Pence promises coronavirus testing will be covered by private insurance, Medicare

Vice President Mike Pence tried to assuage Americans’ concerns over the potential cost they could face getting a coronavirus test should they become affected by the outbreak, saying that the test will be covered by all private insurance plans and by Medicare and Medicaid.

Speaking a day before he departs for Washington — the state hardest hit by the coronavirus outbreak – Pence said that because the Department of Health and Human Services has designated the coronavirus test as an “essential health benefit,” Americans with health insurance will not have to worry about paying out of pocket to be tested for coronavirus.

“With regard to cost, HHS has designated the test as an essential health benefit,” Pence said. “It will be covered by private insurance and Medicare/Medicaid.”

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Pence added that around 1.5 million test kits are currently making their way state and university labs across the country that are authorized to carry out the coronavirus test.

Pence was joined in the White House briefing room by other members of White House’s coronavirus task force, which he is chairing. All the members reiterated that the threat of the coronavirus for most Americans remains low and that the elderly and those with preexisting medical conditions are the most at risk of having serious complications from the virus.

To help guard against further breakouts like the one in Washington, where 10 people have died, Pence said the task force is focusing much of their prevention efforts on nursing homes.

Most of those who have died in Washington were residents of Life Care Center, a nursing home in Kirkland, a suburb east of Seattle. At least 39 cases have been reported in the Seattle area, where researchers say the virus may have been circulating undetected for weeks.

It does appear that the elderly are the most vulnerable,” Pence said. “At the president’s direction we are going to focus on those in nursing homes and those working in nursing homes to make sure they are complying with federal standards to keep the elderly safe.”

The U.S. death toll from the coronavirus climbed to 11 on Wednesday with a patient succumbing in California — the first reported fatality outside Washington state.

Officials in California’s Placer County, near Sacramento, said an elderly person who tested positive after returning from a San Francisco-to-Mexico cruise had died. The victim had underlying health problems, authorities said.

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Shortly before the California death was announced, Princess Cruise Lines notified passengers of its Grand Princess that federal health officials are investigating a “small cluster” of coronavirus cases connected to the ship’s mid-February voyage. It asked current passengers to stay in their cabins until were cleared by medical staff and said those who had been on the previous voyage should contact their doctor if they develop fever or other symptoms.

The Grand Princess is at sea off Mexico and will return early to San Francisco, where CDC and company officials will meet to determine the course of action, the cruise line said.

In New York, health officials put hundreds of residents in self-quarantine after members of two families in the New York City suburb of New Rochelle were diagnosed with the virus. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the disease appeared to have spread from a lawyer to his wife, two children, a neighbor and two others.

The new results brought the number of confirmed cases in the state to 11.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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