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23 million Americans suffer from long Covid — and it costs them $9,000 a year in health-care expenses, on average

beijingwalker

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23 million Americans suffer from long Covid — and it costs them $9,000 a year in health-care expenses, on average

DEC 1 20229:30 AM EST
KEY POINTS
  • Annual medical costs associated with long Covid are estimated to be around $9,000 a year, on average.
  • Long Covid is a chronic illness that results from a Covid-19 infection. There are hundreds of potential symptoms, which can be debilitating for many people.
  • Treatment largely consists of symptom management, since there’s no known cure for long Covid, medical experts said.
106570543-1591700719190gettyimages-1213071645.jpeg

The Covid-19 unit at United Memorial Medical Center in north Houston.
Carolyn Cole | Los Angeles Times | Getty Images

Long Covid has affected as many as 23 million Americans to date — and it’s poised to have a financial impact rivaling or exceeding that of the Great Recession. By one estimate, the chronic illness will cost the U.S. economy $3.7 trillion, with extra medical costs accounting for $528 billion.

Costs on a household and national scale are tough to quantify because the illness — also known as long-haul Covid, post-Covid or post-acute Covid syndrome — is so new. Anyone with a prior Covid-19 infection is susceptible, regardless of factors such as age, health or vaccine status.

Symptoms, which number in the hundreds, can range from mild to severe and may persist for months or even years.

David Cutler, an economist at Harvard University who projected the $3.7 trillion economic cost of long Covid, estimates the individual medical costs of the disease to be about $9,000 a year, on average. However, typical costs can range from roughly $3,700 up to almost $14,000, Cutler said.

Costs can be much higher, depending on the severity of illness. And because symptoms often impact a person’s ability to work, someone suffering from long Covid may not be able to lean on a regular paycheck — or employer-sponsored health insurance — to help cover those medical bills.

Cutler’s financial estimate draws on prior research into treatment for myalgic encephalomyelitis, a condition also known as chronic fatigue syndrome, or ME/CFS.

Dr. Greg Vanichkachorn, medical director of the Mayo Clinic’s Covid Activity Rehabilitation Program, said those estimates are the best approximation right now, since treatment and evaluation for long Covid are similar to those for ME/CFS. There is no cure or approved treatment for ME/CFS; as with long Covid, patient symptoms are merely treated or managed.

“I think it is important to note that this, again, is an estimate,” Vanichkachorn said. “As new treatment measures come out, things could get more expensive or, hopefully, more affordable.”
“That’s the nature of the word ‘long-haul’ — it can be an open box of costs for a while,” Vanichkachorn said.

‘People are trying all sorts of treatments’

Getting an official long Covid diagnosis can be challenging, which can compound early expenses.

The afflicted may undergo a battery of tests to rule out other ailments, for example. Or doctors may refer patients to specialists for treatment if they’re unfamiliar with long Covid or unwilling to entertain it as a possibility.

Medical professionals typically treat infectious disease by identifying the invasive organism and attacking it. But that’s not what’s happening with long Covid.

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Instead, doctors treat symptoms of the disease, not the disease itself, said Dr. Jeff Parsonnet, an infectious disease physician who started the Post-Acute Covid Syndrome clinic at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center.

Some of the most common long Covid symptoms include fatigue, post-exertional malaise, chronic pain, cognitive dysfunction (also known as “brain fog”), neurological tremors, depression, anxiety and cardiac or pulmonary impairment, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Long Covid can also cause other chronic conditions such as diabetes, myalgic encephalomyelitis or chronic fatigue syndrome and heart disease, HHS said.

Treatment is more about symptom management: If a patient experiences fatigue, doctors may recommend physical therapy; if pain, then pain medication; if brain fog, perhaps speech or occupational therapy; if depression or insomnia, perhaps sleep studies, counseling or psychiatric evaluation.

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Note: Costs based on 80.5 million confirmed U.S. Covid cases at time of analysis. Figures do not account for future caseloads.Chart: Mike Winters and Morgan SmithSource: David M. Cutler, Harvard University

“The real difficulty in treating patients with long Covid is, we don’t know what causes it,” Parsonnet said. “People are trying all sorts of treatments, but it’s guesswork at this point.

“They don’t cure anything, but they help people cope better,” he said, describing the treatments as “labor intensive and expensive.”


 

beijingwalker

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Long Covid may be ‘the next public health disaster’ — with a $3.7 trillion economic impact rivaling the Great Recession​

PUBLISHED WED, NOV 30 20228:30 AM ESTUPDATED THU, DEC 1 202210:30 AM EST
Greg Iacurci

KEY POINTS
  • Long Covid is a chronic illness resulting from a Covid-19 infection. It goes by many names, including long-haul Covid, post-Covid or post-acute Covid syndrome.
  • Not much is yet known about the illness. Its symptoms number in the hundreds and can be debilitating. They can also be challenging to diagnose — for doctors even willing to do so.
  • Long Covid has affected as many as 23 million Americans. It may cost the U.S. economy $3.7 trillion, roughly that of the Great Recession, according to one estimate.

Sam Norpel used to present regular financial updates to C-suite executives.

Now, unpredictable bouts of broken, staccato speech make that impossible for the former e-commerce executive.

