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What Can You Do About Medical Bills for Coronavirus Care?

Calculator and stethoscope on financial statement concept for finance health check or cost of healthcare
By Andrew Leonatti on March 23, 2020 9:57 AM

With no known immunity, COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, can strike anyone. And while it does appear to affect older people with underlying health conditions more harshly than younger, healthier people, that is not always the case.

In America right now, that means anyone could be facing the prospect of an expensive medical emergency. For many people, the fear of an astronomical hospital bill inspires more fear than the disease itself, which also means many people may put off seeking care.

Sky-High Bills Lying in Wait

One recent horror story involves a Massachusetts woman who made multiple trips to the emergency room to finally be tested and diagnosed for COVID-19, then received a bill of $34,927 for the care she received.

Congress passed its first coronavirus-related relief bill last week, which states that all COVID-19 testing should be done free of cost, but there are enormous loopholes.

The bill does not address the cost of actual care related to the virus. And a recent analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation states that the average cost of care for an American with employer-provided health insurance will come to $9,763 if they have no complications. If you are hospitalized and suffer from complications, that amount rises to $20,292.

If you have employer-provided health insurance, it's likely that you will hit your out-of-pocket maximum before that and you will ultimately pay much less out of pocket. But what about those with individual health plans purchased off an exchange or those without any coverage? Or what if you have insurance, but you receive treatment from an out-of-network doctor?

What Can You Do?

We do not write any of the above facts to frighten you into not receiving care. If you think you have the virus, it's important to speak to a doctor and do what you can to help avoid spread.

Additionally, if you do face a large bill, there will be other options out there.

  • Charity care and getting bills in writing: Many hospitals offer charity care options, but it's important to ask about your options. You will also want to receive everything in writing so that you can appeal bills later on.
  • Debt relief: The hospital may be willing to negotiate a repayment plan, or a credit counseling agency may be able to help you make a budget that can allow you to make your payments. Be on the lookout for fraudulent actors out there, though.
  • Bankruptcy: This may be a last resort, but it is likely that this crisis will lead to a rise in bankruptcy filings. A filing may be able to help you discharge your medical debt and get a leg up on your debts while allowing you to hold onto your home.

The most important thing, though, for you not to do when you receive a high medical bill for COVID-19 care is to try to pay it right away. According to an officer with Families USA, a prominent consumer advocacy group: "Don't whip out your checkbook." Instead, contact the hospital and your state's insurance department before you do anything.

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