End-of-Life Cost Trajectories in Cancer Patients Treated by Medicare Versus the Veterans Health Administration

Published in: Journal of the American Geriatrics Society (2020). doi: 10.1111/jgs.16941

Posted on RAND.org on December 30, 2020

by Risha Gidwani, Steven M. Asch, Jack Needleman, Katherine Faricy-Anderson, Derek B. Boothroyd, Samantha Illarmo, Karl Lorenz, Manali L. Patel, Gary Hsin, Kavitha Ramchandran, Todd H. Wagner

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Background/Objectives

To evaluate differences in end-of-life cost trajectories for cancer patients treated through Medicare versus by the Veterans Health Administration (VA).

Design

A retrospective analysis of VA and Medicare administrative data from FY 2010 to 2014. We employed three-level generalized estimating equation to evaluate monthly cost trajectories experienced by patients in their last year of live, with patients nested within hospital referral region.

Setting

Care received at VA facilities or by Medicare-reimbursed providers nationwide.

Participants

A total of 36,401 patients dying from cancer and dually enrolled in VA and Medicare.

Measurements

We evaluated trajectories for total, inpatient, outpatient, and drug costs, using the last 12 months of life. Cost trajectories were prioritized as costs are not directly comparable across Medicare and VA. Patients were assigned to be VA-reliant, Medicare-reliant or Mixed-reliant based on their healthcare utilization in the last year of life.

Results

All three groups experienced significantly different cost trajectories for total costs in the last year of life. Inpatient cost trajectories were significantly different between Medicare-reliant and VA-reliant patients, but did not differ between VA-reliant and Mixed-reliant patients. Outpatient and drug cost trajectories exhibited the inverse pattern: they were significantly different between VA-reliant and Mixed-reliant patients, but not between VA-reliant and Medicare-reliant patients. However, visual examination of cost trajectories revealed similar cost patterns in the last year of life among all three groups; there was a sharp rise in costs as patients approach death, largely due to inpatient care.

Conclusion

Despite substantially different financial incentives and organization, VA- and Medicare-treated patients exhibit similar patterns of increasing end-of-life costs, largely driven by inpatient costs. Both systems require improvement to ensure quality of end-of-life care is aligned with recommended practice.

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