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story.lead_photo.caption FILE - In this Dec. 4, 2017 file photo, the CVS Health logo appears above a trading post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. CVS Health's Aetna is waiving patient payments for hospital stays tied to the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

One of the nation's biggest health insurers is waiving patients' payments for hospital stays tied to the coronavirus.

CVS Health-owned Aetna said Wednesday that many of its customers will not have to make copayments or other forms of cost sharing if they are admitted to a hospital in the insurer's provider network.

The move could save those patients thousands of dollars, depending on their coverage and how much health care they've used so far this year.

The waiver lasts through June 1. It applies to the insurer's 3.6 million customers who have fully insured coverage, which is usually offered through a small business. Big employers that offer Aetna coverage also can choose to waive those payments, a spokesman for the insurer said.

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The new coronavirus has caused a global pandemic that has infected about 440,000 people and killed more than 19,500 worldwide, crippled economies and forced restrictions on the movement of millions of people as countries try to stop the virus from spreading further and overwhelming health care systems.

CVS Health Executive Vice President Karen Lynch said in a statement that the company is trying to ensure that its customers have "simple and affordable access" to treatment during the pandemic.

Many insurers have waived patients' costs for testing or doctor visits and telemedicine to encourage people to get help with coronavirus symptoms.

But Aetna, which covers nearly 23 million people, is the first major insurer to extend a payment waiver to the bills many patients will fear if they become sick.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and carries a higher risk of death.

A recent study put together by researchers with the Covered California health insurance exchange found that a lengthy hospital stay of 12 days could cost a total of $72,000 on average nationally, depending on factors such as how long a patient stays in an intensive care unit.

Insured patients would pay only a slice of that bill, but that slice could amount to as much as $6,000 depending on their coverage. Many plans have deductibles that patients must pay before most of their coverage starts.

They also have out-of-pocket maximums, or limits for how much each patient has to spend on care each year. Experts say one hospital stay could easily push a patient up to the plan's limits.

"If you end up in a hospital, you are going to blow through your deductible," said Peter Lee, the California exchange's executive director.

Business on 03/26/2020

Print Headline: Care-cost relief tied to virus


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