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Health Care Costs and Financing

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AHRQ data show rising hospital charges, falling hospital stays

The average hospital charge for treating a patient admitted for a heart attack increased by roughly one-third from 1993 to 2000, according to trend data from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality on all hospital patients in the United States, including those with private insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, or no health insurance.

HCUPnet, the agency's interactive, online hospital statistics tool, shows that the total average charge for treating a heart attack patient rose from $20,578 in 1993 to $28,663 in 2000, while during the same period the average number of days a patient spent in the hospital fell by 26 percent, from 7.4 days to 5.5 days. The total average charge is what hospitals charge for services—such as nursing care, laboratory analyses, diagnostic tests, medications, use of operating rooms, and patient rooms, but not physicians' fees. Hospital charges are generally higher than the amounts that facilities are reimbursed by public and commercial insurers.

New technologies and rising medication costs explain much of the increase in average hospital charges, while economic pressures have contributed to shortening the average patient stay for most conditions.

Average total charges for many other high-cost conditions also increased between 1993 and 2000, according to the latest trend data available from AHRQ, while the time patients spent in the hospital decreased. Other conditions for which charges have increased and patient stays have decreased are:

  • Blood poisoning (septicemia)—from $17,909 to $24,365. The average hospital stay declined from 10.0 days to 8.2 days.
  • Heart rhythm disturbances (cardiac dysrhythmias)—from $10,152 to $14,213. Average hospital stays declined from 4.7 days to 3.6 days.
  • Stroke (acute cerebral vascular disease)—from $15,365 to $19,956. Average hospital stays fell from 9.5 days to 6.7 days.
  • Diabetes—from $11,021 to $14,779. Average hospital stays declined from 7.4 days to 5.6 days.
  • Pneumonia—from $12,860 to $15,104. Average hospital stays decreased from 7.8 days to 6 days.
  • Congestive heart failure—from $11,995 to $15,293. Average hospital stays declined from 7.4 days to 5.6 days.
  • Nonspecific chest pain—from $5,135 to $7,543. Average hospital stays fell from 2.5 days to 1.8 days.
  • Chronic obstructive lung diseases—from $11,263 to $12,491. Average hospital stays declined from 7.2 days to 5.3 days.

Select to access more information on HCUPnet.

To search for various diagnoses, select HCUPnet and click on the Trends tab.

The 1993 average total charges have been adjusted to 2000 dollars, using the Consumer Price Index.

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