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AHRQ: Patient Deaths in Hospitals Cost Nearly $20 Billion

One out of every three people who died in 2007 in the United States were in the hospital for treatment at the time of their deaths, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. The cost of their hospital stays was about $20 billion.

The federal agency's analysis of 765,651 hospital patient deaths in 2007 found that the average cost of hospital stays in which patients died was $26,035, versus an average of $9,447 for patients who were discharged alive. The costs were higher for patients who died because their hospitals stays were longer than those of patients who lived (8.8 days vs. 4.5 days).

The study also found that:

  • Medicare patients accounted for 67 percent of in-hospital deaths and $12 billion in hospital costs, while privately insured patients accounted for 20 percent of deaths and $4 billion. Medicaid patients accounted for two percent of deaths and $2.4 billion, and uninsured patients accounted for three percent and $630 million.
  • The average cost for each Medicaid patient who died was $38,939--roughly $15,000 more than the average cost of a Medicare or uninsured patient who died, and about $10,000 more than a privately insured patient who died.
  • About 12 percent of patients who died had been admitted for an elective procedure or other non-urgent reason and 72 percent were emergency admissions. Roughly seven percent of patients who died were admitted for accidents or intentional injury and about two percent were newborn infants.
  • Septicemia, a life-threatening blood infection, was the major cause of death, accounting for 15 percent of all deaths, followed by respiratory failure (eight percent); stroke (six percent); pneumonia (five percent); heart attack (five percent); and congestive heart failure (four percent). Other leading causes of death included cancer, aspiration pneumonia, and kidney failure.

This information is based on data in "The Costs of End-of-Life Hospitalizations, 2007" (www.hcup-us.ahrq.gov/reports/statbriefs/sb82.pdf). The report uses statistics from the "2007 Nationwide Inpatient Sample," a database of hospital inpatient stays that is nationally representative of inpatient stays in all short-term, non-federal hospitals. The data are drawn from hospitals that comprise 90 percent of all discharges in the United States and include all patients, regardless of insurance type, as well as the uninsured.

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