance companies from requiring patients to receive pre-authorization for in-patient hospital and rehabilitation, long-term care, and telemedicine.

"We're trying to make it a bit easier for providers to provide the care that they know is necessary without having to go through red tape, Raimondo said.  'I hope if you're a physician or a provider, this allows you to breathe a sigh of relief knowing that you can continue to do your job with a little bit less burden."

Raimondo says she will renew the executive order in a month if she feels an extension is necessary.  

"During this time, your network can't be changed.  Your coverage can't be changed.  You're not going to be hassled because you're told you have to wait for pre-authorization before you can get the health care you need."  

The governor has also announced a 90-day deadline extension for all driver's licenses, vehicle registrations, inspections, permits, and temporary plates that are set to expire in May.  Those items must now be renewed no later than August.  

On Tuesday, Rhode Island also reported six new coronavirus-related deaths, bringing the state’s total number of fatalities to 239. There were 218 new positive cases, 266 people hospitalized with COVID-19, and 84 people in intensive care. In total, 7,926 people in Rhode Island have tested positive for COVID-19.

Raimondo said the number of new cases and hospitalizations in Rhode Island is holding steady.

"We haven't seen much of a decline, which is what we're aiming for,' she said.  'But we also haven't seen an incline.  We're in a fight to bring our infection rate way down.  Right now, we're doing very well."

The governor says she's hoping to lift Rhode Island's stay-at-home order by May 9th, but she notes that Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker recently extended a similar restriction in his state through May 18th.

"I would really not want to do that here in Rhode Island,' Raimondo said.  'We're watching the crowds in stores.  We're watching the traffic on the streets.  We've seen a bit of an uptick and that's not what we want to see."  

Joe Tasca can be reached at jtasca@ripr.org