Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

When hospital bills come due.,


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Credit…The New York Times

As hospital bills for Covid treatments are coming due, some Americans are finding themselves buried in crushing debt.

One man whose father died from Covid-19 uses an Excel spreadsheet with more than 450 rows to track bills totaling more than $1 million. A teacher in Detroit has depleted $7,000 in savings to pay for treatment so far. A woman in Ohio was being pursued for her deceased husband’s $40,000 air ambulance bill, and considered taking a part-time job to pay the debt.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this: Many large health plans wrote special rules, waiving co-payments and deductibles for coronavirus hospitalizations. When doctors and hospitals accepted bailout funds, Congress barred them from “balance-billing” patients — the practice of seeking additional payment beyond what the insurer has paid.

But interviews that my colleague Sarah Kliff conducted with more than a dozen patients suggest those efforts have fallen short.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, most health insurers took the line that this is an extraordinary circumstance, and people don’t really understand how to prevent getting sick with coronavirus, so it should be treated differently, and the cost should be totally waived,” Sarah said. “But now, insurance companies are thinking about it differently. They’re saying, ‘we understand coronavirus, vaccination is out there, and this is going to be treated like any other disease.'”

The average cost of a Covid hospitalization is $23,489. But little research has been published on how much of that cost is billed to patients.

Sarah said she was also surprised by how aggressive some hospitals were in trying to collect debts. In some cases, they have gone after the estates of dead patients.

“I’ve been covering health care for a decade and didn’t even realize that was a risk that patients face,” Sarah said.

Some patients, after seeing such bills, are now delaying treatment for symptoms of so-called long Covid because they are worried about the costs.

“That’s one of the risks of having low coverage,” Sarah said. “If patients are missing out on necessary care, then you have fewer symptoms getting sorted out, and less general knowledge of what long Covid looks like.”

Now that American children as young as 12 are eligible for the vaccine, The Times’s Well section answered some common questions.

What vaccines are approved for children?

The F.D.A. so far has approved only the Pfizer vaccine for young people aged 12 to 17. Two other vaccines — Moderna and Johnson & Johnson — are likely to be approved for children in the coming months.

Can a child who recently got other vaccinations get the Covid shot?

The C.D.C. says Covid vaccines can be given with other inoculations without regard to timing. Previously, it recommended a two-week gap as a precautionary measure.

Are vaccine side effects any different for children than adults?

Fevers were slightly more common in 12- to 15-year-olds compared with adults, but in general, the side effects reported in children have been similar to those seen in older people.

Can I give my child Tylenol to minimize the side effects of the vaccine?

You should not give your child a pain reliever before getting vaccinated, or immediately after the shot — that can blunt the effectiveness of the vaccine. But if your child develops a headache, body aches or other side effects requiring pain relief, it’s fine to administer the recommended dose of an over-the-counter pain reliever.

Read the full F.A.Q. here.

  • France is opening up vaccinations to all adults on May 31, two weeks earlier than planned, Politico reports.

  • Los Angeles is shifting its vaccination strategy, winding down mass vaccination sites and fully transitioning to mobile sites by Aug. 1.

See how the vaccine rollout is going in your county and state.

As I read the updates about the unvaccinated in the U.S., I wonder about the many people like me: diagnosed with leukemia. My condition and ongoing treatment will leave me immunocompromised for at least another year, so I am not able to safely get vaccinated. Living in New Hampshire, the local regulations and compliance differ across communities, so it’s no longer safe for me to be out at all. I can only imagine there are hundreds of thousands of people like me, unable to get the vaccine and unable to feel safe being in stores that once enforced masks but no longer feel it’s necessary.

— Julie Moser

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