COVID-19 changed healthcare for good. Seniors like us shouldn’t be left behind

More than 70 percent of Washington’s senior population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and over 75 percent has received one dose of the vaccine—a historic milestone in our fight against this virus.

Finally, seniors across Washington and the nation are becoming vaccinated and regaining some sense of normalcy and safety after a year of devastation and uncertainty.

Like nearly every senior nationwide, we had been isolated, unable to see friends and family and live our lives to the fullest, fearing for our health and wellbeing.

But as we reflect, we feel so fortunate to have stayed healthy and connected. And that would not have been possible without Medicare Advantage.

Both of us receive our health insurance through Medicare Advantage, a public-private partnership that provides people 65 and older and those suffering from disabilities with comprehensive medical coverage.

After retirement, there was no question that we wanted to become beneficiaries because it most closely matched the flexible coverage that we received through our employers. But we never could have imagined the benefits during a pandemic.

Over the last year, Medicare Advantage has prioritized the health of seniors, making necessary changes to not just keep us safe from the virus, but to encourage preventative and routine care.

Most notably, the plan shifted to cover virtual doctor and telehealth appointments. While seemingly a simple change, throughout COVID-19, this was critical.

It allowed us to safely maintain our health with regular checkups and specialist visits from the comfort of our homes. And it kept seniors out of doctor’s offices and hospitals, which not just helped to lower our risk of exposure but also lessened pressure on our overwhelmed healthcare system.

Medicare Advantage also implemented measures to ensure seniors and other vulnerable communities were receiving robust care associated with the virus, including eliminating cost-sharing for diagnostic COVID-19 testing and treatments, and even expanding to offer mental health services.

Knowing that COVID-19 treatments would be covered should we contract the virus and having access to mental healthcare options after months of isolation have provided us with a great deal of comfort.

Even before the pandemic struck, Medicare Advantage kept health services affordable by capping out-of-pocket costs, providing transparency about costs, and offering prescription drug benefits.

And it gave us incredible options, allowing us to continue seeing our physician and offering integrated vision, dental, hearing, and wellness programs. With all of these benefits, it is no surprise that 94 percent of beneficiaries are satisfied with their plans.

Supporting and bolstering Medicare Advantage should be a bipartisan issue. Over 26 million Americans, including hundreds of thousands right here in Washington, depend on this coverage. And right now, Congress has the opportunity to strengthen it and make telehealth more accessible to vulnerable populations years into the future.

On behalf of all seniors benefitting from Medicare Advantage, we hope our Washington delegation will support legislation in Congress that would continue to allow that seniors who speak to their doctors, and other medical professionals, over the phone will still be able to do so.

Many seniors don’t have access to broadband internet, smartphones/computers or just don’t feel comfortable using video technology, and it’s important that they still can access care.

COVID-19 put our country and our seniors through a very difficult and unpleasant time. However, the changes Medicare Advantage made to modernize and improve healthcare for seniors has been beneficial.

And to keep seniors safer and healthier, even after COVID-19 is no longer a threat, we hope these changes are here to stay.

Larry and Vicki Littell are residents of Bonney Lake.


Originally published in the Tacoma News Tribune