COVID-19 patients will likely face bigger bills as insurance waivers expire

WAKE COUNTY, N.C. (WTVD) -- At the same time, COVID-19 ICU patients reach new records, many insurance companies are pulling back on cost-sharing waivers that protected COVID-19 survivors from medical debt.

A recent study from the Kaiser Family Foundation found by September around 80% of the top insurers in the country will no longer waive fees associated with COVID-19 hospitalization and treatment.

"It's going to be tough," COVID-19 survivor Martin Taylor said. "Nobody has millions of dollars put aside for that. Nobody has that."

The Wake County resident faced piles of bills totaling over a million dollars after he was hospitalized and put on life support for four months in 2020.

A previous ABC11 Investigation uncovered Taylor was billed for COVID-19-related services that should have been covered by his insurance. After the report, Taylor's insurance stepped in, correctly coding the bills as COVID-19 related. The family estimates their debt dropped from over a million dollars to less than $5,000.
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For patients like Martin Taylor, who fall seriously ill with COVID-19, the battle can mean insurmountable health expenses.



"We can breathe now," said Taylor's wife Eugenia Taylor.

But the Taylor's would likely still be responsible for many of these bills if Martin Taylor had gotten hospitalized this past month. His insurance, Blue Cross Blue Shield, ended its cost-sharing waiver in July.

"COVID-19 treatments are now covered according to each individual's health plan, and members may be responsible for a portion of their treatment costs to include copayments, coinsurance, and deductible amounts," wrote a spokesperson with BlueCross BlueShield.

Many other insurances companies are following suit.

"So, we potentially, yes, are into a situation where we will see a lot of people that will be struggling to try to figure out, you know, what are my next steps and what do I do next" explained North Carolina patient advocate Marilyn Whitley.

Whitley is the CEO of Whitley Patient Advocates and assists clients across the country with health-related issues, including billing. She said in the last few months the number of COVID-19 patients reaching out has increased.

"When you have a much sicker client, a much sicker patient, you are going to have a large volume of charges," Whitley explained. "So, then that increases your risk of a mistake or a miss in a code."

She said one of the issues she is handling is from a child getting multisystem inflammatory syndrome following COVID-19.

"The family is stuck. The family is now being billed for deductibles that should have been waived," she explained.

She said prior to the pandemic many medical bills contained errors. Since COVID-19 and its treatments are so new there are a lot of moving parts that can make it more complex both on the hospital end and the patients' end.

She recommends patients wait to pay bills until they can receive the explanation of benefits from their insurance company.

Whitley also said patients always have the option to appeal a bill and reach out to a patient's advocate for assistance. She said many often have free consultations and can help take away some of the stress and confusion.

"It's like running a marathon, like it's intense, and it can be frustrating, but you have to be persistent, and you just keep calling, keep emailing, keep going back to the appeal," she said.

Many hospitals encourage patients to reach out if they have questions and major insurance companies said bills can be retroactively paid if a patient's hospitalization falls during a time when waivers were in place.

For a list of where current insurance company's COVID-19 policies stand, visit here.
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