At least one aspect of pre-pandemic life is getting back to normal although COVID patients will get stuck with the bill as a new study shows a shift in insurance companies’ attitudes towards COVID-19 treatment costs.
Although most private insurance companies waived the fees related to COVID-19 treatments early on, most companies have stopped footing the bill for the patient’s portion of the tab.
A Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) study indicated that 72 percent of health insurance companies in the United States that had initially waived the patients’ fees for treatments have stopped. Another 10 percent will end their waivers over the next couple of months.
The study noted that profits during the early parts of the pandemic were at a peak due to lower than expected utilization of health care as many people postponed elective procedures and health care checkups which drove the overall costs of services down even though hospitals may have been packed with COVID-19 patients.
In an earlier KFF study released in August 2020, an estimated 88% of fully insured enrollees would have benefited from waivers of their COVID-19 hospitalization costs. As early as fall 2020, many insurance companies began backpedaling on the waivers.
Treatment costs add up quickly and could total in the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. One Seattle resident came home from a 62-day stint in the hospital only to come home to a bill that likely made his heart skip a beat. The lengthy 181-page hospital bill totaled a whopping $1.1 million.
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan (BCBSM) estimated they paid a total of $750 million for COVID treatment that was waived for the members who didn’t pay a dime of the costs, according to a report by WXYZ-TV.
According to research done by Blue Cross Blue Shield, the average cost for a hospitalized patient with COVID could reach as high as $45,000 and over $100,000 for patients in the ICU. Throughout the pandemic, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan says they paid $750 Million for COVID treatment, and roughly 250,000 thousand of their members paid zero.
“No costs,” said Dr. James Grant, Senior VP and Chief Medical Officer for BCBSM. “If you were on a ventilator, you could’ve been there a month, 2 months, 3 months, that’s expensive. Sometimes seven-digit care. We waived all the costs.”
BCBSM will end the cost waivers on October 1 although they will continue to pay for vaccination as a preventative treatment to keep overall costs down. The CDC released a report earlier this week that unvaccinated people were 29 times more likely to end up in the hospital compared to their vaccinated peers.
“95, 96, 97 percent of those that are in the hospital are those that are unvaccinated,” Grant explained. “So if we can actually get to the unvaccinated, get them to realize the importance and safety of the vaccine, that’s how we’re going to beat this.”
However, those statistics may not continue on the same track, as the CDC has reported that there is an increased risk of severe disease in individuals who were vaccinated early on. Newsweek reported that nearly 60 percent of hospitalizations as of August 15 were among the fully vaccinated in Israel.
But some insurers will continue covering COVID-19 treatment costs.
“Regarding COVID-19 treatment, for the 2021 plan year, Humana will cover out-of-pocket costs for COVID-19 treatment for all Humana Medicare Advantage medical plan members,” Mark Mathis, Humana spokesperson told Fox Business. “COVID-19 treatment is a benefit that is part of Humana’s 2021 Medicare Advantage plans; it is not a ‘cost waiver.’”
Mathis went on to note, “there are differences for other lines of business.”
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