Cost of antibiotic-resistant infections in U.S. tops $2B per year

Antibiotic resistance adds more than $1,000 to the cost of treatment for a single patient, according to a new study. Multiply that by the estimated number of antibiotic-resistant infections, and costs run well over $2 billion per year.

The study, published Wednesday in Health Affairs and conducted by researchers from Emory University and Saint Louis University, used data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey-Household Component collected from January 2002 through December 2014 to estimate the number of antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections per year. During the period, such infections doubled from about 5% in 2002 to 11% in 2014.

Regression analysis suggested the incremental cost of treating an antibiotic-resistant infection was $1,383, a number that the authors note “likely understated the economic and healthcare impacts of antibiotic-resistant infections for several reasons.” Given the rapid growth in the number of such infections, however, even a conservative estimate yields costs substantial enough to make the case for increased policy focus on antibiotic stewardship and other actions geared toward combating the threat.

The study’s authors also urged policymakers to support the development of new strategies to prevent infections, and to support innovative antibiotic drug development. A recent report from the World Health Organization found that a lack of new antibiotics under development to combat drug-resistant superbugs has drastically reduced treatment options. CDC statistics indicate that 23,000 people die of antibiotic-resistant infections each year in the United States.

On the diagnostic front, researchers recommended that practitioners and healthcare organizations use ICD-10-CM codes when diagnosing antibiotic-resistant infections in inpatient and ambulatory care settings. They suggested that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services offer incentives, such as increased reimbursement for the coding of visits and stays by patients with the infections, to encourage such a practice.