Long COVID costs the average patient $9,000 a year – and that doesn’t even tell the whole story

A doctor sitting next to a patient in an exam room and reviewing test results on a clipboard.

Image source: Getty Images

Those suffering from the aftermath of the virus could suffer a financial shock.

Key points

  • Some COVID patients have persistent symptoms.
  • This could lead to significant financial losses due to unemployment and payment of medical bills.
  • A Harvard economist estimated the cost of long COVID to be $9,000 a year on average, but it could be higher for some people.

Some people with COVID-19 feel mildly ill for a few days but move on fairly quickly. Others spend about a miserable week in bed. And then there are those who continue to experience different symptoms for weeks or months after supposedly “recovering” from the virus. It’s a condition known as long COVID, and sadly it’s said to have affected up to 23 million Americans.

For some people, persistent COVID symptoms manage to outrun a reasonable period of time. But some people who contracted COVID-19 early in the pandemic still haven’t fully recovered to this day. And unfortunately, the long COVID can not only have a physical and emotional impact on patients, but also a financial impact.

Costs can be extreme

Any prolonged illness can lead to high medical costs, even for people who have decent health insurance in place. But David Cutler, an economist at Harvard University, estimates the long Covid is costing patients $9,000 a year, on average. This is clearly not a small number.

That said, there is a range of costs that COVID patients have been experiencing for a long time. And while some take a less severe financial hit, for others, Cutler says, the cost of long COVID can reach $14,000 or more.

Much depends on the severity of the symptoms and how disturbed they are. Those with extreme symptoms may be forced to take time off work without pay. Thus, people in this situation could be looking at financial losses well beyond the $9,000 or even $14,000 mark.

Being absent from work for an extended period could also have other adverse consequences. This could mean, for example, not being able to contribute to a pension plan, thus risking a financial shortfall later in life.

It is important to prepare for a long illness

The frightening reality is that it is difficult to predict the impact that any given disease will have, whether it is COVID-19 or another virus or disease. This is why having a strong emergency fund is so important.

The more money one has in savings, the easier it becomes to cover living expenses during a time when work is irrelevant. And also, having plenty of savings can make it easier to manage medical expenses that may arise with prolonged illness.

At the same time, the long COVID should be a wake-up call for workers eligible for disability insurance to secure that coverage. Often it can be obtained through work or otherwise in private. Disability insurance provides income during times when workers must take unpaid time off due to the inability to do their job. It’s possible to buy both short-term disability insurance and long-term disability insurance, so it pays to research options for both.

Ideally, healthcare professionals will be better able to help patients manage the symptoms of long COVID. But for now, unfortunately, many people still have a long way to go. And they might also have a slew of expenses to manage that make an already difficult situation even more difficult.

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