To combat and mitigate the spread of coronavirus COVID-19 throughout the U.S., Medicare is doing their part to ensure all seniors enrolled are fully taken care of during these extraordinary times. This post is going to cover all the biggest questions seniors are asking regarding Medicare and Coronavirus in detail with a Q&A format. And I encourage anyone reading this to chime in or ask questions as well, speaking to your personal experience or sharing useful info and tips for seniors seeking Medicare assistance in general in regards to COVID-19.
Testing, Hospital Stay, Vaccine Costs
1) Will Medicare cover coronavirus test costs?
Yes. Medicare will cover the entire cost of the test, with zero out of pocket expenses, under Medicare Part B.
2) Will I be charged for hospital stays if I test positive for COVID-19?
You won't be charged for the stay if a doctor deems the stay medically necessary, unless your stay is longer than 60 days. Medicare Part A will cover all doctor recommended hospitalization costs of COVID-19 senior patients. So if your doctor tells you self-quarantine at home isn't sufficient and you need to go the hospital for a period of time, Medicare Part A will cover that expense. The only exception for being charged for hospitalization from COVID-19 is if your stay lasts longer than 60 days.
3) Will Medicare cover costs for COVID-19 vaccines once ready?
Yes. Medicare will cover the entire cost of any federally approved COVID-19 vaccine, with zero out of pocket expenses under Medicare Part D.
TeleHealth: Virtual Healthcare from your Home
What is telehealth and how do I use it?
Telehealth has been used in the healthcare industry for many years now and its a way to interact with your doctor or healthcare practitioner virtually, without having to psychically go see them. You can talk directly with your doctor using the internet - on the phone, through Skype, FaceTime or some other video or audio application your doctor has arranged. And that is a great stand-in for an in-person visit especially for seniors trying to practice self distancing to not further spread or contract the coronavirus.
You have to call your doctor's office for exact instructions on the telehealth services they use. It's usually just as simple as setting up a Skype call but sometimes doctors opt for specialized software/applications. In most cases you are talking to your doctor on a video call so they can see you and do their best to diagnose you remotely, or at the very least give you advice on next steps for getting tested, going to an actual hospital or answer any questions you have on dealing with symptoms in general. Anything you would ask if you saw them in-person.
If you don't have internet access or access to Skype, FaceTime or any of the other apps your doctor office uses, reach out to a family member or friend to see if they can assist in setting up a virtual chat with your doctor. Just be sure and follow the recommended social distancing guidelines set out by the CDC.
Am I going to be charged extra by my doctor for using telehealth services?
Here's exactly what Medicare.gov has to say about telehealth coverage:
- You may be able to communicate with your doctors or certain other practitioners without necessarily going to the doctor’s office in person for a full visit. Medicare pays for “virtual check-ins”—brief, virtual services with your established physician or certain practitioners where the communication isn't related to a medical visit within the previous 7 days and doesn’t lead to a medical visit within the next 24 hours (or soonest appointment available).
- You need to consent verbally to using virtual check-ins and your doctor must document that consent in your medical record before you use this service. You pay your usual Medicare coinsurance and deductible for these services.
- Medicare also pays for you to communicate with your doctors using online patient portals without going to the doctor’s office. Like the virtual check-ins, you must initiate these individual communications.
- If you live in a rural area, you may use communication technology to have full visits with your doctors. The law requires that these visits take place at specified sites of service, known as telehealth originating sites, and get services using a real-time audio and video communication system at the site to communicate with a remotely located doctor or certain other types of practitioners. Medicare pays for many medical visits through this telehealth benefit.
Going to the Hospital
Are hospitals and ERs taking extra precautions because of COVID-19 for senior citizens if I have to go?
Absolutely. Hospitals and ERs are screening patients as soon as they come in, and separating potential COVID-19 patients from all other patients with separate waiting rooms when possible. Hospitals are still aiming to provide as clean and as safe an environment as they can if you must go in. But telehealth options should be your first resource if and when possible to see if a hospital or ER visit is even necessary, as to not overtax their limited resources.
Can I call and talk to a Medicare representative with any questions I have?
Yes you can. 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) is the number for any and all questions you have regarding Medicare coverage. Keep in mind though, massive amounts of people will be calling and wait times will be far longer than normal. So to save time be sure and read through their Medicare & Coronavirus website first, as many times your question will be addressed there.