US Pharm. 2020;45(5):HS-15-HS-16.
One of the major concerns about the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has been the burden that cases will place on the healthcare system. A new study published in Health Affairs found that the spread of the virus could cost hundreds of billions of dollars in direct medical expenses alone and require resources such as hospital beds and ventilators that may exceed what is currently available.
The findings demonstrate how these costs and resources can be cut substantially if the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus can be reduced to different degrees. The study was led by the Public Health Informatics, Computational, and Operations Research team at the City University of New York Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy along with the Infectious Disease Clinical Outcomes Research Unit at the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute, Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, and Torrance Memorial Medical Center.
The team developed a computer simulation model of the entire U.S. that could then simulate what would happen if different proportions of the population were infected with the COVID-19 coronavirus. In the model, each infected person would develop different symptoms over time and, depending upon the severity of those symptoms, visit clinics, emergency departments, or hospitals.
For example, if 20% of the U.S. population were to become infected with the COVID-19 coronavirus, there would be an average of 11.2 million hospitalizations and 1.6 million ventilators used, costing an average of $163.4 billion in direct medical costs during the course of the infection. The study shows the factors that could push this amount up to 13.4 million hospitalizations and 2.3 million ventilators used, costing an average of $214.5 billion. If 50% of the U.S. population were to become infected with COVID-19, there would be 27.9 million hospitalizations, 4.1 million ventilators used, and 156.2 million hospital bed days accrued, costing an average of $408.8 billion in direct medical costs during the course of the infection. This increases to 44.6 million hospitalizations, 6.5 million ventilators used, and 249.5 million hospital bed days (general ward plus ICU bed days) incurred, costing an average of $654 billion during the course of the infection, if 80% of the U.S. population were to become infected.
The significant difference in medical costs when various proportions of the population get infected show the value of any strategies that could reduce infections and, conversely, the potential cost of simply letting the virus run its course.