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3/12/2020 Newsletter

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First, the good news:  Some insurance companies are *saying* encouraging things about paying for COVID testing.

The not-so-great news: Nobody really knows.

As the Washington Post reports, health insurance companies and Vice President Mike Pence said on Tuesday they have an agreement to waive co-pays for coronavirus testing, and to limit “surprise bills” , that’s when an insured patient gets a super-high bill from a provider who they thought would take insurance.

It all leaves a bunch of unknowns. The Kaiser Family Foundation’s Larry Levitt tweeted a few:

Good questions!

Starting with the cost of an ER visit by itself– even without getting a test:

The good news in this case:  The woman’s insurance got a steep discount, and paid “just” $2,957 (again, for no treatment/test), and she was out of pocket $75.

But she had GREAT insurance. As this analysis points out, lots of people with insurance have to shell out $4,000 or $6,000 or more , before insurance pays ANYTHING. And even then, patients can be on the hook for 30 percent (or more) of the rest.

And then there are folks without insurance. The Post quotes VP Mike Pence saying the insurers he talked with would help 240 million Americans. That leaves out about 90 million people.

How much will the test even cost? When a researcher called Labcorp — one of the companies doing the testing — the answer was…

The material writes itself, folks!

I’m using the show’s Twitter @armandalegshow to keep track of this stuff as I find it.

Now, some actual good news:  Reporters get ANOTHER hospital to back off from patient lawsuits.

Last season, we reported on Wendi C. Thomas’s victories in Memphis, where she got the biggest hospital in town to stop suing patients and drop its existing $12M worth of suits. (She recently won a big, well-deserved award for that work.)

At the same time, Jay Hancock and Elizabeth Lucas from Kaiser Health News were publishing stories about an even BIGGER bunch of hospital lawsuits against patients: Tens of thousands of suits, seeking more than $106M, filed over decades by the University of Virginia hospital system and VCU Health system (part of Virginia Commonwealth University).

And slowly, those hospitals have been backing away.

And this week, VCU said it would release property liens it had filed over a period of decades against property owned by its patients.

Amazing quote from the Kaiser Health News story:

Undoing decades of property claims will require VCU lawyers to visit every circuit courthouse across the state, “which could take up to a year to complete,” said system spokesperson Laura Rossacher.

More victories may be ahead. The story says the state legislature is expected to increase funding for financial aid.


(Note/disclosure: Kaiser Health News is a co-producer of An Arm and a Leg. They’re a non-profit newsroom, part of the Kaiser Family Foundation, and not affiliated with the health insurer/provider Kaiser Permanente. You can read all about them and the partnership on our website.)

Oh, by the way: We’re working on Season 4… and 5

I’ve been talking with Ann, Daisy, and the folks at Kaiser Health News about the stories we’ll be pursuing for the rest of 2020.

We’ve got some good ones.  Stay tuned. I may have some previews in a couple weeks.

Till then , seriously , take care of yourself, and let’s take care of each other.

To help, here’s a resource that’s very popular in my house:

– Dan

This is the newsletter for An Arm and a Leg, a podcast about the cost of health care.

Want to listen? Try this link.

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