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COVID-19 medical expenses could cost consumers up to $700 billion, study finds

Experts say consumers need to take precautions to stay healthy

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Though consumers have plenty to worry about amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers are now exploring the financial aspect of the medical care that could be necessary during these uncertain times. 

Experts from the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy predict that if the majority of the country were to become infected, medical costs could be expected to near $700 billion, and medical equipment will become even harder to access. Their work emphasizes the importance of taking necessary precautions and staying home as much as possible. 

“Some have suggested herd immunity strategies for this pandemic,” said researcher Sarah Bartsch. “These strategies consist of allowing people to get infected until herd immunity thresholds are reached and the virus can no longer spread. However, our study shows that such strategies could come at a tremendous cost.” 

Slowing the spread and the rising costs

The researchers developed a simulation that allowed them to analyze the effects of having different parts of the country and different populations affected by the coronavirus. In addition to playing out various scenarios, the simulation followed each patient from the time of diagnosis to their trips to the doctor or emergency room, and it tallied up all associated costs and medical expenses. 

The researchers evaluated the repercussions of various proportions of the country becoming infected, ranging from 20 percent to 80 percent. 

If 20 percent of the country tested positive, the researchers predicted that would lead to over 11 million hospitalizations and overall medical costs surpassing $163 billion. If 80 percent of the population became infected, they predict hospitalizations would rise to nearly 44 million, and total medical costs would near $700 billion. 

The researchers hope that these figures emphasize the severity of the situation, as well as the importance of following stay-at-home orders. 

“This also shows what may occur if social distancing measures were relaxed and the country were to be ‘re-opened’ too early,” said researcher Bruce Y. Lee. “If the virus is still circulating and the infection rates surge as a result, we have to consider the resulting health care costs. Such costs will affect the economy as well because someone will have to pay for them. Any economic argument for reopening the country needs to factor in health care costs.” 

The researchers explained that these costs have repercussions that could last far longer than many consumers realize, and these findings highlight the importance of consumers doing their part to reduce the spread of infection. 

“Factoring in the costs incurred after the infection is over also adds to the costs,” said Lee. “It is important to remember that for a proportion of the people who get infected, health care costs don’t end when the active infection ends. This pandemic will have its lasting effects and taking care of those who will suffer continuing problems is one of them.” 

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