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One in 20 Hospital Stays Is Uninsured

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AHRQ News and Numbers

Release date: May 30, 2006

Although about 16.6 percent of the U.S. population was uninsured in 2003, only 4.5 percent of the approximately 38 million hospitalizations that year—1.7 million—were uninsured, according to Department of Health and Human Services' Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ).

The uninsured may be able to postpone some medical care, but when faced with a serious or life-threatening condition, hospitalization may be the only option. The charges for hospital care can be an overwhelming burden on the uninsured and when the bill is not paid, it is often shifted to insured patients in the form of higher charges.

Data from AHRQ's Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project (HCUP) also show that:

  • Hospital charges for uninsured patients in 2003 totaled $29 billion.
  • Half of all uninsured hospital patients were between 18 and 44 years of age. One-third of privately insured and Medicaid patients were in the same age range.
  • Nearly 60 percent of uninsured hospital stays originated in the emergency department, compared to:
    • Privately insured—31.8 percent.
    • Medicaid patients—39.3 percent.
  • About 3.5 percent of uninsured patients left the hospital against medical advice—a rate three times higher than that of Medicaid patients and seven times greater than that of privately insured patients.
  • Uninsured people in the South were the most likely to be hospitalized. Compared with other parts of the country, the hospitalization rate of uninsured people in the South was nearly 140 times greater than in the West, 65 percent higher than in the Midwest, and 35 percent higher than in the Northeast.

These and other data are presented in Uninsured Hospitalizations, 2003, HCUP Statistical Brief No. 7, available at The report uses statistics from the Nationwide Inpatient Sample, a database of hospital inpatient stays that is nationally representative of 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.

To speak with the author of the report, or to obtain previous News and Numbers releases, contact Bob Isquith at or call (301) 427-1539.


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