Since early 2020, an estimated 94 million Americans have been infected with the COVID-19 virus – with multiple million deaths attributed to the disease. And while the overwhelming majority of those infected have survived, the nation is now confronted with the specter of long COVID, a debilitating array of symptoms faced by tens of millions of those survivors.
What’s long COVID?
Long COVID – also commonly often known as post-COVID – can include a big selection of symptoms that will persist for weeks – or potentially for so long as years. One study reported that just about a 3rd of COVID patients reported symptoms for greater than a 12 months.
The conditions range from general symptoms – comparable to fatigue – to respiratory, neurological, and digestive symptoms, and in some cases joint or muscle pain, rashes, and even changes in menstrual cycles. And although the symptoms are found more often in those that had severe COVID-19 illness, anyone infected with the virus may experience long COVID symptoms.
What number of Americans will find yourself with long COVID symptoms?
Recent estimates of the U.S. population that could be affected by long COVID range from a CDC evaluation that a fifth of those infected can have a number of symptoms, to other global estimates that that fifty% of those infected could experience long COVID symptoms. A report from Kaiser Family Foundation estimated the variety of working-age adults who could also be affected at between 10 and 35 million.
The tens of millions of Americans facing the prospect of long COVID symptoms are also facing the specter of medical expenses related to the treatment of long COVID. If you happen to’re wondering whether medical insurance will cover those expenses, you’re not alone. Here’s what you should know:
Will medical insurance cover long COVID?
On the whole, if you may have major medical medical insurance, it should cover the care needed for long COVID. But there may be some variation here by way of what form of coverage you may have:
ACA-compliant individual/family plans
Plans purchased within the Reasonably priced Care Act (ACA) medical insurance marketplace (and ACA-compliant major medical coverage purchased directly from an insurer) will cover the ACA’s ten essential health advantages.
Specific provisions, comparable to out-of-pocket costs, prior authorization requirements, and provider networks will vary from one plan to a different. But these plans will all cover the overall categories of care that you simply might need, including inpatient and outpatient care, mental health care, rehabilitation services, and pharmaceuticals.
Depending on the plan you choose, your in-network out-of-pocket costs might be as high as $8,700 in 2022, and as high as $9,100 in 2023. And it’s common for individual/family health plans to only cover in-network care, which implies you’ll must make sure that the providers you desire to use are in-network with the health plan you choose.
Medicaid can be required to cover the ACA’s essential health advantages. There may be variation from state to state by way of the particular advantages that Medicaid provides, but typically, the coverage is powerful and the out-of-pocket costs might be quite low.
Short-term medical insurance
If you happen to enroll in a short-term health plan, you would run into coverage problems if you may have long COVID. Short-term health plans are usually not regulated by the ACA, in order that they don’t need to cover essential health advantages, are usually not guaranteed issue, and customarily have blanket exclusions for all pre-existing conditions.
So, should you have already got long COVID – or should you’ve had COVID and will thus develop long COVID in the approaching months – a short-term plan is unlikely to cover the prices related to long COVID. And short-term plans often exclude services that long COVID patients need, comparable to pharmaceuticals and mental health care.
If you may have Medicare, your coverage for long COVID treatment is probably going quite comprehensive, although your out-of-pocket costs and access to medical providers will vary depending on how you select to access Medicare advantages.
Nearly half of all Medicare beneficiaries have private Medicare Advantage plans, with specific advantages, provider networks, and costs that fluctuate by plan. Advantage plans must meet various federal minimum requirements, including covering the entire services which might be covered under Medicare Part A and Part B, and having an annual in-network out-of-pocket limit – not counting prescription costs – of not more than $7,550 in 2022 (note that this upper cap is increasing to $8,300 in 2023, although many plans will proceed to have out-of-pocket caps well below that).
For the greater than half of beneficiaries who’ve Original Medicare, coverage is powerful but out-of-pocket costs rely upon whether or not they enroll in a Medigap plan (and which Medigap plan they select) or have supplemental coverage from an employer or former employer.
As a general rule, Medicare will cover pre-existing conditions, and costs are usually not higher for individuals with medical conditions. Nevertheless, Medigap plans can impose a pre-existing condition waiting period of as much as six months if the enrollee didn’t have creditable coverage prior to enrolling in Medigap.
Employer-sponsored health coverage
If you may have an employer-sponsored plan, your coverage is probably going quite robust. Small-group plans with effective dates of 2014 or later are required to cover the ACA’s essential health advantages. The ACA’s rules for large-group plans are somewhat different, but large-group plans are likely to be quite comprehensive.
No matter whether you may have a small-group plan or a large-group plan, your in-network out-of-pocket costs for covered services can’t exceed $8,700 in 2022 (note that this doesn’t apply to grandfathered or grandmothered health plans). This upper cap will increase to $9,100 in 2023.
One issue with employer-sponsored coverage is that you should keep your job with a view to maintain your coverage. If you happen to’re too sick to work, that might change into an issue. Fortunately, there are provisions in place to guard staff’s continued access to health advantages in this case.
Depending in your circumstances, you would possibly qualify for disability advantages or FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act) leave. Employers are required to let you proceed your group health plan during FMLA leave, and have the choice to achieve this during disability leave. (If you happen to don’t have an income through the FMLA leave – from vacation/sick time or disability advantages – you’ll must make arrangements along with your employer to pay your regular portion of the premium, since there won’t be a paycheck from which it could be payroll deducted.)
And should you lose access to your employer-sponsored health plan, you could have the option to proceed your coverage temporarily with COBRA or state continuation coverage (“mini-COBRA” for smaller employers). Here’s what you should learn about maintaining your coverage or obtaining recent coverage should you lose your employer-sponsored plan.
If I even have long COVID, can my insurance carrier deny coverage of my treatment?
All medical insurance claims are subject to review by the health plan to find out whether the claim might be paid. And depending on the plan, there may also be various other requirements, including prior authorization, staying in-network, obtaining a referral from a primary care physician with a view to see a specialist, and step therapy for drugs. So with any claims – not only those related to long COVID – it’s vital to grasp and follow your plan’s rules.
Fortunately, consequently of HIPAA and the ACA, most health plans within the U.S. cannot exclude pre-existing conditions. So the indisputable fact that you may have long COVID won’t affect your ability to get coverage or the advantages that the plan offers generally. And should you obtain coverage, your medical needs might be covered a minimum of partially from the primary day your plan takes effect, with none form of pre-existing condition waiting periods.
Under the ACA, individual and small-group health plans with effective dates of 2014 or later are required to cover ten essential health advantages. (Large-group health plans are usually not required to cover the essential health advantages under the ACA, but that’s because most of them already did, long before the ACA was enacted. The typical actuarial value of an employer-sponsored health plan in 2011 was almost 89%, which is roughly such as platinum-level plans under the ACA.)
The essential health advantages encompass a big selection of services that is likely to be vital for an individual with long COVID, including inpatient and outpatient care, mental health care, lab work, pharmaceuticals, and rehabilitation services.
Health plans that are usually not subject to the ACA’s regulations (comparable to short-term plans, health care sharing ministries, travel insurance, fixed indemnity plans, etc.) don’t have to cover pre-existing conditions, may reject an applicant resulting from medical history, and don’t have to cover the ACA’s essential health advantages. So should you’re coping with or concerned about long COVID, you’ll need to be clear about whether the coverage you may have is a real major medical plan, sold either in the person/family market or offered by an employer.
If my carrier won’t cover all of my long COVID expenses, can I appeal?
Yes. So long as your major medical plan (either self-purchased or employer-sponsored) isn’t grandfathered, the ACA guarantees you the suitable to each an internal and external appeals process, if needed.
It’s vital to grasp that even in case your long COVID claims are covered, that doesn’t mean the health plan pays the entire costs. Health plans are required to cover COVID testing and vaccines with no out-of-pocket costs, but that’s not the case in terms of treatment of COVID or long COVID. You’ll need to satisfy your plan’s cost-sharing requirements, which might include deductibles, copays, and coinsurance. The precise amount will vary depending on the specifics of your plan.
(Note that full coverage of testing is barely required through the tip of the COVID public health emergency, whereas full coverage of the vaccine will proceed even after the general public health emergency ends, so long as the CDC’s vaccine advisory committee continues to recommend the COVID vaccine.)
Can a carrier deny me recent coverage if I have already got post-COVID symptoms?
If you happen to’re enrolling in an ACA-compliant plan (either an employer-sponsored plan or a person/family plan), the plan cannot reject your application or charge you a better premium based in your medical history. So no matter whether you may have COVID, long COVID, or a history of either one, it should not affect your eligibility for coverage. And your specific pre-existing medical conditions can’t be excluded from the coverage.
If you happen to’re coping with long COVID, you’ll definitely need to avoid non-ACA-compliant plans should you’re trying to attenuate your costs. Those plans, including short-term medical insurance, generally won’t cover anything related to a pre-existing medical condition.
However it’s also vital to grasp which you could only enroll in ACA-compliant plans during open enrollment or a special enrollment period triggered by a qualifying life event. That is true for employer-sponsored plans that qualify as major medical insurance in addition to individual/family plans.
Open enrollment for individual/family health plans (purchased through the marketplace or directly from insurance firms) runs from November 1 to January 15 in most states. Individual and family plans purchased between Nov. 1 and Dec. 15 can have Jan. 1 effective dates. Those purchased between Dec. 15 and Jan. 15 might be in force on Feb. 1. Employers can set their very own open enrollment periods, and even though it’s common for them to be in the autumn, they will occur at any time of the 12 months. It would be best to confirm the effective date of your recent coverage.
