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Here are ways Congress can ensure the well-being of older adults during the coronavirus pandemic

Written by Diane Archer

Congress has just passed an $8 billion emergency spending package to help address the coronavirus pandemic. The emergency spending package includes funding to develop a new coronavirus vaccine. It also includes funding to states and localities for emergency stockpiles to respond to people’s needs. In addition, the Trump administration has expanded telehealth services for people with Medicare and is giving the states permission to loosen Medicaid eligibility requirements. As Congress works on a large stimulus package, Senators Jack Reed, Bob Casey and many other lawmakers have set forth a list of additional actions the federal government should be taking to ensure the well-being of older adults. It is fully captured in this bill introduced by Senator Bob Casey.

Congress should provide funding to cover the cost of automatically enrolling low-income older adults and people with disabilities in programs that help cover the cost of their premiums, deductibles and coinsurance. Today these Medicare Savings Programs are underenrolled, in part because people are not aware they are eligible. Enrolling them automatically will ensure that financial barriers do not prevent them from getting treated for the coronavirus and other health care needs.

Congress should make it easier for older adults to get  tested and treated for the coronavirus and obtain the medicines they need. People should not forego care because of cost. Deductibles and copays should be waived along with prior authorization requirements. People should also be able to get 90-day supplies of their medicines and telehealth services. Whether you are enrolled in traditional Medicare or Medicare Advantage, you should have no out-of-pocket costs for testing. Medicare Advantage plans, including UnitedHealthcare, do not appear to be waiving out-of-pocket costs for treatment as of now.

Congress should increase funding to survey and inspect nursing homes. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services needs money to inspect these facilities and ensure they have protocols both to prevent the coronavirus from spreading and to treat cases as they emerge. Right now, people in nursing homes are at particular risk of contracting the coronavirus because of lax infection control policies in many nursing homes.

Congress should provide states with additional Medicaid funds to help ensure low-income older adults have better  access to home and community-based services. States could then hire more direct service providers and home health workers, pay them appropriately, and provide care to people currently on wait lists.

Congress should provide funding to Meals on Wheels and congregate meal programs to ensure older adults have healthy food to eat at home. Since older adults should be staying home as much as possible, they will not be as likely to be getting their meals at senior centers. Meals on Wheels also provides some companionship for older adults, an additional benefit that helps address social isolation.

Congress should increase funding for the Commodity Supplemental Food Program so that it can help more at-risk older adults.

Congress should provide funding to the National Family Caregiver Support Program so that it can help more caregivers. This program helps gives caregivers a break from their caregiving responsibilities.

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