COVID-19 pandemic may change lives in ways never imagined, doctors say

Tracking Coronavirus

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Doctors are concerned about the impact COVID-19 and its variants will have for years to come. Some many people haven’t even realized, they say.

The symptoms of of COVID-19 are well documented.

We’ve all heard about the struggle to breathe because of the damage the virus can do to the lungs, the exhaustion that overtakes people as their bodies struggle to fight, and long haulers syndrome that can stretch into months and years.

Health experts say the true fallout of the virus is just beginning to show. It’s the financial implications of the disease that may claim even more victims.

The University of Kansas Health System said it has people hospitalized with COVID that have million dollar hospital bills. More than one patient owes the hospital more than $2 million dollars for care. The hospital said it’s not difficult to do when it comes to COVID care.

“One or two nurses in the room, a physician close to the room, you may have a dialysis machine, you may have an ECMO machine, you have a ventilator. I mean, there’s so much intensity there,” Dr. Steve Stites, Chief Medical Officer for the University of Kansas Health System, said during an update Wednesday. “This stuff is hard, and it’s expensive. Life saving technology and equipment and medications, those are, that’s an incredibly intense service.”

“The intensity of the care that’s required to really help those patients is extraordinary,” Colette Lasack, Vice President of Revenue Cycle at the University of Kansas Health System, said. “When you’re giving extraordinary care with multiple people in the room, trying to take care of that patient, those bills are just astronomical.”

Lasack helps manage the finances of the hospital and works with insurance companies to determine costs and care for patients.

While it’s not unique to COVID-19, she said she’s already witnessed patients with medical bills that they’ll never be able to pay after being hospitalized with the virus. But Lasack said the financial implication doesn’t end when the patient leaves the hospital.

“I think the bigger picture, it’s not just the medical bill, but the patient’s not working,” Lasack said. “It’s really getting hit from both sides, if you will, higher expense that they didn’t plan for and and now there’s not an income.”

Hospitals are also treating much younger patients now. Instead of patients in their 70s, 80s, and 90s, hospitals are seeing COVID-19 patients in their 30s, 40s and 50s. Patients who don’t have Medicare to cover health costs.

Many big-name health insurers have voluntarily waived out-of-pocket cost sharing for COVID-19 treatment, according to Johns Hopkins, but both Stites and Lasack said that will likely change in the near future. The change could mean significant out-of-pocket medical costs for thousands of Americans.

“If we cannot secure coverage, we also have a high discount rate off our bills for self pay patients,” Lasack said. “But again, if you’re a million dollar bill, and we’re giving, you know, a 70-80% discount, you still owe $100,000, and you don’t have coverage, so then we’re looking at what can we do for charity care, which means basically, we we’ve done all that care for free.”

The hospital said that will eventually impact it’s bottom line.

The best way to avoid this, according to health experts is to get a COVID-19 vaccination. Stites and thousands of other doctors have said the COVID-19 vaccines are safe, and they are effective to keep you well enough that you won’t need to be hospitalized.

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