The Trump administration reportedly is considering using powers established by national disaster legislation to pay hospitals and doctors for treating uninsured patients with the coronavirus. This may be needed to ensure that hospitals in poorer neighborhoods are not overwhelmed by the rising cost of delivering uncompensated care. But, as a condition of providing such additional federal funds, the administration should insist that hospitals receiving assistance prohibit surprise billing at their facilities.
The World Health Organization has reported that 14 percent of those infected with the coronavirus developed severe respiratory problems, and that a further 6 percent became critically ill — suffering respiratory failure, septic shock or multiple organ failure. According to Healthcare Bluebook, a three-day hospitalization for pneumonia in the United States might usually cost around $6,300 — but the added complexity, risks of contagion and prevalence of complications will make the cost of treatment of coronavirus patients often much higher. Furthermore, the high rates of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease in the American population mean that associated hospitalizations in the U.S. may well exceed those in other developed countries.
Although deaths from the disease have been concentrated among the elderly, in China 85 percent of those admitted to hospital (and 73 percent of those severely ill) were under the age of 65. As a result, a pandemic in the United States should be expected to hospitalize a significant number of the nation’s 28 million uninsured.
Chris Pope is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of a recent report, “Medicare For All? Lessons from Abroad for Comprehensive Health-Care Reform.” Follow him on Twitter here.
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