Despite being up to date with vaccines and boosters, Norpel, 48, got Covid-19 in December 2021, when the highly transmissible omicron variant was fueling record U.S. caseloads.

She never got better — and in fact, feels worse, with a range of debilitating symptoms that make it impossible to work.

Her halting speech can be triggered by something as innocuous as cold water or cool air on the skin. Extreme noise sensitivity requires her to wear noise-canceling headphones all day. She’s also endured a low-grade migraine for nearly a year, which can flare up after prolonged screen time.

When it comes to her body and mind, “the computer is just slow,” said Norpel, who lives with her family outside Philadelphia. “Right now, for me, 48 [years old] feels like 78.”
Norpel is one of millions of Americans with long Covid, also known as long-haul Covid, post-Covid or post-acute Covid syndrome. While definitions vary, long Covid is, at its core, a chronic illness with symptoms that persist for months or years after a Covid infection.

Up to 30% of Americans who get Covid-19 have developed long-haul symptoms, affecting as many as 23 million Americans, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Long Covid could be ‘the next public health disaster’...​

The country is about to enter its fourth calendar year of the coronavirus outbreak, and new variants are expected to make for a tough winter.
Researchers think most Americans have had Covid-19 at this point.
Studies suggest subsequent infections raise the chances of an “adverse” outcome, including hospitalization and death. The virus has killed more than 1 million Americans to date, and some 2,000 more die each week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Long Covid demonstrates that the virus is taking a lingering, pervasive and perhaps even more insidious toll. Medical experts have called it “the next public health disaster in the making.”
“There are just large numbers of people affected by this,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, co-director of the Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children’s Hospital and a dean at Baylor College of Medicine.
That number will “only continue to grow” as Covid-19 continues to circulate, HHS said in a recent report.
“This could be game-changing in terms of how we do medical practice, in the same way HIV/AIDs was a game-changer,” Hotez said.

... one with a significant financial toll​

But the tentacles of long Covid reach far beyond its medical impact: from the labor gap to disability benefits, life insurance, household debt, forfeit retirement savings and financial ruin.
This article is the first of a CNBC special report examining long Covid’s destructive impact on individuals, families and the U.S. economy at large.
All told, long Covid is a $3.7 trillion drag on the U.S. economy — about 17% of our nation’s pre-pandemic economic output, said David Cutler, an economist at Harvard University. The aggregate cost rivals that of the Great Recession, Cutler wrote in a July report.
Cutler revised the $3.7 trillion total upward by $1.1 trillion from an initial report in October 2020, due to the “greater prevalence of long Covid than we had guessed at the time.” Even that revised estimate is conservative: It is based on the 80.5 million confirmed U.S. Covid cases at the time of the analysis, and doesn’t account for future caseloads.
Higher medical spending accounts for $528 billion of the total. But lost earnings and reduced quality of life are other sinister trickle-down effects, which respectively cost Americans $997 billion and $2.2 trillion.


 

beijingwalker

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Long Covid is distorting the labor market — and that’s bad for the U.S. economy​

PUBLISHED THU, DEC 8 202212:25 PM EST

KEY POINTS
  • Long Covid is affecting how Americans work. Some are unable to work at all due to symptoms of the chronic illness.
  • The overall labor impact of long Covid is tough to quantify. Estimates suggest hundreds of thousands to millions may be out of work, at a time when there are historic levels of job openings.
  • It is likely underpinning dynamics contributing to inflation. Meanwhile, lost earnings might translate to reduced household spending, or mean that patients must lean on public assistance programs funded by taxpayer dollars.
Weeks after Charlotte Hultquist got Covid-19 in November 2020, she developed a severe pain in her right ear.

“It felt like someone was sticking a knife in [it],” said Hultquist, a single mother of five who lives in Hartford, Vermont.

The 41-year-old is one of millions of Americans who have long Covid. The chronic illness carries a host of potentially debilitating symptoms that can last for months or years, making it impossible for some to work.

For about a year, Hultquist was among those long Covid patients sidelined from the workforce. She would fall constantly, tripping just by stepping over a toy or small object on the floor. She eventually learned that the balance issues and ear pain resulted from a damaged vestibular nerve, a known effect of long Covid. After rigorous testing, a physical therapist told Hultquist she had the “balance of a 1-year-old learning to walk.”

Her body — which she said felt like it weighed 1,000 pounds — couldn’t regulate its temperature, causing dramatic swings from cold to hot.

Her work on the Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center’s information desk required a sharp memory of the hospital’s layout — but long Covid dulled that clarity, too. She had to quit her job as a patient care representative in March 2021.

“I couldn’t work when my memory just kept failing,” Hultquist said.

There remain many unknowns about long Covid, including causes, cures, even how to define it. But this much is clear: The illness is disabling thousands, perhaps millions, of workers to such an extent that they must throttle back hours or leave the workforce altogether.

In other words, at a time when job openings are near an all-time high, long Covid is reducing the supply of people able to fill those positions. The dynamic may have large and adverse effects on the U.S. economy.

Long Covid “is certainly wind blowing in the other direction” of economic growth, said Betsey Stevenson, a professor of public policy and economics at the University of Michigan who served as chief economist for the U.S. Department of Labor in the Obama administration.

 

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