Hospice May Not Be Cheaper Alternative

Comparison with traditional care finds hospice more costly

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WEDNESDAY, Feb. 18, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Hospice care in the last year of life may cost more than traditional medical care, contradicting the widely held view that hospice care is less expensive.

Hospice care costs about 4 percent more on average, according to a new RAND Corp. study that compared Medicare spending for about 250,000 hospice patients with similar patients who received regular medical care. Results appear in the Feb. 17 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Hospice care for cancer patients was about 1 percent less expensive and 17 percent less expensive for people with aggressive tumors, such as lung cancer.

However, hospice costs were 11 percent higher for people who died from illnesses other than cancer.

"Most advocates for hospice believe that hospice care saves money, so this is going to be a surprise," says study senior author Dr. Joanne Lynn, who is affiliated with both RAND Health and the Washington Home Center for Palliative Care Studies.

"These findings don't mean that hospice care isn't worthwhile because hospice care probably does provide better care and improve quality at the end of patients' lives. But we need to do a better job learning which patients benefit because we can no longer just assume that hospice care saves money," Lynn says.

The hospice patients in the study received traditional fee-for-service Medicare coverage, had been enrolled in the program for at least three years and died between 1996 and 1999.

RAND Health is the largest independent health policy research organization in the United States. The RAND Corp. is a nonprofit research organization.

More information

The American Cancer Society has more on hospice care.

SOURCE: RAND Corp., news release, Feb. 16, 2004

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