Last March, 51-year-old Patricia Mason was rushed to the hospital due to COVID-19. Nearly a month later, she was finally released. Then, the medical bills started to arrive.

The total to save her life? More than $1.3 million.

LA Times staff writer Maria La Ganga joined Spectrum News 1 anchor, Lisa McRee on LA Times Today, to discuss Mason's story and whether insurance companies are responsible for these massive bills. 

What You Need To Know

  • Last March, 51-year-old Patricia Mason was rushed to the hospital due to COVID-19. Nearly a month later, she was finally released and the bills she received totaled more than $1.3 million 

  • Many insurance companies have waived all out-of-pocket costs for coronavirus treatment, for some patients slashing a million-dollar-plus bill to nothing

  • The federal government covers medical bills for uninsured COVID-19 patients, but the rules are complex, and hospitals must apply for the money

  • Natalhie Herrera, who is insured by Cigna, had a different experience when it came to paying for her medical care — she had $1.39 million in bills and was responsible for $800

La Ganga has spent the last year talking to patients that have had severe cases of COVID-19. That made her wonder how much it costs to take care of COVID-19 patients.

"For starters, if you are uninsured, there is a very good chance that the government will cover your costs of COVID treatment. So, we are talking about the really expensive COVID treatment. It is a complicated system, and hospitals have to apply for that reimbursement. Many of the big insurance companies have chosen to wave all of the co-pays for COVID treatment. But, almost half of the insurance companies that are members of American's Health Insurance Plan have either not waived the co-pays or had their waivers expired. So it is very hit or miss," La Ganga said.

In her story, La Ganga focuses on Mason's experience and her more than $1 million COVID-19 treatment.

"Patricia Mason started feeling terrible in March, and her husband drove her to the emergency room, and a month or so later, she came out after being on a ventilator for two-and-a-half weeks and the ICU for three weeks with a bill of $1.3 million. She is insured through her husband's company, and the insurance has a perk so that there is no out-of-pocket maximum—most insurance policies have one. She is now stuck in $42,000 in bills, and they cannot afford it," La Ganga said.

Another woman named Natalhie Herrera had a completely different experience than Mason.

"Natalhie was in incredibly bad shape. At 37 weeks pregnant, she had to get an emergency c-section. She was on a machine called an ECMO, which basically takes your blood out through a cannula and then puts it through a machine that oxygenates it, cleans it, and then puts it back in your body. That is one step more extreme than a ventilator. She had $1.39 million in bills and was responsible for $800. Her insurance company Cigna waived it all. However, she will still have to pay for having the baby," La Ganga added. 

La Ganga recommends that people check to see if their insurance policies are self-funded by their companies.

"There is a list of insurance companies and whether they have waived COVID treatment. If they get stuck with huge bills, they should call the hospital and call the insurance company to see if they can get it worked out."

Questions are being raised about how Patricia Mason will pay for her remaining medical bills.

"She does not have an idea. Her husband asked her what is going to happen, and she says she will pay a dollar a month for the rest of her life," La Ganga said.

You can watch LA Times Today at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. exclusively on Spectrum News 1 and streaming live on the Spectrum News app.