Jun 22, 2021 - Health

HHS: Death rate for Medicare patients in nursing homes was up 32% in 2020

An employee of Taunton Funeral Services attaches a name tag to the wrist of a patient who died that morning of suspected COVID-19 in a nursing home.
Photo: Lynsey Addario/Getty Images

The death rate among Medicare patients in nursing homes surged by 32% last year, a government watchdog report out Tuesday found, per AP.

The big picture: The report from the Department of Health and Human Services Inspector General is the most comprehensive look yet at the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on one of its most vulnerable populations, AP writes.

By the numbers: Overall deaths jumped by 168,291 from the year before, while 4 in 10 Medicare patients likely had COVID-19 in 2020, according to the report.

  • Death rates in 2020 were higher every month when compared to 2019. In April of 2020, 81,484 Medicare patients in nursing homes died.
  • Asian American patients saw the highest increase in death rates, with 27% dying in 2020, compared with a 17% death rate the previous year.
  • Low-income nursing home patients covered by Medicare were more likely to have gotten COVID-19, with an infection rate that reached 56% and a death rate of 26%.

What they're saying: "We knew this was going to be bad, but I don’t think even those of us who work in this area thought it was going to be this bad," David Grabowski, an expert on long-term care, told AP.

  • “This was not individuals who were going to die anyway,” he added. “We are talking about a really big number of excess deaths.”
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