Costs for COVID-19 hospitalization are changing. Here's why

A woman wears PPE while cleaning a hospital room.
Wearing full PPE, environmental services worker Elissa Marty cleans the room of a COVID-19 positive patient while the patient is out of the room for treatment inside of a Mayo Clinic medical ICU at St. Mary's Hospital in Rochester, Minn., on Dec. 31, 2020.
Evan Frost | MPR News 2020

For the first two years of the pandemic, Minnesota health insurance providers, including Blue Cross and Blue Shield and HealthPartners, among others, voluntarily waived costs for in-patient COVID-19 treatment. Many plans serving other states took similar steps. 

But going into 2022, that’s likely to change for most people. 

The state’s nonprofit insurers absorbed more than $1 billion in costs associated with COVID-19 treatment just in 2020, said Lucas Nesse, president and chief executive officer of the Minnesota Council of Health Plans. Last year “continued to be equally challenging, as we all know,” he said. “But we wanted to continue that coverage through there.”

It’s a trend playing out nationally

“While many plans waived [cost-sharing for COVID-19 treatments] early in March of 2020, many of many of the health plans have phased that out at the end of 2021,” he said. 

Nesse said it’s best to contact your insurance company with questions, but here’s what you need to know about how your health care coverage may be changing this year.

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I thought I didn’t have to pay for COVID-19 treatment. Why is that changing?

Nesse said the plans are making changes in part because vaccines are now available, and they have been proven to prevent the worst of the disease. 

“I think a lot of it has to do with the access to vaccines and the efficacy of the vaccines, being able to keep people out of the hospital,” he said. 

Cost-sharing for any medical treatment is typical of insurance coverage under normal circumstances, Nesse added.

What if I’m on a self-insured plan?

If you work for a large company that collects premiums and pays your medical claims, you might see other changes to your plan.

For instance, Delta Airlines, which has a large base of employees in Minnesota, last year announced it would charge unvaccinated employees an additional $200 in monthly premiums to cover the additional costs associated with treating COVID-19.

“A lot of self-insured employers have started to look at impacting that monthly premium, as well as an incentive to try to get people or encourage them to get that vaccine,” Nesse said. 

What if I’m on Medicare, Medical Assistance or MinnesotaCare?

According to the Minnesota Department of Human Services, there's no cost-sharing for COVID treatment for people on Medical Assistance or MinnesotaCare.

Costs vary, however, for people on Medicare depending on their coverage plan. 

COVID-19 vaccines and testing remain free, right?

Yes. As with most vaccines, the COVID-19 vaccines — including boosters — are free for anyone who wants one. 

Federal rules require health insurance plans to waive cost-sharing for COVID-19 testing, including related visits, too. 

At-home rapid tests, however, have come at a cost. But starting Jan, 15, that will change, with insurers required to cover up to eight rapid tests monthly per individual.