Medicare and Medicaid may cover coronavirus treatment and prevention, the federal government suggested this week, amid other developments in the rapidly evolving situation.

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma hinted that the agency is considering a change that will allow for the programs to pay for services to help prevent and treat COVID-19, Inside Health Policy reported. She made the statement while speaking at the White House Monday, but gave no further details.

In all, there were more than 100 reported cases of coronavirus in the United States and nine deaths, as of Tuesday afternoon. 

The National Council on Aging noted Tuesday that additional funding for Medicare to cover potential vaccines and telehealth services could be key in the government’s response to the disease.

“This would increase access to lifesaving screening and treatment by extending the reach of health care providers, reduce the risk of additional exposure, and improve the sharing of clinical data,” the advocate group said in a statement. 

“We urge Congress to significantly increase by several magnitudes the White House’s current $2.5 billion budget to combat this disease,” the organization added.  “Resources are needed to support state and local health departments as they mount strategies to address local need, including partnering with their aging services providers and health care entities to meet the unique needs of the older adult population.” 

Verma also noted that CMS is working to develop preventive regulations for long-term care facilities on the coronavirus. The news comes in the wake of an outbreak at a Washington state skilled nursing facility that left one resident dead. 

In a statement Tuesday, Life Care Centers of America, which owns the facility, added that it’s working with the CDC and the Washington State Health Department during the outbreak. 

“This is an evolving situation, and we will continue to seek the guidance of these advising agencies. Life Care Centers of America has been in consistent communication with leadership at its 207 other facilities to share updates and best practices that are being learned,” the company wrote. 

“COVID-19 facts have also been communicated with associates across the nation to disseminate accurate information,” it added. 

More access to testing

Meanwhile, the CDC is working to expand test access for providers, officials stated during a Senate hearing on Tuesday. 

The hearing, which was held by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, discussed the coronavirus, including ways to increase the amount of tests being conducted on suspected infected patients. 

The agency is “rapidly” working to supply public health labs with diagnostic test kits and most public health and state labs “should be able to do testing” by the end of this week, according to Anne Schuchat, M.D., the CDC’s principal deputy director. 

FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn, M.D., added the additional tests kits that that will be supplied to state labs will allow them to perform about 1 million tests. 

“CDC very rapidly developed a new PCR (polymerase chain reaction) for a completely new virus. We posted the instructions for that PCR on the website so that other labs — academic labs, commercial labs, research labs — could similarly develop tests,” Schuchat said. 

“The CDC has supplied the public health labs with the ability to do the testing. The situation in Washington state is tragic. The outbreak in a long-term care facility is one of the things we have been worried about from Day 1 … The concern about healthcare settings has been foremost in our minds,” she added. 

Flu similarities 

In related news, providers in Arkansas are using their flu policies to help them prepare for a potential coronavirus outbreak following the outbreak in Washington state. 

Both COVID-19 and the flu cause fever, cough, body aches and fatigue, and can be spread from person to person through droplets in the air, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.

“Because the coronavirus, from what we’re finding, is similarly spread like any respiratory condition, like the flu virus,” said Dr. Carol McKeever-Compass, the president of Professional Nursing Solutions, told local media. “So we just heighten our awareness during the flu season.”

Other experts have called on long-term care providers to review their infection control policies and prioritize staff education to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in their facilities.