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Hospitalizations for Seniors

By January 4, 2011Commentary

The US population is rapidly aging; and with that aging comes greater use of health services.  This increased use will cause great stress on the finances of the Medicare program.  A recent AHRQ brief looked at hospitalizations among the elderly.   (AHRQ Brief) The number of Americans over 65 is currently estimated at 40 million, a number which will grow to 72 million by 2030, or about 20% of the total population.  The number of people over age 75 will grow even more rapidly.  Although less than 15% of the population, persons over 65 account for over 35% of national health spending.

In 2008 there were 14 million hospital stays for patients over 65, about a third of all hospitalizations.  As cohorts age, the proportion of hospital stays increases.  Those 75-84 are 4.3% of the population but account for 13.8% of stays, and those over 85 are 1.8% of the population but 8% of stays.  The most common reasons for hospitalization by the elderly include congestive heart failure, pneumonia, blood infections and arrhythmias.  The most frequent procedures included blood transfusion, cardiac catheterization, upper GI endoscopy and mechanical ventilation.

At any age over 65, men are about 10% more likely than women to be hospitalized.  Hospital stays for the elderly are usually five days or more and average cost is about $10,000 to $12,000.  Interestingly, people living in wealthy communities had higher rates of hospitalization but rates were lower in the suburbs.   As people get older the place of discharge changes dramatically.  Those 65-74 tend to be discharged to home, at 60% of the time, but the 75 t0 84 cohort does that only 46% of the time, and the over 85 group just 30%.   Discharge to another institution, such as a nursing home, or to home health care, correspondingly increase greatly with age.  The report paints a picture of an impending surge in hospital costs as the population continues to age.

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