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DIGGING DEEPER: Hospital costs for COVID-19 patient

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TUCSON - As COVID-19 cases increase, so do the chances that some of those infected will have to go to the hospital.

However, when patients leave the hospital they may be surprised with the medical bills.

That is the case for Dave Barry of Las Vegas. His is mother, Nancy Moore, who lives in Tucson, is trying to help him.

"I don't wish this on anybody. I don't want anybody to get really sick and pass away because for a while there, I thought I was," said Barry.

Barry spent three and a half weeks in the hospital the first time.

Barry went to the hospital a second time because he said he had blood clots in his legs that broke apart and went to his lungs.  

Moore said it was stressful. She wanted to be with him but knew she couldn't. The distance made it even harder.

Barry said he was coughing, he wasn't getting enough oxygen, and he couldn't breathe.

He also said talking was very hard for him. So he texted his mother, that's how they communicated.

According to a recent study by Wakely Consulting Group, Barry is one of the millions of COVID-19 patients who will require hospitalization.

The study estimated hospitalization will cost around $20,000. 

However, in more severe cases like Barry's, it will cost much more.

"Personally, I would've stuck it out in my house," added Barry. "If I would've known I was going to hit with $1,000 bills."

Moore said her son is terrified about the bills. She said he doesn't like to owe anybody.

What surprised Moore is that even though her son is working and has health insurance, he is still getting billed.

"I was led to believe there would be no co-pays if it was COVID related, and Blue Cross was one of the first that jumped on that," said Moore.

Moore added her son has Blue Cross Blue Shield through his job but he's still getting bills.

Matthew Nelson is the vice-president of employee benefits for Crest Insurance Group.

Nelson says that under the Family First Coronavirus Relief Fund Act, people with fully-insured plans are not paying deductibles or copays for treatment that are medically ordered before the end of the month.

Some fully-insured plans include Blue Cross Blue Shield, Aetna and Cigna.

If you are hospitalized, things may get complicated. Even if you are in a hospital that is part of the network.

"You might have a specific physician or lab procedure that's not done by a network provider," he said. "And that is a situation where you might see bills."

"If your employer is on a self-funded plan, which means they are just buying pieces of a health insurance plan and are standing on their own. The regulations that were passed that waived cost-sharing to members when they are getting treatment for coronavirus," Nelson added. "On a self-funded plan, it is not required that all of those cost sharing mechanisms, all those deductibles and co-pays be waived."

The best advice Nelson said he can give is to contact member services and ask for a claims advocate.

"Make sure you are paying the bills you're supposed to," Nelson said. "At the end of the day, once you paid money to the provider, it's very difficult to get that money back."

Barry said prayers and support got him though his illness and he has faith he will get through his medical bills. 

Lupita Murillo

Lupita Murillo is an investigative reporter. She is part of the Digging Deeper team that uncovers important issues focusing on crime that affects the community.

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