Medicare has been supporting people through the COVID-19 outbreak by managing the cost of testing for the disease. A person with Medicare Part B pays nothing for a test to see if they are or have been at risk of becoming unwell.
Medicare covers testing to see if a person has COVID-19 caused by the novel coronavirus. Two tests are covered to see if a person has a current or past infection.
Medicare covers many healthcare costs for people aged 65 and over, and some older adults may have other health conditions that increase their risk for COVID-19.
In this article, we discuss testing for coronavirus, if there are at-home tests, and where to get help and advice.
Medicare pays for COVID-19 testing or treatment as they do for other medical conditions, including necessary hospitalization and medically necessary care to treat COVID-19.
Medicare will also cover a vaccine when one becomes available.
After an individual has paid the deductible, Medicare covers all eligible hospital costs for the first 60 days that a person is an inpatient, without charging a coinsurance.
Medicare Part B has an annual deductible of $198.
After meeting the deductible, Medicare pays 80% of allowable charges for medically necessary services. An individual is responsible for the remaining 20% coinsurance.
If a person has a Medicare Advantage plan, they will not be required to pay any out-of-pocket expenses for tests relating to COVID-19.
The private insurance company administering the Medicare Advantage policy should be able to provide further information on a person’s specific coverage.
Medicare has now made a significant change to their benefits by expanding coverage to include telemedicine, in which a person can consult with a healthcare provider via telephone or the internet.
These types of appointments help reduce exposure to infection and disease for those in need of medical care.
A person may take a viral test or antibody test for COVID-19. The viral test shows an active infection. An antibody test shows a past infection.
For a viral test, a healthcare provider will take a sample swab from inside the nose.
For an antibody test, a doctor orders a blood test. The blood test will look for the antibodies that are formed in the body after a person has had an illness.
Are home tests available?
On April 21, 2020, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized a home collection kit through LabCorp.
A person receives the kit by mail, after which they collect a sample from their nose.
The kit must then be returned to the lab by mail for testing.
LabCorp will send a bill to a person’s health plan or use government funds to cover people who are not insured, but no charges will be made to individuals directly.
How quickly are results available?
How quickly the results are available depends on the type of test being carried out.
One type of test, the PCR test, uses samples taken from the nose to check for infection. Results take from 1–3 days to return. Those who use the home test kits also get their results 1–3 days after the lab receives the sample.
Some testing facilities have a point-of-care test for coronavirus and some of the tests can use saliva samples. The results from these tests take between 15 minutes and an hour to be returned.
Antibody tests use a blood sample to look for the antibodies that are produced 1–3 weeks after infection.
The antibody tests are not 100% accurate. A person may get a positive test without having had the infection. This is called a false positive.
Some may get a negative test when they had the infection. This is called a false negative.
In the case of either a false positive or false negative test, a repeat test may be recommended by a doctor.
The results of an antibody test can take 1–2 days to return.
At this time, scientists do not know if the antibodies developed after an infection can protect a person from becoming unwell in the future.
There are several types of human coronavirus, but in late 2019, scientists discovered a new virus named SARS-CoV-2. The illness this virus triggers was named COVID-19 by the World Health Organization.
The novel coronavirus is spread mainly from person to person through respiratory droplets. These are released when a person sneezes, coughs, or talks. It is more likely to spread when people are within 6 feet of each other.
The CDC believe there is no evidence of people getting sick from eating or handling food.
Conditions that increase vulnerability
People with certain medical conditions are likely to be more vulnerable to COVID-19. These conditions include:
- chronic kidney disease
- chronic obstructive lung diseases
- cystic fibrosis
- liver disease
- neurological conditions such as dementia
- heart conditions
- sickle cell disease
- type 1 or type 2 diabetes
One study suggested 1 in 5 people globally would have an increased risk of severe disease, based on the number of people with underlying medical conditions such as those listed.
People may experience mild to severe symptoms with the illness. Most of the symptoms resemble a bad cold or flu.
COVID-19 may also create a loss or reduction of taste and smell that doesn’t happen with other viruses.
If a person has severe symptoms, these could include shortness of breath, severe cough, and a high fever. Some may also experience:
Medicare’s webpage has many resources to ensure people can access the most recent information.
The page also includes updated guidance, information about how to stay safe, and changes to Medicare policies.
The CDC also maintain up-to-date information on testing, symptoms, wearing masks, and much more.
Medicare pays for coronavirus testing and treatment. People can get the results of a viral test that shows a current infection in 1–3 days. Some facilities have point-of-care tests that give results in 15 minutes to one hour.
The FDA has approved home test kits that enable people to collect a sample from their nose and mail it to a lab. Results are also usually returned in 1–3 days after the company receives the sample.
Antibody testing must be done several weeks after a suspected infection as it takes the body that long to develop antibodies. These tests may not always be 100% accurate and a repeat may be recommended.
The CDC and Medicare websites have up to date information, helpful advice, and resources relating to COVID-19.