U.S. medical costs are expected to increase in 2022 as health care deferred during the pandemic returns and Covid-19 testing and vaccinations continue, according to a report released Wednesday.
Industry efforts to improve the health-care supply chain, increase wages for staff, and update infrastructure—to prepare for the next crisis—will also drive higher prices, PwC Health Research Institute found in the report.
PwC expects costs to increase by 6.5% in 2022, slightly slower than 2021 but higher than in other years.
“The pandemic made a pronounced impact on how and where Americans gain access to care, a shift large enough to influence multiple aspects of price and utilization,” PwC said.
“These changes may persist for years in a system that has long resisted profound shifts. In 2022, the health system will take a breath and survey the fallout from these extraordinary few years,” the report said.
Employers will bear some of the brunt as 15% of U.S. consumers with employer-sponsored insurance said that they deferred some care—like annual preventive visits and routine visits for chronic illnesses—between March and September of 2020. These consumers reported delaying an average of 62% of their care in that period.
Some of that care is expected to rebound and costs will go up, the report said.
Costs for Covid-19 tests and and vaccinations will likely extend into 2022, although they’re expected to decrease once the majority of the population is inoculated.
Booster shots may be another cost, according to the report. It’s still unclear how long the U.S. government will pay for vaccines and if a commercial market emerges, how much manufacturers will charge for them.
Industry efforts to address inequities in health care will likely reduce spending in the long run, but may increase costs in the short term, the report found. To date, Black and Latinx communities have had higher Covid-19 hospitalization rates and deaths and have received fewer vaccinations than White Americans.
Pharmaceutical companies are working toward greater racial and ethnic diversity in clinical trial participation, PwC said, noting that virtual or decentralized clinical trials could help.
According to the report, 87% of pharmaceutical and life sciences executives surveyed said that virtual trials would help improve diversity.
Making care more accessible to vulnerable communities is also a top health priority in the Biden administration.