July 17—Average hospital costs increased by 2 percent annually over a recent nine-year period, and that trend is expected to continue, according to a new federal analysis.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, reported Thursday that hospital costs from 2003 through 2011 increased by an annual average of 2 percent, and they were projected to increase at about the same rate through 2013. Hospital costs in that timeframe grew fastest for the maternal and neonatal (2.5 percent), surgical (2.4 percent), and injury (2.2 percent) care.

The analysis also found that the 37.4 million total hospital discharges in 2003 remained relatively stable during the period, and they were projected to decrease slightly (0.5 percent annually) through 2013.

Additionally, four of the five hospital service lines experienced relatively little change in discharges, while mental health discharges grew at 1.9 percent per year. Mental health discharges were expected to continue increasing by 1.4 percent annually through 2013.

Length of Stay Stable

The analysis also found that the average length of stay, which remained relatively stable in the study period, was projected to decrease somewhat through 2013. The 4.8-day average length of a hospital stay in 2003 was projected to decrease to 4.6 days in 2013.

Four of the five hospital service lines—medical, surgical, injury, and mental health—experienced a slight decrease in length of stay, while the maternal and neonatal service line increased average length of stay from 3.0 days to 3.2 days in 2011.

Publication Date: Thursday, July 17, 2014