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Patient deaths in hospitals cost nearly $20 billion

Research Activities, December 2009, No. 352

One 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 latest data from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). The cost of their hospital stays was about $20 billion. AHRQ'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 hospital 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 2 percent of deaths and $2.4 billion, and uninsured patients, 3 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 7 percent of patients who died were admitted for accidents or intentional injury and about 2 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 (8 percent); stroke (6 percent); pneumonia (5 percent); heart attack (5 percent); and congestive heart failure (4 percent). Other leading causes of death included cancer, aspiration pneumonia, and kidney failure.

These findings are based on data in The Costs of End-of-Life Hospitalizations, 2007, Statistical Brief #82. The report uses statistics from the 2007 Nationwide Inpatient Sample, a database of hospital inpatient stays 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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Page last reviewed December 2009
Internet Citation: Patient deaths in hospitals cost nearly $20 billion: Research Activities, December 2009, No. 352. December 2009. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD.