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Medicare For All Coronavirus Patients? But Who Exactly Qualifies?

President Trump speaks during the daily briefing Friday on the novel coronavirus.
Jim Watson
AFP via Getty Images
President Trump speaks during the daily briefing Friday on the novel coronavirus.

The Trump administration announced Friday that doctors and hospitals can use federal aid to cover the costs of treating uninsured people who are suffering COVID-19.

The federal payments, part of a $100 billion aid package to health care providers, will specifically cover COVID-19 care. But some health policy experts say the program will be difficult to administer, because it's sometimes impossible to separate the cost of treating COVID-19 from the cost of treating a patient's other health problems, like kidney failure.

Millions of people who have lost their jobs in recent weeks also face the prospect of losing health coverage. Democrats have called on the Trump administration to open a special enrollment period for those people to sign up for health coverage under Obamacare.

Instead, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar said health care providers will be reimbursed for COVID-19 care "at Medicare rates," and they will be forbidden from billing patients for services directly on top of that.

Sabrina Corlette, co-director of the Center on Health Insurance Reforms at Georgetown University, said the new plan raises a host of unanswered questions, because it won't always be clear whether an individual's problems, whether pneumonia or kidney failure, are caused by a coronavirus infection.

"Who would qualify for this program?" she asked. "For what services? Who would be the judge of whether or not you qualify?"

Corlette added that it would be far simpler and easier simply to open up a period to enroll in insurance plans on the Affordable Care Act's marketplaces.

"It's like they're twisting themselves into pretzels to avoid anything that has a taint of Obamacare," she said.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.
Dan Charles is NPR's food and agriculture correspondent.