Will certain kinds of health plans provide higher coverage of long COVID expenses?
If you happen to’re coping with long COVID, you’ll need to rigorously consider the plan options which might be available to you, either out of your employer or within the marketplace/exchange. Your employer may only offer one plan, or they could let you select from two or more options. But should you’re buying your personal coverage, you would possibly have dozens and even tons of of plans from which to decide on.
The person market is predominantly HMOs (health maintenance organizations) and EPOs (exclusive provider organizations), and there may or might not be PPO options available. But today’s health plans don’t at all times match the “rules” that you could have heard about managed care. For instance, some modern HMOs let you self-refer to a specialist, without having to go to your primary care doctor for a referral. You’ll need to listen to details like this should you’re anticipating plenty of medical care.
If PPOs can be found to you, they is likely to be enticing because you’re feeling like you’ll be able to “see any doctor.” Nevertheless, not all doctors are going to be in-network with a PPO plan. The No Surprises Act from 2022 protects against “surprise” balance billing. It doesn’t protect against balance billing should you decide to see an out-of-network provider. You would possibly find that the out-of-network costs with a PPO are quite significant should you go that route, resulting from substantial out-of-network deductibles and coinsurance, in addition to the balance billing.
Suggestions for selecting coverage
A greater approach, typically, is to rigorously consider the provider network that every plan offers, and pick the plan that features your selected doctors and medical facilities in its network. If you happen to are coping with long COVID, it could make sense to choose a plan with a pretty big provider network. That is especially true should you aren’t sure what form of specialty care you would possibly need going forward. A big provider network will provide you with access to more medical providers.
You’ll also need to pay close attention to out-of-pocket costs, including the deductible, copays, coinsurance, and the utmost out-of-pocket cap that the plan has. The entire available individual/family plans are going to cover the essential health advantages, but some can have higher out-of-pocket costs than others.
Don’t confuse the out-of-pocket maximum with the deductible, which is the quantity you would need to pay for covered services and medicines before the insurance plan starts to pay. Some plans have relatively low deductibles but high out-of-pocket maximums. If you happen to know you’re going to wish plenty of care, you don’t need to inadvertently find yourself on a plan with higher total out-of-pocket costs than you were expecting.
Higher out-of-pocket costs often mean lower premiums, but there’s plenty of premium variation from one insurer to a different, even amongst plans with similar out-of-pocket costs. Here’s an inventory of suggestions for selecting the most effective health plan to suit your needs.
You may compare plan options online or via your state marketplace/exchange. You too can work with an area broker to get help deciding which plans offer the most important alternative of in-network options.
Which pharmaceuticals that treat long COVID might be covered by my insurance?
Each health plan has its own formulary (covered drug list). And although there are basic minimum requirements by way of what a health plan must include in its formulary, there’s plenty of leeway for insurers to design their pharmacy advantages.
In the person and small-group markets, formularies must include a minimum of one drug in every United States Pharmacopeia (USP) category and sophistication, or the identical number of medication in each USP category and sophistication because the state’s benchmark plan. Given what number of drugs are in some categories and classes, it’s easy to see how covered drug lists may be very different from one health plan to a different.
And remember that for some expensive medications, a health plan may require step therapy before approving coverage. This may mean trying a number of lower-cost medications before switching to the costlier drug.
Even when two health plans each include a certain drug on their formularies, you would find that the quantity you owe on the pharmacy might be very different from one plan to the opposite. So along with determining which health plans have your drugs on their formulary, you’ll also need to see which tier the drug is in, and what which means by way of how much you’ll pay once you fill the prescription.
Some plans (comparable to HSA-qualified high-deductible health plans) would require you to pay the complete cost of your drugs – on the plan’s network negotiated rate – until you’ve met your overall deductible. Other plans can have copays or coinsurance for every prescription, and might also impose a separate prescription drug deductible that must be met before you turn to the copay/coinsurance structure. So the actual cost of your medications can vary considerably from one plan to a different, even when the entire plans include your medications of their formulary.
In case your doctor says you wish a certain drug that isn’t in your major medical plan’s formulary and may’t be swapped with one which is on the formulary, there’s an exception request process that you simply and your doctor can use (this is applicable to individual/family and small-group health plans). There’s no guarantee that your health plan will make an exception and canopy the drug. But there may be a protocol in place that ensures an independent external review if the ACA-compliant health plan denies the formulary exception request.
More long COVID resources
Learn more about post-COVID conditions.
Find resources if you may have long COVID.
Louise Norris is a person medical insurance broker who has been writing about medical insurance and health reform since 2006. She has written dozens of opinions and academic pieces concerning the Reasonably priced Care Act for healthinsurance.org. Her state health exchange updates are often cited by media who cover health reform and by other medical insurance experts.