How to navigate medical expenses during the COVID-19 pandemic

How to navigate medical expenses during COVID-19

BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Surprise medical bills or expensive doctor’s visits during the COVID-19 health crisis may seem like a scary thought, especially if you just lost your job. These experts spoke on how to navigate health care bills during the pandemic.

Cheryl Fish-Parcham is the Director of Access Initiatives for Families USA, which is a national, nonpartisan consumer health care advocacy organization. Fish-Parcham focuses on people’s ability to get health care coverage and she says there are a few options for coverage after you lose your job.

“[First] If you have a sudden loss in income, you might qualify for Medicaid, and your children might qualify for the Children’s Health insurance program,” said Fish-Parcham.

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Second, she explained you have the right to sign up for a health insurance exchange plan. But, you have to do this within 60 days of losing your job-based coverage. Or, reach out to a loved one.

“A third thing you can do is see if you can join a family member’s plan,” she said.

Fish-Parcham suggested you could try COBRA to keep your employer’s health plan, but that can be expensive. Another option is Medicare if you apply.

“This is a time that you have a special enrollment right to get into Medicare fast,” she said.

Even if you have a job-based plan, high-deductibles can be tricky. Fish-Parcham recommended you ask your provider what services are covered and ask about a payment plan.

“Work out with your provider and your health plans what is doable for you.”

Another tip is to get an itemized receipt of your hospital visit, so you can appeal any charges that don’t seem quite right.

Of course, do your research to see what facility works best with you. Fish-Parcham suggested a visit to a non-profit health center, like CareSouth in Baton Rouge, may be an option, too.

“With unemployment and individuals losing their health insurance, coming to us as a Federally Qualified Health Center, we’ll see you regardless of your ability to pay,” said Matthew Valliere, CEO of CareSouth.

CareSouth offers a sliding fee scale discount program. This bases the patient’s payment on their income group.

“One example is someone making $26,000 per year, they’d fall under that slide ‘A’ where their visit would be at the $25 rate,” said Valliere.

Fish-Parcham says you can even talk to a hospital to see if you apply for financial assistance programs. She says these are more common in non-profit hospitals, so she recommends you call ahead or check in advance.

The priority is to get treatment fast, but these tips may help you manage the bills along the way.

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