Sep 15, 2021 8:01 PM

🎥 Expert: COVID treatment can ring up bills of $1-2M for patients

Posted Sep 15, 2021 8:01 PM
Steve Stites, MD, Chief Medical Officer
Steve Stites, MD, Chief Medical Officer

The University of Kansas Health System

The number of active COVID patients at The University of Kansas Health System is steady Wednesday. 38 patients with the active virus are being treated, the same as yesterday. Only five of those 38 are vaccinated. 16 patients are in the ICU, up from 13 yesterday and only one of those patients is vaccinated.

Nine are on ventilators, up from seven yesterday. 40 other patients are still hospitalized because of COVID but are out of the acute infection phase, down from 41 yesterday. That’s a total of 78 patients, down from 79 yesterday. HaysMed has 15 total patients, up from 14 yesterday.

Today, another episode of Open Mics With Dr. Stites. Steve Stites, MD, chief medical officer at The University of Kansas Health System, was joined by Colette Lasack, Vice President of Revenue Cycle at the health system. They took a close look at how insurance is changing for COVID patients. 

Lasack revealed an eye-popping number. She says it’s common for a COVID patient who’s been hospitalized for several weeks with intensive and extraordinary care to end up with a bill of more than one million dollars. Some have been more than two million dollars. How is anyone supposed to pay that staggering amount back? In her words, “You don’t.”

She explained how the health system does everything possible to help patients secure coverage, and says there’s a high discount rate for the uninsured, but sometimes that still leaves people with a bill of a hundred thousand dollars, which is still impossible for many to pay. In that case, when all other avenues are exhausted, sometimes the health system has to write off the bill as charity care. That puts a burden on the whole system. She says most people don’t realize how COVID can be financially devastating for patients and their families, especially for those younger patients who might not be able to go back to work for a long time, if ever.

She mentioned things aren’t likely to get better for insurance as many companies are starting to end their initial practice of waiving deductibles and copays for COVID treatment. That’s because they are starting to treat COVID as a preventable disease, and the unvaccinated may have to pay more for insurance, similar to smokers, because they are at higher risk. That’s already happening for employees of Delta Airlines, and she says that’s an employer’s choice. Lasack also mentioned long haul patients, and said for now there is no special coverage for them beyond their normal insurance if they have it. The only things for which there is still no cost is COVID testing, vaccination, and treatment such as monoclonal antibodies. She urges everyone who is resisting the vaccine or even wearing a mask to think about your risk and the consequences of your behavior. She says, “Consider not only your health but also your financial health and what this could mean to you and your family.”

Dana Hawkinson, MD, medical director of Infection Prevention and Control at The University of Kansas Health System, pointed to recent CDC findings that even with Delta, fully vaccinated people have a reduced risk of infection by five times, they had a reduced risk of hospitalization by ten times and a reduced risk of death by more than 10 times. To those who worry about reports of blood clots and myocarditis from the vaccine, especially in teens, he says those cases are extremely rare. He says the risk of those conditions from getting COVID is much higher and the effects much more severe. He urges parents not to be swayed by protests and demonstrations against masks in schools, saying there is good real world evidence from large random controlled trials that masks work to keep COVID from spreading. He thinks increased vaccination is helping with the current downward trend of hospitalizations.

Dr. Stites says the biggest threat of unvaccinated people is that we can’t get back to real life. He believes the reason we’re not succeeding with the pandemic in the U.S. is not that we don’t have a way out. It’s those who refuse to follow the science and do the right thing.

He says, “For all those folks who said it wasn’t safe, there are two billion doses that say it’s overwhelmingly safe, and it’s much safer than having COVID.” To those who say masks and vaccinations are unconstitutional, he points out the Constitution says with freedom comes responsibility.

“At some point we have to quit fighting about whether COVID is real. Of course it’s real.” He asks, “At what point is it not OK to have an increasingly smaller group of individuals keep the rest of society hostage from getting back to normal life?”

He stresses that vaccinated patients don’t die, they spread the virus to a much lesser degree and vaccinated countries like Denmark with a 75 percent vaccination rate are able to lift restrictions and reopen society. “Vaccination is safe and it’s effective and it works.”