Incentivizing hospice care and launching hospice educational efforts in regions with high medical costs could have a significant impact on U.S. healthcare expenditures, researchers find.
To reduce healthcare spending, areas of the country with relatively high medical service costs would benefit most from increased utilization of hospice care, according to a study recently published in Health Affairs.
The study's authors focused on the potential economic benefits of increased hospice care because medical services in the final year of life account for a large share of total U.S. healthcare expenditures.
They found that "hospice use accounted for 8% of the expenditure variation between the highest and the lowest spending quintiles, which demonstrates the powers and limitations of hospice use for saving on costs."
A 2010 study published in the journal Health Services Research found that 5% of Medicare beneficiaries account for more than a quarter of Medicare spending in their final year of life.
The Health Affairs study, titled "Longer Periods of Hospice Service Associated with Lower End-Of-Life Spending in Regions with High Expenditures," is based on Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Medicare data and Medicare claims information.
The data sample features 103,745 Medicare beneficiaries who died from nine forms of cancer such as breast, lung, and liver tumors within three years of diagnosis. The study period was from 2004 to 2011.
The unadjusted (non–age-sex-race-adjusted) mean end-of-life care expenditure per decedent "was $39,600, ranging from $31,256 in quintile 1 to $49,680 in quintile 5. The mean length of hospice service in the final six months of life was 10.9 days, ranging from 13.0 days in quintile 1 regions to 7.9 days in quintile 5 regions."
Researchers found that the biggest economic benefit from hospice care is derived from increasing utilization in high-medical-service cost regions of the country.
Christopher Cheney is the senior clinical care editor at HealthLeaders.