Mar 12, 2020 - Health

Hospitals halt medical bills for coronavirus patients

Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center building showing a connecting patient tunnel.

A Providence hospital in Washington state. Photo: Francis Dean/Corbis via Getty Images

Some hospital systems are temporarily pausing bills for any patients who receive care related to the new coronavirus.

Why it matters: Receiving costly medical bills could discourage people from seeking care even as the outbreak worsens. However, it's unclear what patients' financial obligations will look like once the pandemic simmers.

What's happening: Aurora Advocate Health, a large not-for-profit system with 28 hospitals across Illinois and Wisconsin, was the first to "refrain from sending patient bills related to coronavirus" in the near term, although that was not a commitment to waive charges indefinitely.

  • Providence St. Joseph Health, based on the West Coast and one of the largest hospital systems in the country, told Axios on March 12 that it is "implementing a temporary hold on all inpatient and outpatient COVID-19-related billing. This gives us the necessary time to align with insurers, testing and lab partners, and our state and federal governments involved in providing various elements of COVID-19 health care."
  • CommonSpirit Health, a 142-hospital system that is the product of Dignity Health and Catholic Health Initiatives merging, said on March 17 that it also would suspend sending any bills "related to the testing and treatment of COVID-19."

Yes, but: This is not yet an industry-wide standard. The American Hospital Association submitted this statement:

"Any individual who believes they need screening or treatment for COVID-19 should seek appropriate medical care, and concerns about cost should not prevent patients from seeking care. Hospitals commit to working with insurers for any patient who receives out-of-network care. We ask the federal government to assist hospitals in covering the costs of care for the uninsured, consistent with programs implemented after other previous emergencies or natural disasters."
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