Long Covid might have a significant impact on the economy.
In the months following the pandemic’s onset in 2020, an unsettling issue among those who had contracted Covid-19 emerged: Some people experienced symptoms like shortness of breath, confusion, and fatigue months later, sometimes to a debilitating degree.
Scientists and medical professionals still don’t fully understand what has come to be known as long Covid two years later, but they do recognize that it is a real issue that could add to the economy of the United States. The cost of treating people with long-term COVID will be borne in part by the patients and their families as well as in part by society.
Long Covid, according to the World Health Organization, is a condition that affects people who had Covid-19 three months prior and has symptoms like extreme fatigue and cognitive problems that last at least two months. No matter how one defines it, the figures are staggering: According to researchers who examined the medical records of Veterans Health Administration patients, 4 to 7 percent of patients who had the Covid-19 infection developed long Covid. Since the majority of Americans appear to have been infected, this figure is actually lower than most recent estimates but still equates to millions of victims.
Beyond the possibility of experiencing symptoms like memory loss, the researchers discovered that people who have had Covid are more likely to develop serious illnesses like heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. Ziyad Al-Aly, the study’s principal investigator and chief of research and development at the VA St. Louis Health Care System as well as a clinical epidemiologist at Washington University in St. Louis, says that this is a particularly concerning development. Chronic diseases do not go away despite long-term symptoms, such as a persistent cough.
According to Dr. Al-Aly and his research colleagues, those who have had Covid have a 40% greater chance of developing diabetes than those who haven’t. According to recent research, men with Type 2 diabetes aged 45 to 54 will spend $106,200 over their lifetime on direct medical costs to treat their diabetes and its complications. The United States may face additional healthcare costs totaling several billions of dollars if the number of people with Type 2 diabetes rises.
It might be unrealistic to hope that the medical community will follow up on the record-fast development of vaccines with a cure for long-term Covid. Multiple symptoms can occur with post-viral disorders, and treatment outcomes are frequently difficult to determine.
Aside from the costs associated with their healthcare, people with long Covid may occasionally be unable to work and need additional support or they may decide to retire early. The good news is that, as of right now, fewer people have applied for the Social Security Administration’s disability program since the outbreak of the pandemic. This may be influenced in part by the increased flexibility that many workers now enjoy, such as the option to nap at home.
Lauren Nicholas, an economist at the Colorado School of Public Health, issues a warning that some long-term Covid patients who are hoping their condition gets better might not yet consider themselves eligible for the work restrictions necessary for disability program applications. Public and private insurance could experience an increase in claims in the event of an economic downturn because claims and insurance losses can increase when unemployment does, as was the case following the 2008–2009 financial crisis.
Because of vaccines and treatments, the majority of direct Covid-19 deaths are probably in the past. However, some sizable private life and disability insurers are worried about rising loss ratios in group disability insurance, which most people obtain through their jobs. It’s not yet clear if Long Covid is directly acting in a role. Additionally, there is concern that other pandemic effects, such as people delaying preventive care, could result in a longer-term increase in risk.
In addition, many long-term Covid sufferers are struggling to make ends meet despite the robust job market. According to the Census Bureau’s June survey results, 61 percent of adults who reported having Covid symptoms that persisted for more than three months (some of whom no longer had symptoms) were able to meet their needs using the same regular income sources as before the pandemic, compared to 67 percent of the general population. Thirty percent of those with prolonged Covid symptoms reported using their savings or liquidating their possessions to cover expenses, compared to only 23 percent of other adults.
The economy will suffer to the extent that long-term Covid patients are unable to return to work or work the same number of hours. The fact that fewer people are employed or actively seeking employment now than before the pandemic is one factor contributing to the low unemployment rate. A portion of those who have left the workforce are likely long-term Covid patients. The economy might not be able to expand as quickly without those workers, which would worsen the situation for the nation.
Long Covid is still too poorly understood for researchers to estimate the financial burden it might impose on the nation, but the information that is currently available indicates that the costs may be significant enough to be taken seriously.