Contracting COVID-19 in summer 2021 could carry more financial costs for people than it did earlier in the pandemic.
With the number of hospitalizations from COVID-19 rising across Texas, including in Galveston County, experts said there are fewer financial protections now than there were in 2020. It’s something people may want to consider as they weigh their personal decision on whether to get vaccinated, they said.
A person treated for COVID-19 can require tens of thousands of dollars in health care.
A single five- to seven-day stay on a regular floor at the University of Texas Medical Branch can cost $25,000 to $30,000, said Dr. Gulshan Sharma, the chief medical officer at the University of Texas Medical Branch. Things get more expensive depending on how sick a person is or if he or she has underlying health conditions that require more extensive treatment.
“A lot of the cost depends on whether you are on a regular med-surge unit or if in you are in an intensive care unit,” Sharma said. “If you have multiple co-morbidities, if you need supplemental oxygen, if you need high-flow oxygen, if you need respiratory therapy, physical therapy and your length of stay goes to 12 days, it can be $60,000 to $80,000.”
A stay in an intensive care unit while on a ventilator can cost $1,500 a day, Sharma said.
People with health insurance are likely covered for their COVID care, but some of the rules about that coverage have changed over the course of the 16 months the virus has ravaged the United States.
After the CARES Act was passed by Congress in March 2020, insurance companies were required to waive cost-sharing measures, like deductibles, for people being treated for the virus, said Krutika Amin, the associate director of the Peterson-KFF Health System Tracker, an online information hub that monitors and assesses the performance of the U.S. health system
But in 2021, many of those waivers have started to expire, meaning more people will have to pay for the cost of their care.
“It’s something people should be concerned about,” Amin said. “Though there were these waivers in place, they were temporary. People with hospitalizations now can be charged with deductibles that, depending on the plan they’re in, can be over $8,000.”
A KFF study released July 19 found that health insurers that offer plans through the ACA marketplace didn’t propose large premium rate increases this year. That’s in part because health care spending actually fell during the pandemic and insurers expect their costs to rebound to, but not exceed, prepandemic trends, according to the study.
Even under normal circumstances, people are liable to be at risk for a high amount of debt, experts said.
The question about costs of health care can fairly be weighed against the benefits of getting a COVID-19 vaccination, experts said. Vaccine providers are prohibited from billing people for their vaccinations, though medical providers can seek reimbursement from insurance companies.
“Health care costs money in the United States; that’s what this boils down to,” said Allison Sesso, the executive director of RIP Medical Debt, a nonprofit organization dedicated to removing peoples’ medical debt by using donations to buy bundles of debt from collection companies. “The implications for not getting a vaccine are more than your health. They are financial. They can land in your family’s lap, as well. The idea that government is covering all the costs has been proven to be not accurate.”
Cases of COVID-19 are rising this summer because of the delta variant, which is spreading through the unvaccinated population. More than 97 percent of people hospitalized nationally are unvaccinated, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The medical branch is seeing similar trends in the people it’s treating, Sharma said.
As of Monday, there were 78 people being treated for COVID-19 in Galveston County hospitals, according to the Southeast Texas Regional Advisory Council. Friday was the first day there were at least 70 local COVID hospitalizations since March 8.
About 54 percent of Galveston County residents eligible to receive the vaccine are fully vaccinated, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.
The medical branch expected hospitalizations to continue rising over the next two weeks, Sharma said. On Monday, the medical branch announced it was limiting the number of visitors into its hospitals and clinics, and taking other precautions, because of the rise of cases of COVID-19.