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Medical bills for coronavirus treatment start trickling into Florida patients

Consumers wonder why they’re being charged after government said they wouldn't
Posted at 6:52 PM, May 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-03 09:53:23-04

TAMPA, Fla. — Steve Aberbach recently received two bills from his wife’s bout with COVID-19.

“I was surprised. I said, 'Wait, why are you handing me a bill?'” Steve recalled telling the medical receptionist.

One of the bills was for oxygen treatment his wife was sent home from the hospital with back in March. Originally diagnosed with pneumonia, Steve said doctors also tested his wife for COVID-19. About nine days later, her results came back positive.

His wife spent a total of one week in a Delray Beach medical facility.

Aberbach thought everything would be paid for, but recently he got hit with bills that have totaled approximately $200. It’s manageable now but the Medicare recipients are concerned about what’s next.

“I don’t know what’s coming my way,” said Aberbach.

For others, the costs of COVID-19 are more painful. One viewer who asked us not to reveal her name, since she was in the middle of fighting her insurance provider, wrote in to tell us her total out-of-pocket costs after being diagnosed and treated for COVID-19 was just over $1,600.

Her son, who was also hospitalized while seeking treatment, received bills totaling more than $1,800 after his insurance provider paid its part.

Bill for coronavirus treatment
Patients are receiving out-of-pocket bills ranging from a few hundred dollars to more than $1,800.

The charges are a surprise to these consumers since the president and insurance carriers said they would waive all costs for treatment and testing.

Craig Antico runs RIP Medical Debt, a national nonprofit that buys medical debt in bulk and pays it off. He was also surprised to hear of consumers getting hit with medical bills over COVID-19 treatment after the government's bailouts to help cover consumer costs.

“I don’t know if it’s the health care system at fault here. I think it might be the government’s fault and the expectations that they’ve set over whether or not you’ll have to pay for this,” said Antico.

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Loopholes in the new laws may be partly to be blame. Florida insurance broker Bob McKnight explains how wrong billing codes will also play a role.

“If something isn’t coded correctly as something to do with COVID, then it will fall under your regular deductible and be out-of-pocket,” said McKnight.

The Florida Department of Financial Services can offer consumers free help in resolving claims. According to a department spokesperson, the agency has already received one COVID-19 complaint from a consumer related to a health care claim denial by an insurer. An insurance specialist with the department contacted the insurer on the consumer’s behalf and the claim was ultimately paid.

Experts also advise patients to ask for itemized bills, review your insurer’s explanation of benefits and question your provider.

The viewer who emailed us about the nearly $4,000 out-of-pocket costs she’s being charged for her and her son’s COVID-19 hospitalizations did just that. In a text to Investigative Reporter Katie LaGrone, she said her provider was investigating and asked the hospital to recode its expenses with COVID-19 codes.

Aberbach is still waiting for answers from Medicare and his supplemental insurance provider. We’ve reached out to Medicare as well and are awaiting answers over why his wife was charged and what, if anything, they can do about it.

“I was just trying to nip this in the bud now so I would be prepared for anything that would be coming through,” said Aberbach.

If an insurance consumer is experiencing problems related to a COVID-19 health insurance claim, please have them contact our Insurance Consumer Helpline at 1-877-MY-FL-CFO (693-5236) for assistance.

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