1 percent of patients drive 21 percent of costs

The Agency of Health Care Quality has issued a report that attributes a large chunk of the nation's healthcare spending on a tiny proportion of patients, Kaiser Health News reported.

Altogether, just 1 percent of the nation's population was tied to $1.3 trillion in healthcare spending in 2010, roughly 21 percent of the nation's total, according to Kaiser Health News. These patients' healthcare costs are running about $88,000 per capita. And just 5 percent of patients were responsible for half of the nation's healthcare spending. By comparison, the article said, half of the nation's patients incur virtually no costs at all and account for just 2.8 percent of U.S. healthcare expenditures.

Examples of these adverse spending ratios abound: a 58-year-old women whose broken ankle led to blood clots and 30 emergency room visits in a six-month period; a 42-year-old morbidly obese cardiac patient who spent nearly a year in a Michigan hospital and nursing home because she couldn't arrange treatment at home.

The AHRQ report blamed a variety of factors for such spending, but primarily because the healthcare system is inflexible and uncreative in the way it treats such patients. In one instance, a Mississippi man was repeatedly hospitalized for hypertension and kidney failure because he couldn't afford to pay a fairly nominal utility bill and therefore was sweltering through a Deep South summer.

"We've seen situations where for want of a $20 cab ride to get to dialysis, a patient ended up with an emergency hospitalization costing $20,000," Tim McNeill, chief operating officer of Medical Mall in Jackson, Miss., told Kaiser Health News.

Research suggests administering simple personality tests could identify such potentially costly patients before they begin racking up large bills.

Some programs have sporadically addressed such issues, but they remain sporadic, according to the AHRQ report.

To learn more:
- read the Kaiser Health News article
- here's the AHRQ report

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