Covid-19 treatment now costs more than ever

Most health insurers are no longer covering out-of-pocket costs for COVID related hospitalizations.

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Nupur Gambhir

Nupur Gambhir

Life Insurance Expert

Nupur Gambhir is an insurance editor at Policygenius and licensed Life, Health, and Disability agent in New York.

Published August 25, 2021|4 min read

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Catching COVID-19 could soon end up costing you a lot more.

A majority of private insurers voluntarily waived out-of-pocket treatment costs for COVID-19 patients at the beginning of the pandemic, but are reversing course just as hospitals approach capacity in states like Texas and Florida. Nearly three-fourths of health insurance companies no longer waive cost-sharing fees like copays, coinsurance and deductibles related to COVID-19, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Many of these insurers dropped their waivers in April, coinciding with the widespread availability of vaccines for most adults in the U.S. Some of the remaining insurance companies are planning to drop these waivers by the end of the year.

How much does it cost if you are hospitalized with COVID?

An earlier Kaiser study found patients treated for pneumonia (which requires similar treatment to COVID-19) paid an average of $1,300 out-of-pocket. Severe illness can be a lot costlier. And the brunt of these costs will be faced by people who are not vaccinated — more than 9 out of 10 of COVID-related hospitalizations and deaths across the U.S. are experienced by people who are not vaccinated or are not fully vaccinated. 

In a statement sent to Easy Money, America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), an industry group, said its members were committed to providing people with affordable care.

“It's important to note health insurance providers are still covering COVID-19 treatment in accordance with the benefits of the health plan. Depending on the care you need and severity of your illness, your health insurance provider could still be covering hundreds or thousands of dollars of your overall costs,” says Kristine Grow, a spokeswoman for AHIP. 

Meanwhile, the cost for a hospital stay due to COVID-19 can be astronomically high. A report released by FAIR Health, which advocates for transparency in health care, says an inpatient stay can cost upwards of $73,300. 

How can you save on treatment?

Although most health insurance companies aren’t covering the costs for a hospital visit anymore, you shouldn’t skip treatment if you get sick from COVID-19. But taking preventative measures will save you the hassle altogether.

“Vaccines lower the chance that you'll be hospitalized if you catch COVID. So that’s a really important and free way to avoid those hospitalizations,” says Caitlin Donovan, spokeswoman for the National Patient Advocate Foundation. Federal law mandates that all COVID-19 vaccines remain free, as does any medically necessary testing. 

If you end up hospitalized, having the right coverage that will pay for a good chunk of your medical care will be beneficial, too. 

“The best defense against high medical bills is always a good, robust plan,” Donovan says, noting that the marketplace for health care plans on healthcare.gov (and open enrollment at many workplaces) opens in November — a prime time to adjust your health insurance coverage if you need to. (Here's how to find an affordable plan.)

And if you do end up getting an unexpectedly high medical bill, there are a few ways you can protect yourself. For starters, check your bills for any mistakes that are adding onto the cost. Second, try to negotiate the balance. You have 180 days until any unpaid debt is factored in your credit report, but you can also request that late fees are waived. And finally, if you need the help, ask for it. Charities such as RIP Medical Debt help millions of Americans pay off their medical debt.  

“Even if you're worried about copays or coinsurance, there is someone out there who can help you, [such as] a charity like ours or your parish church,” says Donovan. 

How much does it cost if you’re not vaccinated against COVID?

While the price of COVID-19 treatment just got costlier for unvaccinated Americans, there won’t be any changes to the actual cost of owning private coverage anytime soon. 

“ACA-compliant plans are not permitted to charge higher premiums to individuals who choose not to get vaccinated,” says Grow. 

But employers can add a surcharge to their health insurance plans for workers that are not vaccinated, citing that a lengthy hospital stay would cost the employer. Delta Air Lines is the latest corporation to impose such a surcharge. Workers covered under Delta’s health insurance plan will have to pay a $200 monthly surcharge if they are not vaccinated by Nov. 1.

Image: Michele Constantini / Getty Images