Health-Care Spending Evens Out in the End

Study finds disparities disappear for Medicare patients in last year of life

WEDNESDAY, March 3, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- A new study offers some small consolation for people on the unfavorable side of health-care spending differences related to race and gender.

RAND Corp. found that while it's often true that less money is spent on health care for minorities, the poor and men than on whites, women and higher-income people, that disparity narrows or vanishes in the last year of life for Medicare patients.

This is one of the first studies to identify an area of the U.S. health-care system that's free of gender or race-based spending differences. The RAND researchers examined the medical claims of 241,047 Medicare patients, aged 68 to 90, from across the nation.

"We were very surprised to find that, while differences in medical expenditures vary greatly by gender, race and income among patients two and three years before they die, those differences narrow or disappear during the last year of life. This is the only area of health care where we do not see spending differences," study author Lisa Shugarman says in a prepared statement.

While the study found a reduction in the health spending gap in the last year of life for Medicare patients, it adds there may still be considerable disparities in available services or in quality of end-of-life care.

The study appears in the February issue of the Journal of General Internal Medicine. RAND Corp. is a nonprofit research organization.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has more about Medicare and Medicaid.

SOURCE: RAND Corp., news release, March 3, 2004
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