Testing, telehealth and future vaccines for Coronavirus are included, CMS chief says.
As the number of COVID-19 cases continues to climb in the U.S., Medicare is increasing access to testing and treatment for older adults, who health experts say are most at risk for severe illness caused by the coronavirus.
In an AARP Coronavirus Information Tele-Town Hall event on March 10, Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), reiterated that Medicare beneficiaries will not be on the hook for out-of-pocket costs and copayments associated with coronavirus testing. Verma added that many Americans with private insurance will also see relief from cost sharing for services associated with the coronavirus.
“Anyone who feels like they need a test, we don’t want costs to be a barrier to getting that test,” she told the event’s moderators and listeners.
And with recently eased restrictions, more adults with Medicare now also have the option to connect with their doctor through telehealth technologies. “You can call your doctor, you can Skype with them, you can send them pictures — and all of those are covered services,” Verma explained.
For weeks, public health experts have encouraged people experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 — fever, cough and shortness of breath — to call their health care provider before seeking care in person to avoid spreading germs to others. Experts are banking on telehealth, including virtual visits and video check-ins, as a way to deter the virus from spreading in health care settings — especially to high-risk individuals such as older adults and people with underlying health conditions.
“It’s really essential that all Americans — especially those at high risk for complications from the virus, like our seniors — are aware of these easy-to-use, accessible telehealth benefits that can keep them healthy and also help contain the spread of this disease,” Verma said.
In-person doctors’ visits and hospital stays are covered under routine Medicare guidelines, Verma confirmed. And while there currently is no vaccine for COVID-19, Medicare will cover it under Part D when it’s available.
Government leaders met with several leading health insurers on March 10 to discuss flexibility in costs for care related to COVID-19. CMS issued a statement later in the day outlining certain flexibilities Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D plans can enact to potentially “mitigate the impact on the health care system” and help speed up access to care, especially for high-risk populations. These include:
- Waiving cost-sharing for COVID-19 tests
- Waiving cost-sharing for COVID-19 treatments in doctor’s offices or emergency rooms & services delivered via telehealth
- Removing prior authorizations requirements —This is when approval from Medicare is required before a certain service is provided
- Waiving prescription refill limits
- Relaxing restrictions on home or mail delivery of prescription drugs
- Expanding access to certain telehealth services
“It’s understanding that the healthcare system is going to be under stress, potentially,” Verma said in a follow-up interview with AARP on March 12. “What we’re trying to look at is: What are some things we can do to relieve burden on the health care system at large, if there should be some type of a surge in particular areas.”