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State asked insurance companies to evaluate how the pandemic might affect their finances and operations.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Insurance companies and hospitals could take a big financial hit because of the coronavirus.As state health care providers brace for waves of coronavirus patients, it's uncertain how Oregon hospitals and health insurers will handle the financial strain.

An onslaught of high-cost coronavirus cases — a single severely sick patient could cost a hospital $100,000 or more to treat — combined with delay or cancelation of profitable elective surgical procedures, could push up expenses and hurt revenue of Oregon hospitals, almost all of which are nonprofits, experts said.

"It will all depend on how many people get sick and how many people get severely sick."

Health insurers, particularly the federal Medicare system for the elderly, also could be hammered, experts said, because it appears most of those who are seriously sickened by the virus are elderly.

pmgBut companies that issue commercial health insurance plans in Oregon also could take a hit. The state Department of Consumer and Business Services, which regulates insurers, said this week that it has asked those insurers to evaluate how the pandemic might affect their finances and operations. Government edicts can have sudden financial effects: The department this week ordered all insurers — not just health insurers — to give policy holders until at least April 23, and perhaps beyond, to pay premiums, and that insurers must suspend all cancelations for nonpayment until then.

The financial reverberations of the virus will be fully felt as the true scope of the pandemic surfaces in Oregon.

"It will all depend on how many people get sick and how many people get severely sick," said Rajiv Sharma, a health economics professor at Portland State University.

A coronavirus patient who develops respiratory failure or septicemia who needs prolonged hospital treatment will be the most expensive to treat, he said. One in a less acute condition might cost $25,000 or more, he said.

This Lund Report story is shared as part of a local media project to increase COVID-19 news coverage.

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