(WXYZ) — In the coming months, some of Michigan’s biggest insurance providers will no longer be waiving all costs associated with COVID-19 treatments.
This follows a nationwide trend from many insurance providers, who will resume charging co-pays and deductibles to those diagnosed with COVID-19.
Throughout the pandemic many insurance providers waived co-pays, deductibles and other costs associated with a COVID-19 hospital stay. However, with vaccines widely available those companies now say it’s time for patients to start paying.
“A doctor came in a spacesuit, not just a mask, and said 'Mr. Parker we need to give your lungs a rest,' and I'm like 'what does that mean,'" recalled Lynus Parker, who was diagnosed and hospitalized with COVID-19 in April 2020. "And he (doctor) is like ‘well, we need to intubate you.’”
Parker, who lives in Novi, spent 80 about days in the hospital, 32 of them on a ventilator.
Although he survived, Parker spent months relearning how to walk and eat, and to this day he still has to sleep upright and has damage to his vocal cords and diaphragm. While his insurance company was waiving many costs, the severity of his situation was still costly.
“Anytime a specialist came in, it was like like ‘oh, that’s out of network,’" Parker said. "So that was above and beyond. Even though it was COVID related, there were still some additional charges that we were responsible for.”
According to research done by Blue Cross Blue Shield, the average cost for a hospitalized patient with COVID could reach as high as $45,000 and over $100,000 for patients in the ICU. Throughout the pandemic, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan says they paid $750 Million for COVID treatment, and roughly 250,000 thousand of their members paid zero.
“No costs," said Dr. James Grant, Senior VP and Chief Medical Officer for BCBSM. "If you were on a ventilator, you could've been there a month, 2 months, 3 months, that’s expensive. Sometimes seven-digit care. We waived all the costs.”
However come Oct. 1, that is coming to an end. The company will no longer waive all costs but will continue to cover vaccinations, which they say could prevent those fees altogether.
“95, 96, 97 percent of those that are in the hospital are those that are unvaccinated," Dr. Grant said. "So if we can actually get to the unvaccinated, get them to realize the importance and safety of the vaccine, that’s how we’re going to beat this.”
According to a study from the Kaiser Family Foundation, or KFF, more than 70% of insurance companies who originally waived those costs no longer do, while many more, like BCBSM, HAP and Priority, are stopping in the next two months.
“The COVID hospitalizations are considered largely preventable, so the insurance companies may no longer be facing the same pressures to cover cost-sharing for patients who may be hospitalized with COVID treatment as opposed to other patients,” said Krutika Amin, associate director for the KFF Health System Tracker.
KFF estimates the average out-of-pocket costs for insured patients would now be about 1,300, but for patients like Parker, it’s been a whole lot more.
"We’re looking at potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars just so I can regain lung capacity on my right side,” Parker said.
Parker says he is considered a COVID long hauler, and will likely have to have another procedure soon. He now worries for all the other long haulers like him who may still need treatment for years to come, when costs are no longer waived.
“It's not just right now. It’s what's a year from now, 2 years from now,” Parker said. "I think there needs to be some guidelines and these boundaries, but I think there also needs to be a consideration for people who had it, and have these conditions."
Parker started a Facebook support group for other COVID long-haulers, which can be found at this link: https://www.facebook.com/groups/360309678533309.