Patient acuity is driving up hospital costs, AHA says

https://www.healthcarefinancenews.com/news/patient-acuity-driving-hospital-costs-aha-says?mkt_tok=NDIwLVlOQS0yOTIAAAGGiU3xe0NkF9CXkX2TRevw1rc34F0gW3xrh4u01QiSJCzDyJT2rG2TAkJAz344ryPgANhHM9yerPG9lZlib0xHBLXAwqAMIXRTIvQXgJLT

The AHA wants Congress to halt Medicare payment cuts and extend or make permanent certain waivers, among other requests.

The American Hospital Association has released a report on patient acuity that shows hospital patients are sicker and more medically complex than they were before the COVID-19 pandemic.

This is driving up hospital costs for labor, drugs and supplies, according to the AHA report. 

Hospital patient acuity, as measured by average length of stay, 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 said. For example, the average length of stay 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.

WHY THIS MATTERS

Mounting costs, combined with economy-wide inflation and reimbursement shortfalls, are threatening the financial stability of hospitals around the country, according to the AHA report.

The length of stay due to increasing acuity is occurring 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, the AHA said. 

The 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.

THE LARGER TREND

Hospitals, through the AHA, have long been asking the federal government for relief beyond what’s been allocated in provider relief funds.

In January, the American Hospital Association sought at least $25 billion for hospitals to help combat workforce shortages and labor costs exacerbated by what the AHA called “exorbitant” rates on the part of some staffing agencies. The Department of Health and Human Services released $2 billion in additional funding for hospitals.

In March, the AHA asked Congress to allocate additional provider relief funds beyond the original $175 billion in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.

Earlier this month, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services increased what it originally proposed for payment in the Inpatient Prospective Payment system rule. The AHA said the increase was not enough to offset expenses and inflation.

Emergency visits are down, so why does the ED feel so busy?

https://mailchi.mp/efa24453feeb/the-weekly-gist-july-22-2022?e=d1e747d2d8

We’ve been noticing a disconnect recently in our conversations with health system executives. When we share national data that shows that emergency department visits are still down substantially from pre-COVID levels, the reaction is often one of surprise.

As one CEO recently put it to us, “We’re seeing exactly the opposite. Our ED feels busier than ever.” It appears that, upon further examination, what’s going on is a shift in the mix of patients who are visiting the ED. The lower-acuity, urgent-care level cases do seem to have shifted away from traditional hospital settings toward virtual visits and urgent care centers. That’s good news from an overall cost of care perspective, but it means that hospital EDs are increasingly filled with sicker, more acute patients.

One sure sign the mix has shifted: many systems are now telling us that the percentage of ED visitors who end up getting admitted is rising. But staffing-driven capacity constraints mean that it’s taking longer to find an inpatient bed for those patients, or to discharge them from the ED to other settings (or back home)—so the average length of stay in the ED is going up.

On top of that, many EDs are now seeing an increase in psych patients, who stay longer and require greater staff attention. All of that, along with staff who are completely exhausted and demoralized after the pandemic, has combined to make many EDs feel swamped these days—despite what the national data are showing. 

A mounting specialist access crisis

https://mailchi.mp/b5daf4456328/the-weekly-gist-july-23-2021?e=d1e747d2d8

Types of Doctors: Some Common Physician Specialties

We’ve been hearing a growing number of stories from patients about difficulties scheduling appointments for specialist consults.

A friend’s 8-year-old son experienced a new-onset seizure and was told that the earliest she could schedule a new patient appointment with a pediatric neurologist at the local children’s hospital was the end of November. Concerned about a five-month wait time after the scary episode, she asked what she should do in the meantime: “They told me if I want him to be seen sooner, bring him to the ED at the hospital if it happens again.”

A colleague shared his frustration after his PCP advised him to see a gastroenterologist. Calling six practices on the recommended referral list, the earliest appointment he could find was nine weeks out; the scheduler at one practice noted that with everyone now scheduling colonoscopies and other procedures postponed during the pandemic, they are busier than they’ve been in years. Recent conversations with medical group leaders confirm a specialist access crunch. 

Patients who delayed care last year are reemerging, and ones who were seen by telemedicine now want to come in person. “We are booked solid in almost every specialty, with wait times double what they were before COVID,” one medical group president shared. The spike in demand is compounded by staffing challenges: “I pray every day that another one of our nurses doesn’t quit, because it will take us months to replace them.”

Doctors and hospitals are now seeing a rise in acuity—cancers diagnosed at a more advanced stage, chronic disease patients presenting with more severe complications—due to care delayed by the pandemic. If patients can’t schedule needed appointments and procedures, this spike in severity could be prolonged, or even made worse. 

For medical groups who can find ways to open additional access, it’s also an opportunity to capture new business and engender greater patient loyalty.