Can Health Providers Really Go After the Estates of Deceased Patients for COVID Bills?

  • Thread starter kyphysics
  • Start date
  • #1
kyphysics
426
362

First They Faced the Virus. Now Come the Medical Bills.​

https://www.yahoo.com/news/first-faced-virus-now-come-120944607.html

Saw this article today. From the wording/descriptions in the article, it's not clear to me whether health providers can legally claim part of the estate of a deceased person to cover COVID bills. There are examples of providers going after them to be sure. But, it doesn't seem clear whether this is legal and/or usually successful. Here is one example from the article:
Rebecca Gale, 64, lost her husband of 25 years, Michael, to Coronavirus last summer. Their insurance fully covered most of the “big stack” of medical bills that she received after his death. But it paid only a small portion of the $50,009 air ambulance bill for his transport between hospitals when his condition was deteriorating.

“I cry every day; this is just another thing that breaks my heart, that on top of losing my husband I have to deal with this,” Gale said.

The family’s health insurance plan limits its coverage of air ambulances to $10,000, and the air ambulance company spent months pursuing an additional $40,009 from her husband's estate. Rebecca Gale retired last year, from a job at an Ohio automotive factory stamping car parts, anticipating she would get to spend more time with her husband. After he died and the bills started to show up, she considered looking for a part-time job to help pay the charges.

Health care companies have discretion over what to do about the debts of deceased patients, sometimes pursuing their estates for reimbursement.

The air ambulance company, PHI Medical, declined to comment on Michael Gale’s bill but said in a statement that it “followed the regulatory requirements” for billing Coronavirus patients. It did cancel the charges, however, after The Times inquired about the bill.
Seems like an absolute nightmare scenario. Your loved one gets COVID. He/she racks up six or seven figures of bills and passes away. You, the surviving relative, get stuck with their debt.
 

Answers and Replies

  • #3
StevieTNZ
1,876
853
Disgusting. Thank God I live in New Zealand.
 
  • #4
Vanadium 50
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Education Advisor
29,569
15,029
you can always buy health insurance later if you come upon some major illness

And you wonder why your insurance is so expensive and your deductibles are so high.

So who's responsible for this? Turns out you are.
 
  • Like
Likes russ_watters
  • #5
russ_watters
Mentor
22,054
9,152
Seems like an absolute nightmare scenario. Your loved one gets COVID. He/she racks up six or seven figures of bills and passes away. You, the surviving relative, get stuck with their debt.
The article says it is "the estate", which means the money that they guy who passed away had, not the surviving relative. If you have money and then go buy something and then die, how is it unreasonable for the seller to try to get paid from your money that you promised toward the purchase?

The way people think about healthcare is bizarre to me. We do all realize healthcare costs money, right?
 
  • Like
Likes jbriggs444 and Vanadium 50
  • #6
Vanadium 50
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Education Advisor
29,569
15,029
We do all realize healthcare costs money, right?
We all want three things: we want it free to the patient, we want it unrationed, and we want it the best in the world. We can't have all three, and we can't really even have two. So the solution is to stamp our feet and say "It's not fair! It's not fair!"
 
  • Like
Likes jbriggs444, russ_watters and BillTre
  • #7
Office_Shredder
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Gold Member
5,466
1,396
The article says it is "the estate", which means the money that they guy who passed away had, not the surviving relative. If you have money and then go buy something and then die, how is it unreasonable for the seller to try to get paid from your money that you promised toward the purchase?

The surviving relative here is the spouse. What is the difference between his estate and her money in this case?

End of life care in the us is a very sticky subject. It can get arbitrarily expensive, and that usually isn't discussed with the patient ahead of time. When they airlifted that guy from one hospital to the next, do you think anyone explained to him or her that the cost would potentially wipe out her retirement, and there was still a good chance he would die? Maybe, but I kind of doubt it. People don't have the chance to make informed decisions, so of course there are going to be hurt feelings
 
  • Like
Likes Vanadium 50 and BillTre
  • #8
Vanadium 50
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Education Advisor
29,569
15,029
What is the difference between his estate and her money in this case?
I think we would need a lawyer. It depends on the state, the will, the nature of the estate, etc. As in example, in many states if the husband and wife each had $30,000 and the only debt was the $50,000, the air ambulance company would get $30,000 from the estate and the wife would keep her $30,000. If the husband had a $50,000 life insurance policy, the wife would get the $50,000. The air ambulance company couldn't touch this. But "many" is not "all".

By the way, $50,000 is not crazy. Or at least it's understandable. The average air ambulance trip is 250 miles (and $50K), so we're talking airplanes to different cities, not a quick helo ride from one end of town to another. I looked up what a private charter would be from Green Bay, Wisconsin to Rochester, Minnesota (home of the Mayo Clinic) right this second, and got a wheels up time of 13:00 for the low, low price of $35,000. If I wait until Wednesday, I can get it for about $11,000.

This is of course not including medical equipment and staff, and these guys always get paid. I'm actually kind of surprised people can stay in business at $50,000/flight.
 
  • Like
Likes russ_watters
  • #9
russ_watters
Mentor
22,054
9,152
I think we would need a lawyer.
The article isn't great. The wording implies that they had separate finances otherwise it wouldn't be an "estate", I would think. But regardless of the exact arrangement, she's apparently on the hook, but doesn't apparently feel like she should be (or maybe it's just NYT doesn't think so?).

By the way, $50,000 is not crazy. Or at least it's understandable. The average air ambulance trip is 250 miles (and $50K), so we're talking airplanes to different cities, not a quick helo ride from one end of town to another.
The article isn't great. I'll admit the "air ambulance" bit threw me. The way it is described in the article it does indeed sound like "a quick helo ride from one end of town to another". Why being sick with COVID would warrant a jet transport is a mystery to me.
 
  • #10
Vanadium 50
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Education Advisor
29,569
15,029
Well, the NYT does kind of have an opinion.

Why being sick with COVID would warrant a jet transport is a mystery to me.

The average trip is 250 miles. That's probably a bit long for a regular ambulance. Depending on the exact direction of the roads and how air miles translate to land miles, maybe 5 or 6 hours? Plus you need to pay the ambulance to drive back. Even that is six or seven thousands dollars, and you have five or six hours of bumpity-bump-bump-bump. That might not be what you want for the patient.

It's not clear a turboprop wouldn't be adequate, especially considering the end effects.
 

Suggested for: Can Health Providers Really Go After the Estates of Deceased Patients for COVID Bills?

  • Last Post
Replies
1
Views
419
Replies
1
Views
378
  • Last Post
Replies
10
Views
561
Replies
3
Views
291
  • Last Post
Replies
12
Views
498
Replies
4
Views
318
Replies
17
Views
822
  • Last Post
Replies
1
Views
302
  • Last Post
Replies
4
Views
429
Replies
22
Views
643
Top