I’m 78 years old. Although I’m quite healthy, my age alone was enough to put me in the high-risk category for COVID-19. The disease is particularly hard on senior citizens, and we have endured a long, difficult year of isolation to safeguard ourselves against viral exposure.
The need for aggressive social distancing raised all sorts of questions for older people like me. If I should leave the house as little as possible, how will I keep up with regular doctors’ appointments? Will I run out of my standard medications? How can I maintain my enthusiasm for fitness? Even the topic of groceries became fraught.
Fortunately, I had Medicare Advantage. I already valued this comprehensive, affordable coverage. Having worked previously in health care, I knew a lot about the different options, had helped numerous clients find best-fit Medicare Advantage plans for their needs, and felt confident in my choice.
The effectiveness of the Medicare Advantage response to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, was a surprise even to me. All plans immediately suspended co-pays for COVID-19 testing, treatment, and vaccination, which was a great relief. Plans also suspended out-of-pocket costs for primary care. Seniors could consult with their doctors for free, expanding access to vital counsel at a critical juncture.
To make primary care, specialist care, and behavioral health appointments safe, Medicare Advantage also leveraged telehealth. Seniors have been engaging with providers through videoconference or audio-only telehealth for those without high-speed internet or computer equipment. And home delivery of prescription drugs and groceries crossed more errands off the list, further increasing our safety.
Particularly important to me, Medicare Advantage fitness programs transitioned online, too. I’ve been an avid participant in virtual fitness classes. I enjoy getting together with other seniors to work out, as both a health-promoting and social activity, and I was pleased that an online version of fitness classes empowered me to keep up my regimen and my interactions for the past year.
In my opinion, Medicare Advantage works because it helps me take a proactive, not reactive, approach to my health care. Participating plans have always made health screenings, chronic disease management programs, smoking cessation assistance, and other wellness care free to members, which encourages seniors to seek help in maintaining their health. During COVID-19, Medicare Advantage plans have expanded their proactive approach, identifying the risks and barriers most likely to affect older people and introducing solutions right away.
Iowans can finally see an end to this pandemic on the horizon, perhaps by Independence Day, as President Joe Biden predicts. As we begin our return to normal, however, I hope our elected leaders will remember what Medicare Advantage meant to seniors throughout COVID-19. Quality, affordable, accessible health care was a reassuring point of light in a dark time, helping to keep mature adults safe and well. Our U.S. Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst should continue to lead on Medicare Advantage issues so this program is there for us no matter what the future brings.
Ken Smith is a Des Moines-area senior and a financial services industry professional.
Originally published in the Des Moines Register