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Report: Six million Medicare beneficiaries could face high out-of-pocket costs for COVID-19 treatment

By Dan Klein, President and CEO and Amy Niles, Executive Vice President

COVID-19 is affecting the lives of all Americans. But older, low-income adults are being impacted the most. As of April 30, 2020, 79 percent of all COVID-19 deaths in the United States were among people age 65 and older.

Aside from being at higher risk for COVID-19, low-income seniors have something else in common—they likely rely on Medicare. Thankfully, most Medicare beneficiaries have supplemental coverage such as Medicare Advantage, Medigap or employer-based insurance to cover some or all of their COVID-19 treatment costs. But what about the six million beneficiaries without supplemental coverage, over 37 percent of whom have incomes of less than $20,000 per year?

How COVID-19 will impact Medicare beneficiaries

As we discuss in our latest report, Medicare beneficiaries without supplemental coverage can face thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket costs for COVID-19 treatment. While COVID-19 testing and related services are free for Medicare beneficiaries, the care that follows a COVID-19 diagnosis is subject to cost-sharing requirements.

These costs can add up quickly. For some beneficiaries, COVID-19 related hospital admissions carry a minimum $1,408 deductible along with additional expenses for an extended stay in a nursing facility or outpatient services like telehealth appointments.

And while the world anxiously awaits a COVID-19 vaccine—which will be covered by Medicare—there are several treatments in development for those who already have the virus, including anti-viral medications and treatments for respiratory problems. Under current policies, Medicare beneficiaries would shoulder the out-of-pocket costs for these non-vaccine COVID-19 treatments once they are approved.

COVID-19 will add to the growing out-of-pocket cost burden

Put simply, without supplemental coverage to help fill the gaps in Medicare, six million high-risk Americans are potentially unable to access or afford necessary care related to COVID-19.

It’s time to recognize that treatment for COVID-19 will impose high out-of-pocket costs on economically vulnerable seniors who already struggle to afford the healthcare they need. Policies that are implemented in response to the COVID-19 crisis must consider the millions of Medicare beneficiaries who do not have supplemental coverage.