Providers Profiteering With Surprise Coronavirus Medical Bills; Half of Rural Hospital ICUs Are at Capacity; Haven Healthcare on Its Last Breath

Public Citizen Has You Covered

Welcome to this week’s edition of “We’ve Got You Covered,” a weekly tipsheet designed to highlight key news about Medicare for All and call out the biggest health care industry lies and falsehoods about universal health care. Please send tips, feedback and questions to Mike Stankiewicz, mstankiewicz@citizen.org, (202) 588-7779.

PANDEMIC PROFITEERING: BOY’S FAMILY FACES $2,270 FOR CORONAVIRUS TEST

Despite promises from the federal government and insurers, some coronavirus patients are being hit with surprise medical bills.

One woman in New Jersey faced a surprise medical bill of $1,980 after the hospital misplaced her coronavirus test. One Texas boy’s family was charged $175 for a test and a $2,270 “facility fee” surprise bill for a mere drive-thru test.

While some tests may be free or covered by insurance, providers are still free to profiteer by racking up charges and adding fees, including “facility fees,” “observation fees” and “physician fees,” which can range between $500 and $100,000 for some providers like Signature Emergency Center in Houston.

“This isn’t the only medical facility that is trying to profit from the pandemic,” said Eagan Kemp, health care advocate at Public Citizen. “Made-up costs and the threat of surprise bills like this are deterring Americans from getting tested and treated. They are not only inhumane, they’re also worsening the pandemic.”

But providers aren’t the only ones profiteering from the pandemic. Pharma giant Moderna is planning to charge between $32 and $37 per dose for a future vaccine despite taxpayer money funding 100% of its work, and the government potentially co-owning such a vaccine.

ONE-HALF OF POOR RURAL HOSPITALS HAVE NO ICU BEDS AVAILABLE

As Republican governors and members of Congress are pushing for a re-opening of the U.S., poor rural hospitals in their states are screaming for help.

Half of all rural low-income communities in the U.S. have zero ICU beds available, according to Health Affairs, meaning any new, low-income patients must be transferred to other hospitals. This is compared to just 3% in the wealthy communities.

Patients in rural areas already struggle with low provider availability, and often local hospitals are their only source for care. Coronavirus patients are more likely to die if they are admitted to providers with few ICU beds, a recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found.

Medicare for All would ensure that rural hospitals have the finances and resources they need during a pandemic for enough beds and staff by providing reliable and adequate funding year after year.

HAVEN IS DYING

What was once the corporate world’s solution to ever increasing health care spending and promises of increased coverage and medical innovation appears to be on its last breath.

Haven – the hyped-up health care venture between Berkshire Hathaway, Amazon and JPMorgan Chase – is seeing an exodus of executives, most recently Serkan Kutan, the venture’s chief technology officer. His exit follows the departure of CEO Atul Gawande and Liam Brenner, the head of finance, only a few months ago. Numerous other executives departed the fledgling venture since its announcement in 2018.

“Money-hungry corporations are in large part responsible for ever increasing costs of health care and make more money when Americans are sick, so I don’t know why anyone ever thought this corporation-led venture would ever go anywhere,” said Eagan Kemp, health care advocate at Public Citizen. “It’s more obvious than ever that private solutions to our broken health care won’t bring the changes we need.”

PUBLIC CITIZEN’S ADVOCACY AND RESOLUTIONS

Public Citizen has advocated for single-payer health care since our founding in 1971 and has worked for decades to end profiteering and waste in health care – whether from insurers, Big Pharma or hospitals.

Public Citizen is dedicated to building the grassroots movement we will need to win Medicare for All. Along with our 500,000 members and allies, Public Citizen works with local elected officials in cities, counties and towns from coast to coast to pass resolutions – most recently in Maplewood Township, N.J. – supporting Medicare for All and send a powerful signal to Congress that health care is a human right.

To speak with a Medicare for All policy expert, or if you have questions about Public Citizen’s work, please contact Mike Stankiewicz, mstankiewicz@citizen.org, (202) 588-7779.