Cost of corona

Author: Nasir Iqbal
Publication Year : 2020

Cost of coronaThe Covid-19 pandemic has the potential to infect 40-70 percent of the world’s population.In Pakistan, initially it was mainly among people returning from different countries, especially Iran and Europe, but now locally transmitted cases are exploding. This trend indicates that the number of expected infections can increase manifolds in the coming days.Patients are admitted in various hospitals (public and private) across Pakistan. Not all can afford these expenses and the loss of income that comes with it makes the situation even worse. It is important to financially support the families of these patients to cover the medical as well as the out of pocket expense along with the wage loss. It is important to note that many of the people who have symptoms linked to the coronavirus could be reluctant to visit hospitals due to the cost and the possible income loss. This would certainly lead to a spread of the infection.To motivate people, specifically the poor segments of society, the government should announce a health relief package for corona patients. According to the health departments, Covid-19 patients need at least twelve days of intensive care in hospital. Various tests are performed on a regular basis to monitor the recovery process of the patient. The average cost of hospitalization is Rs122,000, ranging between Rs50,000 and Rs193,000 (varies across hospitals).Out of pocket expenses range between Rs1500 and Rs2000 per day in Pakistan. The average household income ranges from Rs3407 to Rs581439. Using this information, we assume that the per day income loss ranges between Rs114 and Rs19,381 with an average loss of Rs1,418 per day. Income details are taken from the Household Integrated Economics Survey (HIES) 2015-16 published by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics.The approximate medical cost for treatment of a Covid-19 patient would crudely be around Rs160,000.Different studies have projected the possible number of infected people as a result of the current outbreak in Pakistan. For example, Rizvi (2020) shows that the number of infected cases can range between 80,000 in a month (Scenario 1: without any intervention – that is, no social distancing and no lockdown) to 40,000 (Scenario 2: with complete social distancing) and 20,000 (Scenario 3: with complete social distancing along with complete lockdown). Based on these scenarios, the projected financial support package ranges from Rs320 million to Rs1281 million.The government should announce a ‘Covid Financial Support Package’ to overcome the miseries of Covid-19 patients. The Baitul Mal should lead this package since it has a well-defined mechanism for medical reimbursement. It can directly cover the medical cost through public or private hospitals as per previous practice in case of hepatitis and cancer. Out-of-pocket expense and productivity loss may be paid to the patient or nominated family members.Patients should be allowed to register through the PM Citizen Portal for financial support under the ‘Covid Financial Support Package’. The Baitul Mal may use an online platform to verify cases from hospitals and may exempt physical application and verification process to avoid further spread of coronavirus. It may also allow treatment from private hospitals and cover an average pre-defined package. It can define the eligibility criteria by following the criteria used for medical treatment in other cases like cancer. The Baitul Mal has a well-established network of offices at the district level across Pakistan to launch the registration process and disbursement of the proposed financial support package.This financial package may be financed through the budget allocated to the Sehat Sahulat Program. Government may push insurance companies to cover indoor treatment of Covid patients under the Sehat Insaf Card.

The writer is associate professor at the Pakistan Institute of DevelopmentEconomics (PIDE)

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