CNBC – 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.
Why long Covid could cost the U.S. nearly $4 trillion
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.