Hospital patients are sicker and more medically complex than they were before the COVID-19 pandemic, driving up hospital costs for labor, drugs and supplies, according to a new AHA report

“Combined with rapidly rising economy-wide inflation and reimbursement shortfalls, these mounting costs are threatening the financial stability of hospitals around the country,” the report notes.

Hospital patient acuity as measured by average length of stay (ALOS) rose almost 10% between 2019 and 2021, including a 6% increase for non-COVID-19 Medicare patients as the pandemic contributed to delayed and avoided care, the report notes. For example, ALOS rose 89% for patients with rheumatoid arthritis and 65% for patients with neuroblastoma and adrenal cancer. In 2022, patient acuity as reflected in the case mix index rose 11.1% for mastectomy patients, 15% for appendectomy patients and 7% for hysterectomy patients.

These increases have occurred at a time of significant financial challenges for hospitals and health systems, which have still not received support to address the delta and omicron surges that have comprised the majority of all COVID-19 admissions. As a result, AHA is asking Congress to halt its Medicare payment cuts to hospitals and other providers; extend or make permanent certain waivers that improve efficiency and access to care; extend expiring health insurance subsidies for millions of patients; and hold commercial insurers accountable for improper and burdensome business practices.

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