SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — While San Diego families juggle the financial impacts of the pandemic, one major expense continues to loom: health insurance.
“Health care is one of the biggest expenses in a family’s budget after housing and it’s one of those things that can come as a shock to a family's finances,” said Anthony Wright, Executive Director for Health Access California, an advocacy group for consumers.
Wright said the pandemic has brought changes to our hospitals, from full ICU beds to people avoiding facilities because of stay-at-home orders.
One of the major changes to emerge from the pandemic is the increased use of virtual appointments.
“Telehealth does seem to suggest that people are more likely to show up to their appointment which does more efficiently use the doctor or health professionals time,” he said.
Telehealth can be more efficient for health care providers and can make it easier for patients to attend, but can create a digital divide for people who do not have virtual access. That could be for a variety of reasons including income differences, access to technology, cultural barriers or age issues.
One factor that has not changed is the potential for massive hospital bills.
“We’re still talking about a ridiculously expensive health care system overall,” said Wright.
He said for people who are uninsured or under-insured, bills can add up quickly.
“Some people when they get it just run because it is sometimes the biggest bill they’ve ever gotten in their entire lives but it is I think important to have that conversation with the hospital,” he said, emphasizing that these bills can be negotiated.
Wright said hospitals are required to have financial assistance programs, so if someone gets a medical bill they can’t afford, they should ask about their options to lower that bill. Often, a bill states the “sticker price” of services, which insurance companies then negotiate down. People, regardless of insurance status, can do the same.
“The insurance is to provide insurance but also to negotiate contracts with a network of providers. In a situation where you don’t have that negotiator on your behalf, we want to at least make sure people are not being totally price gauged,” he said, adding that “people should get the care they need and there are efforts to if not get the bill totally resolved, at least get the bill reduced or a fairer price.”