174 percent surge in blood infection costs led hospital cost hikes

Although health insurers have gotten the most attention for raising prices over the past few years, hospital costs haven't exactly been on a decline. In fact, inflation-adjusted hospital costs skyrocketed 24.6 percent to $343 billion from 2001 to 2007, according to a recent statistical brief from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). Even though the number of hospital stays paid for by private insurers declined by 2.9 percent over this period, the mean costs per stay for private insurance rose 20.8 percent. That compares to an overall increase in mean costs per stay of 17.2 percent and an overall increase in hospital stays of 6.3 percent. Average cost per hospitalization for Medicaid and the uninsured grew at a more moderate 14 percent, but both sectors experienced significant growth in the number of total hospital stays (20.1 and 29.9 percent, respectively).

Ten principal conditions accounted for 14.2 percent ($48.6 billion) of all hospitalization costs in 2007, and "the overall aggregate costs for the ten conditions grew by 104.5 percent between 2001 and 2007," reports the AHRQ. Those 10 conditions were blood infection (septicemia); intestinal infection; acute kidney failure; diseases of white blood cells; respiratory insufficiency, arrest, failure; degenerative joint disease (osteoarthritis); previous C-section; poisoning by other medications and drugs; and skin and subcutaneous tissue infections.

Blood infection topped all comers, with the largest growth in aggregate costs (174.1 percent) and the highest aggregate cost ($12.3 billion) in 2007. "Degenerative joint disease (osteoarthritis) accounted for the greatest number of stays (814,900) and the second highest aggregate costs ($11.8 billion) in 2007," added the AHRQ. Brief