We’re regularly treated to conservatives whining about “entitlements” to those they consider undeserving, be they people of a different shade of skin, immigrants, or any other subgroup the right trots out to whip its followers into a race-based frenzy. The typical argument always focuses on how “those people” are spending someone else’s hard-earned tax dollars.
Well here’s something for your local COVID-19 denying, anti-vaccine wingnut to chew on. As explained by Edward Isaac-Dovere, a staff writer at the Atlantic, the costs borne by American taxpayers to pay for the medical costs of those who get sick from COVID-19 because they refused to be vaccinated are going to be as astronomical as they are unnecessary.
Dovere posits the scenario we’re likely to see:
Imagine it’s 2026. A man shows up in an emergency room, wheezing. He’s got pneumonia, and it’s hitting him hard. He tells one of the doctors that he had COVID-19 a few years earlier, in late 2021. He had refused to get vaccinated, and ended up contracting the coronavirus months after most people got their shots. Why did he refuse? Something about politics, or pushing back on government control, or a post he saw on Facebook. He doesn’t really remember. His lungs do, though: By the end of the day, he’s on a ventilator.
The costs of caring for these vaccine denialists who spent months pooh-poohing the vaccines that were made available free to nearly everyone by the summer of 2021 will be passed on to all of us in the form of higher insurance premiums, and probably higher taxes as well.
As Dovere notes:
You’ll pay for that man’s decisions. So will I. We all will—in insurance premiums, if he has a plan with your provider, or in tax dollars, if the emergency room he goes to is in a public hospital. The vaccine refusers could cost us billions. Maybe more, over the next few decades, with all the complications they could develop. And we can’t do anything about it except hope that more people get their shots than those who say they will right now.
COVID-19 has never been like the “flu.” Its debilitating after-effects can go on for months, with nearly 30% of those previously infected still dealing with some type of symptom a full six months later. In economic terms this country will be spending vast sums over the next few years taking care of people who could have prevented themselves from infection by simply getting vaccinated. Right now nearly a third of Americans say they won’t get the vaccine, even if it is put in front of them. If the poll responses by these jokers are to be believed, the number of people infected as a consequence of obstinance, ignorance and stupidity could easily go into the millions.
Not only would that potentially reactivate this health crisis with new variants of the virus; as Devore notes, it would place a significant damper on the economy.
The economy could take longer to get back to full speed, and once it does, it could get shut down again by outbreaks. Variants will continue to spread, and more people will die. Each COVID-19 case requires weeks of costly rehabilitation. Even after the pandemic fades, millions of vaccine refusers could turn into hundreds of thousands of patients who need extra care, should they come down with the disease. Their bet that they’ve outsmarted the coronavirus or their insistence that Anthony Fauci and Bill Gates were trying to trick them will not stop them from going to the doctor when they’re having trouble breathing, dealing with extreme fatigue, or struggling with other lasting effects of COVID-19.
As Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, interviewed for Devore’s article, puts it, these people will be “foisting [their] costs on the rest of the community” with their refusal to be vaccinated. He sees it happening right now in his state, with 300,000 eligible people opting out thus far. Some of them are just procrastinators but a good portion are just refuseniks. (Inslee is compassionate enough to bemoan the loss of life and costs to the personal health of these people, but he’s probably in the minority on that point.)
And no, the economic costs aren’t imaginary. For his article, Devore engaged Krutika Amin of the Kaiser Family Foundation to try to ballpark what the cost to this country would be if anything close to 30% of Americans actually refused to get vaccinated. After a series of calculations based on pneumonia, one of COVID-19’s closest analogues in terms of virulence, and with comparative data already on file as the estimated cost for treating the uninsured who contract the virus falling somewhere between $13 and $41 billion, Amin foresees a “massive spike in health care costs.”
Republicans, true to form, are making the situation worse, with a majority of Republican House members refusing in late March to even confirm whether they’ve been vaccinated (including many who simply refuse to get the vaccine) and GOP senators voicing their objections, such as Rand Paul and Ron Johnson saying they don’t intend to get vaccinated because they’ve already contracted COVID-19. This concerted campaign of Republican vaccine “hesitancy” has also motivated state legislatures and opportunistic GOP governors to demagogue the idea of vaccine passports, which will ultimately ensure that more of those who refuse the vaccine will become infected, and sooner. All lives, health concerns, and increased risk of variants aside, this Republican jackassery is going to end up costing this country billions.
So the next time you hear a Republican declaring he or she has no intention to be vaccinated, be sure to ask how they intend to pay for your increased insurance costs. And you might want to offer them the option of setting up an auto-pay, so the checks to you won’t stop when they get sick.
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