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Uninsured with COVID-19: How hospital bills get paid

Posted at 4:00 AM, Aug 20, 2020

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The 41 Action News I-Team helped a local woman get her hospital balance down to $0 after battling COVID-19. She had insurance, and it was the insurance company that footed the bills.

If a patient doesn't have insurance, the hospital should cover the cost and get reimbursed through the CARES Act, but many say it's not enough.

Hospitals have dealt with fewer patients coming in for routine testing and non-emergency procedures, sometimes putting their health even more at risk.

When it comes to pop-up COVID-19 testing sites, the CEO for Vibrant Health told 41 Action News they're noticing more uninsured patients.

"They need it as a test to go back to work, or they need it for — we had someone the other day who needed a test done in order to access a shelter because they had just recently become homeless," Vibrant Health CEO Patrick Sallee said.

For those patients who test positive and end up receiving medical care, the bills can be costly without insurance.

According to a Fair Health report, the total average charge per patient ranges from $42,486 for patients with no complications to $74,310 for patients with major complications.

When those patients can't pay, the hospitals have to absorb the costs.

The Trump administration did make reimbursement possible through CARES Act funding if it's specifically for COVID-19 treatment.

Sallee pointed out that even with federal help the costs often exceed the reimbursement, not paying nearly the same rate hospitals would get from private insurance companies, and those are costs that might have to be passed on elsewhere, to other patients.

At the same time, Vibrant Health is concerned about a different type of cost — one that can impact a patient's health in the long-term.

"We're just continuing to see people delay care because they are either newly uninsured or are worried about being out in public with worries about catching COVID-19," Sallee said.

Vibrant's CEO said they operate on a sliding payment scale, and won't turn anyone away, even if they are uninsured and don't have the ability to pay.

As other health officials have shared in previous reports, if a person has recently lost their job or been furloughed during this pandemic, those are life events that could make them eligible for assistance, or at the very least could allow them to access healthcare even though it's not an open enrollment period.