KFF: Treating uninsured COVID-19 patients could cost as much as $41B

coronavirus
A new analysis found President Donald Trump's pledge to cover COVID-19 costs for the uninsured could lead to a hefty bill. (MicroStockHub/iStock Getty/Images Plus)

The Trump administration’s pledge to reimburse hospitals for treating uninsured patients of COVID-19 could cost between $13.9 billion and $41.8 billion, a new analysis found.

The analysis, released Tuesday from the Kaiser Family Foundation, shows that the pledge could cut into the $100 billion fund earmarked as part of the economic stimulus package Congress recently passed.

But the analysis also highlights a major question on how the federal government will cover the costs.

Kaiser looked at how much hospitals would get paid by Medicare for treating similar conditions.

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For instance, less severe hospitalizations for respiratory infections and inflammations cost $13,297 in 2017. For a more severe hospitalization, the cost was about $40,000.

“Each of these average payments was then increased by 20% to account for the add-on to Medicare inpatient reimbursement for patients with COVID-19 that was included in the [stimulus],” the analysis said.

The analysis also questioned whether the $100 billion was enough to cover the costs for the uninsured, because COVID-19 infections could come in waves for the next year.

“It is unclear whether the new fund will be able to cover the costs of the uninsured in addition to other needs, such as the purchase of medical supplies and the construction of temporary facilities,” the analysis added.

There are several caveats with the analysis, though, including the exact number of uninsured who will be hospitalized. Kaiser found that 2% to 7% of uninsured people could require hospitalization for the virus, leading to between 670,000 and a little more than 2 million.

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But the estimate of the number of uninsured hospitalized is likely to be conservative as it is based on the most recent uninsured total of 27.9 million people. The number of uninsured has also likely increased as the unemployment rate has gone up.

Another concern is that uninsured patients could still get a hefty medical bill for follow-up care outside of a hospital.

Hospital-based physicians also bill patients separately for their part of care, and uninsured patients could still be required to foot those bills, Kaiser said.

Hospital groups have been calling for direct assistance to be sent to hospitals that have been hit hard by declines in patient volume and cancellation of elective procedures.

President Donald Trump also said Monday that the administration will be sending out $30 billion to facilities this week but declined to elaborate on how the money will be dispersed.

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