Stays in Hospice Settings Longer for Medicare Beneficiaries in HMOs
Medicare beneficiaries with cancer who are enrolled in managed care plans are more likely to enter hospice care earlier and stay longer than those in traditional, fee-for-service Medicare, according to a study published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Reuters Health reports (Pallarito, Reuters Health, 5/6). In the study, Harvard Medical School researchers studied 260,090 Medicare beneficiaries ages 66 and older who were diagnosed with one of eight primary cancers between 1973 and 1996 and died between 1988 and 1998. They found that 32.4% of managed care patients versus 19.8% of fee-for-service patients used hospice care and that managed care patients stayed an average of 32 days versus 25 days for fee-for-service patients. The researchers said that while the differences "may reflect patient and family preferences," the findings suggest that Medicare HMOs may be better at facilitating and encouraging dying cancer patients to receive end-of-life, palliative care than the traditional Medicare program (McCarthy et al., JAMA, 5/7). Some experts suggest patients receive at least two months of hospice care before death, but "most receive a month or less," Reuters Health reports. The high costs of end-of-life care give Medicare HMOs a financial incentive to transfer dying patients to hospice care, but researchers found no evidence that patients were inappropriately placed in hospice care (Reuters Health, 5/6). The complete study is available online.This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.