The Coronavirus (COVID-19) Outbreak Highlights the Need for Greater Transparency in the Healthcare Industry

3D render of abstract virus cells
3D render of abstract virus cells

As the number of coronavirus (COVID-19) cases continue to rise, people are becoming more concerned about prevention, testing, and possible treatment. The lack of price transparency within our healthcare system only brings more challenges to this already difficult situation as patients are unsure of where to go and how much it will cost to seek treatment.

So far, according to the latest situation report from the World Health Organization, 1678 cases of COVID-19 have been identified in the United States. The virus has rapidly spread to more than 150 countries with global cases exceeding 165,000 in just a few months.

Who will pay for the cost of testing and treatment?

A man consoles a woman with a headache.
A man consoles a woman with a headache.

The CDC said that testing was now available in all 50 states. A majority of coronavirus testing will likely come from the private sector as private labs have more testing kits. Still, many Americans who want to be tested and may need treatment might be wondering who will pay for the cost.

Under the CDC’s broadened guidelines as of the first week of March, anyone who has flu-like symptoms can receive a test for COVID-19 if a doctor agrees. The good news is all major health plans should cover testing of this new virus just like they would the flu, pneumonia or any other illness. Unfortunately, the reality is that means many people will still have to carry costs of treatments and hospital stays.

And these 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. Several reports have already surfaced of patients being left with thousands of dollars in surprise medical bills after seeking care for potential coronavirus symptoms.

Lack of transparency in our healthcare system leads to postponed testing and treatment

26% of US adults have postponed getting health care because of their finances and 21% reported they’ve skipped a recommended medical test or treatment for the same reason. The affordability of a visit to the doctor and Coronavirus testing may be an obstacle to containing a major outbreak in the United States. Public health experts and lawmakers are worried that patients, particularly those who are uninsured, would be unable to afford a vaccine for the virus if one is developed.

More than 27 million Americans do not have health insurance, and they may be more likely than insured people to skip the doctor’s office when sick to avoid surprise medical bills. Millions more are underinsured, meaning they have high deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses that make them more likely to struggle with bills and put off care.

Panic is everywhere, heightened by a lack of transparency and misinformation

An anxious woman wears a face mask to protect herself from the coronavirus
An anxious woman wears a face mask to protect herself.

Containing any pandemic centers around getting the proper testing and treatment in a timely manner. With new information being published by the minute, Americans are panicking. Many simply don’t understand the complex nature of our confusing healthcare system and their own health benefits – whether they are insured or not. Often, with the best of intentions, people spread false or misleading health advice in an attempt to help protect friends and family. But if that information turns out to be inaccurate, more harm is done than good.

Transparency in healthcare is needed in times of normalcy, to prevent panic in times of turmoil

It is impossible to predict a global health crisis like the Coronavirus. But it is our responsibility to look at what we could have done to better prepare citizens so that future pandemics are easier to contain. Having a healthcare system in place that focuses on price transparency for patients is an easy step our country can take to ease the financial fears of many Americans the next time a pandemic occurs.

When people understand their cost of care, they are more likely to be tested and treated for their illness, which in turn allows the country to better and more quickly contain a pandemic such as the Coronavirus.

This crisis has further highlighted the need for price transparency in the US healthcare system, as we have seen many Americans delay or refuse testing and treatment due to lack of understanding their own healthcare rights. It is imperative that we learn from this so that the next time a health crisis arises, Americans can feel confident about their testing and treatment options right away.

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