Federal and nationwide intensive care units and healthcare costs: 1986-1992

N A Halpern, L Bettes, R Greenstein
Critical Care Medicine 1994, 22 (12): 2001-7

OBJECTIVES: To establish Department of Veterans Affairs' intensive care unit (ICU) costs from a database and to use this information to validate the Russell equation, the most commonly used method of calculating ICU costs. To compare and trend Department of Veterans Affairs' and nationwide (USA) ICU and healthcare costs.

DESIGN: Comparison study.

SETTING: Database analysis of Department of Veterans Affairs' and nationwide ICUs over a 6-yr period (1986-1992), with biennial evaluations.

MAIN MEASURES: Costs and bed occupancies of Department of Veterans Affairs' and nationwide hospitals and ICUs, as well as United States national health expenditures and gross domestic product.

RESULTS: Fifty percent to Department of Veterans Affairs' ICU funds were used for nurse and physician salaries. Department of Veterans Affairs' ICU direct and indirect cost ratios have remained constant (2:1). The Russell equation is valid, providing that the "inpatient only" cost variable is used. ICU costs were consistently lower in the Department of Veterans Affairs' than nationwide, as compared by the Russell equation. A smaller fraction of the hospital budget was allocated to the ICU in the Department of Veterans Affairs than in nationwide institutions. Despite an increasing nationwide ICU patient workload, the percentage of ICU fund allocations has not increased. Health care in the United States increases at a rate greater than the increase in gross domestic product. Healthcare delivery costs are increasing at a greater rate nationwide than in the Department of Veterans Affairs. The percentage increase in ICU cost per day, both in the Department of Veterans Affairs and nationwide, was less than the increase in healthcare costs. The percent of the gross domestic product, national health expenditure, and hospital cost used by the ICU has increased minimally during the course of this study.

CONCLUSIONS: The Department of Veterans Affairs has the only national ICU line item cost database available. For the Russell equation calculation to be accurate, inpatient only costs should be used. Until customized Health Care Financing Administration analyses become available, nationwide ICU costs are best determined by the Russell equation. Department of Veterans Affairs' ICUs have a consistent cost advantage over nationwide ICUs. Increases in United States healthcare delivery costs continue to exceed the increase in gross domestic product. Cost containment is already occurring in critical care.

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