Can You Afford Not to Be Vaccinated?

AM’s analysts have been seeing the same positive news that the rest of the country has: vaccinations are still climbing upwards, many regions are opening up, and cases are going down. The two FEMA-operated mass vaccination sites in Philadelphia will be closing down as of May 25th. However, those who are still resisting getting the shot are paying the price financially and with their long-term health.

David Damsker, the Bucks County health director, told The Philadelphia Inquirer, “We have 50 people in the hospital right now with COVID-19 and 49 are not vaccinated. If that’s not indicative of the efficacy, I don’t know what is.” A common retort vaccine skeptics use is that they would rather get sick from the virus than take a vaccine they don’t trust. While there may be some logic to that emotion, it certainly does not bear out in financial logic.

The New York Times highlighted an issue last week that is crushing many Americans: extravagant medical bills from COVID-19 treatment. An astounding number of Americans are being charged with bills from treatments that were supposed to be free of charge. When Congress granted bailout and stimulus funds, they barred hospitals and doctors from ‘balance billing’ patients, where patients are responsible for the remainder of the bill their insurance carrier doesn’t pay.

Many of the major health care plans even incorporated special rules for COVID-19 related treatments, waiving deductibles and copays for the pandemic. However, many hospitals and doctors have been flagrantly ignoring the ban on balance billing, and some are chalking it up to ‘confusion’ regarding the bill codes they use to determine the costs a patient owes.

How severe is this problem for Americans? Chris Sloan, a principal at a health research firm in Avalere, estimates that the average cost of each COVID-19 patient that gets hospitalized is $23,489. He also estimates that the United States has spent over 30 billion dollars on COVID-19 hospitalizations. One man who died of COVID-19 last year racked up over one million dollars in bills—and they have fallen on his son to pay them.

Many of these hospitals and medical providers have the ability to go after a patient’s estate and other assets for failure to pay their medical bills. So, for those large numbers of Americans who are hesitant to receive the vaccine, the threat of facing massive medical bills ought to garner some reconsideration.

As vaccine communication and outreach campaigns increasingly focus on the vaccine-hesitant and skeptical, the financial consequences of being hospitalized with COVID-19 may be motivation enough for some to get the vaccine. Campaign planners might consider messaging that asks whether or not people are willing to leave their families with crippling hospital and funeral bills if they fall ill with COVID-19. Messaging could be reinforced by highlighting examples of people from their communities who are suffering financially as a result of not being vaccinated. Planners must consider all messaging options available, which is why investing in a detailed understanding of target audiences from a behavioral science perspective will facilitate the crafting of more impactful messaging that drives positive behavioral outcomes.

Want the latest insights on COVID-19? To find out how AM TRACE can help you with vaccine messaging strategies, vaccine management and distribution, testing coordination, and contract tracing, contact Dr. Chris Orlea, Chief Experience Officer at

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