“My job is to go out and sing and entertain these residents in the retirement homes and I have to be able to hear the frequencies and I lost those during my infection with Covid.”
A fight with Covid-19 left singer Irena Schulz with earache and hearing loss, which put her work at risk for the elderly and people with dementia if she could no longer hear the music.
“I suffered from severe depression because I can’t hear, and then I had this ringing in my ears, which means it’s deafening. I didn’t really want to wake up in the morning, it was just me that was depressed,” said Schulz in an interview with CNN’s Elizabeth Cohen.
Schulz’s severe Covid-19 infection last summer left her with more than persistent symptoms of her infection.
The recovery is not only physical but also financial.
“I can’t go to the doctor. I can’t afford it.”
After suffering from Covid-19 infection, Irena Schulz, a retired Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s researcher in South Carolina, had nearly $ 10,000 in credit card debt from medical bills.
“It’s very scary when I can’t go to the doctors when I can’t afford it,” Schulz said in an interview with CNN’s Elizabeth Cohen.
The medical bills she receives for hospitalization, trips to hearing loss specialists and new hearing aids have used up the Schulz family’s emergency funds and put a strain on the family’s finances.
With the final retreat of the tidal wave of the pandemic in the United States, the damage left behind is finally emerging and the financial burden on families is exposed.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that over 115 million Americans have been infected with Covid-19 and the full picture of the medical costs and debts faced by Covid-19 survivors is still being examined .
Survivors of the virus, like Irena Schulz, believe that now is the time to make change and help the large number of Americans who suffer financially from medical debt.
“We need a health system that actually works for us … we shouldn’t have to worry about whether we can afford to see a doctor or whether we can afford the procedure, the treatments or the drugs – us shouldn’t have to worry about that, “said Schulz.
“I shouldn’t have to burden my family because Covid left me the way it is.”
The risk of financial insecurity from large medical bills after treatment with Covid-19 adds a new and frightening layer to patients and families.
But it’s something Irena and many other Americans are grappling with now.
A 2020 study by the Peterson Center on Healthcare and the Kaiser Family Foundation calculated the potential costs of treating and caring for people with Covid-19 who buy their insurance through employers. Using data for the treatment of pneumonia, the study found that individuals with private insurance who become seriously ill face expenses in excess of $ 1,300.
The virus left a Covid long-distance driver at Schulz … with chronic exhaustion and a weakened immune system.
But for long-distance Covid drivers like Schulz, medical debt is often another lingering symptom.
Despite her long-distance complaints, she hasn’t seen a doctor for a year.
“I can’t see a doctor. I can’t afford it. Our monthly premiums are incredible. My deductible is $ 3,000. I need to meet this deductible. How do I pay this deductible?” Schulz told Elizabeth Cohen on CNN.
Covid-19 affected Schulz’s hearing, and her doctors told her she would need hearing aids to make up for the hearing loss and ringing in her ears. The hearing aids had a high price of $ 5,400 that she had to write on her credit card and pay out of pocket.
For over six months, Schulz has been battling her insurance to cover 60% of the cost of hearing aids – a claim they continue to reject and refuse to reimburse, she says.
Schulz believed her trip to the emergency room and other bills would be covered by health insurance, which she received through her husband’s employer. That insurance company chose not to waive treatment fees for Covid-19 and made them responsible for the payments, she says.
Minnesota Democratic Senator Tina Smith wants to make sure people don’t face unexpected bills when they contract Covid-19. Smith ‘has a law – the Covid-19 Treatment Coverage Act – that has been awaiting review by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions since August 2020.
“I’ve heard stories from people facing hospitalizations and other bills for prescription drugs that can cost thousands and thousands of dollars,” Senator Smith told CNN.
“So I’m trying to enforce this legislation to make sure that no matter what type of insurance they have, they don’t face those unexpected bills if they get sick,” she continued.
But Irena can’t afford to see her doctors now, much less wait for Washington to break the legislative deadlock.
“It’s a mystery to me right now because it’s – how do I explain it. I have a 17 year old. Am I a terrible mother because if this continues and this is something very serious … and the worst happens and I’m dying. How does that help my son? “said Schulz. “But then again, if I go to these doctors and have all these bills to pay and if we lose the house, how does that help?”
Who pays for the Covid-19 treatment?
Federal law ensured that Covid-19 tests and vaccines are free and are not eligible for cost sharing for insurers – or that patients bill some of the costs that are not covered by health insurance out of their own pocket.
This federal protection was not extended to cover Covid-19, which means people with private insurance who got sick and were treated for the virus could still be responsible for huge bills.
American healthcare was already a complicated and confusing topic, but the mixed response from some states and insurers to Covid-19 has left gloomy coverage expectations.
How you’re insured and what you’re responsible for may depend on where you live and what insurance company you have, Cheryl Fish-Parcham, director of access initiatives at Families USA – a group that tracks private insurance – told CNN.
“Individuals who have insurance that they either bought themselves or that they get through a state-regulated employer. In this case, some states have required those insurers to waive the cost-sharing for treatment related to COVID,” Fish said -Parcham to CNN.
In some other cases, “insurers have voluntarily waived cost-sharing and announced that they will be waiving cost-sharing for COVID-related treatments and tests,” she continued.
The only people nationwide protected from being charged for part of their treatment for Covid-19 are those who are uninsured or treated on Medicaid.
A bill for $ 3.4 million
The 2020 study by the Peterson Center on Healthcare and Kaiser Family Foundation showed that patient bills are higher for people with serious illness and that the need and length of ventilation support could be tens of thousands of dollars.
Casey Gray, 29 years old, is a perfect example. He was hospitalized in Florida with Covid-19 for 75 days, half of which he spent in a coma. As he slowly recovered and awaited large medical bills, Casey, a youth minister, and his wife, Savannah, a teacher, sold one of their cars to prepare for the debt.
“We made bets on how much we would actually have to pay or how much we would be billed. I thought it was going to be about a million dollars,” Gray told CNN.
Grau’s first bill was for a staggering $ 3.4 million. “We looked at that award and just laughed a bit. We thought yeah, it probably won’t happen,” he told CNN.
Hospital discounts lowered Gray’s bill to $ 900,000, insurance then kicked in, eventually leaving Gray with a final bill of about $ 10,000. Still an overwhelming number to most people, including the young couple.
Gray’s sister-in-law turned to an all-too-familiar method in the United States – crowdfunding medical bills on the GoFundMe donation site.
Money from 105 different donors covered the remaining medical debt and helped the couple get back on their feet.
“Without them we would be in debt, there is no way around it,” he told CNN.
Another long-distance Covid rider, Gray is now forced to walk with a stick after losing the feel of his left foot. Despite his persistent symptoms, he feels happy to be alive and wants other Covid survivors to know that they are not fighting alone.
“There is hope … there are not all dark days, there is hope. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, there is,” he said.