TAMPA, Fla. - As more people end up hospitalized for COVID-19, they are tacking on costs not just to their well-being but also to their wallets.
Costs can range anywhere from a few hundred dollars for an emergency room visit to hundreds of thousands of dollars for a longer stay, depending on how severe the sickness is and whether the person has insurance.
"In order for employers to cover their employees, a lot of employer-sponsored plans have gone to higher deductibles, higher out-of-pocket maximums. We have the marketplace programs now also that a lot of our younger adults are going into. If they don't have employer-sponsored plans, those also have higher out-of-pocket costs," said Kristy Dalechek, a registered nurse and board-certified patient advocate with Haven Healthcare Advocates in Tampa. "So if you're looking at going into an ER visit where you used to have a small deductible, nowadays you might have anywhere from one hundred to four hundred fifty dollars if you have insurance just for your ER visit.
If you have to stay in the hospital, doctors said it can be intense.
"What we're finding with COVID individuals is they do require a lot of resources at times. So they do require everyone to have personal protective equipment. So all of our staff, we have to safeguard them and the patient as well," said Dr. Nishant Anand, the chief medical officer at BayCare Health System. "If they end up having to be on a ventilator, that can require them to stay in the hospital for a long period of time."
Dr. Anand said they’re seeing patients stay an average of six days in the hospital, and it goes up to 12 days or more in the intensive care unit.
"If they need to be on blood thinners, that all adds up. So when you look at the full resources that are involved with taking care of COVID patients, it is extremely intense," said Anand.
The independent nonprofit FAIR Health tracks hospital costs due to COVID-19 nationwide. In Florida, the organization’s data analysis found the median cost for a hospital stay without insurance is about $49,168 and $234,732 with an ICU or ventilator. If you have insurance and you pay part of the bill, FAIR Health found the median cost was around $23,787 for a hospital stay and goes up to $115,497 for ICU or being on a ventilator.
"A lot of the insurance companies had waived co-pays last year at the beginning of COVID, but those have expired. And so your exposure now is for whatever your coverage is for your insurance plan if you're lucky enough to have insurance," said Dalechek.
But millions have no insurance coverage. Doctors said there’s a way to avoid a potentially hefty bill.
"One is: wear a mask if you're going to be around other individuals in the community that potentially are not part of your household. And the second thing is: get vaccinated if you have not been vaccinated," said Anand. "First and foremost, we've heard from people who have been extremely sick that they should have got the vaccine earlier, and they just didn't understand how significant COVID could be and the complications that they could end up having."
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website states some companies may still waive costs, so check with your insurance if you have any costs. HHS also said the uninsured can talk to the medical provider and see if they can bill the federal government.
Doctors and patient advocates said it’s not just the hospital stay that costs you for a COVID-19 infection. They said it also costs you time at work and with family, so doctors urge preventative measures like wearing a mask and getting vaccinated to protect yourself and your loved ones.