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According to a study by Nomi Health, in the six months following a diagnosis, long Covid causes an overall average medical cost of $9,500 for workers and their employers.
Long Covid is a chronic illness that can bring with it potentially debilitating symptoms that can last for months or years. It can affect anyone who has an initial infection with Covid-19, regardless of age or medical condition.
Up to 30% of Americans who contract Covid have developed long-distance symptoms; That means as many as 23 million Americans have been affected, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services.
Associated medical costs include doctor visits, hospital stays, and an increased likelihood of prescriptions for steroids, antibiotics, and respiratory medications, according to the Nomi Health study.
Long Covid patients are “health system migrants,” said Mark Newman, CEO and co-founder of Nomi Health. “They’re like nomads through the healthcare system, trying to figure out what’s wrong with me.”
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Here’s a look at more stories about the complexity and impact of Long Covid:
The health system analyzed 20.3 million health insurance claims for 4.7 million workers with health insurance in the first half of 2022.
Its medical cost estimate only takes into account workers who have had a long Covid diagnosis.
But getting a diagnosis can be a lengthy and costly process for many people. There is no test that tells patients if they have had Covid for a long time, meaning doctors often only conclude someone has it after a series of tests and rule out other diseases. With no known cure, treatment generally focuses on ongoing symptom management.
“There are diseases and conditions with many obvious answers, and Covid isn’t one of them for a long time,” Newman said.
In a separate study, Harvard University economist David Cutler estimated that long-term Covid costs patients $9,000 a year in medical expenses. As with Nomi’s estimate, Cutler’s is a total cost before accounting for health insurance co-payments and any co-payment limits.
Long-Covid patients incurred an additional average medical cost of $9,000 per person compared to similar people who had Covid but had no subsequent long-distance symptoms, Nomi Health found.
Medical expenses are not the only financial costs sufferers may incur. For example, it is estimated that hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of people are unemployed or have reduced hours, resulting in lost income.
Nomi Health found employees with long Covid were 3.6 times more likely to miss work for medical reasons.
“This is an ongoing tax and burden on our society that we will have to deal with for decades to come,” Newman said.
Cutler at Harvard University, based on confirmed Covid cases that long Covid would cost the US economy $3.7 trillion through increased medical spending, reduced revenue and reduced quality of life. That total cost matches that of the Great Recession, Cutler said, which before the pandemic recession was the worst downturn since the Great Depression.
Proactive strategies to help with medical expenses
There are a few considerations that can help manage the financial fallout of Long Covid.
“It’s so painful when you have an illness and all of a sudden there’s no money coming in,” Carolyn McClanahan, a board-certified financial planner and physician, told CNBC.
Workers who are not already ill should enroll in disability insurance programs at work during their open enrollment period if their employer offers the benefit, McClanahan said.
This can create a financial buffer if someone has to miss work for a short or long term due to long Covid. Such group policies offer guaranteed coverage at a low cost, but there are often exclusions and limitations that are worth checking.
People should also pay attention to this when choosing a health plan. For example, some plans have lower monthly premiums but larger deductibles and other costs, and a thinner network of doctors available to patients. Conversely, plans with higher monthly premiums may have smaller deductibles and deductible limits and a larger list of specialists available to them, possibly without a referral from a GP. Leaving a health insurance plan’s network can incur significant costs.
Health plans with larger networks of doctors and specialists could serve a longtime Covid patient well, said McClanahan, founder of Life Planning Partners in Jacksonville, Fla. and a member of CNBC’s Advisory Board.
“There are so many variables to consider,” she said.
Some aspects of health care, such as Things like prescription drugs are more expensive through insurance, which means someone could benefit from looking around and using resources like GoodRx, McClanahan said. For example, a $100 drug through insurance with a GoodRx coupon could cost $4 through the right pharmacy, she said.
While dumping retirement savings early is generally not a good idea, there are tax-efficient ways patients can consider withdrawing money from an individual retirement account when they need money, McClanahan said. Talking to an accountant about these options can be useful, she said.
For example, a saver who is under the age of 59½ generally owes a 10% tax penalty in addition to income taxes when withdrawing money from an IRA.
However, there is an exception to this 10% penalty in some cases involving significant non-reimbursable medical expenses. Such people would have to document their medical expenses and would still owe income tax on that IRA withdrawal, McClanahan said.