Coronavirus Test am Drive-In, Nürtingen, Baden Württemberg

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  • New research shows the average cost of treating a coronavirus patient is more than $3,000 — four times as much as the cost of treating a flu patient.
  • Should 20 percent of the U.S. population contract the virus, researchers estimate a healthcare cost of nearly $215 billion.

NEW YORK — The coronavirus pandemic has already inflicted a heavy price on American families and businesses. As some states begin to reopen, researchers say not stopping the spread of COVID-19 could end up costing the country even more in medical bills.

A study, led by the City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate School of Public Health, looked at how much the outbreak will cost the U.S. health care system if the virus keeps spreading.

Coronavirus health care costs
Estimated COVID-19 coronavirus health care costs based on percent of US population infected. (Image credit: CUNY SPH)

Researchers say that if 20 percent of the country became infected with COVID-19 there could be more than 11 million people hospitalized nationwide. The cost of treating all of those patients was estimated to be $163.4 billion.

CUNY researchers also looked at the costs of continuing treatment for a year following those patients leaving the hospital; the bill for the U.S. health care system ballooned to $214.5 billion.

“This is more evidence that the COVID-19 coronavirus is very different from the flu,” lead author Sarah Bartsch said in a statement. “The burden on the health care system and the resources needed are very different.”

The study found that nearly 28 million people in the U.S. would likely need hospitalization if the virus infected half the country. Over four million people would likely need a ventilator and the medical cost would rise to $408.8 billion. The costs soared to $654 billion if coronavirus infected 80 percent of the population.

Will Reopening Come With A Big Price Tag?

The researchers warn that relaxing the country’s quarantine measures and allowing the virus to run its course could end up costing billions more in medical expenses.

“Some have suggested herd immunity strategies for this pandemic,” Bartsch explained. “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.”

“If the virus is still circulating and the infection rates surge as a result, we have to consider the resulting health care costs,” adds CUNY Prof. Bruce Lee. “Such costs will affect the economy as well because someone will have to pay for them.”

The study says the average cost of treating a single COVID-19 patient is over $3,000; four times more than the average flu patient.

According to the researchers, the U.S. health care system doesn’t have enough ventilators or ICU beds to handle the number of patients hospitals would see if 20 percent of the nation was infected. Bartsch added however, that the scope of the crisis would depend on the timing of when those patients actually need emergency care.

The study was published in the April 23 edition of the journal Health Affairs.

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About Chris Melore

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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