June 23, 2020

The charges for Covid-19 care? In some cases, $1 million—or more.

Daily Briefing

    Over the past few weeks, several media outlets have reported that patients across the country are seeing costly charges for care related to Covid-19, including one man who received an explanation of charges totaling about $1.1 million.

    2 ways hospitals can help Covid-19 patients with their bills (without suspending billing)

    Significant charges for Covid-19 care

    The Seattle Times reports that 70-year-old Michael Flor was hospitalized with Covid-19 for 62 days at Swedish Medical Center, and he's now recovering well at his home in Seattle. However, Flor told the Seattle Times that his heart nearly stopped when he recently received a 181-page explanation of charges totaling $1,122,501.04. According to the Seattle Times, the charges included $9,736 for each day he was in the ICU, $408,912 for the 42 days he was in an isolation chamber, and $82,215 for the 29 days he was on a ventilator.

    In total, Flor's explanation of charges contained 3,000 items, which averages out to around 50 charges for each day that he was in the hospital, the Seattle Times reports.

    Hospitals' charges are typically higher than the actual payment amounts they receive from insurers, the Seattle Times notes, and Flor is enrolled in Medicare, which likely will cover a most or all of the financial costs, according to the Seattle Times. Still, Flor said the charges made him "feel guilty about surviving."

    "There's a sense of 'why me? Why did I deserve all this?' Looking at the incredible cost of it all definitely adds to that survivor's guilt," Flor said, adding that he believes the cost of his treatment ultimately will fall on taxpayers and others.

    In New York, Covid-19 survivor Janet Mendez erroneously received two bills that should have been sent to her insurer for the care she received at Mount Sinai Morningside: one for $31,165 and another for $401,885.57, which the invoice noted would reduced by $326,851.63 as a "financial assistance benefit," the New York Times reports.

    Mendez said that, since she was unconscious for much of her treatment, she's not aware whether the charges are correct. "I don't know what medicines they put in me," she said. "I can't say they did this, or they didn't do this."

    The New York Times reports that Jason Kaplan, a spokesperson for Mount Sinai Morningside, in an email wrote, "To be clear, neither this patient nor any Mount Sinai patient should receive a bill or be expected to directly pay for their Covid-19 care."

    Mendez said she submitted her bill to Cigna, her insurer, and she believes she'll have to pay less than $10,000 of the charges.

    Many Covid-19 patients could face 'surprise' bills, advocates warn

    While Flor and Mendez will have their charges largely covered by insurers, some research suggests that other patients may face steep and unexpected bills for their Covid-19 treatment.

    According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, about one in five patients with employer-sponsored health coverage who are hospitalized at in-network facilities with Covid-19 will receive charges for out-of-network care—a so-called "surprise" medical bill.

    "We've seen a wide range of billings that patients are blindsided with after they get a coronavirus test or treatment," Cynthia Fisher, founder and CEO of Patient Rights Advocate, said.

    As for uninsured patients, they could expect to see charges ranging anywhere from $42,486 to $74,310 for Covid-19 care, depending on the severity of their case, according to an estimate from FAIR Health (Westneat, Seattle Times, 6/12; Goldstein, New York Times, 6/14; Bernstein, WSBT, 6/16; Owens, Axios, 6/15).

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