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Cost of COVID: Families struggle to pay medical expenses

The coronavirus hit both the Johnson and Mejia families. Now, they're not sure how they're going to afford to live.

WASHINGTON — Besides the health implications, there's another cost to COVID-19 -- steep medical expenses that families can't pay.

Ervin Johnson's dad, Terry Johnson, was hospitalized with the coronavirus starting in March for 72 days. He spent 21 of those on a ventilator.

Despite his numerous health conditions, like congestive heart failure and diabetes, he survived, and left the North Carolina hospital where he was recovering in the beginning of June. 

“We’re incredibly grateful that he made it out of that," Ervin said. "The doctors told us he was a miracle case. The drugs and treatment they tried on him were practically new at that point."

Ervin, who lives in DC, traveled south to help his parents and realized the biggest way he could assist was with expenses, which piled up by the day.

“It seemed like every minute we were in the house, there were new prescriptions that were $75 a pop," he said. "He needed a new bipap machine to sleep with …. So all of these additional costs of what it does to your body, he was so conditioned of being in the hospital and receiving the oxygen therapy sitting upright, the nurse told us it would be best to buy him an adjustable bed."

Credit: Ervin Johnson
Ervin Johnson finally got to visit his dad, Terry, after he spent months in the hospital with the coronavirus.

He said the breathing machine cost him $1,700, and the new bed cost $1,400. In total, Ervin said he bought $6,300 in medical supplies, new clothes, and food for his dad in the last month.

“You’re cycling through your mind, you’re checking your bank account app. I only have $100, but I have to give it. My dad needs it," he said. "That’s the part where it gets scary, because we’re all struggling at the moment due to circumstance … Those are the costs that add up, and they add up so quickly, and it becomes a lot.”

Ruben Mejia's Frederick, Maryland-based family is also struggling to get by after his bout with the coronavirus. Mejia spent two weeks fighting COVID in the hospital in early May. 

Months later, he said he's still feeling the effects, and consequently, out of work.

“When I go to sleep, I’m coughing," he said. "I have a heartburn, or my voice getting tired all the time.”

His wife, Robyn, who is a teacher at Fairfax County Public Schools, said before her husband came down with COVID-19, he had no preexisting health conditions. Now, she said he has to use an inhaler multiple times a day to function — and they are footing the bill.

Credit: Robyn Mejia
Ruben Mejia fought the coronavirus in a Maryland hospital back in May. He is now home, recovering.

Neither family has received their official hospital bill, yet. But, the Mejias have a preliminary estimate of the damage they're facing.

“We got a statement from the hospital for over $23,000. That’s a lot," Robyn said. "We don’t have the official bill … It’s been three months since he’s been out of work, so we don’t know what’s going to happen with that, and with the rent. No paychecks, so it’s very stressful.”

She said as a teacher with FCPS, she isn't getting paid during the summer either.

For now, they have figured out how to get by, but once the hospital bill comes in, she said they're not sure.

Robyn and Ruben hope their story serves as a warning to the public as the DMV continues to reopen.

“I almost died at the hospital," Ruben said. "I passed out. My heart stopped working for a minute, and I remember the nurses trying to wake me up. This is real. So make sure when you go outside, you use masks, wash your hands, use hand sanitizer, because this is real.”

If you would like to help the Johnson family, you can donate via their gofundme here.

If you feel compelled to contribute to the Mejia family, you can find their gofundme here.

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