Profiles of Older Medicare Decedents

Published in: Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, v. 50, no. 6, June 2002, p. 1108-1112

by June R. Lunney, Joanne Lynn, Christopher Hogan

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OBJECTIVES: To evaluate the usefulness of a clinical scheme to classify older decedents to better understand the issues associated with healthcare use and costs in the last year of life. DESIGN: The authors analyzed Medicare claims data for a random sample of 0.1% of all Medicare beneficiaries with expenditures between 1993 and 1998. This sample yielded 7,966 deaths. SETTING: Medicare claims data. PARTICIPANTS: Medicare beneficiaries. MEASUREMENTS: They classified decedents into groups representing four trajectories at the end of life: sudden death, terminal illness, organ failure, and frailty. RESULTS: Ninety-two percent of decedents were captured by the profiling strategy. The four trajectory groups had distinct patterns of demographics, care delivery, and Medicare expenditures. Frailty was a dominant pattern, with 47% of all decedents, whereas sudden death claimed only 7%; cancer claimed 22%, and organ system failure, 16%. CONCLUSIONS: The clinical scheme to classify decedents appears to fit most decedents and to form groups with substantial clinical differences. Acknowledging the differences among these groups may be a fruitful way to evaluate expenditures and develop strategies to improve care at the end of life.

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