Paying the Bills for COVID-19: Three Ideas for Protecting Patients and America’s Health Care System

Covid-19 is hitting the United States harder than any other country in the world. Roughly 41,000 Americans have died from the novel coronavirus and more than 50,000 Americans have been hospitalized. Some experts estimate millions more could be hospitalized before the disease runs its course. Each Covid-19-related hospitalization costs between $30,000-$72,000 per person.

However, it is unclear how those increased costs will effect patients in the long term. There will clearly be a large expense in order to deal with Covid-19 cases. However, there has also been a reduction in other types of care due to the limitations on elective procedures and the logistical difficulties of seeking care in the current environment.

As of now, it is unknown whether health care spending in the aggregate will go up or down. Some hospitals might lose money and layoff workers. Ultimately, insurance premiums might stay steady, but they could also increase, draining state coffers, stretching employer budgets, and straining household finances beyond their capacity. And beyond the aggregate changes, any individual person, doctor, hospital, or insurer could see wild and unanticipated swings in either revenues or costs.

The presence of this uncertainty in the country’s largest economic sector should be a call to action. Only the federal government has the national reach and resources to do the job and eliminate most of this uncertainty. The emergency legislative actions taken by Congress so far are not enough.

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