A battle with Covid-19 singer Irena Schulz left ear pain and hearing loss, jeopardizing her job for the elderly and dementia patients if she could no longer hear the music.
“I have severe depression because I can’t hear, and then I had this ringing in my ears, it’s just, it’s deafening. I didn’t really want to wake up in the morning, I just had I was that depressed, ”Schulz told CNN’s Elizabeth Cohen in an interview.
Schulz’s severe Covid-19 infection last summer left him with more than lingering symptoms of his infection.
Recovery isn’t just physical – it’s financial.
“I can’t go to a doctor. I can’t afford it.”
A Covid-19 infection has left Irena Schulz, a retired Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease researcher in South Carolina, with nearly $ 10,000 in credit card debt from medical bills.
“It’s very scary when I can’t go to the doctors, when I can’t afford it,” Schulz told CNN’s Elizabeth Cohen in an interview.
The medical bills she faces due to a hospital stay, trips to hearing loss specialists and new hearing aids have drained the Schulz family’s emergency funds and strained finances. of the family.
With the pandemic tidal wave finally receding in the United States, the damage left behind is finally emerging and the financial consequences for families are laid bare.
The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 115 million Americans have been infected with Covid-19, and the full picture of the medical costs and debt faced by Covid-19 survivors remains being evaluated.
Virus survivors like Irena Schulz believe now is the time to change and help the large number of Americans who are financially suffering from medical debt.
“We need a health care system that actually works for us … we shouldn’t have to worry about whether we can afford to go to the doctor, or whether we’re going to be able to pay for the procedure, the costs. treatments or drugs. – we shouldn’t have to worry about it, ”said Schulz.
“I shouldn’t have to burden my family because Covid left me as they left me.”
The threat of financial insecurity from large medical bills after Covid-19 treatment adds a frightening new layer for patients and families.
But it’s something that Irena and many other Americans are grappling with now.
A 2020 study by the Peterson Center on Healthcare and the Kaiser Family Foundation calculated the potential costs of Covid-19 treatment and care for people who obtain their insurance from employers. Using data for the treatment of pneumonia, the study found that people with private insurance who became seriously ill could face costs of more than $ 1,300.
The virus has left Schulz a long haul Covid … with chronic exhaustion and a weakened immune system.
But for long haul Coviders like Schulz, medical debt is often another lingering symptom.
Despite her long-lasting symptoms, she has not been to the doctor for a year.
“I can’t go to a doctor. I can’t afford it. Our premiums, you know, every month is amazing, my deductible is $ 3,000, so I have to stick to that deductible, how do I pay this franchise?” Schulz told CNN’s Elizabeth Cohen.
Covid-19 has ravaged Schulz’s ability to hear, and her doctors told her she would need hearing aids to compensate for the hearing loss and ringing in her ears. Hearing aids come at a steep price – $ 5,400 – which she had to put on her credit card and pay out of pocket.
For more than six months, Schulz has been battling his insurance to cover 60% of the cost of hearing aids – a claim they continue to deny, refusing to reimburse, she says.
Schulz believed her trip to the emergency room and other bills would be covered by the medical insurance she purchased through her husband’s employer. This insurance company has chosen not to waive the Covid-19 processing fee, leaving it responsible for the payments, she says.
Democratic Senator Tina Smith of Minnesota wants to make sure people don’t face unexpected bills if they get sick with Covid-19. Smith ‘has a law – Covid-19 Treatment Coverage Act – which has been awaiting consideration by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions since August 2020.
“I have heard stories of people facing hospital bills and other bills for prescription drugs that can run into the thousands, thousands and thousands of dollars,” Senator Smith said. at CNN.
“This is why I am trying to pass this legislation, which would ensure that everyone, no matter what type of insurance they have, will not be faced with these unforeseen bills if they fall ill,” a- she continued.
But Irena can’t afford to see her doctors now, let alone wait for Washington to overcome a legislative deadlock.
“It’s a conundrum to me right now because it’s – how to explain it.” I have a 17 year old daughter. Am I a terrible mother, because if this continues and it is something very serious … and the worst happens and I die, how does that help my son? “Said Schulz.” Yet on the other hand, if I go to these doctors, and I have all these bills to pay, and if we lose the house because of it, how does that help?
Who pays for the Covid-19 treatment?
Federal law ensures that Covid-19 tests and vaccines are free and not eligible for cost sharing by insurers – or charge patients out of pocket for a portion of costs not covered by health insurance.
This federal protection has not been extended to treatment for Covid-19, which means that if people with private insurance got sick and were treated for the virus, they could still be responsible for large bills.
U.S. healthcare was already a complicated and confusing subject, but the mixed response to Covid-19 by some states and insurers has left expectations for coverage gloomy.
How you’re covered and what you’re responsible for paying can depend on where you live and what insurance company you have, said Cheryl Fish-Parcham, director of access initiatives at Families USA. – a group that tracks private insurance – to CNN. .
“People who have insurance that they bought on their own or that they get through a state-regulated employer. In this case, some states have required these insurers to forgo cost sharing for COVID-related treatments, “Fish-Parcham told CNN.
In some other cases, “insurers have voluntarily waived cost sharing and sort of announced that they are waiving cost sharing for COVID-related treatment and testing,” she continued.
The only people protected by the federal government from charges for part of their treatment for Covid-19 are those who are uninsured or those on Medicaid.
A bill of $ 3.4 million
The 2020 study from the Peterson Center on Healthcare and the Kaiser Family Foundation showed that patient bills are higher for those with severe illness and found that the need and duration of respiratory support could reach tens of thousands of dollars.
Casey Gray, 29, is a perfect example. He was hospitalized with Covid-19 for 75 days in Florida, half of which he spent in a coma. As he recovered slowly and in anticipation of huge medical bills, Casey, a youth minister, and his wife Savannah, a teacher, sold one of their cars to prepare for debt.
“We were sort of betting on how much we would actually have to pay, or how much we would be charged. I was like, I think it’s going to be around a million dollars,” he said. Gray told CNN.
Gray’s first bill was for $ 3.4 million. “We looked at that award and we just laughed. We were like yeah, that probably won’t happen,” he told CNN.
The discounts for hospitals brought Gray’s bill down to $ 900,000, then insurance went into effect and ultimately left Gray with a final bill of around $ 10,000. Still an overwhelming number for most people, including the young couple.
Gray’s sister-in-law turned to a method all too familiar in the United States: crowdfunding medical bills on the GoFundMe donation site.
Money from 105 different donors covered the remaining medical debt and helped the couple get back on their feet.
“Without it we would have been in debt, there is no getting around it,” he told CNN.
Gray is another long Covid carrier, and now has to walk with a cane after losing sensation in his left foot. Despite his lingering symptoms, he feels lucky to be alive and wants other Covid survivors to know that they are not struggling alone.
“There is hope… these aren’t all dark days, there is hope. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, there is,” he said.