coronavirus

Covid ‘Long Haulers' Can Face Financial Setbacks as They Battle Lasting Symptoms

Pattanaphong Khuankaew | EyeEm | Getty Images

Laura Crovo has spent more than 10 months not feeling entirely well.

While the 41-year-old Marylander has improved vastly since testing positive for Covid last April, she continues battling a racing heart (tachycardia), a lingering cough and periodic fatigue. On top of that, she and her husband, parents of two children, are still paying off the thousands of dollars in debt that they racked up last year due to her persisting illness.

There are "people who are facing job loss because they can't work, or situations where they're going to the doctor all the time [and] they're spending a ton of money," said certified financial planner Carolyn McClanahan, founder of Life Planning Partners in Jacksonville, Florida.

Laura Crovo still has some lingering Covid symptoms, despite having contracted the virus last April.
Laura Crovo still has some lingering Covid symptoms, despite having contracted the virus last April.

Exactly how many people end up as so-called Covid "long haulers" is hard to know. One study suggests that about 10% of infected individuals will have symptoms that linger for weeks or months. Other research says the rate is more like 30%. Some long haulers initially had mild cases of the virus, while others had a more severe version. And, some had been hospitalized, while others had not.

"Symptoms sometimes arise well after the time of infection, or they evolve over time and they may persist for months and can range from mild to actually quite incapacitating," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House chief medical advisor, in a recent briefing about a government research initiative to explore why some Covid survivors become long haulers.

"The magnitude of the problem is not yet fully known," Fauci said.

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Crovo is among the long haulers who recovered at home. She had tested positive for Covid early last April, when little was known about the virus and treatment options were limited. So far in the U.S., the virus has sickened more than 29.1 million people and resulted in more than 529,000 deaths.

Crovo's symptoms were typical: fever, cough, headache, fatigue, aches and pains, etc. However, they didn't disappear quickly as they do with many individuals who are infected.

With a fever that lasted 25 days, she was out of work for four weeks. Luckily, she said, her employer has been accommodating and supportive. She was given some paid sick leave, despite her having been there for less than a year. At another point, she worked only part-time for two weeks.

"At my sickest, I was couch-bound," Crovo said. "Small things like doing the dishes or simple housekeeping would knock me out for a day."

By late summer, however, Crovo was still experiencing symptoms — mostly tachycardia and extreme fatigue — that made it hard for her to do routine tasks. 

"If I was lying down, my heart rate was OK," she said. "Then I'd stand up and it was like my heart was running a marathon."

She applied for short-term disability. Her insurance company rejected her because, she said, her symptoms were too ambiguous and lacked a formal diagnosis.

The only alternative was to take unpaid leave from work, with her employer promising her job would be there for her. She was out for three months.

"That was the biggest hit for us," Crovo said. "We had to dip into savings, and I started using a credit card that I didn't use frequently."

However, she never lost her health insurance. For anyone who does, though, there are options. The American Rescue Plan, which President Joe Biden signed into law on Thursday, expanded the premium subsidies available through the federal health exchange (or a state marketplace). And, depending on your income, you could qualify for help with other cost-sharing, such as deductibles or premiums, or you may qualify for Medicaid.

If you lose your job but want to remain on your ex-employer's health plan (so-called COBRA coverage), the relief bill also authorizes the government to pay 100% of your premiums through September.

"Always, always have health insurance," said McClanahan at Life Planning Partners.

Nevertheless, even with coverage, the pursuit of a cure for long-haul symptoms has come with a significant cost, said Crovo, who consulted with a variety of specialists. At one point, she was going to physical therapy three times a week in an effort to help her heart not work so hard.

Now, she's trying acupuncture, and each appointment has a $45 copay. However, a medicine she was using off-label to help treat her symptoms is no longer covered by her insurance and would cost $300 monthly if she were to resume taking it.

Crovo said she thinks the acupuncture is helping.

"I'm a lot better than I was last April, or August or December even," she said. "I'm able to get through the work day, which is good for me and our family."

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