Objective. Although an increasing fraction of Medicare beneficiaries die outside the hospital, the proportion of total Medicare expenditures attributable to care in the last year of life has not dropped. We sought to determine whether disproportionate increases in hospital treatment intensity over time among decedents are responsible for the persistent growth in end-of-life expenditures.
Data Source. The 1985–1999 Medicare Medical Provider Analysis and Review (MedPAR) and Denominator files.
Study Design. We sampled inpatient claims for 20 percent of all elderly fee-for-service Medicare decedents and 5 percent of all survivors between 1985 and 1999 and calculated age-, race-, and gender-adjusted per-capita inpatient expenditures and rates of intensive care unit (ICU) and intensive procedure use. We used the decedent-to-survivor expenditure ratio to determine whether growth rates among decedents outpaced growth relative to survivors, using the growth rate among survivors to control for secular trends in treatment intensity.
Data Collection. The data were collected by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Principal Findings. Real inpatient expenditures for the Medicare fee-for-service population increased by 60 percent, from $58 billion in 1985 to $90 billion in 1999, one-quarter of which were accrued by decedents. Between 1985 and 1999 the proportion of beneficiaries with one or more intensive care unit (ICU) admission increased from 30.5 percent to 35.0 percent among decedents and from 5.0 percent to 7.1 percent among survivors; those undergoing one or more intensive procedure increased from 20.9 percent to 31.0 percent among decedents and from 5.8 percent to 8.5 percent among survivors. The majority of intensive procedures in the United States were performed in the more numerous survivors, although in 1999 50 percent of feeding tube placements, 60 percent of intubations/tracheostomies, and 75 percent of cardiopulmonary resuscitations were in decedents. The proportion of beneficiaries dying in a hospital decreased from 44.4 percent to 39.3 percent, but the likelihood of being admitted to an ICU or undergoing an intensive procedure during the terminal hospitalization increased from 38.0 percent to 39.8 percent and from 17.8 percent to 30.3 percent, respectively. One in five Medicare beneficiaries who died in the hospital in 1999 received mechanical ventilation during their terminal admission.
Conclusions. Inpatient treatment intensity for all fee-for-service beneficiaries increased between 1985 and 1999 regardless of survivorship status. Absolute changes in per-capita hospital expenditures, ICU admissions, and intensive inpatient procedure use were much higher among decedents. Relative changes were similar except for ICU admissions, which grew faster among survivors. The secular decline in in-hospital deaths has not resulted in decreased per capita utilization of expensive inpatient services in the last year of life. This could imply that net hospital expenditures for the dying might have been even higher over this time period if the shift toward hospice had not occurred.