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Medicare and Coronavirus: What You Need to Know

By Maurie Backman - Mar 16, 2020 at 8:58AM

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Seniors are the most at-risk group for severe illness from COVID-19. Here's the role Medicare will play for those impacted.

As the spread of COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc on all aspects of American life, from work schedules to school closings to investment portfolio balances, many Medicare enrollees have one primary focus: protecting their health by avoiding the virus. Those on Medicare are statistically more likely to suffer severe health consequences if stricken with COVID-19, as the CDC explicitly states that the risks are highest for Americans 60 and older. As such, it's imperative that seniors understand what coverage Medicare offers with regard to this major health crisis.

COVID-19 tests

Medicare will cover the cost of COVID-19 testing in full. Those enrolled in Medicare will pay nothing out of pocket.

Older man with worried expression

IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES.

COVID-19 care

Medicare will cover the cost of COVID-19 treatment, including hospitalization under Part A. And while there's currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19, if one becomes available, it will be covered under all Medicare Part D drug plans.

Routine -- and remote -- medical care

One of the most dangerous aspects of COVID-19 is its ability to spread even when carriers are without symptoms. As such, seniors today need to practice social distancing -- staying away from crowds to avoid exposure to germs. In fact, seniors are advised to postpone all non-essential medical appointments at this time, since going to a doctor's office not only increases the risk of interacting with someone who has COVID-19, but picking up germs in general.

Thankfully, Medicare already has a system in place that allows seniors to connect with medical providers from the comfort and safety of home -- its telehealth services. This is not a new thing to accommodate COVID-19 concerns; it's been around for years. Seniors who want to keep tabs on their health without actually going into a medical office can do a virtual check-in by phone or video chat, which Medicare will cover. And those who are concerned they may be infected with COVID-19 can discuss their symptoms remotely and receive instant advice on what to do.

Financial relief for enrollees in need

Seniors who are hospitalized due to COVID-19 could face high deductibles and coinsurance, depending on how long they need care. That said, there's talk of waiving cost-sharing for COVID-19 treatment to remove barriers to care among those most vulnerable to severe health impacts.

Medicare is also talking about expanding access to its telehealth services to make it easier for anxious seniors to review their health concerns with doctors remotely. And it may also start waiving limits on prescription refills -- a key step that could allow more seniors to stock up on the drugs they need to better self-isolate. Meanwhile, seniors are advised to ask their providers to change 30-day prescriptions to 90-day supplies when applicable.

It's natural for seniors in particular to be concerned about COVID-19, but the good news is that Medicare is taking steps to make an otherwise trying situation easier. At the same time, enrollees should read up on the benefits they're entitled to so that if frightening symptoms do emerge, they're already armed with knowledge.

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