Average cost for COVID-19 ICU patients estimated at more than $50,000: report

The average cost of treating a COVID-19 patient in intensive care in Canada is estimated at over $50,000, compared with $8,400 for someone who's had a heart attack, according to a Canadian Institute for Health Information report.

COVID-19 patients remain in hospital for about 15 days, new report finds

CIHI report highlights COVID-19 cost to health-care workers, says specialist.

1 year ago
Duration 1:14
A Canadian Institute for Health Information report that details the high monetary cost of caring for COVID-19 patients also underlines how the complex care that is needed is burning out health-care workers, says Dr. Matthew Oughton, an infectious diseases specialist in Montreal. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The average cost of treating a COVID-19 patient who needs intensive care in Canada is estimated at more than $50,000, compared with $8,400 for someone who's had a heart attack, a new report says.

Data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) shows the average cost for patients being treated for the virus is more than $23,000, which is four times higher than a patient with influenza.

Ann Chapman, interim director of health spending and primary care at CIHI, said the report reinforces the economic consequences of a serious illness, though it does not include the cost for doctors.

The report released Thursday says those with COVID-19 remain in hospital for about 15 days, twice as long as the typical pneumonia patient, whose treatment cost is about $8,000, and that more of those sick with COVID-19 are admitted to ICU and ventilated. One out of every five of them dies in intensive care.

The agency estimated the cost of COVID-19-related hospitalization in Canada, excluding Quebec, at nearly $1 billion between January 2020 and March 2021, the period covered by the report. It said the cost tripled between November 2020 and March of this year.

Chapman said data on costs from the fourth wave of the pandemic, up to September, is expected to be released in December.

Patients stay in ICU 'a long time'

Chapman said the average COVID-19 patient in the ICU stays in hospital for 21 days, and is much sicker than most other patients.

Dr. Donald Redelmeier, a professor at the University of Toronto's faculty of medicine, said costs spiral quickly for any patient receiving intensive care.

"The one major distinction about COVID patients in the ICU is they stay a long time. They take a long time to recover, if they recover at all," he said.

It's not unusual for patients who've contracted the virus to remain in ICU on a ventilator for over a month as they're treated by multiple personnel, including physiotherapists and respiratory therapists, he said.

Indirect costs are another economic consequence of the pandemic, because some patients are reluctant to seek care in emergency rooms and others, including cancer patients, have had their treatment delayed due to backlogs, noted Redelmeier, who is also a staff doctor at Sunnybrook Hospital.

Walter Wodchis, a health economist at the University of Toronto's Dalla Lana School of Public Health, said treating COVID-19 patients is just one aspect of the pandemic's overall cost to society.

"There are more hospitalizations among youth for mental health-related reasons than in prior years. And we've lost a lot of life years from people who've ended up on opioids. I don't think the increase in opioids was independent of the COVID crisis."

In British Columbia alone, 1,011 people died of suspected illicit overdoses between January and June, the highest-ever death toll in the province for the first six months of a year.

The problem of isolation

Wodchis said isolation during the pandemic has caused others to leave the workforce, and layers of costs are associated with those decisions.

Hospital costs for those with COVID-19 who later recover may be lower in the end, he said, citing the example of the estimated $80,000 of care over a decade for patients with cardiovascular diseases based on years of poor eating habits.

Wodchis also noted the report was based on data up until March 2021, when vaccines were less readily available.

"I think we need to have a more generic, general discussion about how do we allocate the scarce health-care resources, as opposed to singling out one population."

WATCH | COVID-19 surge filling ICUs in the U.S.: 

COVID-19 surge filling ICUs in the U.S.

1 year ago
Duration 1:51
The latest surge in COVID-19 cases is pushing intensive care units to the brink in the U.S. and killing 1,500 people per day as summer winds down and officials plan to roll out booster vaccinations later in September.

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?