KSL INVESTIGATES

Patient cost for COVID treatments about to rise for some

Aug 31, 2021, 6:25 PM | Updated: 9:25 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — As of Aug. 31, 2021, 485 people are currently hospitalized, battling COVID-19.

All those hospital stays are not cheap.

Starting Sept. 1, some patients may find themselves having to pay more than expected, as insurance companies stop paying 100% of the cost of COVID treatments.

‘I’ve gotten bill after bill after bill’

Cass Ho was hospitalized with COVID-19 in May 2020, when the pandemic was still new and hospitals were not yet over capacity with ICU patients.

“It was a really rough go,” Ho said. “I was in critical condition, and I ended up being on a ventilator and probably very close to death.”

Ho said she was in the ICU for two weeks, nine days of which she was intubated and in a coma.

“Fortunately, I was able to pull out of it, some way, somehow,” she said.

As she began healing at home, the bills began arriving.

“I’ve gotten bill after bill after bill,” she exclaimed. “They came in pages and pages.”

Overall, Ho estimates her ICU stay cost about $125,000.

“I know my doctor was $550 a day, and then there was all the medications, all the care from the nurses that came in,” she said. “They charge for everything. Every pill, every shot… all the oxygen. I was on a ventilator. The ventilators are extremely expensive.”

Good news for Ho, she did not have to pay a dime out of pocket. What her Medicare plan did not cover, her supplemental insurance did.

Ho said it was a relief to have that burden off her shoulders while she recovers from the effects of COVID-19.

“It plays a huge role in the recovery of yourself,” she said. “Because if you have a financial obligation, and you’re insured, even if it’s 80%, you are still stuck with that bill. And if you are in a bad way, and you are on a ventilator and you are in the ICU, you’re looking at a six-figure bill.”

A medical team moves a COVID-19 patient in a Utah hospital. (KSL TV) Patients receive treatment in a Utah hospital for COVID-19. Cass Ho shares her experience being hospitalized with COVID-19.

The costs of COVID hospitalizations

Other Americans have also found big bills do not follow them home.

In Utah, the KSL Investigators found two major insurance companies have covered COVID treatment costs 100% for its members: SelectHealth and Regence Blue Cross Blue Shield.

That’s changing. Starting Sept. 1, SelectHealth will apply the normal “plan benefits” to its members receiving COVID treatment.

Its spokesperson sent this statement to KSL-TV:

“SelectHealth carefully examined claims data and considered what other carriers were doing related to rolling back COVID coverage before making this determination. We also considered the availability of vaccinations and the ability for this to lessen the impacts of COVID. We continue to cover testing and vaccinations for COVID 100% and COVID treatment according to plan benefits, and we will continue to encourage individuals to get vaccinated.”

Regence Blue Cross Blue Shield of Utah will change their policy from “no out-of-pocket costs for members” to the normal plan benefits starting Jan. 1, 2022.

The KSL Investigators looked at other major insurance providers in Utah and found that United Healthcare, PEHP and University of Utah Health Plans currently cover COVID treatments at the normal plan coinsurance cost-sharing, per their member contracts. Medicare also processes COVID treatment as normal billing.

That means patients can expect bills for things like co-pays, deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums.

With serious COVID cases, likely expect to pay your maximum out-of-pocket costs if you are hospitalized.

According to independent, nonprofit health care cost estimator FAIR Health, the average price for COVID ICU patients in Utah with complexities was $223,462, with allowable charges for health insurance at $112,808.

Nationally, COVID hospitalizations without complexities cost patients an average of $59,536. It’s higher in Utah, with an average bill of $82,155 charged.

The COVID-19 vaccines remain free.

The Utah Department of Health reports the vast majority of those currently hospitalized with COVID did not receive any of the available COVID-19 vaccines.

The Kaiser Family Foundation found, so far, unvaccinated COVID patients have cost hospitals $2 billion nationwide.

Have you had COVID-19 and received medical treatment for it? We’d love to see the bills to get a better idea of what COVID is costing the Utah community. Send them to investigates@ksl.com.

Have you experienced something you think just isn’t right? The KSL Investigators want to help. Submit your tip at investigates@ksl.com or 385-707-6153 so we can get working for you.

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Patient cost for COVID treatments about to rise for some