Stroke-associated medical costs

Hello to all our friends in the US! This post is for you, especially if you are fence-sitting on the debate over universal health care in your country.

A close personal relative of mine had a stroke last month. This stroke was caused by a blood clot in the brain, and resulted in pretty severe aphasia, which the person is still recovering from. Luckily, the stroke was caught early enough that it could be targetted by clot-busting medicines, and as a result, the patient has recovered quite a bit from the initial onset. The patient was kept in hospital in the stroke ward for two weeks, and then was kept in a rehabilitation facility for two more weeks while recovering vocal and comprehension skills. The patient was recently released from rehab, but will have several follow-up visits with a family doctor, neurologists, occupation therapists, and speech therapists. The patient has been prescribed a series of new drugs, as well as continuing drug treatment for an unrelated condition. They will also need a degree of home care, provided both by the family and at a cost by professionals.

Now that a month has passed since the initial stroke, I’ve had some time to contemplate. I thought to myself, what would’ve happened if this stroke occured absent a comprehensive government health system? Would the response team have been so quick to get the patient a CT scan and determine that a clot-buster (tPA) was the most effective acute treatment, or would they have to wait to call an insurance agent first? Would the treatment even be considered if the patient had no insurance? Would the patient even survive this event without the tPA? If so, how much more diminished would the patient’s quality of life be? A lot of what-ifs.

I digress. The main thrust of this post is meant to be the cost of treatment. The total costs that we’ve incurred for the stroke here in Nova Scotia includes the following (so far):

Immediate costs:
Ambulance response: $134.52
Acute care cost: $0
Hospital fees: $250 (for in-room TV hook-up, which is not covered provincially)

Continuing costs:
Co-pay drugs: $30/month
Other drugs, not covered by Pharmacare: $90/month
Homecare costs: unknown, but capped at $224.19/month based on the individual’s income and status

Total costs of the stroke over five years, assuming annual 2.67% interest on the above costs, and no reduction in drug or home-care costs: $22,169

Searching for stroke costs in the US, I turned up this analysis, on the American Heart Association website: Lifetime Cost of Stroke in the United States . The authors developed models that estimate the lifetime costs of strokes based on the age of the patient and the type of stroke suffered. It’s important to note that all of the strokes from their studies occured in 1990. The stroke I’m comparing to occured in 2009, and I’m not sure if tPAs were available for treatment of strokes caused by blood clots back in 1990. At any rate, the cost associated with stroke calculated by the researchers for the same category of stroke and age as the patient in my sphere, minus the costs of control subjects is (I’m using 1.166799 as the exchange rate between US and Canadian dollars in 1990):

Direct costs, year 1: US$14,998 = CAD$17450
Direct costs, year 2: US$3,295 = CAD$3845
Pharmaceuticals (annually): US$355 = CAD$414
Long-term costs (annually): US$4918 = CAD$5738

So, the total equivalent cost over five years in 1990 dollars would be $52055. Inflation since 1990 has averaged 2.67%, so in 2009 dollars that cost rises to $85880.

Yikes. Four times the cost! Our system obviously isn’t perfect (I’d like to see ambulatory services covered, pharmacare covered 100%, and homecare costs covered if prescribed by a doctor), but $60,000 is a lot of change, especially when the illness in question prevents the patient from working and earning at their previous income level. Unless the patient were covered by an insurance plan, and the insurer honoured the claim (which we all know doesn’t always happen).

Edit: Actually, I’ve seriously underestimated the annual rate of inflation for medical costs in the USA. According to Tom’s Inflation Calculator, medical inflation since 1990 would bring the actual 2009 costs up to $126,792. Double yikes. Something tells me that I’m still underestimating the cost of a 2009 hospital admission, 28-day hospital stay, ER drug charges, and diagnostic charges, but I’m only trying to ball-park the figures. Consider $126,792 a bare minimum that an uninsured patient would be paying.

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8 Responses to Stroke-associated medical costs

  1. kevvyd says:

    I don’t mean to whine about our system, but $250 for TV? :)

    Oh that this is all we can bitch about. How is “the patient” doing, anyway?

  2. briguyhfx says:

    The patient is doing well. Keeping me busy, and himself. It’s actually pretty cool to see the difference a month of recovery makes. :)

  3. dan says:

    Glad to hear they’re doing okay, Bri…

  4. Paul says:

    I am also glad to hear they’re doing well.
    I would also like to know the comparison of giving birth. We have just given birth to our daughter 2 days ago and Edith had access to anything she wanted in the drug dept. (including epidural, spinal, Nitrous gas, tylenol-3s, IV drip for her Gestational Diabetes, and others I can’t think of right now)though the delivery was too quick to use any of it. During her 36 hour stay in the hospital, which included a huge “theme” room with a flat screen TV, queen-size bed (yes, hubby can stay the night in that bed, too!) tastefully decorated and a delicious menu to choose from for her and my meals. Included with all of this is a home visit by a nurse 24 hours after you leave the hospital. All of this costs us $75 out of pocket which was only for the theme room and its amenities… highly recommended!! I do not know what it would cost for our American cousins but I am quite sure it is more than $75.

    btw Evelyne Lousie Arel Stiven was born 8lbs 6oz, 21 inches, at 5:26 Oct. 20. Edith and Evelyne are doing wonderfully. I have posted pics on facebook for those who are still checking their accounts.

    Paul

  5. kevvyd says:

    Now you’re making me wish I’d kept my Facebook account, Paul. I trashed it earlier in the year after reading the privacy statement, too many status updates about the mundanity of distant once-friends’ lives, and the seven-hundredth invitation to be a knight in someone’s army.

  6. briguyhfx says:

    Congrats, Paul! Here’s what your wonderful new daughter would cost in the US:

    From HCUPnet: a tool for identifying, analyzing, and tracking national hospital statistics

    In 2007, the average cost for having a newborn in hospital in the US was USD$8733. The average exchange rate in 2007 was 1.074, so that’s CDN$9375.80. Using Tom’s calculator to bring those 2007 medical costs up to 2009 dollars yields a result of:

    $10150.50

    For the uninsured, of course. Employer-sponsored insurance for your family would cost ~USD$13,400 per year (now that you’re up to 2 sproglings), but you’d probably only bear ~%27 percent of that cost, or $3618 (the employer would pay the rest). I’m not sure what co-payments or deductables you’d have to pay after admission, though, but I’m sure you’d be paying some hospital fees even if you were insured.

  7. Paul says:

    Kev: Facebook has not changed much and I can really understand why you trashed your account. Most of it is time wasting crap. I still use it because of the few remaining good things on it such as birthday reminders, seeing pics of friends family, vacations etc. I have been successfully avoiding joing anyone’s mafia, farmville, pirate clubs as I have no desire to be apart of that.

    Bri: Thanks dude! $75 vs $3618 + over the top hospital fees… I like the Canadian math!

  8. Flash says:

    Phenomenal post, Bruguy – thanks. Glad to hear the patient is doing well.
    My dad had a stroke a few months ago, and his path was substantially the same as that you had described – although there was significant physiotherapy needed as the impact was largely physical (significant weakness) rather than strictly neurological. Even with that, the costs were approximately the same. With ongoing stomach problems, skin cancer and foot pain, there would have been no guarantee that he would have received coverage at all. Frightening to contemplate.

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