As of the end of March 2020, there were over 180,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the United States. Out of the 183,875 confirmed cases, the United States has seen 6,262 people recover from the virus, and 3,720 had passed away from the virus. It’s easy to assume that the majority of those who have passed away due to COVID-19 were seniors.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the fatality rate among senior patients diagnosed with COVID-19 is 3.6% or higher. The virus impacts seniors in such a catastrophic way because most seniors in America have at least one preexisting condition, and the death rate rises exponentially when a patient has certain preexisting conditions.
Medicare knows how badly seniors can be affected by the coronavirus, so benefits have been adjusted to care for seniors during this pandemic.
What is COVID-19
The coronavirus is not new. In fact, there have been several coronaviruses. This strain causes the COVID-19 disease – a disease that can cause severe upper respiratory issues. Symptoms of the disease include fever, dry cough, fatigue, and shortness of breath. One of the scariest parts of the disease is that it can live in your body for about two weeks before you experience any symptoms.
Although most people recover from COVID-19, it is still very dangerous among seniors. Seniors or have a history of diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, asthma, and other serious health conditions, are at a higher risk of not recovering if diagnosed with COVID-19.
How Medicare covers COVID-19 tests and treatment
Medicare covers testing for COVID-19 similarly to a preventive service. Your COVID-19 testing is covered at 100% under Medicare, and your deductible doesn’t apply. This means people with a Medigap plan won’t have any cost-sharing expenses for the COVID-19 test either. Medicare Advantage beneficiaries will likely have the same experience. However, it’s ultimately up to the carrier whether the beneficiary owes anything for the test.
Although doctors, researchers, and scientists are working hard to find a cure for this pandemic, there isn’t a specific treatment plan in place for the coronavirus. However, Medicare will cover your hospital stay if you are diagnosed with COVID-19. Like the COVID-test, your copay and deductible may be waived for your treatment and stay.
Medicare and telehealth services to combat COVID-19
As of 2019, Medicare expanded its covered services to include some telehealth services. Telehealth, also called telemedicine, is a virtual way to interact with your healthcare providers. Prior to this pandemic, Medicare only covers these virtual doctor appointments for beneficiaries under certain circumstances. For example, Medicare would cover a telehealth appointment with a beneficiary’s primary care provider if the beneficiary lived in a rural area, and other requirements were met.
However, as a result of seniors needing to stay at home to lower their risk of getting the disease, Medicare broadened its telehealth coverage. Currently, Medicare will cover any type of doctor appointment a beneficiary may need during this time via virtual communication. The doctor will bill Medicare for the visit, just as if it were a typical telehealth visit. However, doctors are allowed to waive any copays or coinsurance for the patient entirely.
Call your doctor’s office to see if the office is providing telehealth visits during the pandemic.
How seniors can be proactive in fighting the virus
Because seniors are the most fragile when it comes to COVID-19, it’s best if you simply remain home. If you have an adult child or grandchild who can run your necessary errands for you during this time, ask them to run them for you. But don’t let them in your home.
While you are home, consider sanitizing areas and things you use daily. Disinfect doorknobs, armrests, remote controllers, or anything else you might touch every day. During self-quarantine, be sure to stay connected with family and friends via FaceTime or Skype, so you can all get through this challenging time together.
Danielle K. Roberts is the Vice President and co-founder at Boomer Benefits, where her team of experts help baby boomers with their Medicare decisions nationwide.