What you should know
  1. The COVID-19 pandemic was declared a public health emergency. Medicare health insurers are waiving some out-of-pocket costs to ensure that you have affordable access to the prevention, testing, and treatment of COVID-19. 
  2. Medically appropriate testing for COVID-19 is provided at no cost to you, as are doctor’s visits related to the testing. Approved COVID-19 vaccinations are provided at no cost. 
  3. As a Medicare beneficiary receiving services from a Medicare-approved provider, you’re eligible for some waived out-of-pocket costs, depending on your insurance plan. 
  4. Cost-saving waivers remain in effect during the state of emergency. Medicare Advantage plans can extend or expand their waivers at their discretion. Check with your plan to see what out-of-pocket waivers are available to you and when they expire.

COVID and Medicare

The COVID-19 pandemic was declared a public health emergency (PHE) January 30, 2020.  The state of emergency remains in effect indefinitely. Due to the public health emergency, Medicare health insurance providers have waived some out-of-pocket costs such as deductibles, copays, and coinsurance to ensure that Americans have access to prevention, testing, and treatment related to COVID-19 infection.

Early on in the pandemic, private insurance companies waived costs if you were hospitalized with COVID-19. Now that we have access to vaccines, many private insurance companies are no longer waiving these costs. Check with your plan to see which waivers are still available to you.

What does Medicare cover for COVID-19?

Most COVID-19 services are available to Medicaid beneficiaries at reduced or no cost. COVID-19 tests and vaccinations are offered at no cost for Medicare beneficiaries. Telehealth services have been expanded to include virtual or telephone visits with doctors, specialists, and mental and behavioral health professionals at reduced or no cost. Some previous requirements related to prior authorizations and transfers to skilled nursing facilities have been waived.

For example, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) waives the requirement that a person has a qualifying three-day stay in the hospital before transfer to a skilled nursing facility. Some Medicare Advantage plans allow for free home delivery of prescriptions and services provided by out-of-network providers at the in-network cost.

Most Medicare Advantage plans are removing cost barriers to care during all or part of the time the emergency declaration is in place. For example:

  • Aetna and UnitedHealthcare will provide no-cost COVID-19 vaccinations through 2021.
  • Humana is waiving out-of-pocket treatment and telehealth costs for Medicare Advantage plan members through 2021.
  • Cigna is currently providing free transportation to get your COVID-19 vaccine.

Each insurance company can extend its cost-sharing waivers beyond the end of the emergency declaration. Check with your plan to find out which waivers apply to you and when they expire.

What are the potential savings with waived Medicare out-of-pocket costs for COVID-19?

Potential savings with waived Medicare out-of-pocket costs for COVID-19 are significant, especially if you require more critical care.

The most significant potential savings with waived Medicare out-of-pocket costs for COVID-19 are copays and deductibles for inpatient hospital stays for treatment or complications. Most Medicare Advantage Plans have a daily copay ranging from $250 to $300 depending on your plan for the first part of an inpatient stay. If that cost is waived, your savings could be as much as $1,500 if you are hospitalized, plus any copays for doctors who see you while you are inpatient, plus your plan’s deductible.

COVID-19 tests and doctor’s visits associated with testing are provided at no cost under Medicare. Depending on what type of test you get and where you get it, your out-of-pocket cost could range from $36 to $180 per test, and possibly more if you have not met your deductible. If your plan includes a copay or a deductible for lab tests and doctor’s visits, you could save the cost of the test and the copay for seeing your doctor. You may need multiple tests throughout the pandemic, so as long as COVID-19 testing is provided at no cost, your savings will multiply as well.

Vaccine costs plus administration costs are waived. Depending on the type of vaccine you get, costs for a single injection range from $10 to $26. Some providers charge a fee to administer the vaccine, so you would save on those costs as well.

You may save $203 on your Part B deductible if you are receiving benefits related to COVID-19. With Medicare Advantage Plans, you typically have a higher copay for specialists versus a lower copay for a primary care physician and a higher copay if your provider is out of network. Some Medicare Advantage Plans are waiving these higher copays, so your savings could be up to $40 per specialist visit and more if your provider is out of network. These visits could be in person or via telehealth.

If you need medications related to treating a COVID-19 infection, and you can only get them from an out-of-network pharmacy, you only pay the in-network cost. You also save on home delivery of prescriptions with some plans.

How do you know if you qualify for waived COVID-19 costs under Medicare?

Waived costs are subject to the service being deemed medically appropriate and must be ordered by a health care provider. For instance, if you decide to travel and need proof of a negative COVID-19 test to return home, you may not qualify for waived costs. You must be a Medicare beneficiary to be eligible for waived costs, and you must receive services from a Medicare-approved provider.

All Medicare health insurance providers must provide no-cost testing and vaccines while the emergency is in effect. Your private insurance company has some discretion about which waivers to offer. Check with your plan and your providers to see if you qualify for waived costs.

When do Medicare COVID-19 waivers end?

In general, the waivers may remain in effect for as long as there’s a PHE declaration and Presidential declaration under either the National Emergencies Act (NEA) or the Stafford Act. Telehealth coverage waivers remain in effect until the end of the PHE and amendments made to the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act.

CMS has indicated it will cover the full cost of the vaccine for all Medicare beneficiaries, including those in a Medicare Advantage plan. Each Medicare insurer can elect to extend or expand other waivers, and this may vary by state. It’s a good idea to check with your plan to see what waivers are in place and when they will expire.

Medicare consultant

LeRon Moore has guided Medicare beneficiaries and their families as a Medicare professional since 2007. First as a Medicare provider enrollment specialist and now a Medicare account executive, Moore works directly with Medicare beneficiaries to ensure they understand Medicare and Medicare Advantage Plans.

Moore holds a bachelor’s degree from Southern New Hampshire University and is A+ Certified with a Medical Records Clerk Certification and Medical Terminology Certification from Midlands Technical College.

He’s passionate about educating, informing, and resolving issues concerning Medicare and Medicare Advantage Plans, and considers it imperative that he does all he can to educate and inform the senior community as much as possible about Medicare.