Jamila’s Memo: You are on your own with COVID-19 hospital bills

Jamila’s Memo: You are on your own with COVID-19 hospital bills

The last two months have simply been Kenya’s worst since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in March.

We talk of waves but I would rather talk of numbers, because every number is a name: on a daily basis we are losing more people than ever before to COVID-19.

The rate of infection has also spiked sharply, topping over 15% consistently on a daily basis. What this has meant is that our health facilities are suddenly stretched beyond capacity.

Getting an isolation bed today is not as easy it was say three months ago. not to mention the critical cases that require oxygen treatment and full ICU support.

But then emerges a new nightmare: the cost of managing COVID-19. It is a double tragedy for any average Kenyan to catch the virus today because it is now official, treatment is entirely at your own cost.

The safety of private insurance is not available even for the wealthiest as insurance firms pull back with policy clauses that say: ‘Sorry we don’t cover pandemics’, while others give a limit that is often impractical.

On the public side of things, the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) is off the table. The State insurance body has made it clear that it has no capacity to cover coronavirus related medical expenses.

And here is why I argue that a majority of Kenyans are in for a double tragedy: two days ago, acting Health Director General Dr. Patrick Amoth gave a breakdown of the cost of treating coronavirus.

Managing an asymptomatic patient costs an average of Ksh. 21,000 per day, for severe cases the average cost is Ksh. 51,000 per day while ICU care costs an average of Ksh. 71,000, 65% of these costs are contributed by PPE.

Now a majority of Kenyan families do not even earn the total worth of a day’s asymptomatic bill: Ksh. 21,000 or less, is probably the amount of money they make after a whole month’s labor and toil.

What this means is COVID-related bills will hence be an agonizing experience for families.

Take the story of the family of Antony Kariuki in Nairobi: three members of his family tested positive for COVID-19 and were admitted to hospital.

After 4 days, the total cost of treatment had reached over Ksh. 750,000 shillings, an amount even the private insurance could not pay.

Francis Sarampash of Kajiado also contracted the virus and was admitted in hospital; 4 days later the cost of treatment had topped Ksh. 70,000.

With the rising numbers of infections, the stories of the two families, will be replicated in many homes across the country. This is the new sad reality of COVID-19.

Perhaps the only weapons we have now is to observe the three W’s of safety: Watch your distance, Wear your mask and Wash your hands.

Because on the cost side of things – the bottom line, grim as it sounds, is this: you are on your own.