Nearly three in 10 adults in the United States have not been vaccinated against COVID-19. Although the toll on public health has been well-documented, increased hospitalizations also are also costing taxpayer-funded public insurance programs and workers and businesses who pay health insurance premiums.
Although real-time data on the cost of all COVID-19 hospitalizations are not publicly available, various sources point to an average hospitalization cost of around $20,000.
There were 37,000 preventable COVID-19 hospitalizations in June and another 76,000 preventable hospitalizations in July among unvaccinated adults in the United States, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“If each of these preventable hospitalizations cost roughly $20,000, on average, that would mean these largely avoidable hospitalizations have already cost the U.S. health system billions of dollars since the beginning of June,” the Peterson-KFF Health System Tracker reported.
“Based on our estimates, we find preventable COVID-19 cost the U.S. health system $2.3 billion in June and July 2021,” the research partners said.
The cost of treating unvaccinated Americans is shared by patients, taxpayer-funded public programs and private insurance premiums paid by workers, businesses and individual purchasers.
“Only a small share of the cost of a COVID-19 hospitalization is paid directly by patients themselves,” the report explained. “In our analysis of privately insured patients hospitalized with pneumonia, the typical out-of-pocket payment was about $1,300. That is a significant amount for most patients to pay, but it is far less than the amount covered by public and private insurance coverage.”
The Affordable Care Act and other laws prohibit insurers from charging unvaccinated people higher premiums. However, through wellness programs, employers could impose higher costs. Private insurers also have begun reinstating cost-sharing for COVID-19 hospitalizations. Adults largely can avoid these out-of-pocket costs and severe illness by getting free vaccinations.
“Though there was of course a societal cost to develop and distribute vaccinations, the vaccines save the U.S. health system money in the longer run by preventing costly hospitalizations,” the report concluded.
“Although the cost of treating COVID-19 patients has an upward effect on health spending and premiums, overall health services utilization and spending have been suppressed during the pandemic due to stay-at-home measures, potential risk of COVID-19 infection at a hospital or doctors’ offices, and concerns over hospital capacity,” it added.
“In addition to preventable direct monetary costs for treatment of unvaccinated people, reopening of schools and economic recovery also suffer as increasing COVID-19 cases continue to put Americans at risk of avoidable severe illness and even death,” the study explained.
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