MEDFORD, Ore. – Getting a COVID-19 vaccine is free, but going to the hospital for COVID-19 is not. Even if you don’t catch the virus, or go to the hospital local residents can still pay the price.
Hospitals in Southern Oregon are overflowing with COVID-19 patients. The majority of them are unvaccinated.
“I think it’s been sort of a sucker punch. The couple last [of] months it looked like things were getting better. [Then] they got really bad, to the worst it’s ever been in the state,” said David Baden, Chief Financial Officer of the Oregon Health Authority.
Breaking down the cost of COVID-19 is not simple. It depends on the type of insurance if the person is insured at all. It also depends on the type of care the patient receives in the hospital, based on how extreme the case is.
“That’s expensive. It’s really expensive to treat a COVID patient. That will have a greater impact on how the healthcare system finances itself,” said Baden.
According to data from the independent nonprofit, Fair Health, an uninsured COVID-19 patient could see costs averaging around $73,300. Now if the patient is insured and in-network it lowers to about $38,221.
“It has an impact on all of us. Obviously, it has [a] direct impact on our health and our public health,” said Baden, “But it also has an impact on our pocketbooks”.
But if a patient’s case is much more severe the cost could be even higher. Even if you don’t get COVID-19 it still affects residents’ pocketbooks.
“The taxpayers out there is an impact on your taxes, there’s an impact on your insurance rate if you are privately insured. All of those things make a difference,” said Baden.
The Kaiser Family Foundation said in June and July, unvaccinated adults cost the health care system $2.3 billion dollars nationwide. The Foundation estimates the minimum cost of a COVID-19 patient is $20,000 per person. There were $185,000 hospitalizations between the two months, with 113,000 cases estimated to be preventable.
In 2020, OHA said they spent about $38 million on COVID-19 services. But that price tag doesn’t include the Medicaid cost through coordinated care.
“Nearly 10x the $38 million for treatment last year is probably not too far [off],” said Baden.
To put that into perspective, OHA could use $38 million for 316 years of cancer treatment* or give 300 people heart surgery**.
“That’s tens of millions of dollars that the state would not have had to spend if people would have been vaccinated,” said Baden.
Not to mention rates for private insurancers could go up. BlueCross BlueShield said the average cost for a hospital visit for their members is about $500-$1,000. That bill goes up 45x for COVID-19 hospitalization, which doesn’t include the ICU.
There are also indirect costs the state has to pay due to COVID-19. For example, sending additional nurse strike teams to hospitals that are overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.
“If that makes a difference for someone to say hey you know what I don’t wanna pay higher taxes,” said Baden, “Then I’ll add another reason to the many out there on why to get vaccinated,” said Baden.
* If the cancer treatment costs $10,000 per month.
** If the heart surgery costs $100,000.