- The surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations among unvaccinated Americans in August added billions of dollars to estimates of preventable costs to the U.S. healthcare system, according to a new analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation.
- Last month alone, the preventable costs of treating unvaccinated patients totaled $3.7 billion, researchers estimated in the report released Tuesday. That's almost twice the total for June and July combined, and brings the total preventable costs for coronavirus-related hospitalizations among the unvaccinated population during those three months up to $5.7 billion.
- More than 280,000 hospitalizations from COVID-19 could have been prevented by vaccination between June to August, researchers said. The data comes as hospitals in U.S. hotspots face dwindling capacity as COVID-19 deaths rise, threatening quality of care for COVID and non-COVID patients alike.
Coronavirus vaccines have been free and broadly available to the U.S. public since April of this year, and are highly effective at preventing severe disease, hospitalization and death from the virus that continues to surge in pockets across the country.
Despite that fact, vaccination rates have lagged. As of early September, roughly a fourth of U.S. adults remain unvaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As a result of vaccine holdouts and the rise of the highly infectious delta variant, COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths rose again in the U.S., despite continued urging from public health officials that the unvaccinated receive the potentially life-saving shot.
Hospitals in areas hardest hit by COVID-19 are warning of extremely stressed capacity as coronavirus deaths in the U.S. continue to rise, though new cases and hospitalizations are leveling off, per a New York Times tracker.
According to HHS, 80% of ICU beds in the country are currently in use, with six states — Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi and Texas — reporting 90% or more of their ICU beds are filled.
The nation is averaging roughly 1,500 deaths a day, the most since winter, and COVID-19 deaths have risen 36% over the past two weeks. The large majority of deaths are among unvaccinated people.
But the new analysis from KFF reiterates how the decision to not get a COVID-19 vaccine doesn't just threaten one's own health or the health of those in the community, but also results in serious costs for taxpayer-funded public insurance programs and the workers and businesses paying health insurance premiums.
KFF researchers' analysis of HHS and CDC data found there were 32,000 and 68,000 preventable COVID-19 hospitalizations among unvaccinated adults in June and July, respectively, before that number skyrocketed to 187,000 in August.
To find a price tag for avoidable hospitalizations, KFF collated a handful of reputable estimates of the cost of a COVID-19 hospitalization, which CMS puts at $24,033, FAIR Health puts at $17,094 for people over age 70 to $24,012 for people in their 50s and a National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases study averaged at $21,752.
KFF therefore used a $20,000 per-hospitalization cost for the analysis.
Researchers estimated the number of preventable hospitalizations by removing vaccinated adults from the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 and narrowing that group down to hospitalizations primarily for COVID-19 treatment. Researchers then adjusted for the fact that vaccines wouldn't prevent 100% of hospitalizations to get the number of preventable hospitalizations, before multiplying the number of preventable hospitalizations by the estimated cost of each one, to get $5.7 billion.
Despite the staggering price tag, researchers said "this ballpark figure is likely an understatement of the cost burden from preventable treatment of COVID-19 among unvaccinated adults."
Among other factors, the analysis doesn't include the cost of outpatient treatment, some outside research pegs the average cost for COVID-19 hospitalizations as significantly higher than $20,000 and unvaccinated people are more likely to spread the virus to others, contributing to additional medical costs.
The Affordable Care Act and other laws prohibit insurers from charging unvaccinated people higher premiums, but unvaccinated people could start to see higher medical costs due to their decision, KFF researchers pointed out. Private insurers have begun reinstating cost-sharing for COVID-19 hospitalizations, and employers could impose higher costs through wellness programs, the report said.
As a result of flagging inoculation rates, President Joe Biden announced plans earlier this month to require employers with 100 or more workers and all provider facilities participating in the Medicare and Medicaid programs to mandate COVID-19 shots for their employees.
The new requirements, which could apply to as many as 100 million Americans, resulted in a firestorm of condemnation from Republican lawmakers but has broad support among the American public, with 60% of respondents to an Axios-Ipsos poll released Tuesday saying they support Biden's vaccine mandates.