With eight months of data available, doctors are working to unravel the mystery of the coronavirus pandemic. One thing is especially clear: the disease doesn’t come and go quickly. In fact, many COVID-19 survivors have faced months (and possibly years) of debilitating complications.
As a result, healthcare experts are studying the potential long-term costs of these complications, both for the patients and the healthcare system as a whole.
The Possible Costs of “Post-COVID Syndrome”
It is estimated that if 20% of the U.S population contracts the coronavirus, the one-year post-hospitalization costs would amount to at least $50 billion. And that’s before factoring in longer-term care for lingering health problems.
If a vaccine never comes to fruition and the worst case scenario happens, an 80% infection rate among the U.S population would send costs soaring over $200 billion.
Unfortunately, it will be years before the full consequences of COVID-19 are understood. It’s similar to the slow understanding of the health impacts to first responders on the scene of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City.
What We Know About “Post-COVID Syndrome”
Aptly named for occurring even after the COVID-19 infection itself disappears, post-COVID syndrome is defined by lingering health complications weeks and months after coronavirus recovery.
Reports show that patients who recover from coronavirus still frequently face complications like limited lung capacity, cardiovascular strain, and kidney damage. One JAMA Cardiology study found that of a group of German COVID-19 patients aged 45 to 53, more than 75% suffered from heart inflammation after recovery.
Similarly, a Kidney International study found that more than 33% of COVID-19 patients in a New York medical system developed acute kidney injury, with 15% ultimately requiring dialysis.
“On a global level, nobody knows how many will still need checks and treatment in three months, six months, a year,” Dr. Marco Rizzi in Bergamo, Italy, said, adding that even those with mild COVID-19 “may have consequences in the future.”
Nobody knows the exact costs, either, other than “very high.” More than half of U.S citizens are covered by private health insurers, an industry only now starting to consider the true costs of COVID-19.
The Monetary Cost
Brian Lee of the City University of New York (CUNY) estimated the average one-year cost of a U.S. COVID-19 patient after being discharged from the hospital at $4,000. This is largely due to the lingering issues from acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), which affects some 40% of patients, and sepsis.
Some hospitals are tackling the problem by creating centers devoted to follow-up measures and standardized post-COVID procedures, but it’s still a work in progress.
Depending on the full extent of lingering COVID-19 effects in the following years, Americans could be facing higher health insurance premiums as health plans scurry to cover additional medical costs. In fact, some health plans have already raised 2021 premiums by up to 8% due to the coronavirus, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
As with everything else related to the coronavirus in 2020 (and now 2021), the message is clear: buckle up for a bumpy ride.