Research explores the real health costs of COVID-19
Wednesday, April 29, 2020
The costs of COVID-19 treatment are starting to bear out for both patients and health systems, according to researchers. Recent reports suggest a single symptomatic COVID-19 infection would cost at least $3,045 in direct medical costs incurred during the pandemic, Health Affairs says.
A hospitalized patient could cost about $14,366 when including only costs during the infection, not to mention anything about follow-up care. Based on multiple studied scenarios, researchers said that if up to 80% of the U.S. population gets infected, costs could surpass $650 billion for the U.S health system throughout the pandemic. If 20% get infected, costs could still result in as much as $163.4 billion.
Thus, researchers surmise, the direct medical costs to treat a symptomatic COVID-19 case are much higher than other common infectious diseases, such as the flu.
Health Affairs reviewed the potential costs of treating patients with the virus based on different infection rates. The virus affects everyone directly, so researchers evaluated costs associated with varying amounts of care, of those experiencing mild symptoms to those individuals requiring ventilators.
Those with mild symptoms may incur costs associated with ambulatory visits, telehealth consults, or over-the-counter medications to treat the condition. Those with severe symptoms that require hospitalization may incur various other costs.
For the American health system, an 80% infection rate would mean an average of more than 44 million hospitalizations, with more than 10 million ICU admissions, almost 7 million ventilators used, and nearly 250 million hospital bed days. Adding follow-up treatment may cost about $215 billion.
Health insurer researchers reportedly found that costs could range from more than $55 billion to $556 billion over the next two years.
The Kaiser Family Foundation said treating the uninsured for the virus may run between almost $14 billion and $42 billion. The price tag is determined by the length of the outbreak and by how many people need the highest levels of care.
Kaiser also said the total cost of coronavirus treatment in a hospital could surpass $20,000 when factoring in out-of-pocket expenses and insurance coverage. Many health insurance providers announced they are waiving testing costs for those enrolled in any of their plans. However, treatment may be subject to the same cost-sharing as any other medical condition, depending on the plan.
On March 25, Aetna became the first major insurer to waive inpatient hospital bills for members treated for coronavirus. This includes co-pays and out-of-pocket costs. Cigna and Humana soon followed on March 29, announcing they would be waiving out-of-pocket expenses related to COVID-19.
Surprise billing — when a patient with health insurance is treated at an out-of-network hospital or when an out-of-network doctor assists with the procedure at the hospital —should be off the table, according to the White House.
Bills for such services can range from hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars.
"The Trump administration is committed to ensuring all Americans are not surprised by the cost related to testing and treatment they need for COVID-19," said White House spokesman Judd Deere in a statement.
The White House has said "no" to surprise billing of patients receiving treatment for COVID-19, and hospitals agreeing to accept money as part of the $2 trillion stimulus bill must agree not to engage in the practice. The hospitals that accept money from the stimulus plan also must not collect more money than the patient otherwise owed if the medical attention had been provided in-network.
Nevertheless, a Kaiser Family Foundation survey says Americans remain concerned about their ability to pay for coverage of coronavirus coverage, which may bear some stress now that numbers for care are coming into focus. Almost 40% interviewed said they are facing financial strife and that they had either lost a job or some income because of the virus.
President Donald Trump announced on April 3 that uninsured Americans could seek coronavirus treatment for free as the federal government is agreeing to cover hospitals' expenses. A $100 billion fund includes the provision for healthcare providers that were part of a $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package passed by Congress in March.
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