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Aetna waives patient payments for coronavirus hospital stays

The Associated Press — By TOM MURPHY - AP Health Writer

One of the nation’s biggest health insures is waiving patient payments for hospital stays tied to the coronavirus.

CVS Health’s insurer Aetna said Wednesday that many of its customers will not have to make copayments or other forms of cost sharing if they wind up admitted to a hospital in the insurer’s provider network.

The move could save those patients thousands of dollars, depending on their coverage and how much health care they’ve used so far this year.

The waiver lasts through June 1. It applies to the insurer’s 3.6 million customers who have fully-insured coverage, which is usually offered through a small business. Big employers that offer Aetna coverage also can chose to waive those payments, a spokesman for the insurer said.

The new coronavirus has caused a global pandemic that has infected more than 428,000 people and killed over 19,000 worldwide, crippled economies and forced restrictions on the movement of millions of people in an effort to stop the virus from spreading further and overwhelming health care systems.

CVS Health Executive Vice President Karen Lynch said in a statement the company is trying to ensure that its customers have “simple and affordable access” to treatment during the pandemic.

Many insurers have waived patient costs for testing or doctor visits and telemedicine to encourage people to get help with coronavirus symptoms.

But Aetna, which covers nearly 23 million people, is the first major insurer to extend a payment waiver to the bills many patients will fear most if they become sick.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

A recent study put together by researchers with the Covered California health insurance exchange found that a lengthy hospital stay of 12 days could cost a total of $72,000 on average nationally, depending on factors like how long a patient stays in an intensive care unit.

Insured patients would only pay a slice of that bill, but that slice could amount to as much as $6,000 depending on their coverage. Many plans have deductibles that patients must pay before most of their coverage starts.

They also have out-of-pocket maximums, or limits for how much each patient has to spend on care each year. Experts say one hospital stay could easily push a patient up to the plan’s limits.

“If you end up in a hospital you are going to blow through your deductible,” said Peter Lee, the California exchange’s executive director.

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Follow Tom Murphy on Twitter: @thpmurphy

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This story has been corrected to remove reference to individual insurance, which Aetna does not offer.