Winter Garden man who recovered from COVID-19 gets $26,000 hospital bill

A Winter Garden man says he was charged more than $26,000 for staying in the hospital after suffering from COVID-19.

He was shocked by the bill. Many others around the country are also dealing with high COVID medical expenses.

John Panaghi says he spent four days in the hospital recovering from COVID-19.

But it was the huge bill after his stay that made him sick to his stomach.

"Opening up these bills, I was flabbergasted. A $26,000 bill. [A] $12,000 for ICU for a few nights. One bill for life-saving drugs was $4,000," he said.

"Expect more bills. In addition to the hospital, this patient will probably get separate bills from every doctor who participated in his care," Karen Pollitz, of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

FOX 35 asked Pollitz about verifying large bills like this.

She advises COVID patients to wait for an explanation of benefits before paying anything.

She also said to call the hospital to make sure they submitted expenses.

"The insurance company will take the first cut at it and they’ll say what the reasonable amount is," she said.

She says an average hospital stay for a COVID patient costs around $20,000.

"A typical person with employer-sponsored coverage could expect to pay between $1,300-$1,500," Pollitz said.

Beware of out-of-network doctors that provided care during a stay.

"That’s where these surprise medical bills come up. They may not be in your network and there’s no way to figure that out ahead of time," she said.

And if a patient is uninsured, "You should ask them, 'Can you please bill the Provider Relief Fund instead of sending me the bill?" Pollitz said.

The Provider Relief Fund is part of the CARES ACT, which reimburses medical providers for expenses.

However, a doctor isn't required to go that route.

"The hospital may say OK, but the ICU doctor may say, 'Nah, I’d rather get it from you.' If they think you’ve got savings or something like that, they might go after you," Pollitz said.

FOX 35 Reporter Valerie Boey asked: "All over the country people are getting high bills?"

Pollitz said: "Yeah, we’re getting a lot of calls, and this is shining a light on how our healthcare system works." 

Panaghi says he'd like to see something changed so other patients aren't caught off guard by the large COVID bills.