Updated: Sep 18
At the beginning of the most recent coronavirus outbreak, most of the population assumed this was a new virus that no one has ever dealt with before. While COVID-19 is a new strain, coronavirus is not a new virus. The good news is that scientists and doctors know more about this pandemic than originally thought. The hard part has been stopping the spread and caring for the severely ill patients fighting the disease.
Another thing to keep in mind is that out of the three most recent strains of coronaviruses, SARS-CoV-2 is the least deadly. The 2002 SARS-CoV-1 outbreak was said to have a 10% mortality rate, which was more than three times lower than the 2012 MERS-CoV outbreak’s mortality rate. Currently, COVID-19 is said to have about a 3% mortality rate overall, according to the World Health Organization.
While any loss of life is hard, the important thing to remember is that America is far more advanced in medical research than most countries, and there is light at the end of the tunnel. With that said, high-risk citizens, such as people with preexisting conditions such as cancer, should continue to follow the CDC’s safety protocol until this pandemic is over. In the meantime, here are a few things cancer patients should know about coronavirus.
How COVID-19 can affect cancer patients According to the Principal Deputy Director at the CDC, this coronavirus spreads similarly to how the flu and cold are spread. When an infected person’s respiratory droplets come in contact with someone, the uninfected person could become infected. Respiratory droplets are spread by coughs, sneezes, and touching surfaces containing viral droplets. This is how the flu, cold, and coronavirus are spread.
An R0 (R-naught) number is the rate in which a disease is spread among people. For example, measles has an R0 of anywhere between 12 and 18, whereas the flu has an R0 of about 1.3. This means that for every person who has the flu, about 1.3 other people may get infected. The coronavirus is said to have an R0 of about 2.
So the coronavirus is very similar to the flu in terms of transmission. However, the death rate is higher for COVID-19 than it is for the seasonal flu, especially for those with cancer. The death rate for COVID-19 patients with no preexisting conditions is less than 1%. However, it is 5.6% for COVID-19 patients with cancer.
The reason COVID-19 takes such a high toll on cancer patients is that their immune systems often are more fragile and can’t kick a virus as easily as other people. This is why cancer
patients and people with a history of cancer should limit their contact with people outside their homes.
Medicare and senior cancer patients Like most Marketplace health insurance plans, Medicare has made some adjustments to account for this virus outbreak. Medicare decided to cover testing for the coronavirus at 100%. It covers your treatment for the virus if you test positive, too. Medicare also covers extended inpatient stays even after you’ve been cleared by your doctors to return home. This is to help patients stay safe while under quarantine.
Telemedicine is one thing that Medicare has covered in the past. However, the coverage requirements have been extremely strict, and very few beneficiaries even had access to the benefit. Medicare has expanded its telemedicine benefit to cover all beneficiaries.
The expansion allows beneficiaries to consult with their doctors via video chat rather than leaving their homes for doctor visits and exposing themselves to the virus. Another positive point on this expansion is that hopefully, the leaders at CMS will realize the effect this benefit has and either leave it in place after the pandemic or at least offer it with fewer restrictions than before.
If you are currently battling cancer, contact your cancer care team and see what type of telemedicine services they offer. You may be able to maintain contact with them this way until the virus is controlled.
Danielle K. Roberts is the Vice President and co-founder at Boomer Benefits, where her team of experts help baby boomers with their Medicare decisions nationwide.
Stay home, stay safe, stay well.