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Is Coronavirus (COVID-19) hospital and medical care free?

I've been reading comments and posts for the last few weeks about free healthcare due to the coronavirus, and that there is support for those who don't have insurance. So is there any truth to this? Do COVID-19 patients really get assistance for free (especially in places like NYC)?

The answer is, as always, more complicated than a simple yes or no, but I want to make sure you're presented with all the information so you know your options.

Why is this especially relevant to expats? Well, when people ask me “should I stay or should I go?” I ask them four questions:

  1. Do you have health insurance?
  2. Can you afford to stay?
  3. Do you have a support network?
  4. Do you want to stay?

#1 is health insurance because it's so crucially important right now to get this right.

So how did we get here?

The Trump Administration's medicare coverage for uninsured COVID-19 announcement

This is where the confusion set in.

On March 27, 2020, President Trump's administration announced that:

… that doctors and hospitals can use federal aid to cover the costs of treating uninsured people who are suffering COVID-19.

This was basically then interpreted by many as meaning that those who are uninsured, are covered.

But the problem is that while this statement was made, there was no information around it regarding how this would be achieved, who would be paying, and how it would all go into effect.

There has been $100B assigned to hospitals in recent packages which could go to covering some of this cost, but with over 30M Americans without health insurance prior to this starting, and with millions more now unemployed, this amount could be rapidly eaten up.

There was also a lack of information about what kind of treatment/analysis/care would actually be included as “related” to COVID-19.

What exactly would be covered by Medicare

The announcement initially signaled that the coverage and care would be broad sweeping, free, and comprehensive:

When the administration announced its plan for the uninsured, HHS Secretary Alex Azar insisted it would be better than Obamacare, because it would fully cover costs without co-pays or deductibles that insured patients may face.

However, there have been concerns raised by doctors and hospitals as to the scope of this coverage and whether it would include the ongoing care that is required for a coronavirus patient.

This is where the real concerns are for those who are uninsured.

There are two factors here:

  1. Would everything from the beginning of diagnosis to you leaving the hospital healthily after COVID-19 be covered?
  2. What if I get sick for another reason?

So let's look at these:

1. Would everything from the beginning of diagnosis to you leaving the hospital healthily after COVID-19 be covered?

We don't know. Your diagnosis might be covered, yes. But if you are critically ill, will the intubation be covered? Will the medicine be covered? Will the scans be covered? We don't know.

All these things add up quickly and while you might see $0 next to the diagnosis and some of the equipment, a specialist reviewing your notes might not be included.

All of these are absolutely hypothetical but worth consideration.

2. What if I get sick for another reason?

This is the most crucial point to make right now when weighing everything up. You could get sick for a completely unrelated reason! if you don't have health insurance, you're putting yourself in an incredibly risky situation.

If you are taken to the hospital for something that is covered, you might catch something that is not. Or you might fall over and break a leg on the way. None of that will be covered.

Why does this matter? Is COVID-19 healthcare free or not?

To put it simply: There was an announcement without details, which means that right now, no, it's not.

While the intention may be to provide healthcare for people in the future, right now, there are reports of uninsured individuals being sent cripplingly large bills (like normal) and there are also reports of hospitals and healthcare companies holding onto invoices because they don't know what to do with them.

If there is coverage, it is most likely going to be limited and not something you want to stake your future on because it's clear that it's an incredibly difficult situation, or we'd have an announcement already.

It, therefore, all comes down to this: Don't rely on just an announcement when it comes to your potentially bankrupting yourself.

If you are uninsured right now, I would seriously consider your options of getting back to your home country.

Health insurance that covers COVID-19

I can recommend Cigna Global, and they are who I use for health insurance. More about them, here!

Josh Pugh

Josh Pugh

Josh is a business founding, digital marketing focused, charity driving, community builder from South Australia, living in New York City. After moving in 2017, Josh realized that there was an opportunity to curate and help the community of expats who moved to the United States – and launched America Josh. Josh is also the President of Variety – the Children's Charity of New York, Secretary at The Mateship Foundation, and Founder & CEO at Fortnight Digital.View Author posts

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