Although starting slower than some experts advise, the country has begun to accelerate its preparation to face the growing coronavirus epidemic. Test kit production and lab approvals are rapidly expanding; alternative test methods are being approved. Surgical mask production is being expanded. The FDA is testing antibiotics that have worked to treat similar viruses. The CDC is working with the media to broadcast what we should do to stay well and what we should do if we develop symptoms. Hospitals are preparing to treat these highly contagious patients in a manner that will protect their staff and other patients.
However, with all the progress that is being made I have two major concerns. Today more than 70 million Americans are either uninsured or underinsured and typically do not seek medical care when they get sick. If some of these individuals get infected and do not self-quarantine they will increase the potential for community spread of this virus. Many live paycheck-to-paycheck and, when they become infected, may continue to work during the early stages, thereby unintentionally infecting whomever they come in contact with.
My second concern is that there will be a large increase in co-pays and deductible fees for the insured and increased bad debt for doctors and hospitals for the services that they will need to provide for the uninsured and underinsured patients that get this virus. This will adversely impact the more than 3.000 hospitals that are unprofitable or barely breakeven in a normal year.
As Congress prepares bills to fund this crisis, they need to consider the cost to treat large numbers of patents that could need hospital care. They need to develop a funding plan to pay for the care provided for those patients who will not be able to pay the bill. As an example one American returning from China was quarantined and his small child was quarantined in a hospital. The physician fees alone for this two-week period for this child exceeded $3,000. In another case, a Florida man who returned from China, seemed symptomatic and went to a local hospital to be tested. Fortunately, the results were negative, he had the flue not the corona virus, however his co-pay for this diagnosis was $3,275.
To face this coming epidemic and to try to prevent a national pandemic, America needs a funding plan that encourages everyone who develops symptoms – with or without insurance – to self-quarantine or to seek treatment whenever it is needed during this health crisis.