Covid-19 medical bills have left many in debt

A battle with Covid-19 left Irena Schulz with pain in her ears and hearing loss. It also saddled the retired Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s researcher with nearly $10,000 of credit card debt from medical bills.

As the pandemic begins to subside in the United States, its financial toll on Americans such as Schulz is beginning to emerge.

While federal law has ensured that Covid-19 tests and vaccines are free, that protection does not extend to Covid-19 treatment, meaning that people with private insurance who got sick and had to be treated for the virus, may still face large bills.

Democratic Senator Tina Smith of Minnesota wants to fix that. She has a piece of legislation — the Covid-19 Treatment Coverage Act — that has been awaiting review by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions since August 2020.

But many Americans, like Schulz, won’t be able to wait for Washington to work through its legislative gridlock.

Schulz, a Covid long-hauler, has seen her family’s finances and emergency funds sapped due to her serious coronavirus infection last summer. She says it left her suffering from chronic exhaustion and a weakened immune system, but says she hasn’t seen a doctor in a year, as she can’t afford it.

For more than six months, Schulz has been battling with her insurance company to cover 60% of the cost of her $5,400 hearing aids — a claim they continue to deny and have refused to compensate her for, she says. Schulz also says she thought her trip to the emergency room and other bills would be covered by the medical insurance she gets through her husband’s employer. That insurance company opted not to waive Covid-19 treatment fees, leaving her responsible for the payments, she says.

“We need a healthcare system that actually works for us,” Schulz said. “We should not have to worry about whether we can afford to go to the doctor, or whether we’re going to be able to afford the procedure or the treatments or the drugs.”

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