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Coronavirus US: Over 18m at risk have poor or no insurance

More than 18 million Americans don’t have adequate health insurance to cover the cost of medical care if they catch coronavirus, a new study reveals. 

The Trump administration’s coronavirus relief program made testing for the virus free for all Americans – but the same does not hold true for treatment for hospitalized, which costs an average of $30,000 before insurance coverage.

Black and other minority Americans are both at far greater risk of becoming severely ill from COVID-19 and of being uninsured or underinsured. 

Unemployment shot up to 14.7 percent of US adults last month, as coronavirus continued to kill and ruin Americans financially. 

The combined onslaughts of underinsurance, low income and the coronavirus pandemic set up a potentially deadly and monetarily disastrous scenario for scores of people in the US – especially black Americans, who are 42 percent more likely to develop severe COVID-19 and 52 percent more likely to be underinsured, compared to their white counterparts. 

Rates of under-insurance or being uninsured are 52% higher among at-risk black Americans and 90% higher among Native Americans compared to their white counterparts, the new study from Harvard Medical School and Hunter College found

Rates of under-insurance or being uninsured are 52% higher among at-risk black Americans and 90% higher among Native Americans compared to their white counterparts, the new study from Harvard Medical School and Hunter College found 

Native and Alaskan Native Americans have the highest risks of coronavirus, followed by black Americans, according to the new study

Native and Alaskan Native Americans have the highest risks of coronavirus, followed by black Americans, according to the new study 

Even before the pandemic reach the US in January, 14 percent of Americans said they delayed or skipped medical attention altogether, for fear they could not afford it.

‘The pandemic is laying bare the lethal inequality of American society and American health care,’ said lead author Dr Adam Gaffney, a pulmonary and critical care physician at the Cambridge Health Alliance and Harvard Medical School. 

‘Our ICU has been flooded with poor and minority patients; having COVID-19 is scary enough without worrying that you’ll be bankrupted by medical bills.’ 

As it began to become clear that COVID-19 is not just a disease of the elderly and chronically ill, US officials like New York Governor Andrew Cuomo proclaimed that the virus ‘does not discriminate’ and can strike anyone. 

Black Americans are at 42% greater risk for severe coronavirus infection, the new Harvard Medical School and Hunter College study found. Louisiana, where a third of the population, has been hard-hit by coronavirus, which claimed the life of Mardi Gras royalty, Larry Hammond, in April. Only 10 mourners were allowed at his funeral (pictured)

Black Americans are at 42% greater risk for severe coronavirus infection, the new Harvard Medical School and Hunter College study found. Louisiana, where a third of the population, has been hard-hit by coronavirus, which claimed the life of Mardi Gras royalty, Larry Hammond, in April. Only 10 mourners were allowed at his funeral (pictured) 

In reality, it has struck minority communities in the US much more forcefully. 

Of course, the virus itself does not discriminate, but black, Hispanic and Native Americans are at greater risk of infection and severe illness as a result of higher rates of chronic disease, poverty and poor access to healthcare. 

And while predominantly middle and upper class Americans with office jobs were urged to stay home to protect themselves from coronavirus, essential workers – those working in service, custodial and health care jobs – who are disproportionately minorities were still going to work every day, increasing their exposures. 

Collectively, these factors have put black Americans at a 42 percent higher risk of severe COVID-19 and Native Americans at a 90 percent higher risk, compared to their white counterparts, according to the new study. 

Worse yet, these groups were respectively 51 percent and 53 percent more likely to have ‘inadequate’ insurance coverage compared to white patients. 

That means that these individuals, who were more likely to be poor, will also more likely be hit with massive medical bills. 

Minority people in the US - particularly Black Americans - have suffered a greater share of coronavirus deaths compared to their share of the populations in many counties (pictured: a patient is wheeled into an ER in Chicago)

Minority people in the US – particularly Black Americans – have suffered a greater share of coronavirus deaths compared to their share of the populations in many counties (pictured: a patient is wheeled into an ER in Chicago) 

On March 27, the Trump administration passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act into law. In addition to providing economic relief, it made coronavirus testing free. 

But it doesn’t necessarily cover care for coronavirus patients. 

Near the end of March, Cigna and Aetna – two of the largest US health insurers – volunteered to waive costs for the care of coronavirus patients, putting pressure on other major providers to do the same. 

There are plenty of caveats, however. Coverage may be up to the discretion of the employer for some. 

Still other insurers won’t necessarily cover coronavirus treatment. 

Medicare patients with no supplementary plans will still have to pay more than $1,000 for their care. 

It’s a small portion of the average $30,000 that hospitalization for coronavirus costs, but still substantial for low-income families.

Cost sharing for Medicaid patients will remain the same, though it too tends to be minimal. 

The US government has also agreed to reimburse hospitals for coronavirus patients’ care, but those funds are not unlimited and the specifications and cost-sharing for uninsured patients remain unclear.

‘These promises of new protections for patients with COVID-19 are full of holes,’ noted senior author Dr Danny McCormick, a primary care physician and associate professor at Harvard Medical School. 

‘COVID-19 threatens the health of people everywhere, but only in the US will it also ruin patients financially. 

‘When people avoid testing and care because they fear the costs, it fuels the epidemic’s spread.’   

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