It really is a nightmare that can strike anyone and at any moment during this ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
One falls severely ill due to the virus and eventually needs extensive medical treatment at one or more hospitals for weeks or even months.
Coronavirus Medical Bills Could Be Massive
The end result? Hospital bills that can total a whopping $2 million.
That’s exactly what happened to one Phoenix-area man who started receiving bills from three different hospitals related to his mother’s and deceased father’s medical treatments related to the coronavirus.
“I was not expecting that,” Ricardo Aguirre recently told a local ABC news network affiliate. “Both my parents are U.S. citizens. They never in their life ask(ed) for any government assistance. They’re hard workers, and now they’re stuck with this enormous bill, and we don’t know what to do.”
He later added that his father was on Medicare, but he said that he was still responsible for 20 percent of his medical bills. And his mother did not have any form of health insurance during her hospital stay.
“A finance representative told me my mom had a remainder of $700,000 because she was uninsured during three weeks of her hospitalization,” Aguirre said, adding that he had tried his best to work with the finance departments at the hospitals—all without success.
He isn’t legally responsible for his parents’ medical bills, but he said he chose to take on their financial burden because he owed that to them. “My mom is not the same as she was before COVID, but she’s here, she’s alive,” he said.
According to health-care consultant Jaymi Mansinghani, Aguirre might be on the receiving end of some good news in the near future regarding the unpaid medical bills.
“If you’re not insured or if someone has passed away, a lot of hospitals will write off that balance with the proof of death certificate or something like that,” she told ABC15.
“There’s always help for low-income families, and these facilities have sometimes what’s called charity plans or financial assistance.”
Moreover, others in a similarly precarious situation like Aguirre should keep in mind that federal funding has already been passed to assist those who fall ill and seek medical treatment due to the coronavirus.
Cares Act Could Help Pay Coronavirus Medical Bills
“That’s when the hospitals should be billing the relief fund to the government. We call them HRSA (Health Resources & Services Administration) accounts. If the hospital has taken any sort of grant or payment from this relief fund in general, they cannot bill uninsured patients,” Mansinghani said.
“Push and push and push, don’t accept one person telling you what you owe,” she added.
On the HHS website, it states that the CARES Act Provider Relief Fund “supports American families, workers, and the heroic healthcare providers in the battle against the COVID-19 outbreak. HHS is distributing $178 billion to hospitals and healthcare providers on the front lines of the coronavirus response.”
It adds that if you do not have necessary health insurance “and receive COVID-19-related testing and/or treatment services, your provider may have submitted a claim to the Health Resources & Services Administration for reimbursement of these services.”
Those hospitals and clinics “who participate in and are reimbursed from the HRSA COVID-19 Uninsured Program are not allowed to ‘balance bill’ individuals who do not have health care coverage (uninsured).”
If you do receive a hospital bill and a portion of that has been paid for by HRSA, “you may not be responsible for the remainder of the bill if the rendered service was for COVID-19 testing and/or treatment.”
Why You Still Might Be on the Hook
Health experts say that you should be aware that if your provider didn’t submit a bill for your coronavirus-related testing or treatment to the HRSA COVID-19 Uninsured Program, you may indeed be on the hook for the full payment of the bill.
If there are still unanswered questions, experts say that it is best to contact your health care provider to discuss how best to resolve any outstanding payments.
For those who are insured, they should understand that many insurance companies have waived all out-of-pocket costs for coronavirus-related treatments. But those waivers are entirely voluntary, and many may have already expired.
Several of the larger private insurers that have waived cost-sharing payments for COVID-19 treatments include Humana, Cigna, UnitedHealth Group, and the Blue Cross Blue Shield system.
Moreover, if a patient who has insurance seeks coronavirus-related treatment “from an out-of-network provider that has received general or targeted distributions from the Provider Relief Fund, the provider has agreed not to seek to collect out-of-pocket payments greater than what the patient would have otherwise been required to pay if the care had been provided by an in-network provider.”
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Minneapolis-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.