Despite the passage of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act a month ago, confusion remains for many Americans in terms of who’s paying for coronavirus treatment, and how much individuals should expect to pay for healthcare.
While supplementary legislation in the form of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act guarantees that testing for COVID-19 is free for everyone, whether or not they’re insured, it’s possible that Americans seeking a diagnosis for possible coronavirus-related illness may end up saddled with additional costs.
For example, an individual who gets tested for novel coronavirus will not be charged for their diagnosis, but may receive a bill if they end up spending the night in the hospital or receiving treatment in the intensive care unit.
Beyond testing, the cost of treatment for the virus depends heavily on which insurer, and what type of plan, you have.
Many insurance companies have essentially eliminated costs for treatment entirely. Industry trade group America’s Health Insurance Plans, which includes popular providers like Cigna and Humana, are waiving copayments, deductibles, and the cost of hospital stays for coronavirus treatment.
However, there are certain caveats to watch out for. For instance, some providers are waiving the cost of care indefinitely, while others are allowing for free or low-cost treatment only through the end of next month. Additionally, individuals seeking care at an out-of-network facility may end up having to pay the cost of their care in full.
What If I’m Uninsured?
For uninsured Americans, much is still up in the air in terms of how the cost of treatment will be alleviated.
President Trump unveiled a plan this past Wednesday to cover the cost of treatment for individuals without health insurance. The proposal would reimburse healthcare providers for COVID-related treatment if the provider agrees not to seek payment from the uninsured individual receiving care afterward.
The proposal leaves certain remaining questions and concerns, as healthcare providers retain the right to not participate in the reimbursement program, and patients may still receive bills if they end up receiving treatment for illnesses other than coronavirus.
Ironically enough, this proposal may end up guaranteeing greater protections against medical debt for uninsured individuals than for insured individuals whose providers are not providing coronavirus-related coverage.
“For a COVID-19 patient whose insurer is not covering cost-sharing the way some are, they might be somewhat worse off than an uninsured person who would be getting help from the government,” said Brookings Schaeffer Initiative for Health Policy director Paul Ginsburg in a recent interview.
What to Do If You’re Billed for COVID-19 Treatment
If you’re among the more than 993,000 confirmed U.S. cases of COVID-19, or if you’re understandably worried about the cost of treatment should you contract the virus, here are a few steps you can take to keep costs down:
- Request an itemized bill: Your first step should be to see how your medical bill has been determined, and what treatment is directly related to the cost or diagnosis of coronavirus.
- Reach out to your insurer: Since different insurers are providing different cost-sharing plans for COVID-related treatment, contacting your insurance company can help you better understand what costs will be covered by your provider.
- Allocate responsibility: It may be difficult to track the full cost of your treatment while in isolation from coronavirus, but you can designate a family member to discuss the cost on your behalf by signing a medical authorization form.
- Talk to the hospital billing office: If you cannot lower your cost, speak with the hospital billing office to figure out a payment plan that doesn’t leave you overextended throughout the pandemic.
Finally, as Congress continues its patchwork approach to providing coronavirus relief, keep an eye on our COVID-19 page for further updates on how to move forward in confidence — and without any extraneous debt.