OIG: Nearly half of Medicare beneficiaries hospitalized with COVID-19 also treated for kidney failure, circulatory issues

Medicare beneficiaries who were hospitalized with COVID-19 experienced a number of serious conditions, according to a new study.

The report, released this week by the Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Inspector General (OIG), says studying which conditions were linked most closely to severe COVID hospitalizations can be critical in helping the healthcare system prepare, especially as cases surge due to the delta variant.

Nearly all beneficiaries studied, about 55,000 across six cities, were treated for acute respiratory illness, according to the report. In addition, nearly half were treated for acute kidney failure, and close to half experienced acute circulatory issues.

The study found that one-third were treated for sepsis, and two-thirds were treated for notable endocrine, nutritional or metabolic issues.

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"The complex needs of hospitalized Medicare beneficiaries—combined with surges in hospitalizations-may create substantial challenges in meeting the needs of these patients, particularly in light of the staffing and other problems that hospitals have reported," OIG researchers wrote in the report. 

"Gaining a better understanding of Medicare beneficiaries hospitalized with COVID-19—including the conditions for which they were being treated and demographic characteristics—can assist Federal, State, and local efforts in the COVID-19 pandemic and may be used to provide additional guidance to hospitals," the authors said.

The study found that more than half of the Medicare patients studied needed intensive care or mechanical ventilation. Black, Hispanic, dually eligible and older Medicare beneficiaries were disproportionately more likely to be hospitalized compared to other groups of beneficiaries, according to the study.

The researchers said the data can also be applied to enhance treatment of COVID-19.