"The death count may be the most important metric, but it is a worthwhile exercise to try to get a handle on the financial magnitude of what we are doing to ourselves. It is staggering to think that we incurred $5.7 billion in largely preventable hospital costs in just three months, and that number is almost certainly a lowball," said Katherine Hempstead, senior policy adviser at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
In its analysis of data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and other health reports, KFF estimated that the average cost for a hospitalized COVID-19 patient is $20,000 and higher if that person requires a ventilator.
"The monetary cost of treating unvaccinated people for COVID-19 is borne not only by patients but also by society more broadly, including taxpayer-funded public programs and private insurance premiums paid by workers, businesses and individual purchasers," the authors said. "Though there was of course a societal cost to develop and distribute vaccinations, the vaccines save the U.S. health system money in the longer run by preventing costly hospitalizations."
Of each hospitalization, a privately insured person only pays about $1,300 out of pocket, KFF said.
To help mitigate the costs, some employers have started assessing surcharges to unvaccinated workers, and insurance companies have started charging for COVID-19 tests required by employers.
For example, Delta Air Lines recently announced it would begin charging unvaccinated employees $200 per month starting in November to help alleviate costs of care on the company. Delta CEO Ed Bastian said the average cost to the company per hospitalization was $50,000, and that all Delta workers who had recently been hospitalized with COVID-19 had been unvaccinated.
"This surcharge will be necessary to address the financial risk the decision to not vaccinate is creating for our company," Bastian said in a memo to employees in late August.