By Devin Partida, technology writer and the editor-in-chief, ReHack.com.
Medical billing records may help create a fuller picture of how the COVID-19 virus has impacted the country.
Researchers have started taking to repositories of claim and billing code data to learn more about patients — who they are, what challenges they faced and how they had to navigate the health care system during a pandemic.
Combined with other data on the financial impact of COVID, this research offers a much clearer view of how the pandemic has impacted patients and strained the American medical system.
1. Chronic Kidney Disease May Be the Most Common COVID-19 Comorbidity
In July, FAIR Health, a provider of health care solutions, released a report on how billing records could reveal more about COVID patients’ stories. Most prior case studies found that type 2 diabetes and hypertension were the most common comorbidities. Respiratory conditions, like asthma, COPD and sleep apnea, along with heart conditions, typically made up the rest of the top 10.
The billing data was mostly in line with these previous findings — but had one key difference. The No. 1 comorbidity was chronic kidney disease and failure, rather than hypertension or diabetes.
The FAIR Health report also diverged from other case studies in finding that anxiety was one of the top 10 comorbidities, coming in at ninth place.
2. The Pandemic Has Hit Rural and Urban Areas Equally
In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, infections rose most quickly in urban areas. While the disease eventually spread beyond cities, an association between COVID and major metropolitan areas stuck around. It was commonly known that the virus spread quicker in cities, where people live closer together and spend more time in crowded public spaces.
However, the FAIR Health study also found that rural and urban claim lines related to COVID-19 were roughly proportionate. For example, 30.3% of claim lines came from people aged 51-60 living in urban areas. About 30.2% of claim lines came from the same age group living in rural regions.
While the pandemic first spread in cities, it is just as capable of spreading quickly in the countryside as well.
3. CPT Codes Significantly Impact How Patients Get Treated
The pandemic has necessitated a handful of quick adjustments to AMA billing and coding guidelines. In September, the American Medical Association added a new insurance code, CPT code 99072, to help radiologists more effectively bill for COVID-19 diagnostics and treatment.
However, changes made before the pandemic may have had a larger impact on how patients received care.
Between 2016 and 2019, as the AMA overhauled coding related to digital medicine, the percentage of physicians offering telehealth services increased from 14-28%. This percentage has only increased during the pandemic as physicians temporarily shuttered their practices to protect their staff and patients’ health.
4. The Cost of a COVID-19 Hospitalization Is 14 To 20 Times the Median Savings of an American Household
The average cost for a COVID-19 hospitalization ranges from $51,000-$78,000, depending on age. Younger patients typically don’t need as much intensive care and spend less time in the hospital. Those aged 41 to 60 tend to have more expensive stays.
By contrast, the median savings amount in America is $3,500, according to a 2020 survey from The Ascent. While about 70% of Americans have a savings account, the average cost of a COVID 19-related hospitalization is around 14-20 times higher than the likely value of that account.
The impact of these costs will likely be seen over the next few years. Medical debt may be just as much of a problem for survivors of COVID as lingering symptoms or long-term health problems.
Billing Records May Be Essential To Understanding the COVID-19 Pandemic
Medical billing records have already revealed that chronic kidney disease may have made patients much more vulnerable to COVID and helped demonstrate how the pandemic impacted rural and urban areas.
After the health crisis is over, billing records — in addition to other sources of public health data — may be essential to our knowledge of how COVID-19 impacted patients.