A Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) report determined that caring for hospitalized COVID-19 patients is roughly four times costlier than treating influenza.
The report compared first and second wave data from January 2020 to March 2021 and found the average hospitalization cost for COVID-19 patients was about $23,000. Only kidney transplants were more costly at about $27,000, and those procedures involved a surgical team.
Before the pandemic began, Canadian hospitals, excluding Quebec and Nunavut, spent more than $55 billion in 2019–2020. Compensation was the most significant spending area at 64 percent, followed by supplies at 11 percent.
New data from the CIHI showed a COVID-19 hospital stay cost three times more than for heart attack ($7,000) or pneumonia ($8,000) and four times more than the cost of a stay for influenza ($5,000).
"COVID-19 patients tend to be sicker and to have longer hospital stays. The data reinforced the virus could cause a serious illness and not simply a bad flu," said CIHI Financial Standards and Information Manager Nathalie Robertson.
"Almost one in four hospitalized COVID-19 patients were admitted to the ICU, and one in five died in the facility," she added. When admitted into the ICU, the costs doubled to $50,000 on average. By comparison, the average price of ICU admission for pneumonia is $22,000 and for heart attack is $8,400.
Also, residents with COVID-19 remain in the hospital for about twice as long as the average pneumonia patient or 15 days compared to 7 days, respectively. A more significant proportion of COVID-19 patients are admitted to the ICU and ventilated.
The estimated cost of COVID-19 hospital stays in Canada, excluding Quebec, was almost $1 billion in 2020–2021, tripling between November 2020 and March 2021.
A Calgary emergency medicine doctor told CTV News that ICU stays are expensive because of the number of highly trained staff, complex equipment and medical supplies required to keep people alive.
"I don't wish anyone to need the experience of the intensive care unit," said Dr. Raj Bhardwaj. "It's called intensive care for a reason."
He added that public health measures and interventions could have prevented the number of cases that led to severe outcomes and the associated hospitalization costs.
"Really, that's a health care cost of not providing good public health care, and if public health is doing a good job, none of these costs are accrued. None of these people get sick, none of these people die, none of these families are affected when public health does a good job," said Bhardwaj.
He strongly encouraged Canadians to get vaccinated, adding it keeps people out of the ICU.