Long COVID Costs the Average Patient $9,000 a Year -- and That Doesn't Even Tell the Whole Story

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  • Some COVID patients experience lingering symptoms.
  • That could lead to extensive financial losses due to being out of work and having to pay medical bills.
  • A Harvard economist estimated the cost of long COVID to be $9,000 per year on average, but it could be higher for some individuals.

Those suffering the after-effects of the virus may be in for a financial shock.

Some people who come down with COVID-19 feel mildly ill for a handful of days but move on fairly quickly. Others spend a week or so miserable 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 unfortunately, it's said to have impacted as many as 23 million Americans.

For some people, lingering COVID symptoms manage to go over a reasonable period of time. But there are some people who contracted COVID-19 early on in the pandemic who still, to this day, haven't fully recovered. And unfortunately, long COVID can take not just a physical and emotional toll on patients, but also, a financial one.

The costs can be extreme

Any extended illness can result in expensive medical bills -- even for people who have decent health insurance in place. But David Cutler, a Harvard University economist, estimates that long Covid costs patients $9,000 a year, on average. That's clearly not a small number.

That said, there's a range of costs long COVID patients experience. And while some take a less severe financial hit, for others, says Cutler, the cost of long COVID can reach $14,000 or more.

A lot of it really depends on how severe the symptoms are and how disruptive they are. Those experiencing extreme symptoms may be forced to take time off of work without pay. So people in that situation could be looking at financial losses well beyond the $9,000 or even $14,000 mark.

Missing work for an extended period of time could also have other unfavorable consequences. It might, for example, mean not being able to make retirement plan contributions, thereby risking a financial shortfall later in life.

It's important to prepare for an extended illness

The frightening reality is that it's hard to predict what impact a given illness will have -- whether it's COVID-19 or another virus or ailment. That's why it's so important to have a robust emergency fund.

The more money one has in savings, the easier it becomes to cover living costs during a period where work is off the table. And also, having a lot of savings can make it easier to cope with the medical bills that have the potential to arise with an extended illness.

At the same time, long COVID should be a wake-up call to workers who are eligible for disability insurance to secure that coverage. Often, it can be obtained through work, or otherwise privately. Disability insurance provides some income during periods where workers have to take unpaid time off due to being unable to do their jobs. It's possible to sign up for short-term disability insurance and long-term disability, so it pays to research options for both.

Ideally, medical professionals will get better at helping patients manage the symptoms of long COVID. But for now, unfortunately, a lot of people still have a long road ahead of them. And they might also have a host of expenses to grapple with that make an already tough situation even more difficult.

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