Patricia Mason spent nearly a month in the hospital from March to April last year

By Naledi Ushe
February 08, 2021 05:32 PM
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Sacramento, California, resident Patricia Mason has been dealing with the long-term effects of her COVID-19 diagnosis last year – plus an enormous hospital bill.

Mason, 51, was hospitalized from March 28 to April 20 and months later, she received a medical bill for a total of $1,339,181.94, she told the Los Angeles Times.

She went to the hospital after having two misdiagnoses via telemedicine visits including the flu and bronchitis. She had a fever, a cold, a cough and a raspy voice. 

Mason went to NorthBay VacaValley Hospital where she was later transferred to NorthBay Medical Center and was placed in the coronary care unit with less than a 30 percent chance of survival.

NorthBay VacaValley Hospital and NorthBay Medical Center did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's requests for comment.

After her release, a massive bill followed.

Her hospital bill was $479,162.40, her pharmacy charges totaled $470,950.94, and respiratory services were $166,669.80.

"The first issue is you've got COVID and you're not feeling so great. Going to battle with the doctors and hospitals or health plan, there's a huge power imbalance to begin with, let alone when you're struggling with health issues," Sabrina Corlette, co-director of the Center on Health Insurance Reforms at Georgetown University, said. "Getting answers about why certain things are on the bill is almost impossible."

Mason's insurance was able to cover the bulk of her bill, but she was still left owing  $42,184.20 because of out-of-network costs. The explanation of benefits didn't clarify all of the expenses for her either.

"I don't have $42,000 to spare," Mason said. "We're at the point where we're trying to make it through the next 15 years, so hopefully we can one day retire. ... I am lucky enough to be alive, so we take that into consideration. But the reality is I don't have [the money]. It's not going to happen."

The California resident thought either all out-of-pocket expenses for treatment would be waived "to make sure people weren't slammed with bills" or that her bill would be roughly $5,000. 

Many insurance companies have waived out-of-pocket expenses throughout the coronavirus pandemic, but not all of them offer that.

Mason and her husband were already working five jobs between the two of them and supporting their nine children. 

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In addition to the hospital bills, Mason has to take baby aspirin, supplements and "anything that I've heard will help" with her long-term side effects.  

"Every time I turn around, is this something that's related to COVID and is it something that's going to last forever?" she said. "And nobody knows."

Mason's health insurance company, Blue Shield of California, did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.

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