Analysis: Care for the unvaccinated may be costing U.S. healthcare system $2.3B

Hospital care for unvaccinated adults who contracted Covid-19 is costing the U.S. healthcare system billions, according to a new report.

Specifically, researchers estimate that in June and July, Covid-19 hospitalizations among unvaccinated adults cost the healthcare system $2.3 billion.

For the report, Kaiser Family Foundation and the Peterson Center on Healthcare analyzed Department of Health and Human Services data for estimates of hospital admissions with confirmed Covid-19. Report authors then examined data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Covid-19 hospitalizations among vaccinated people to estimate the share of hospitalizations among unvaccinated adults.

In June and July, researchers found there were 185,000 new Covid-19 patients admitted to the hospital, of which a vast majority (98.3%) were unvaccinated.

They then drilled down into the data to pinpoint the hospitalizations where patients were primarily being treated for Covid-19, rather than another condition. Based on CDC data for vaccinated patients through Aug. 2, the researchers estimated that 74% of these hospitalizations were primarily for Covid-19 treatment.

The next step involved researchers adjusting for the fact that even if the unvaccinated had gotten the shot, the vaccine would not have prevented 100% of hospitalizations. Once again, based on CDC data about the effectiveness of the vaccines in preventing hospitalizations, the researchers estimated that 84% of the hospitalizations primarily for Covid-19 were preventable.

By multiplying the number of adults hospitalized primarily for Covid by the percent of hospitalizations preventable by vaccination, the researchers were able to approximate the number of preventable hospitalizations: 113,000.

This figure was then multiplied by the average cost of hospitalization for Covid-19, which researchers estimated was $20,000 after examining several sources, including Medicare fee-for-service costs and a FAIR Health analysis of private claims data.

By following this method, researchers found that there were 37,000 preventable Covid-19 hospitalizations in June, costing the U.S. health system approximately $0.7 billion, and another 76,000 preventable hospitalizations in July, which cost around $1.5 billion, bringing the total for the two months to about $2.3 billion.

But this is likely an understated figure.

The report authors cite several reasons for why the actual cost burden of Covid-19 treatment on the U.S. health system is likely higher than $2.3 billion, including the fact that coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths are steadily rising and that they did not include the cost of outpatient treatment, which is likely very high, in the report.

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