A $1.1M Hospital Bill after Surviving the Coronavirus? That’s America for You

ANGLO AMERICA, 22 Jun 2020

Ross Barkan | The Guardian - TRANSCEND Media Service

It shouldn’t take a once-in-a-century pandemic to make policymakers understand the tragic absurdity of healthcare in the United States of America.

16 Jun 2020 – After he nearly died from Covid-19, Michael Flor probably thought he couldn’t be shocked by much else. He had survived a battle with a deadly virus that had killed more than 100,000 people across America.

But Flor, a 70-year-old from Seattle, was hit with an incomprehensible hospital bill for his stay: $1.1m, the Seattle Times reported.

The bill included $9,736 per day for the intensive care room, nearly $409,000 for its transformation into a sterile room for 42 days, $82,000 for the use of a ventilator for 29 days, and nearly $100,000 for two days when he appeared to be on his deathbed.

Luckily for Flor, Medicare will pick up the bill. For other Americans, medical debt could follow them for the rest of their lives.

When Janet Mendez, a 33-year-old New Yorker, also nearly died from Covid-19, she learned that surviving a deadly virus wasn’t going to be her only life-altering challenge. Soon after she left the hospital and returned to her mother’s home, her medicals bills started to pile up.

First, a bill for $31,165, the New York Times reported. Then an invoice for an absurd $401,885.57, though the hospital, Mount Sinai Morningside, said it would reduce the bill by $326,851.63 as a “financial assistance benefit”. That still left a tab of more than $75,000.

Mendez was unable to walk, let alone find work. She told the New York Times she was optimistic that her insurance company would cover a large part of the costs, though she had already been on the receiving end of harassing phone calls from the hospital.

She was yet another victim of America’s immoral and Kafkaesque healthcare system.

Federal funding is supposed to cover the vast majority of medical bills Americans incur from Covid-19, which has killed more than 100,000 nationwide and almost 30,000 in New York. It was a rare gesture toward socialism for a nation that has mostly known predatory capitalism when it comes to the business of staying alive; private, for-profit healthcare amounts to an American religion.

In New York City, hospitals received more than $3bn in federal funds last month from an early round of bailout payments. The money is supposed to compensate hospitals and healthcare providers for the expense of treating coronavirus patients and make up for the revenue hospitals lost from canceling elective procedures.

Though the federal money comes with some conditions that are intended to protect patients from medical debt, loopholes remain. Doctors who treat patients can send their own bills to patient directly. The doctors who treated Mendez individually charged between $300 and $1,800 for each day, according to the New York Times.

And depending on their insurance plan, patients may still be stuck with paying co-payments, deductibles and a percentage of the bill. This can still amount to many thousands of dollars. For those without insurance entirely, still possible even in a world with the Affordable Care Act, the consequences are even more dire.

Coronavirus, momentarily, turned even the most jaded conservatives into socialists, as a broad consensus emerged that the federal government needed to spend trillions of dollars to save people’s lives. Tea Party Republicans called for coronavirus testing to be free. Josh Hawley, a Republican senator who hopes to be an heir to Donald Trump, has argued that the federal government should subsidize businesses to keep workers on their payrolls, mirroring the kind of programs carried out in nations like Germany, where the social safety net is far more robust.

In no civil or sane society should anyone experience what Mendez had to endure: astronomical medical bills and threatening, harassing calls from a hospital that is supposed to only care about sustaining life. But that is what happens when the profit motive is so directly tied to healthcare. Instead of a single-payer system that covers everyone and eliminates medical debt, we are left with a patchwork of private insurance companies that price gouge the sick and vulnerable.

The fallout from coronavirus, even in a world with a vaccine, promises to be more painful for Americans than Europeans who have health plans subsidized by their national governments. For Americans with shoddy health insurance or no insurance at all, the hospital bills may be staggering. No serious economic recovery is possible if thousands of people are choosing between paying a healthcare bill or buying groceries.

More importantly, it shouldn’t take a once-in-a-century pandemic to make policymakers understand the tragic absurdity of healthcare in the United States of America. Every day, people encounter medical crises that alter the trajectories of their lives. If it’s not coronavirus, it’s cancer or diabetes or a broken bone. Every person in pain deserves the dignity of life without medical bills.

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Ross Barkan is a writer and journalist in New York City.

Go to Original – theguardian.com


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