Photo (cc) by NIAID
Ebola is not only deadly and contagious, it’s expensive.
Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan racked up as much as half a million dollars in medical bills in less than two weeks before dying at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas on Oct. 8. According to Bloomberg:
He had been isolated since Sept. 28. He had been on a ventilator, was given an experimental medicine and began receiving dialysis when his kidney’s failed Oct. 4, the hospital has said. His treatment included fluids replacement, blood transfusions and drugs to maintain blood pressure. There’s also the cost of security, disposing of Ebola-contaminated trash and equipment to protect caregivers.
Duncan was uninsured, so it’s unlikely the hospital will collect on most, if any, of his bills. He was from Liberia and in the U.S. on a tourist visa. Both Texas Health Presbyterian and the Liberian embassy in Washington declined to discuss payment for Duncan’s care, Bloomberg said.
Although Duncan was the first case of Ebola diagnosed in the U.S., five other Ebola patients have received treatment at two other hospitals. Unlike the Texas hospital where Duncan received treatment, the other two specialize in treating infectious patients. It’s not known what care costs at those facilities, but three of those patients have recovered.
While all hospital care is expensive, treating Ebola is especially so. Patients have to be treated in rooms with negative air pressure to keep microorganisms contained. Health care professionals treating the patients have to wear disposable gloves, gowns, masks and eye protection every time they come into contact with a patient.
Those kinds of procedures could double standard costs of treatment in an ICU, Bloomberg noted.
According to the Associated Press, the American freelance journalist with Ebola, Ashoka Mukpo, is also expected to incur more than $500,000 in medical bills. His friends are trying to raise part of the money on the crowdfunding site GoFundMe. NBC, the company he was working for when he contracted the virus, and the VICE Media Group say they’re also pitching in.
The Insurance Information Institution recently released a factsheet on the potential implications of Ebola on the insurance industry. When it comes to life insurance:
Even in the unlikely event that the Ebola virus spreads to infect tens of thousands of adults in the United States, the financial impact will likely be quite manageable. … In a typical year, life insurers pay about 2 million death claims, so another 100,000 would be only 5 percent more than typical.
As for health insurance:
… the cost of isolation of those affected could be substantial. Note that some individuals may have no health insurance, as was the case with the index (first) patient who died of Ebola at a Dallas hospital on October 8. In such cases, treatment costs will likely be borne outside the private health insurance system.
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