- A single symptomatic COVID-19 infection would cost a median of $3,045 in direct medical costs incurred only during the course of the infection, according to a study published Thursday in Health Affairs. One hospitalized case would cost a median of $14,366 when including only costs during the course of the infection, not the follow-up care.
- Researchers used predictive models to estimate different cost scenarios based on potential infection rates. They found that if 80% of the U.S. population gets infected, direct costs could top $654 billion over the course of the pandemic. If 20% get infected, costs could reach $163.4 billion.
- Even when only considering the costs during the acute infection and not those of follow-up care, the direct medical costs to treat a symptomatic COVID-19 case tends to be substantially higher than other common infectious diseases, researchers found.
No one knows how much it will cost to treat everyone in the United States that gets infected with the novel coronavirus, but the Health Affairs study is among several trying to game out an answer.
Testing troubles early into the pandemic made it difficult to predict local infection rates, and while the virus rages on, it's still unclear how many people have been infected, though social distancing measures seem to have helped beat the worst of expectations.
Health Affairs researchers looked at the potential costs to treat patients infected with the virus based on different infection rates. Because it affects everyone directly, they also evaluated costs associated with different levels of care, ranging from those experiencing mild symptoms to those requiring ventilators.
Those with mild symptoms may incur costs associated with ambulatory visits, telehealth consults, or over-the- counter medications to help treat their condition. Those with severe symptoms that require hospitalization may incur various costs, depending on the level of care and time spent in a facility.
Costs begin to decline for those 65 years and older, due to the fact that they have a lower probability of ICU admission and lower ICU hospitalization costs than patients in their 40s and 50s.
Health Affairs researchers looked at two possible scenarios: one in which 20% of the United States population gets infected, and another in which 80% get infected.
They found that a 20% infection rate would result in a median of 11.2 million hospitalizations, 62.3 million hospital bed days and 1.6 million ventilators used — costing $163.4 billion.
An 80% infection rate would mean a median of 44.6 million hospitalizations, 10.7 million ICU admissions, 6.5 million ventilators used, and 249.5 million hospital bed days — costing $163.4 billion. When accounting for follow-up treatment received a year after hospital discharge, costs could reach a median of $214.5 billion.
Other groups have attempted to predict the total cost of the pandemic. America’s Health Insurance Plans found that costs to the healthcare system from COVID-19 could range from $56 billion to $556 billion over the next two years.
Actuaries in California's Affordable Care Act marketplace, Covered California, project that patients hospitalized due to COVID-19 will stay in the hospital an average of 12 days and generate an average bill of $72,000. A majority will be covered by Medicare, as the virus disproportionately hits older people.
And while total costs remain unknown, it’s also unclear who will eventually pick up the tab. Many Americans are losing their jobs and employer-sponsored insurance, or perhaps lack coverage in the first place.
A report from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that treating the uninsured for symptoms of the virus will likely cost between $13.9 billion and $41.8 billion, depending on how prolonged the outbreak is and how many people need the highest levels of care.