Vice President Mike Pence has said that US insurance companies will cover the cost of coronavirus testing and treatment. Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, the Vice President said that "all of our major health insurance companies have now joined with Medicare and Medicaid and agreed to waive all copays". They will also "cover the cost of all treatment for those who contract the coronavirus".
According to Pence, insurers have also agreed to "no surprise billing" amid fears that coronavirus testing could financially cripple many Americans. Although there were no further details given about this policy, or what qualifies as 'surprise billing', Pence added that insurers will extend insurance plans to cover COVID-19 treatment.
Pence was joined at the meeting by leaders of many of the best health insurance companies in the country, including UnitedHealth Group, Cigna, Humana, Aetna and the Blue Cross Blue Shield. The full list of insurers collectively covers almost 240 million Americans, according to The Hill.
COVID-19 fears remain
There are currently nearly 1000 cases of COVID-19 within the US and, with health professionals expecting the numbers to rise, the agreement seeks to encourage Americans to get tested for coronavirus and limit its spread.
Although the announcement is a step in the right direction, there is still a significant shortage of COVID-19 tests nationwide. According to The Atlantic, the US had only tested less than 4,400 people as of Monday afternoon, meaning that the amount of people carrying the virus could be far greater than existing numbers suggest.
This news will be welcome to those with health insurance, but there are currently 27.5 million uninsured Americans. These people "could expect to pay at least $500-$1,000 just to get tested for the virus, and a ten-day hospital stay could amount to a bill of at least $75,000", according to CNBC.
The White House has assured those with insurance that there will be no surprise billing, but it's still unclear what this means in real terms. A quarter of American workers do not have paid sick leave, and with recent news finding that nearly a third of working Americans have medical debts, there may be reluctance to get tested for COVID-19 and face the financial insecurity that comes with it.
Coronavirus: Stay safe
Although younger adults and those without pre-existing health conditions may not experience serious symptoms as a result of COVID-19, health experts are warning that the risk for older adults and those with existing conditions may be far greater. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued the following instructions in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus:
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick
- Stay home when you are sick, except to get medical care
- Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue
- Clean frequently touched surfaces and objects daily
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds