Michael Flor, a Seattle resident, surprised doctors and family members when he recovered from a life-threatening coronavirus infection this spring.
Then he got his own surprise ― a hospital bill for $1,122,501.04.
Flor, 70, shared the 181-page document with The Seattle Times, which noted that he has insurance and Medicare coverage and so may only have to pay a relatively small amount of the whopping total.
He may not have to pay anything at all due to steps taken by Congress to protect Americans with private insurance or no insurance from being charged for seeking testing and treatment for COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus. That was the case for Slate writer David Lat, who wrote about being let off the hook for his $320,000 hospital bill this week.
Yet Flor’s bill, technically an “explanation of benefits,” is a stark example of the sky-high cost of health care in the U.S. that has come under increased criticism during the coronavirus pandemic. America spends more per person on health care than any other high-income country, due in part to its reliance on for-profit companies.
Flor was hospitalized at Swedish Medical Center near Seattle for 62 days, according to The Seattle Times. His wife told the outlet that, at one point, he woke up and said, “You gotta get me out of here. We can’t afford this.”
The bill describes nearly 3,000 itemized charges. From the Times:
Just the charge for his room in the intensive care unit was billed at $9,736 per day. Due to the contagious nature of the virus, the room was sealed and could only be entered by medical workers wearing plastic suits and headgear. For 42 days he was in this isolation chamber, for a total charged cost of $408,912.
He also was on a mechanical ventilator for 29 days, with the use of the machine billed at $2,835 per day, for a total of $82,215. About a quarter of the bill is drug costs.
The list of charges indirectly tells the story of Flor’s battle. For the two days when his heart, kidneys and lungs were all failing and he was nearest death, the bill runs for 20 pages and totals nearly $100,000 as doctors “were throwing everything at me they could think of,” Flor says.
The congressional measure to shield people from hospital bills has been called an experiment in universal health care for those with one special illness.
The nation’s largest insurance companies, including UnitedHealthcare, Aetna, Anthem and Blue Cross Blue Shield, waived “cost-sharing” with patients suffering from COVID-19 earlier this year. Patients may still face hospital bills, however, if they rely on health insurance through their jobs, because the insurance companies allow employers to opt-out of the cost-sharing waiver.
Flor became sick at the start of March, when he developed a bad cough around the time the coronavirus was just beginning to take off and disrupt life in the U.S.
He went to the hospital upon the urging of his wife, Elisa Del Rosario. Over the course of the next several weeks, his lungs, heart and kidneys suffered damage and began shutting down. Doctors later told him they utilized every treatment they could think of for him ― from vitamin C to hydroxychloroquine to remdesivir ― and were shocked that he survived.
At one point, hospital staffers helped his family say goodbyes over the phone, as the facility was not allowing any outside visitors.
Del Rosario told The Seattle Times that she knew the hospital would call when Flor died, so she fell asleep next to her phone.
Flor left the hospital in a Superman T-shirt, surrounded by applause from doctors and nurses.
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