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Hospital treatment for COVID is costing all of us

Maybe this will be the wake-up call. Or maybe not.

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Jackson County still has one of the lowest rates of vaccination against the virus that causes COVID-19. Not surprisingly, it also has one of the worst outbreaks of new cases in the state. Hospitals are overwhelmed. Elective surgeries are on hold. If you get seriously ill, need surgery and you don’t have COVID, you will be sent elsewhere or told to wait if you’re not in danger of dying within days.

County officials and health care providers have beseeched the state for help in setting up field hospitals — something not seen here even at the height of the pandemic before vaccines were widely available.

And still, the “vaccine hesitant” hold out, making noises about personal choice and freedom from government intrusion.

That was an easy position to take as long as cases were falling, mask restrictions had been lifted and life appeared to be returning to something approaching normal. That’s no longer the case.

Case counts are soaring thanks to the more-infectious delta variant, and mask restrictions have been reinstated.

And now comes the financial reckoning.

As Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous writes, local hospitals say they have been writing off the hospital bills of COVID patients — and the bills are staggering. One patient at Asante racked up $3 million in charges after spending 141 days in the hospital.

The patient’s insurance covered $500,000 of that; Asante absorbed the rest. That’s an extreme case, but even a five-day stay can cost $50,000.

From the beginning of the pandemic, hospitals have been waiving the patient responsibility portion of COVID testing and treatment, with the expectation that the federal government would reimburse them. While that was initially a requirement for hospitals to be eligible for federal reimbursement, that’s no longer the case. And the hospitals’ largess can’t last forever.

Providence reports it has received only $122,000 of the $793,000 it requested in federal aid. The hospital expects an additional $145,000, but will likely have to absorb more than $500,000.

We all know where “federal reimbursement” comes from. You, me and the guy behind the tree. Taxes, that is.

So all those who are insisting on their “right” to remain unvaccinated are costing the rest of us real money. If it doesn’t come from federal tax dollars, it will come from higher rates charged by hospitals to cover the losses from treating COVID patients, more than 90% of whom are unvaccinated.

Will the realization that their tax dollars are paying for COVID treatments prompt unvaccinated people to finally get the shots?

We’re not holding our breath.