Daily COVID-19 Briefing March 26, 2020

United Church of Christ – Wider Church Ministries
Humanitarian Development Team
Coronavirus (COVID-19) Daily Briefing
Barbara T. Baylor, MPH – Temporary Health Liaison

March 26, 2020 – Issue #4

COVID-19 and the U.S. Healthcare System

The United Church of Christ, which worked tirelessly along with other denominations and community/faith-based organizations to pass the Affordable Care Act in 2010 must continue to advocate for affordable healthcare for everyone, especially during this pandemic. Contact your U.S. Senators and Representative today!

* * *

The 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is rapidly spreading throughout the world. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the United States has reached 65,063 COVID-19 cases, with nearly 906 deaths. As the virus continues to soar, we recognize the toll it is taking on our hospitals, healthcare systems and citizens.

Last night the Senate unanimously approved a $2 trillion relief package in response to the economic and health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The package includes direct payments to Americans, strengthened unemployment insurance, loans to businesses and increased healthcare resources. The bill is expected to be voted on and passed by the House tomorrow. 

Many hospitals have already reached their capacity for beds in the ICU. They have depleted supplies of masks, gowns and gloves that healthcare workers need. There is a shortage of ventilators. Several states have constructed makeshift clinics or have converted empty buildings to care for the sick and dying.

Many hospitals and clinics do not have enough testing kits and swabs and are unable to get them, making it harder for those who need to be tested to get tested. With the surge of COVID-19 cases, hospitals are trying to balance the needs of the coronavirus pandemic with the needs of their regular patients, making it more difficult to expand their capacity ahead of a surge in coronavirus cases. Source: U.S. hospitals are struggling to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic

The welcomed relief package will provide more than $100 billion and several favorable payment policies to hospitals, doctors and others in the healthcare system as they grapple with the COVID-19 outbreak. The bill provides many other incentives for the industry, including:

  • Hospitals that treat Medicare patients for COVID-19 will get a 20 percent payment increase for all services provided.That means Medicare’s payment for these types of hospital stays could go from $10,000 to $12,000, depending on the severity of the illness.
  • Medicare’s “sequestration,” which cuts payments to providers by 2 percent, will be lifted until the end of this year. Source: What healthcare is getting out of the stimulus package

Even as COVID-19 takes its toll on our hospitals and the healthcare system, we also recognize the toll it is taking on those who are infected and affected by COVID-19. On March 18, 2020, Congress passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act making testing for COVID-19 testing completely free.

Under the act, most of America’s major health insurers agreed to waive copays and other out-of-pocket costs for the virus testing, but there’s no coverage for treatment of the disease, meaning that patients who are hospitalized with COVID-19 could still receive large bills for out-of-network charges.

A new study by Peterson-Kaiser Family Foundation Health System found people with health insurance through their employer could pay more than $1,300 in out-of-pocket costs if they’re hospitalized with a severe case of COVID-19. Source: How much does COVID-19 cost? Getting tested is free, but treatment can be expensive

What about people with no health insurance who are hospitalized for COVID-19? Adam Gaffney, pulmonary and critical care doctor at the Cambridge Health Alliance and President of the advocacy organization Physicians for a National Health Program, reminds us that 30 million Americans are uninsured due to layoffs, downsizing and business closings. Even more are underinsured, and for these individuals, copays and deductibles will only become more unaffordable. For both groups, medical bills for intensive care unit (ICU) stay for COVID-19 could be devastating.

Without access to affordable coverage, those who are uninsured, have low incomes, or live in rural areas may have no way to cover additional healthcare costs, which will almost certainly delay further testing and treatment for this deadly virus. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation disparities factsheet, in addition to U.S. citizens who lack health insurance coverage, there are also millions of undocumented immigrants who are not eligible.

Another 2 million people who live in the 14 states that did not expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act also fall into a coverage gap. They are not eligible for Medicaid but are also ineligible for federal subsidies that make health insurance affordable through the national exchange. To allay fears about treatment, the American Hospital Association says, “Hospitals are going to treat uninsured patients the same way they would treat any other patient. Their ability to pay is not going to be taken into account.” Source: How uninsured patients can get help during COVID-19 pandemic

Unfortunately, restrictions on affordable healthcare coverage, reductions in enrollment assistance and meager marketplace plans will increase the likelihood that Americans will experience more gaps in coverage.

Click here for the COVID-19 Daily Briefing Archive

Categories: Column Daily COVID-19 briefing from UCC - facts, not fear

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