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COVID medical costs appear poised to increase in U.S.

covid medical costs
Photo via Money Mix/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

With the COVID-19 pandemic well into its second year, there may soon be a shift in how health care providers, insurance companies, and even employers regard COVID and its medical costs. This could lead to future cases being more expensive.

As the New York Times reported, “Earlier in the pandemic, most major health insurers voluntarily waived costs associated with a COVID treatment. Patients didn’t have to pay their normal co-payments or deductibles for emergency room visits or hospital stays. Most COVID tests were free, too.”

But that appears to be changing, with “people already receiv[ing] testing bills as high as $200 for routine screenings, according to documents that patients have submitted to a New York Times project tracking the costs of COVID testing and treatment.”

“Insurers are confronting the question about whether the costs of COVID treatment should fall on everyone, or just the individuals who have chosen not to get a vaccine,” Cynthia Cox with Kaiser Family Foundation said.

A KFF study found that in the early stages of the pandemic, 88% of those with fully-insured private health plans had their out-of-pocket costs waived if they were hospitalized with COVID-19. “At the time,” the study found, “health insurers were highly profitable due to lower-than-expected health care use, while hospitals and health care workers were overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.”

But the Aug. 19 report determined that “72% of the two largest insurers in each state and DC (102 health plans) are no longer waiving these costs, and another 10% of plans are phasing out waivers by the end of October.” This could see COVID medical costs increase within the next several months.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida, the largest insurance provider for the COVID-stricken state, started requiring its members to pay their normal deductibles and co-payments for COVID treatment as of Sept. 1.

“When the COVID-19 pandemic began last year, we implemented several emergency provisions to temporarily help our members,” spokesperson Toni Woods told the Times. “Medical diagnostic testing for COVID-19 as well as vaccinations continue to be available to members at $0 cost share.”

KSL-TV, doing a story on how Utah insurance companies paid benefits during the pandemic, found that both SelectHealth and Regence Blue Cross Blue Shield had covered COVID costs for 100% of its members — but that’s changed as of Sept. 1. SelectHealth is moving to normal plan benefits for its members, and BCBS is planning a similar move by Jan. 1.

According to Fox 47, Michiganders will also experience some rising costs. “We’re making it like every other disease,” Dr. James Grant, the chief medical officer of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, said. He also noted that the insurance company has spent $1.5 billion in COVID treatment since the pandemic started.

“When you get a cold, you pay your copay or deductible when you see your primary care doctor, a specialist, if you have surgery,” he added. “We all have co-pays and deductibles and COVID is just being brought under the same umbrella as all other diseases.”

Sources: New York Times, Kaiser Family Foundation, KSL-TV, Fox 47


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