The US’ broken healthcare system is why the coronavirus is set to explode in America

Coronavirus treatment could be costly depending on the procedures run and your insurance plan, if you have one. MARK RALSTON/Getty Images

Coronavirus is putting Americans’ physical and financial health at risk.

The outbreak originated in Wuhan, China, and so far has killed more than 4,000 people and infected more than 116,000. The virus, which causes a disease known as COVID-19, has spread to more than 100 other countries. Most of the deaths have occurred in mainland China, but 900 deaths have been reported elsewhere, including 28 in the US.

While the virus has a global death rate of 3.4%, experts predict that will get lower as more cases are reported. That’s because the virus is, for most people, non-lethal.

But it does have the potential to wipe out the savings of some everyday Americans who are struggling to afford medical costs. A trip to the ER or urgent care for coronavirus can set them back by thousands of dollars, to the point of bankruptcy, but avoiding treatment for financial reasons could potentially amplify the spread of the virus.

Here are 11 facts that show the new financial crisis that getting coronavirus treatment could create for the typical American.

1. The CDC isn’t billing for testing, but patients aren’t off the hook for charges related to tests for other viruses or conditions or the trip to the medical provider itself.


The CDC is the only facility equipped to test for COVID-19 or designate other laboratories to do so. This means a patient who goes to the ER or urgent care for coronavirus treatment wouldn’t incur a charge for COVID-19 lab testing. Under the CDC’s broadened guidelines as of the first week of March, anyone who has flu-like symptoms can receive a coronavirus test if a doctor agrees.

But other coronavirus-related costs will vary. How much a hospital stay would cost for a particular patient depends on what procedures are run and their insurance plan, if they have one.

2. Miami resident Osmel Martinez Azcue was charged $US3,270 for coronavirus treatment related costs, including an ER visit and flu testing.


Azcue had checked himself into Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami for flu-like symptoms, after arriving back in the US from a work trip to China. As first reported by The Miami Herald’s Ben Conarck, Azcue was concerned he had been exposed to the novel coronavirus.

He asked to first be tested for the flu before getting a CT scan to screen for coronavirus because of his limited insurance plan. He did have the flu, which meant no further testing for coronavirus.

Medical documents verified by Business Insider broke down Azcue’s charges, ranging from $US1,261 for virus and flu testing to $US819 for an ER stay, before co-pay. With his co-pay being applied, Azcue would have to pay $US1,400 out-of-pocket.

3. And Frank Wucinski, who doesn’t have insurance, was billed $US3,918 for a government-mandated quarantine and coronavirus testing for him and his daughter.


As reported by Sarah Kliff for The New York Times, Wucinski was living in Wuhan, China, where the virus originated, with his wife, a non-US citizen who developed pneumonia that doctors think resulted from the disease the virus causes, COVID-19.

The US government flew Wucinski and his daughter back to the US for mandated quarantining and coronavirus testing, she wrote. Neither had coronavirus.

Wucinski told Kliff his charges included a $US2,598 ambulance trip and $US90 for x-ray scans, but a hospital spokesperson said that Wucinski’s bill was sent in error and he would not have to pay.

4. Possible procedures related to coronavirus treatments could range from $US441 to $US1,151 for an out-of-network ER visit, according to Fair Health estimates.

Costs labelled as uninsured or out-of-network are the billed charges you would have to pay if you don’t have insurance or visit an out-of-network facility and your insurance plan has no out-of-network benefits. Costs labelled as insured are the full fee due to the provider under the insurance plan. How much you actually pay depends on the insurance plan. Shayanne Gal/Business Insider

In the chart above, FAIR Health provided Business Insider with the average costs for common ER visits, office outpatient visits, and global urgent care visits, to cover possible types of visits one could make to get checked for coronavirus.

It also includes average costs for flu and blood tests, which could be run to rule out other conditions or illnesses.

Read more on the methodology here.

5. The average deductible for an individual who gets health insurance through work is $US1,655.


That’s problematic because of the timing of coronavirus, John Graves, PhD and associate professor at Vanderbilt School of Medicine, previously told Business Insider. It’s spreading early in the year, he said, when most people haven’t yet hit their deductible.

6. But 27 million Americans don’t have insurance. Of those ages 18 to 65 who are uninsured, 28% had trouble paying medical bills in the past year, according to a CDC report.


That percentage drops to 18% for those with Medicare and 11% for those with private insurance.

The 27 million of uninsured Americans comprises 8.5% of the US population.

7. And insured Americans have to worry about surprise billing, which hits one in 6 ER or hospital patients, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation Report.


Surprise billing is when you receive care in an in-network hospital but receive a higher bill than expected. That’s because the facility bill may be in-network, Graves said, but the physician bill could be out-of-network.

He said it’s most prevalent in the ER and is common in pathology, a department he says might be part of a treatment course for coronavirus.

8. If your in-network facility is at capacity, it could divert you to an out-of-network facility where bills could exceed $US10,000.


Currently, the Affordable Care Act caps out-of-pocket spending at $US8,150 for patients whose care comes from in-network providers – financial protections that don’t exist if you find yourself at an out-of-network facility.

While some insurance plans have out-of-network benefits that might cover some of these costs, Graves said, a bill here could still exceed $US10,000.

9. More than a quarter of US adults have put off or postponed getting health care because of their finances, according to another KFF report.


Specifically, that percentage is 26%. And 21% reported they have skipped a recommended medical test or treatment for the same reason.

9. Coronavirus treatment could financially set back the half of American households who had $US4,500 or less in checking or savings accounts as of 2016.


That’s according to a SmartAsset analysis of Federal Reserve data.

If these households were able to do the same as Azcue and get tested for the flu, they may not have enough saved to cover costs. A bill of that size could wipe out their savings entirely, or at the very least, put a huge dent in them.

11. A personal bankruptcy lawyer told Business Insider that coronavirus could potentially cause more Americans to go bankrupt.


Medical debt is a strong driver of bankruptcy filings, attorney Simon Goldenberg of The Law Office of Simon Goldenberg, PLLC previously told Business Insider, sometimes caused by emergency situations which can be compounded if you’re treated out-of-network.

“Even with a steady income, an emergency medical bill for thousands of dollars could be a struggle to tackle,” he said.

Studies differ on how many bankruptcies are due to medical costs, but they range from 26% to 66.5% of all bankruptcies. Regardless of statistical debate, it all points to the effect of health care costs on many Americans.