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Most insurance plans stop waiving costs of COVID hospitalizations

KFF study: 82% of insurance plans will stop waiving COVID hospital costs by October 2021.

SAN DIEGO — If you're currently unvaccinated for COVID-19, get ready to start paying more for COVID hospital care and possibly health insurance.

Early in the pandemic, many insurance companies were waiving the costs of hospital care for COVID patients.  Now, most of those cost-waivers are coming to an end.

In November 2020, 88% of health insurance group plans waived all costs associated with COVID-19 hospital stays, according to a study by KFF, a nonprofit, health policy analysis group.

By October 2021, 82% of health insurance plans will no longer dismiss those expenses, the study said.

“What that means for patients is if you have a COVID-related hospital stay, you're going to be on the hook for your deductible and your co-insurance, which could be thousands of dollars,” said Cynthia Cox, vice president of KFF and co-author of the study.

One reason health insurers were voluntarily waiving COVID hospital costs is they wanted to avoid a federal mandate from Congress, according to Cox.

“If there had been a federal mandate, they would not have been able to stop waiving those costs when they wanted to,” said Cox.

Now that those COVID cost waivers are expiring, unvaccinated patients are the ones who'll be paying most of the out-of-pocket hospital expenses.

Nationwide -- between June and August 2021 -- 98.6% of people hospitalized with COVID-19 were unvaccinated, resulting in $5.7 billion in preventable hospital costs, according to one KFF study.

And, those costs may soon be passed along to employees in the form of increased health care premiums.

Delta Airlines, for example, recently announced that unvaccinated workers will have to pay an extra $200 per month for health insurance.

“Some companies are coming out with a mandate that says 'if you don't get vaccinated you get fired, you lose your job.' The other companies, like Delta, have had a somewhat softer approach where they say, 'if you don't get vaccinated you can still keep your job but you have to submit to regular testing, and you also have to pay a higher premium each month for your health insurance,'” said Cox.

The average cost of a COVID hospital stay is $20,000, according to the KFF report, and the costs greatly increase if a patient is admitted to the ICU.

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