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For seniors on Medicare, there are new offerings that may be appealing during COVID-19

Erika Beras Oct 15, 2020
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EMS medics treat a senior with COVID-19 symptoms in Houston, Texas. John Moore/Getty Images
COVID-19

For seniors on Medicare, there are new offerings that may be appealing during COVID-19

Erika Beras Oct 15, 2020
Heard on:
EMS medics treat a senior with COVID-19 symptoms in Houston, Texas. John Moore/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

Medicare provides health care to those 65 and older, and covers more than 60 million Americans. Medicare open enrollment began Thursday. This year, open enrollment looks different, and so do the options seniors have to choose from.

When open enrollment comes around, Medicare beneficiaries are usually bombarded with information in TV, radio and online ads. So people often need assistance in making a choice, said Casey Schwarz, senior counsel for education and federal policy with the nonprofit Medicare Rights Center.

There are federally funded helpers who assist beneficiaries. But this year with the pandemic, “in-person assistance is either limited or not available in some areas,” Schwarz said.

And that means it may be harder for some people to make decisions. This year, there are more options within some plans, including supplemental benefits that aren’t quite health care, but are health care-adjacent, like “meal delivery, transportation to medical appointments,” said Laura Keohane, a health policy professor at Vanderbilt University.

She said that for many seniors, the cost of premiums is the most important factor when picking a plan. And these new benefits may cost more, but “some of these benefits might be more appealing in the time of COVID-19,” Keohane said.

Many of these supplemental benefits were new last year. And there were 250 plans that offered these types of benefits, Keohane said. This year, there are expected to be more than 900. Gerald Kominski, a health policy professor at University of California, Los Angeles, said that’s because “companies may have been cautious about immediately jumping into offering these expanded benefits until they had a better idea about what the cost implications might be.”

And he said that with millions of Medicare beneficiaries, there’s a lot of money at stake.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What’s the outlook for vaccine supply?

Chief executives of America’s COVID-19 vaccine makers promised in congressional testimony to deliver the doses promised to the U.S. government by summer. The projections of confidence come after months of supply chain challenges and companies falling short of year-end projections for 2020. What changed? In part, drugmakers that normally compete are now actually helping one another. This has helped solve several supply chain issues, but not all of them.

How has the pandemic changed scientific research?

Over the past year, while some scientists turned their attention to COVID-19 and creating vaccines to fight it, most others had to pause their research — and re-imagine how to do it. Social distancing, limited lab capacity — “It’s less fun, I have to say. Like, for me the big part of the science is discussing the science with other people, getting excited about projects,” said Isabella Rauch, an immunologist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. Funding is also a big question for many.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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