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COVID-19

Will the pandemic mean higher health care costs in the future?

Kimberly Adams Mar 31, 2020
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How will the coronavirus pandemic affect insurance costs moving forward? Above, a temporary hospital is set up at the Jacob K. Javits Center on March 27 in New York. Bryan R. Smith/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

Will the pandemic mean higher health care costs in the future?

Kimberly Adams Mar 31, 2020
How will the coronavirus pandemic affect insurance costs moving forward? Above, a temporary hospital is set up at the Jacob K. Javits Center on March 27 in New York. Bryan R. Smith/AFP via Getty Images
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The COVID-19 pandemic is producing a deeply uncertain period for the economy, and one of the places that’s playing out in a big way is in health care — specifically, what consumers will end up paying for their care and health insurance down the road.

Covered California, the state health insurance marketplace, has a report out estimating COVID-19 testing and treatment will cost the commercial market between $34 billion and $251 billion. The report finds that insurance premiums in private plans could jump from 4% to 40%. That’s a pretty big range, and it has a lot to do with no one knowing how costs will be distributed across the health care landscape.

“Some of the costs of treating patients with coronavirus are just not being paid for at all,” said Ateev Mehrotra, who teaches health care policy at Harvard University.

But this much is certain: the bills will come. Some will get picked up by Medicare and Medicaid, and others by private insurers and individuals. And some costs will be eaten by clinics and hospitals, Mehrotra said.

But there may be mitigating factors that limit the financial impact of the pandemic, he added.

“Patients are understandably scared to go get health care, so a lot of other forms of healthcare have been reduced,” he said.

Discussions about coronavirus costs, and who pays them, are happening now, said Benjamin Isgur, who leads the Health Research Institute at PWC.

“If we’re thinking about the employer insurance market, this is the time period when health plan actuaries are starting to think about what next year’s costs will be,” he said. 

The problem is, those actuaries, when trying to figure out what employers and individuals will have to pay, have little data to work with.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What’s the outlook for vaccine supply?

Chief executives of America’s COVID-19 vaccine makers promised in congressional testimony to deliver the doses promised to the U.S. government by summer. The projections of confidence come after months of supply chain challenges and companies falling short of year-end projections for 2020. What changed? In part, drugmakers that normally compete are now actually helping one another. This has helped solve several supply chain issues, but not all of them.

How has the pandemic changed scientific research?

Over the past year, while some scientists turned their attention to COVID-19 and creating vaccines to fight it, most others had to pause their research — and re-imagine how to do it. Social distancing, limited lab capacity — “It’s less fun, I have to say. Like, for me the big part of the science is discussing the science with other people, getting excited about projects,” said Isabella Rauch, an immunologist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. Funding is also a big question for many.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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