Measuring the COVID-19 Mortality Burden in the United States: A Microsimulation Study

Julian Reif, Hanke Heun-Johnson, Bryan Tysinger, Darius Lakdawalla

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Fully assessing the mortality burden of the COVID-19 pandemic requires measuring years of life lost (YLLs) and accounting for quality-of-life differences. Objective: To measure YLLs and quality-adjusted life-years (QALYs) lost from the COVID-19 pandemic, by age, sex, race/ethnicity, and comorbidity. Design: State-transition microsimulation model. Data Sources: Health and Retirement Study, Panel Study of Income Dynamics, data on excess deaths from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and nursing home death counts from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Target Population: U.S. population aged 25 years and older. Time Horizon: Lifetime. Perspective: Individual. Intervention: COVID-19 pandemic through 13 March 2021. Outcome Measures: YLLs and QALYs lost per 10 000 persons in the population. The estimates account for the age, sex, and race/ethnicity of decedents, along with obesity, smoking behavior, lung disease, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, stroke, hypertension, dementia, and nursing home residence. Results of Base-Case Analysis: The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in 6.62 million QALYs lost (9.08 million YLLs) through 13 March 2021, with 3.6 million (54%) lost by those aged 25 to 64 years. The greatest toll was on Black and Hispanic communities, especially among men aged 65 years or older, who lost 1138 and 1371 QALYs, respectively, per 10 000 persons. Absent the pandemic, 38% of decedents would have had average or above-average life expectancies for their subgroup defined by age, sex, and race/ethnicity. Results of Sensitivity Analysis: Accounting for uncertainty in risk factors for death from COVID-19 yielded similar results. Limitation: Estimates may vary depending on assumptions about mortality and quality-of-life projections. Conclusion: Beyond excess deaths alone, the COVID-19 pandemic imposed a greater life expectancy burden on persons aged 25 to 64 years, including those with average or above-average life expectancies, and a disproportionate burden on Black and Hispanic communities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1700-1709
Number of pages10
JournalAnnals of internal medicine
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Internal Medicine


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