How much did unvaccinated COVID patients cost US hospitals? Study says in the billions

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Unvaccinated Americans who become hospitalized are costing the U.S healthcare system billions of dollars, according to a new report.

Research from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that preventable COVID-19 hospitalizations cost at least $5.7 billion between June and August.

The average coronavirus hospital bill is estimated to be $20,000, the study notes, but “there is reason to believe average costs for COVID-19 hospitalizations may be even higher.”

In August alone, as the highly infectious delta variant spurred a surge in hospitalizations and death, the report found nearly 187,000 COVID-19 hospitalizations could have been prevented by vaccination — up from 68,000 in July and 32,000 in June.

“Based on CDC data for the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines in preventing hospitalizations at 13-24 weeks, we assume that 84% of hospitalizations primarily for COVID-19 are preventable with vaccinations,” KFF reported. “... This is again a conservative assumption, as other studies have pointed to a higher level of protection from hospitalization.”

Some studies have even placed the average hospital cost around $42,000. There are also huge costs for outpatient COVID-19 treatment, which the study didn’t account for.

The “ballpark figure is likely an understatement of the cost burden from preventable treatment of COVID-19 among unvaccinated adults,” KFF reported.

Since current laws prevent insurers from charging unvaccinated people higher premiums, the burden will fall on everyone who will pay “a small share of the cost,” KFF reported.

The KFF report also speculates unvaccinated workers could be required to undergo COVID-19 testing to return to the workplace — and then foot the bill for those tests.

Fifty-four percent of the total American population is vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with just over 63% of those ages 12 and up — who are eligible to receive the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine — fully vaccinated as of Sept. 14.

A person is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after the second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or two weeks after one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky in July cited data that found those exposed to the delta variant after full vaccination are seven times less likely to have symptoms and 20 times less likely to be hospitalized or die when compared to unvaccinated people.

In Alabama, for example, one hospital reported on Sept. 8 that 92% of intubated patients and 92% of intensive care patients were unvaccinated.

The uptick in hospitalizations and deaths has placed a strain on health care workers, including 15 respiratory therapists at University of Kansas Health System who have left the system in the past three weeks, according to The Kansas City Star. That is about 10% of all respiratory therapists at the system.

“Just to know right now that we could possibly prevent that just from a shot, is what really I think affects a lot of us emotionally,” respiratory therapist Julie Rojas said during a press conference.

Research has found that those who are unvaccinated after previously testing positive for the coronavirus were twice as likely to again be infected when compared to those who did get vaccinated.

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President Joe Biden announced a COVID-19 vaccine mandate on Thursday for workers at companies with at least 100 employees. Under the rule, companies will be fined if workers aren’t vaccinated or tested weekly for the virus.

“What more is there to wait for? What more do you need to see?” Biden said during a news conference announcing the plan, which would apply to 80 million workers. “We’ve made vaccinations free, safe and convenient. The vaccine is FDA approved. Over 200 million Americans have gotten at least one shot. We’ve been patient, but our patience is wearing thin.”

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