A new study indicates that, due to the high medical costs inherent in fighting the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, health insurance premiums could rise by as much as 40%-plus over current levels.

The study was conducted by actuaries at Covered California (that state's health insurance marketplace). It attempts to gauge the costs related to various aspects of the coronavirus pandemic, and predict their effect on consumer premiums.


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The study predicts that the average patient requiring hospitalized treatment for the disease will incur a bill totaling $72,000 over a 12-day stay. The analysis found that the total resulting costs from treating all those patients at commercial insurance rates could be anywhere from $31 billion to nearly $238 billion.

It's quite possible that a large share of the patients who need to be hospitalized for treatment will be covered by Medicare, as older people are significantly more likely to experience the severest cases of COVID-19. But COVID-19 could wreak havoc on the finances of those who are uninsured or who have health insurance plans with high deductibles.

"Health carriers are in the process of setting rates for 2021," the Covered California analysts wrote. "If carriers must recoup 2020 costs, price for the same level of costs next year, and protect their solvency, 2021 premium increases to individuals and employers from COVID-19 alone could range from 4% to more than 40%."

Insurers across the U.S. are pitching in to battle the coronavirus. CVS Health's (CVS 0.13%) Aetna, for one, is waiving co-pays for COVID-19 diagnostic testing, among other measures. UnitedHealth Group (UNH 0.14%) is making a similar offer regarding diagnostic tests.

On Thursday, both CVS and UnitedHealth outpaced the broader stock market, which rose by about 6%. UnitedHealth did marginally better, advancing nearly 9%, while CVS notched an 8.7% gain.