COVID-19, the Novel Coronavirus, has now spread to 114 countries, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). As of Wednesday, March 11, the agency reports 118,000 cases and 4,291 deaths. Thousands more are hospitalized.

WHO said it expects to see the number of cases, deaths, and number of affected countries to climb even higher. As a result of the latest developments surrounding the outbreak, WHO has characterized COVID-19 as a pandemic.

Although the agency’s mandate is public health, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom said it is working with partners across all sectors to mitigate the social and economic consequences of the pandemic. “This is not just a public health crisis,” he said. “It is a crisis that will touch every sector–so every sector and every individual must be involved in the fight.”

He called on all countries to activate and scale up their emergency response mechanisms.

In the United States, there are currently 938 cases in 38 states and the District of Columbia. There have been 29 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Several states have declared states of emergencies, colleges and universities have closed, and health care organizations, like RISE, have postponed or cancelled national conferences.

Older adults and people with chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and lung disease are at higher risk of serious illness and death. As a result, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has issued guidance for Medicare Advantage (MA) and Part D plans to respond to the outbreak.

“Medicare beneficiaries are at the greatest risk of serious illness due to COVID-19 and CMS will continue doing everything in our power to protect them,” said CMS Administrator Seema Verma.

In the memorandum, CMS outlines the flexibilities MA and Part D plans have to waive certain requirements to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. The guidance gives plans the ability to:

  • Waive cost-sharing for COVID-19 tests
  • Waive cost-sharing for COVID-19 treatments in doctor’s offices or emergency rooms and services delivered via telehealth
  • Remove prior authorizations requirements
  • Waive prescription refill limits
  • Relax restrictions on home or mail delivery of prescription drugs
  • Expand access to certain telehealth services

These waivers will break down barriers to beneficiaries accessing care and will allow plans to work with pharmacies and providers to treat patients without burdensome requirements limiting their options during this outbreak.