An estimated 16 million working-age U.S. residents are afflicted with “long COVID,” but the risk factors and mechanisms of the condition — let alone how to treat it — are poorly understood, which means caring for patients with the disease is a daunting challenge for health plans. According to one health insurance leader, identifying members struggling with long COVID and proactively coordinating their care are crucial to contain costs and help members manage the disease.
Long COVID is a loose term for a condition with a variety of symptoms that persist after acute COVID-19 infection has passed. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), clinicians refer to the term as Post-acute Sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 Infection (PASC). Typical symptoms include fatigue, post-exertional malaise, shortness of breath, coughing, chest pain, heart palpitations, gastrointestinal issues, and joint and muscle pain, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Medical researchers have yet to arrive at a consensus on the risk factors behind long COVID and have yet to develop a standard of care. For the most part, practitioners are just trying to manage symptoms as they come.