Insurance waivers end; hospitalized COVID patients could owe thousands

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Americans who are hospitalized with COVID-19 in 2021 may have to pay thousands of dollars in medical bills as insurers lift waivers, according to a University of Michigan analysis published in JAMA Network Open on Oct. 18.

The study analyzed more than 4,000 COVID-19 hospitalizations of people with private insurance and Medicare Advantage insurance between March and September 2020.

While most health insurers in 2020 voluntarily waived co-pays, deductibles and other cost-sharing, many stopped the waivers in early 2021.

Without the waivers, people could owe $3,800 if they have job-related or self-purchased private insurance, or $1,500 if they have Medicare Advantage plans. In total, each hospitalization of a person with private insurance costs about $42,200 on average, and each hospitalization with Medicare Advantage costs about $21,400 on average.

The study also found that cost-sharing waivers don't always cover all hospitalization care. Seventy-one percent of those with private insurance were charged an average of $788, and 49 percent of those with Medicare Advantage were charged an average of $277.

"Many insurers claim that it is justified to charge patients for COVID-19 hospitalizations now that COVID-19 vaccines are widely available," said lead author Kao-Ping Chua, MD, PhD, in an Oct. 18 statement. "However, some people hospitalized for COVID-19 aren't eligible for vaccines, such as young children, while others are vaccinated patients who experienced a severe breakthrough infection. Our study suggests these patients could [owe] substantial bills."

 

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