When the coronavirus pandemic began, the entire world was paralyzed, unable to process a seemingly endless number of questions with no answer: How many people will be impacted? How long would it take to develop a vaccine? Would COVID-19 mutate? When will this pandemic end?
While we’ve gotten answers to some of these questions, new ones have emerged. Recently, the prevalence of long-haul COVID-19 — symptoms that pop up after someone has recovered from the infectious disease — have confounded health care providers and patients across the globe.
Studies estimate that 10% to 30% of patients struggle with new or persistent symptoms after their initial diagnosis of COVID-19, including:
- Joint pain
- Chest pain
- Muscle pain
- A fast or pounding heartbeat
- Loss of smell or taste
- Depression or anxiety
- Dizziness when standing
- Memory, concentration or sleep problems
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
Long COVID can last weeks, months or even years — and according to the American Disabilities Act, it can be considered a disability if it substantially impacts a person’s life. So finding help is extremely important if you want to not only care for your health, but also for your finances as you recover.
Here’s what you should know about finding help if you have long COVID.
How to find treatment
If you think you have long COVID, the first step is to make an appointment with a health care professional, whether that’s a doctor, nurse, nurse practitioner or physician assistant. It’s helpful to bring a dated symptom log, as well as details of your experience with COVID-19, so that you and your health care provider can identify trends and run the appropriate tests.
Once you have a diagnosis, your provider can establish a treatment plan, which may include rehabilitation or occupational therapy . There are also long COVID treatment centers and rehabilitation programs that have emerged at universities and hospitals across the country, including:
Please keep in mind that this is by no means an exhaustive list — so it’s definitely worth looking for programs located in your area if you’re dealing with ongoing symptoms.
How to deal with the financial implications of long COVID
If you have health insurance, you shouldn’t have to worry about paying for treatment for long COVID, since insurers are required to provide coverage (and not impose any cost-sharing) for COVID-19-related treatment under the CARES Act.
However, it’s important to understand that certain coverages may be limited. For example, if you’re getting physical, respiratory or occupational therapy, you may have a specific number of appointments that your insurer will cover. You may also be covered for experimental studies, though it may ultimately be dependent on your insurer. You’ll need to check with your insurance company before committing to any kind of treatment plan.
Another useful option to support yourself financially during long COVID is short-term leave through the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which allows you to take time to recover while protecting your job (thereby keeping you insured); however, it only covers unpaid leave. Speak to your employer’s human resources department to see if you qualify and to understand the implications of taking leave.
It’s also a good idea to apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) if you have long COVID. To qualify, you’ll need to have worked long enough and recently enough, and have paid Social Security taxes on your earnings. It’ll generally take five months after approval to receive your first payment.
For context, the average SSDI benefit comes to $1,236 per month. After the first nine months of work (assuming you’re able to continue working in some capacity), you’d be capped at earning $1,350 per month on top of that benefit (or $2,260 if you’re blind.)
Unfortunately, there are limited options for those without health insurance, as the Uninsured Program created by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services ended in March 2022. However, you can look into getting an affordable health insurance plan through Healthcare.gov (premiums can be as low as $0 per month, depending on the plan) or via Medicaid (those premiums range from $5 to $74 a month), if you qualify.
How to manage the symptoms of long COVID
Long COVID can be a difficult disease to deal with, especially since there’s no clear path to a speedy recovery. It’s important to seek the help you need, and that includes your mental health. There are support groups that can help, offering the chance to talk to people who are experiencing similar symptoms and helping each other navigate the illness.
Here are a few support group options to consider:
It may also make sense to seek out therapy if you’re having a difficult time dealing with the many changes that can come with this diagnosis. There are many telehealth options available to those who aren’t able to see a therapist in person, or simply want to limit their exposure to COVID-19. You should check with your insurance company to understand your options and find a therapist.
And don’t forget about your friends and family — talk to them about how they can best support you as you recover. Explaining your needs and asking for assistance on specific tasks, as well as arranging for transportation to and from doctor’s appointments, can help you cope.
You should also consult your doctor or physical therapist about lifestyle or behavior modifications to consider adopting as a part of your treatment plan. These should address not only your symptoms, but also ways to improve your quality of life, too. That way, you’ll be better equipped to focus on helping your body heal as you traverse the road to recovery.