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Clinicians work while caring for COVID-19 patients in the improvised COVID-19 unit at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in the Mission Hills neighborhood on July 30, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. 
Clinicians work while caring for COVID-19 patients in the improvised COVID-19 unit at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in the Mission Hills neighborhood on July 30, 2021 in Los Angeles, California.  Mario Tama/Getty Images

Covid-19 hospitalizations in unvaccinated people cost the US health system $2.3 billion in June and July alone, a number which is likely an understatement, according to an analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation published Friday.

KFF looked at various sources, including CMS data and analyses of private claims, to find that the average cost of a Covid-19 hospitalization was around $20,000.

They used Health and Human Services and US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data to find the number of preventable Covid-19 hospitalizations in the US in the months of June, 37,000 preventable hospitalizations, and July, 76,000 preventable hospitalizations. 

“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 analysis says.

For this estimate, they looked at those who were hospitalized primarily due to Covid-19 and adjusted that number to reflect the fact that even if unvaccinated adults had got the vaccine, it would not prevent 100% of hospitalizations. Then they multiplied the number of preventable hospitalizations by the cost of each hospitalization, using a typical cost of $20,000.

“Based on our estimates, described below, we find preventable Covid-19 cost the U.S. health system $2.3 billion in June and July 2021,” the analysis says.

However, the analysis noted that “this ballpark figure is likely an understatement of the cost burden on the health system from treatment of Covid-19 among unvaccinated adults.” KFF gives a few reasons for this, including that cases, hospitalizations and deaths have continued to increase into August, outpatient treatment costs were not included in the analysis and neither were costs from the unvaccinated spreading the virus to those who have taken the measures to protect themselves.

The cost of treating the unvaccinated is borne not only by patients but also society more broadly, KFF says, including taxpayer-funded public programs and private insurance premiums.

Patients only pay a small share of the cost of hospitalization directly themselves, the analysis says. Insurers are also prohibited from charging higher premiums to unvaccinated people by the Affordable Care Act and other laws, although employers could impose higher costs through wellness programs.

Private insurers have also begun to reinstate cost-sharing for Covid-19 hospitalizations, KFF says, and adults can largely avoid these costs, as well as severe illness, by getting a vaccine, which is free.



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