Cost of COVID-19 Hospital Stays Increased Over Pandemic, Outpacing Inflation

Jan. 4, 2024
Chronic conditions in patients and shrinking of federal funding are among the factors attributable

According to a study published on Jan. 3 by JAMA Network Open, the average direct cost to provide hospital treatment for COVID-19 patients in the United States rose by 26% from 2020 to 2022.

According to analysis by CIDRAP, the study reviewed 1,333,404 inpatient stays across the U.S. from March 2020 to March 2022. A slight majority of the patients, all with a “primary or secondary COVID-19 diagnosis,” were men, and the average age of the patients was 59.2. The mean length of hospital stay was 8.9 days.

By 2022, “the adjusted mean cost of an inpatient stay was $11,275 overall, increasing from $10,394 at the end of March 2020 to $13,072 by the end of March 2022.” The jump in price – a 26% increase – stands “in significant contrast” to a 2% to 5% average annual medical cost increase due to inflation.

Certain preexisting conditions in patients significantly added to the costs incurred during a hospital stay. Notably, obesity added $2,924 on average per stay. In addition to a jump in price, patients with chronic, preexisting conditions “were more likely to use ECMO or mechanical ventilation,” although the study points out that those comorbidities “were not consistently associated with longer lengths of stay, greater use of ICU, more comorbidities, or higher mortality rates” despite the increase in ventilation. Those patients who used invasive mechanical ventilation saw the cost of their stay nearly double. The adjusted mean cost for a stay that involved these interventions was $20,941, whereas stays without these interventions came out to an average mean cost of $9,614.

The study also points out that factors on the supply side, such as an increase over time in hospitals’ cost of prescription drug treatments used to treat COVID-19, may also be partially attributable to the rise in price. “The loss of federal assistance” through the COVID-19 Provider Relief Fund could also explain the “increased need for reimbursable charges.”

CIDRAP’s article can be viewed on their website.