Opinion | Don’t Want a Vaccine? Be Prepared to Pay More for Insurance.

By Elisabeth Rosenthal and Glenn Kramon

Dr. Rosenthal is the editor in chief of Kaiser Health News. She was an emergency room physician before becoming a journalist. Mr. Kramon is a lecturer at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and has reported on health insurance.

America’s Covid-19 vaccination rate is at around 60 percent, for ages twelve and up. That’s not enough to reach so-called herd immunity, and in states like Missouri — where a number of counties have vaccination rates under 25 percent — hospitals are overwhelmed by serious outbreaks of the more contagious Delta variant.

The vaccine resisters offer all kinds of reasons for refusing the free shots and for ignoring efforts to nudge them to get vaccinated. Campaigns urging Americans to get vaccinated for their health, for their grandparents, for their neighbors, to get free doughnuts or a free joint haven’t done the trick. States have even held lotteries with a chance to win millions or a college scholarship.

And yet there are still huge numbers of unvaccinated people. Federal, state and municipal governments, as well as private businesses continue to largely avoid mandates for their employees out of fears they will provoke a backlash.

So, how about an economic argument? Get a Covid-19 shot to protect your wallet.

Getting hospitalized with Covid-19 in the United States typically generates huge bills. Those submitted by Covid patients to the NPR-Kaiser Health News “Bill of the Month” project include a $17,000 bill for a brief hospital stay in Marietta, GA (reduced to about $4,000 for an uninsured patient under a “charity care” policy); a $104,000 bill for a fourteen-day hospitalization in Miami for an uninsured man; possibly hundreds of thousands for a two-week hospital stay — some of it on a ventilator — for a foreign tourist in Hawaii whose travel health insurance contained a “pandemic exclusion.”

Even though insurance companies negotiate lower prices and cover much of the cost of care, an over $1,000 out-of-pocket bill for a deductible — plus more for copays and possibly some out-of-network care — should be a pretty scary incentive.

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