Who Likes Coronavirus, Insurers or Providers?

face mask on blue background
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We’re in the midst of the coronavirus hype, and I think this provides a great opportunity to review incentives in the healthcare system. How do providers and insurers feel about this new pandemic?

Insurers are hating it. They are going to have a big bump in the number of people going to doctors and hospitals, which means they are paying a lot more money to providers in 2020 than they had anticipated. Insurer profits are going to tank. They would rather people be healthy–that’s how they are able to keep more money as profit. This is why I say that insurers’ only job is not to provide risk pooling, but also they are motivated to increase cost-saving prevention.

Providers are loving it. Hospital beds and emergency departments and urgent cares are all going to be full, which means profits will soar. Sure, salaried providers (me) and also providers paid per shift aren’t actually too happy about seeing more patients for no extra money, but the hospital administrators are all looking forward to large quarterly bonuses.

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And just as a little bonus to help you sound smart, let’s get some coronavirus terms straight (since it seems most media outlets can’t!) . . .

Coronavirus is a little family of viruses. There are four of them that commonly cause infections in humans, and I see them all the time because they’re one of the types of viruses that often cause upper respiratory tract infections (i.e., “the common cold”).

Every once in a while, another member of the coronavirus family figures out how to infect humans. The most famous one is what caused the whole SARS excitement in 2003. SARS stands for severe acute respiratory syndrome, because that’s the type of infection it caused. So they decided to name that member of the coronavirus family SARS-CoV (CoV, if you didn’t figure it out already, comes from coronavirus). I guess once a virus starts infecting humans, it’s worthy of receiving a new and improved name.

And now, in 2019, another one figured out how to infect humans. It causes a respiratory infection similar to the 2003 one, so they cleverly decided to name this new virus SARS-CoV-2.

Fix this in your brain. The virus is called SARS-CoV-2. Honestly, though, you can just refer to it as “coronavirus” because I’m pretty sure people will know which member of the family you’re talking about.

The disease SARS-CoV-2 causes, however, has its own name: coronavirus disease (#inspired). But, for short, they call it COVID-19 (because it started in 2019).

So, when you are talking about the virus, call it SARS-CoV-2, or, less precisely, coronavirus. And when you’re talking about the respiratory disease that virus causes, you should be saying COVID-19, or coronavirus disease.

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