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Column: Medicare will cover coronavirus testing and any necessary hospitalizations

Dear Savvy Senior: Is Medicare covering testing for the coronavirus? My husband and I are very nervous about this virus and would like to find out if or when we should get tested, and how Medicare manages it. — Nervous Nelly

Dear Nelly: Yes! Medicare is indeed covering the cost of testing for the new coronavirus, which causes COVID-19. But be aware that getting a test isn’t as simple as going to your local pharmacy or doctor’s office and asking for one. Here’s a breakdown of what Medicare is covering, along with how to get tested if you think you may have symptoms.

Medicare coverage

Medicare (Part B) will cover the lab test to see whether you have the coronavirus, but only when your doctor or other health care provider orders it. You will pay no out-of-pocket costs for these tests.

In addition, Medicare also covers all medically necessary hospitalizations. This includes if you’re diagnosed with COVID-19 and might otherwise have been discharged from the hospital after an inpatient stay, but instead you need to stay in the hospital under quarantine.

And while there’s currently no vaccine to protect against COVID-19, when one becomes available next year, it too will be covered by all Medicare prescription drug plans (Part D).

If you happen to get your Medicare benefits through a private Medicare Advantage plan, you will have access to these same benefits. In addition, many Advantage plans are also expanding coverage of telemedicine, which allows beneficiaries to consult with medical professionals without having to go to a doctor’s office. Check with your plan for coverage details.

When to call your doctor

Adults age 60 and older (especially those in their 70s and 80s) and people with chronic medical conditions like diabetes, heart, lung or kidney disease are at a higher risk of serious illness if they contract the coronavirus. So, everyone in these categories needs to be vigilant.

Symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough and shortness of breath. Severe cases can lead to pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and death.

If you develop any symptoms that are concerning, you should contact your primary care provider by phone for guidance. If your doctor believes you need testing, he or she will instruct you on what to do. Unfortunately, there have been reports of test shortages across the country, so depending on where you live, you might have to wait a few days.

Prevention tips

To help you steer clear of COVID-19, the CDC recommends that you avoid close contact with anyone who is sick. Wash your hands often with soap and 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.

To the extent possible, try to avoid touching your face, nose and eyes. And avoid touching high-activity surfaces in public places like elevator buttons, door handles and handrails, as well as shaking hands with people. Use a tissue or your sleeve to cover your hand or finger if you must touch something.

Also, clean and disinfect your home to remove germs: Practice routine cleaning of frequently touched surfaces — tables, doorknobs, light switches, handles, desks, toilets, faucets, sinks and cellphones.

You should also avoid crowds, especially in poorly ventilated spaces. Your risk of exposure to respiratory viruses like COVID-19 could increase in crowded, closed-in settings with little air circulation if there are people in the crowd who are sick.

The CDC also recommends that seniors and high-risk individuals stock up on supplies, such as extra medications and groceries. And, if there is an outbreak in your community, remain at home as much as possible. They also discourage nonessential travel.

For more information on COVID-19, visit coronavirus.gov.


Jim Miller is a contributor to NBC-TV’s “Today” program and author of “The Savvy Senior.” Send your questions to Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070; or visit savvysenior.org.


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