THE COST OF COVID-19: Texans face financial trouble, big virus care-related bills

CW39

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Albino Hernandez, a beloved Eanes ISD custodian, is still battling the long-term effects of COVID-19 after being released from the hospital back in May. Hernandez spent roughly nine months in various hospitals battling for his life.

While he continues to seek out care to address some of the long-term symptoms he’s experiencing, the already breath-taking price tag for Hernandez’ fight against COVID-19 continues to climb.

“He was very independent,” his daughter Janie Hernandez said. “He didn’t rely on anyone or anything. He was physically able to do everything himself. He doesn’t have that income coming in anymore.”

On top of the money Hernandez owes for his hospital stays, he is also paying roughly $200 a week out of pocket for physical therapy right now. His daughters say COVID-19 left Hernandez without full movement in his legs.

Hernandez’ family started a GoFundMe in September 2020 to help with some of the initial hospital costs. Thanks to the community, the fundraiser was shared widely. To date, it’s raised more than $38,000.

Medical bill
The Hernandez family’s still trying to figure out how much insurance will cover of this roughly $250,000 bill (Courtesy Hernandez family)

While the Hernandez family says support has been a huge help, they’re still facing hefty medical bills.

“For one of the hospitals, we’re dealing with mainly one hospital that we are going back and forth, back and forth. It’s above $200,000,” Hernandez’ other daughter, Vivi Hernandez said.

Hernandez provided documents showing a $253,903 price tag. The family is still working with insurance to figure out how much of that needs to be paid out of pocket.

While Hernandez didn’t have the opportunity to get a vaccine before being subjected to months of medical treatment for COVID-19, his family is hoping their story will convince people to avoid ending up in the hospital in the first place.

“It’s been a journey with his recovering but this is another part, another journey that we’re trying to fix that came along with it and it’s hard. It’s very hard to try to balance everything right now,” Vivi said.

What you can expect to pay

The cost of a hospital stay varies depending on services required, how long your stay is, which hospital(s) you end up at and what your insurance covers.

A tool funded by the Texas Hospital Association, called Price Point, allows you to estimate how much you might spend for certain care at Texas hospitals.

Their data, which pulls from 2017 information, shows that the average cost of a seven-day stay at a Travis County hospital for a respiratory infection or inflammation with complications is $81,675. The average was more than $11,000 a day.

For an average stay at a local hospital for a respiratory issue requiring ventilator support, the average cost was $344,667 for a 20-day stay.

Health insurance gaps

For people without health insurance — roughly 16% of people in Travis County under the age of 65, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates — the costs listed above would be out of pocket.

Andre Terry, who is from Austin and now lives in Dallas, says he ended up in the hospital with COVID-19 and pneumonia back in November. He was there for nine days.

Andre Terry in the hospital
Andre Terry spent 9 days in a Texas hospital after contracting COVID-19 and pneumonia (Courtesy Andre Terry)

Terry, a fashion designer, did not have health insurance at the time. He says he ended up walking away with a roughly $9,000 bill.

“I didn’t have any type of real income back then so it’s been hard,” Terry said.

He had been teaching fashion in schools, but that was put on hold. He ended up selling designer facemasks to make enough money to get through during the pandemic.

But he says his financial fight against COVID-19 is not over. He’s also facing additional complications after being released from the hospital. Terry has since gotten health insurance to help cover the costs of long-term symptoms.

“Just educate yourself about some insurance. When this thing hits you, because it’s not something that just goes away. It hasn’t gone away for me.”

COVID-19 coverage during the pandemic

With insurance, you’re much less likely to end up with a bill like Terry’s.

In March of last year, Governor Greg Abbott asked insurance companies to waive costs for COVID-19 related care.

The Office of Public Insurance Counsel has a running list that allows you to browse COVID-19 coverage by insurance company. You should check with your individual insurance company to verify what’s included in your coverage.

Medicare also covers many COVID-19 related costs, including medically necessary hospitalizations. You’ll still pay for any hospital deductibles, copays, or coinsurances that apply.

The Hernandez family says they do have health insurance, but that a nine-month stay at the hospital, and the treatments that have followed, are still expensive even with insurance help.

The Office of Public Insurance Counsel asks that if you think you were billed for more than you should pay that you use their Consumer HelpLine at (800) 252-3439 or visit their website for information on filing a complaint.

If you’ve been hospitalized with COVID-19 and would like to share your story with KXAN, please email grace.reader@kxan.com.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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