The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has announced that adults over the age of 60 and those with chronic medical conditions are at a higher risk of severe illness if they contract the new coronavirus disease, also known as COVID-19. This leaves many people with Medicare wondering what precautions they should be taking to avoid becoming ill, and what Medicare may cover if treatment for the disease is required.
The CDC continues to recommend that people of all ages take the following precautions:
• Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
• Don’t leave your home unless it is for an essential trip.
• If you must leave your home, practice social distancing and wear a face covering.
• Wash your hands often with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds, especially after being out in public, blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.
• If soap and water aren’t available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
• Avoid touching your face, nose and eyes.
• Avoid touching frequently touched surfaces in public places, like elevator buttons, door handles and handrails.
• Avoid shaking hands with other people.
• Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces in your home, such as counters, doorknobs, light switches, handles, bathroom fixtures and cellphones.
• Medicare is now also advising that members take extra caution and follow these additional guidelines:
• Postpone unnecessary care.
• Cancel or reschedule all cruise ship travel.
•Avoid situations that put you at increased risk, such as nonessential travel.
It is also important that you prepare for any health care needs, including ensuring you have sufficient amounts of your prescription medications, as well as over-the-counter medicines that treat fever and other symptoms of COVID-19.
Furthermore, it is recommended that you have enough household items and groceries on hand so that you’ll be prepared to stay at home for a period of time, either to avoid being exposed to COVID-19 or if you become ill due to COVID-19. Most people will be able to recover from COVID-19 at home.
If you have a fever and respiratory illness, it is recommended to call ahead to your health care provider before you show up at their facility. This will allow them to make proper arrangements for your visit.
Medicare covers a variety of needs related to COVID-19, including:
• Lab tests for COVID-19 — no out-of-pocket costs will be incurred.
• All medically necessary COVID-19-related hospitalizations.
• “Virtual check-ins” — brief, virtual services with your established doctor or certain practitioners to treat COVID-19 (and for other medically reasonable purposes) — so that you can connect with your doctor by phone, video or an online patient portal to see whether you need to come in for a visit.
If you live in a rural area, Medicare covers medical visits through communication technology at specified sites of service, known as telehealth originating sites, to communicate in real time with a remotely located doctor or other practitioner.
At this time, there’s no vaccine for COVID-19; however, if one becomes available, it will be covered by all Medicare Prescription Drug Plans (Part D).
You need to consent verbally to using virtual check-ins and your doctor must document that consent in your medical record before you use the service. You must also initiate individual communications to communicate with your doctor via your online patient portal. You will pay your usual Medicare coinsurance and deductible for these services.
If you have a Medicare Advantage Plan, you have access to these same benefits. Many plans offer additional telehealth benefits. Check with your plan about your coverage and costs.