Difference in What Medicare Spends on Cancer Care May Not Affect Survival Rates

March 15, 2013

A new study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute's probes regional spending by Medicare on patients using Medicare and National Cancer Institute data from 2002 to 2007. The variation in spending without a noticeable improvement in cancer survival rates calls into question the value of the care that these Medicare patients are getting, says Kaiser Health News.

Medicare patients in the study had:

  • Advanced Lung Cancer.
  • Colorectal Cancer.
  • Pancreatic Cancer.
  • Breast Cancer.
  • Prostate Cancer.

All of the cancer costs account for about 10 percent of Medicare payments.

The researchers found that Medicare spending varied widely:

  • For patients who did not die from their cancers, there was a 32 percent difference in spending among the regions.
  • For patients who died, the spending difference varied 41 percent among regions.

Higher regional Medicare spending was found where:

  • Hospital visits are longer and more frequent.
  • Hospital care is more intensive.
  • There were decreased rates of hospice use.

The study's findings concluded that inpatient hospitalization was the key driver in the Medicare spending. Physicians generally had consistent practices across the country, including with the use of chemotherapy and other outpatient services. The study recommends that incentives be used to encourage doctors to reduce hospitalizations and to make better use of palliative care for patients.

Source: Alvin Tran, "Difference in What Medicare Spends on Cancer Care May Not Affect Survival Rates," Kaiser Health News, March 12, 2013.

 

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