BOSTON — With more than two million people already infected, the threat of COVID-19 continues to loom over the United States. A new study warns that millions at risk of catching the coronavirus are either uninsured or don’t have enough coverage to meet the costs of treatment.
Researchers from Harvard Medical School and CUNY’s Hunter College say 18.2 million people with an increased risk of severe COVID-19 infection don’t have proper insurance. The study, published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, also finds that these people were mostly low-income individuals of all races, minority groups, or those living in areas without expanded Medicaid.
“The pandemic is laying bare the lethal inequality of American society and American health care,” says Dr. Adam Gaffney, a pulmonary and critical care physician, from Harvard Medical School in a statement.
Researchers say blacks are 42 percent more likely to be at risk of a severe COVID-19 infection compared to non-Hispanic whites. Native Americans are a staggering 90 percent more likely to be at risk. Both of those groups are over 50 percent more likely to have inadequate health insurance, the authors say.
“Our ICU has been flooded with poor and minority patients; having COVID-19 is scary enough without worrying that you’ll be bankrupted by medical bills,” adds Gaffney.
COVID-19 care too costly?
The study finds that even with new federal measures helping to fund COVID-19 care, many Americans still don’t have enough insurance to cover treatment costs. Researchers cite a Gallup poll which shows that 14 percent of Americans would actually avoid going to the doctor to treat COVID-19 because they fear what it will cost.
The authors say the Families First Coronavirus Response Act covers testing for the coronavirus, but not treatment. Private insurers are providing waivers on co-pays and deductibles for treatment, but the study notes that those waivers expire July 1 and don’t cover out-of-network care.
“These promises of new protections for patients with COVID-19 are full of holes,” explains Dr. Danny McCormick of Harvard Medical School. “When people avoid testing and care because they fear the costs, it fuels the epidemic’s spread.”
New federal laws also don’t help patients who have coronavirus symptoms, but end up being diagnosed with something other than COVID-19. In lieu of that, the authors are advocating for an expansion of Medicare and, eventually, the creation of “Medicare for All” laws in the U.S.
“It’s not just COVID care that’s unaffordable, patients with heart disease, asthma, and diabetes need protection too,” says Dr. Steffie Woolhandler of New York’s Hunter College.