Getting Coronavirus Can Really Cost You

Is the US health care system ready to tackle this?
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 15, 2020 2:00 PM CDT
Coronavirus: Exposing Our Health Care System?
Colorado National Guard medical personnel performs coronavirus test on a motorist at a drive-through testing site outside the Denver Coliseum Saturday, March 14, 2020, in Denver.   (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

With over 3,000 cases of coronavirus afflicting America, is the country's health-care system ready? Not according to the nation's top infectious disease expert or a rash of articles appearing across the Internet. One, by Tami Luhby at CNN, argues that the system is failing on several fronts. The lack of universal health care leaves 28 million Americans uninsured and more likely to wait than go to the doctor, while insured people might also hold off in order to avoid "hefty deductibles." Lack of paid sick leave and primary care doctors are adding additional stress, says Luhby. These factors could also contribute to the pandemic worsening. For more:

  • Care costs: A Miami resident recently checked himself into a hospital with a "limited insurance plan" and tested positive for the flu, Business Insider reports. He was charged $3,270 for coronavirus treatment and related costs, which comes to $1,400 after his co-pay is applied. FAIR Health lists procedures related to coronavirus care that could cost $1,151 for a single ER visit.

  • Quality of care: Hospital workers tell Stat News that hospital preparedness varies widely. "For the hospitals, it depends on who is in charge—what camp your leadership is in," says an East Coast anesthesiologist. "There's been the 'just the flu' contingent, and everyone else."
  • Getting tested: Everyday people are struggling to get tested while some politicians and celebrities get tested quickly, USA Today reports. "It was pretty complicated going through all those hoops," says Kyle Edgar, 20, after he came down with symptoms. His regular physicians wouldn't test him, so he finally got tested at an STD clinic. His results are pending.
  • Ventilators: The number of available ventilators could become an issue, the Washington Post reports. It seems the country has 160,000, but a 2005 study found that the nation would need over 740,000 if faced with a pandemic like the 1918 Spanish flu. Ventilators can mean "life or death" for patients with COVID-19, the paper notes.
  • 'Bare bones': The New York Times reports that local and state health departments are straining under the pressure as "bare-bones staffs" take phone calls, quarantine people, and track down contacts of those who test positive. Health officials in Kentucky, Ohio, and Michigan all describe a lack of funding and staffing.

  • Proper gear: Health care workers are also complaining about a lack of gear—like proper respirator face masks—to keep them safe from coronavirus. "Would you like to be that health worker?" a World Health Organization official asks the LA Times. "Would you like to be a doctor or a nurse having to treat a patient, knowing full well that you are not protected?"
  • Drive-throughs: Vox reports that South Korean-style drive-through test sites are cropping up in America—like ones in Denver and New Rochelle, NY—but they bring their own challenges. The Denver site had to close early Saturday due to high volume as the state announced 24 new cases, the Denver Post reports.
  • The military: Suhas Gondi and Abdul El-Sayed argue at CNN that the US military should help build "a parallel health care system" to deal with coronavirus testing and supportive care. "Our military—experts in logistics in high-stress emergency scenarios—has a long history of rapidly standing up facilities like these," they write.
  • Politics: For political solutions, you can find the ideas of Bernie Sanders (CNN) and Joe Biden (his website), or see what President Trump has put together with Congress.
(Or is the crisis way overblown?)

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