Cost of COVID-19 hospital stays far exceeds other illnesses: study

If you end up in the hospital with COVID-19 in Canada, it’s going to cost the health-care system much more than most other illnesses, according to a study released Thursday by the Canadian Institute for Health Information.

The study found that the average cost of a COVID-19 patient’s hospital stay is $23,000.

That’s three times the amount that it costs for a hospital stay for a heart attack; four times the cost for a patient hospitalized with the flu; and nearly as much as a hospital stay for a kidney transplant.

Ann Chapman of the Canadian Institute for Health Information says the reason COVID-19 patients cost so much more is because of how long they need to spend in hospital.

According to the report, patients with COVID-19 stayed in hospital an average of 15 days, which is twice as long as patients with pneumonia.

“So what that tells you is if a patient presents in hospital with COVID, they're very sick,” said Chapman on Thursday. “They’re sicker than if they had pneumonia or influenza.”

The study also found that the total cost of COVID-19 hospitalizations across Canada (excluding Quebec) between January 2020 and March 2021 was approximately $1 billion.

Dr. Brian Conway, the head of Vancouver’s Infectious Disease Centre, calls the study “truly astounding.”

“If you compare this to the total cost that’s spent in hospitals over the course of a year, COVID itself has added about two per cent, as a single disease identity, to the total cost spent,” said Conway.

Chapman said the $23,000 is just the average for COVID-19 hospital stays, while the average cost for patients ending up in intensive care is more than $50,000.

“On average they're there for three weeks,” said Chapman of intensive-care patients.

The estimated costs don’t factor in doctor salaries, but the bulk of the expense is attributed to paying other hospital staff, says Chapman.

“That cost of those human resources providing care to people in hospital, that is the biggest cost.”

There are other less tangible, but equally real, costs to the health-care system caused by COVID-19, including non-urgent surgeries that continue to be postponed across B.C.

“It has consequences for everybody else who needs care, and it of course has consequences for you and your family and those who love you and care for you,” said B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix on Thursday.

As of Thursday, there were 130 patients in intensive care in B.C., only nine of whom were fully vaccinated.

“This just adds to the long list of reasons why you should be vaccinated,” Conway added.