The majority of private health insurance companies have stopped waiving patients' fees associated with treatment for COVID-19 as most had done since the early days of the pandemic, a new study has found.
According to an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), 72% of U.S. insurers who previously waived cost-sharing or entirely covered treatment costs have quit doing so and another 10% will be phasing out such waivers by the end of October.
In a previous study done in the earlier days of the pandemic, KFF found that 88% of fully insured COVID-19 patients would have had all of their hospitalizations costs waived by their insurer. The group noted that insurance companies were enjoying higher profits during periods of lockdown and uncertainty, as many people put check-ups and elective procedures on hold.
But since vaccines became widely available in the U.S. and Americans began going back to the doctor, insurers gradually started pulling back on the waivers.
The cost of treating someone hospitalized with COVID-19 can reach tens of thousands of dollars or more. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan told WXYZ-TV that since the pandemic began, the company has paid out $750 million, and around 250,000 of their members paid nothing out of pocket for the treatments.
"No costs," BCBSM Senior VP and Chief Medical Officer Dr. James Grant told the outlet. "If you were on a ventilator, you could've been there a month, two months, three months, that’s expensive. Sometimes seven-digit care. We waived all the costs."
BCBSM will no longer waive COVID-19 treatment costs starting Oct. 1, but vaccinations will continue to be free for members as that is seen as a major preventive measure for keeping patients alive and keeping costs down. A study released by the CDC found that unvaccinated coronavirus patients were 29 times more likely to be hospitalized than vaccinated individuals who caught breakthrough infections.
"95, 96, 97 percent of those that are in the hospital are those that are unvaccinated," Grant went on to say. "So if we can actually get to the unvaccinated, get them to realize the importance and safety of the vaccine, that’s how we’re going to beat this."
Meanwhile, not all insurers have pulled the plug on covering coronavirus treatments.
"Regarding COVID-19 treatment, for the 2021 plan year, Humana will cover out-of-pocket costs for COVID-19 treatment for all Humana Medicare Advantage medical plan members," Human spokesperson Mark Mathis told FOX Business, explaining, "COVID-19 treatment is a benefit that is part of Humana’s 2021 Medicare Advantage plans; it is not a ‘cost waiver.’"
Mathis went on to note, "there are differences for other lines of business."