Older adults and people with disabilities are at high risk of infection and serious illness from coronavirus. While we appreciate the efforts of policymakers to date to respond to the outbreak, more must be done to anticipate and meet the unique needs of people with Medicare. This week, Medicare Rights sent letters to Congress and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), outlining our priorities and recommendations for future action.
Our letter to Congress urges lawmakers to prioritize older adults, people with disabilities, and their families in any forthcoming coronavirus relief legislation. We suggest a variety of policy options to improve Medicare enrollment, access and affordability, and prescription drug coverage; as well as to strengthen Medicaid and other programs that support community living.
We expect to refine this non-exhaustive list as the virus spreads, lawmakers respond, and needs change. Our initial set of investments and reforms includes those most clearly needed to promote the health and economic security of people with Medicare during this crisis and beyond. Where Congress can partner with federal agencies to achieve the stated goals quickly and without legislation, we support such approaches coupled with rigorous oversight.
Also this week, we asked CMS to take additional steps to address the needs of people with Medicare—specifically by improving the program’s enrollment process.
As with our outreach to Congress, we expect to make future requests of CMS as the coronavirus pandemic continues. However, in the near-term, we are most concerned that if older adults and people with disabilities do not have health coverage, they may not be able to obtain medical treatment at a time when they need it most, worsening their own and the public’s health outcomes.
Accordingly, our letter focuses on enrollment-related reforms under CMS’s purview that are urgently needed to better facilitate access to care. This includes extending Medicare’s open enrollment periods, closing months-long gaps in coverage, waiving late enrollment penalties (LEPs) program-wide, easing Medicare application requirements, holding beneficiaries harmless in any processing delays, and extending the availability of equitable relief for Medicare-eligible Marketplace enrollees.
Since the situation is constantly evolving, we urge CMS to put these flexibilities in place immediately and through the end of 2020, at a minimum, and longer if the public health and national emergency declarations extend beyond that date.
We recognize that Congress and CMS may need to work with additional agencies, like the Social Security Administration, to fully implement the policies and safeguards we recommended this week. Medicare Rights urges swift coordination and cooperation where needed. Now more than ever, we must work together to serve those in need and at risk.
For Medicare Rights, that means that as this crisis continues, so will our work. We remain dedicated to protecting and strengthening Medicare and other programs on which older adults, people with disabilities, and their families rely.