KFF: System-wide costs of preventable COVID-19 hospitalizations nearly tripled to $5.7B in August

The U.S. healthcare system has spent roughly $5.7 billion through August treating COVID-19 hospitalizations that could have been prevented with vaccines, according to new Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) estimates.

The bulk of this spending, about $3.7 billion, came in August alone as hospitals provided care to approximately 187,000 preventable cases, KFF wrote in the new report.

The country had gone into August with $2 billion in preventable COVID-19 hospitalizations under its belt—$600 million from 32,000 preventable hospitalizations in June and $1.4 billion from 68,000 preventable hospitalizations in July.

These numbers—which used new vaccine effectiveness data to update previous June-July estimates of $2.3 billion and 113,000 hospitalizations—are still likely an underestimate of the overall cost these cases have added to the U.S. health system, the authors wrote.

Each individual hospitalization is given a flat cost of $20,000 based on prior studies across different patient populations placing a COVID-19 admission between roughly $17,000 and $24,000. However, it does not include “likely substantial” outpatient treatments or the financial impact of unvaccinated individuals’ increased infectiousness compared to those who are vaccinated.

“Despite the availability of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines, vaccination rates have lagged, particularly in some states and among younger people,” Krutika Amin, associate director at KFF, and Cynthia Cox, vice president at KFF, wrote in the report. “As of early September 2021, 25% of adults over the age of 18 in the U.S. remain unvaccinated for COVID-19. As a result of lagging vaccinations and the more infectious delta variant, COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths are on the rise again.”

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KFF’s analysis leaned on data from the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding new adult hospital admissions with COVID-19, breakthrough infection rates among those who were hospitalized, the proportion of COVID-19 hospitalizations being primarily treated for their infection and overall vaccine effectiveness.

Patients themselves are directly responsible for a fraction of these hospitalization costs, with taxpayer-funded public programs and private insurance premiums and other sources picking up much of the slack, KFF wrote. Additionally, unvaccinated workers may be required to receive regular COVID-19 testing if they wish to continue working, they noted.

“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,” they wrote. “In addition to preventable direct monetary costs for treatment of unvaccinated people, reopening of schools and economic recovery also suffers as increasing COVID-19 cases continue to put Americans at risk of avoidable severe illness and even death.”

Uptake of the COVID-19 vaccines remains a key challenge for healthcare stakeholders and the Biden administration. Last week the president announced sweeping vaccination mandates that include a requirement for all healthcare facilities to vaccinate their staff as a condition for Medicare and Medicaid participation.

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