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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services


Sepsis is Skyrocketing in the Medicare Population

Author: Rick A. Bright, Ph.D., BARDA Director and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response
Published Date: 2/15/2020 9:19:00 AM
Category: Medical Countermeasures; Hospital Preparedness; Public Health Preparedness;

New study reveals the shocking frequency, cost, and mortality of sepsis

A recent study sponsored by HHS has returned some sobering findings: a 40 percent increase in the rate of sepsis-related hospital admissions among Medicare beneficiaries between 2012 and 2018 and as a result, costs are soaring despite a decreasing inpatient stay cost per patient.

These findings, from the largest known sepsis study of Medicare beneficiaries ever recorded in the United States, ring a warning bell for the health of every American and for our healthcare system as a whole.

Sepsis is the body’s extreme response to an infection and a life-threatening medical emergency. Anybody can have an infection, and any infection can lead to sepsis. However, older adults and people with chronic illnesses like kidney diseases or cancer are most likely to suffer from sepsis – which is why sepsis rates for Medicare beneficiaries were studied.

The study, described in a series of journal articles in Critical Care Medicine, revealed that one of every five patients who had a sepsis admission either died during the hospitalization or during the following week. However, the risk of death in the following years can be as high as 75 percent.

Sepsis consequences for patients with sepsis mortality rates infographic

In addition, even if patients survive sepsis, they are more likely to suffer adverse long-term health consequences. Sepsis survivors are less likely to return home after a hospital stay, more likely to need custodial care or skilled nursing care, and more likely to be admitted for hospice care in the first six months after they leave the hospital.

Just as staggering is the economic cost. In 2012, the estimated overall inpatient and skilled nursing facility care costs of sepsis to Medicare was $27.7 billion dollars. By 2018, that estimate cost climbed to more than $41.5 billion. Based on these Medicare costs, national cost for sepsis is estimated conservatively to reach roughly $62 billion for 2019 – and that figure does not include the costs of treating sepsis in facilities run by the Veteran’s Administration, the Defense Health Agency, physician fees, or outpatient care.

All infections – whether they originate from a natural disaster, a chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear event, or an emerging infectious disease like the novel coronavirus – can lead to sepsis. Sepsis threatens our nation’s health security which makes solving sepsis a priority so that we can be better prepared to save lives during any public health emergency.

In 2018, the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) launched DRIVe, the Division of Research, Innovation and Ventures. Through the DRIVe Solving Sepsis program, BARDA has taken a different, more holistic approach to sepsis, bringing together industry, academia, and non-government partners with a vested interest in developing diagnostics that can detect sepsis earlier and with greater accuracy; improving sepsis education and training for healthcare providers; encouraging the adoption of clinical management strategies, developing novel therapeutics, and leveraging other innovative technologies.

To solve sepsis, the U.S. government, industry, academia, nonprofits and many others must collaborate. We look forward to expanding our network of public and private partners to find and implement lifesaving solutions.

The study was published as three articles in the journal:


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