Hospitals Put Billing on Hold Amidst the Economic Uncertainty of Coronavirus Funding
Before COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, was even detected in the US, it was obvious that there would be serious economic ramifications. Manufacturing in China was quickly impacted, and the stock market crashed here, which started a chain reaction of economic effects.
For the many hospitals that were already struggling to cover the costs of treating uninsured patients who could not pay their medical bills, a global pandemic heading our way was certainly cause for alarm.
Fear of Incurring Medical Bills Could Help Spread the Virus
It isn’t only hospitals that worry about costs, but potential patients do too. When people are worried about paying medical bills, they are reluctant to go to the doctor. And that’s especially true for going to the hospital, where the bill is likely to be over $1,000 a day. So they stay home as long as possible, hoping to recover on their own.
Sometimes it works, but with a highly contagious virus like SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19), failing to get tested for the infection could result in spreading it throughout the community.
Even if the ill person stays home, they are likely to infect the members of their family. Since they have no symptoms, family members go about their normal activities and unknowingly carry the virus to every location they visit, where anyone else there may become infected.
Awareness of this cycle and the high contagion level of COVID-19 got government agencies talking about covering costs of testing and treatment very quickly, so that anyone with symptoms would be willing to get tested.
Government Funding Will Help but Details Are Still Up in the Air
While there is federal funding to provide relief, it goes through the states for distribution. There isn’t a pre-determined process, so administrators don’t know how much assistance they can expect, or when it will arrive.
Questions of funding include how much each state will receive, and how it will be determined. For example, will it be based on population or how many cases of COVID-19 the state already is treating. Politics plays a role too, which is, of course, well beyond the control of hospital directors and administrators.
Why Coronavirus Funding Won’t Solve the Financial Problem
The recent stimulus bills include money that is expected to be used to pay hospitals for treating uninsured coronavirus victims, but administrators aren’t feeling relief. They were looking for help with their existing burden from the uninsured, so directing relief funds to new expenses and those yet to be incurred doesn’t help.
Despite nearly nine million Americans receiving subsidies to help with the cost of health insurance, hospitals across the nation still struggle with covering the costs of treating uninsured patients. Directing all the available funds to treating coronavirus takes away from the potential for using federal money to provide more insurance coverage, which is needed for all the other illnesses and accidents people incur completely aside from COVID-19.
The Pandemic Highlights the Problem of Employment-based Health Insurance
Most Americans who don’t get health insurance through the Marketplace have it through employers. As soon as businesses started making cutbacks because of the economic impacts of the pandemic, they began laying off employees. The spread of the disease caused many more businesses to shut down and lay off their employees.
As the newly unemployed lose their healthcare insurance, the proportion of patients with COVID-19 who don’t have insurance will rapidly rise. The stimulus package includes funding to help businesses keep their employees on the payroll, but many have already been laid off. The uncertainty of when the stimulus loan money will arrive is also contributing to the challenge for employers who are trying to come up with the cash to make payroll.
There has already been a lot of discussion about health insurance being tied to employment. Perhaps the pandemic will at least result in a better way to provide insurance coverage so hospitals aren’t left with the bills.