The popularity of hospice care grew between 2004 and 2009, but that didn’t bring down Medicare costs for people dying in nursing homes, according to a new study of three quarters of a million U.S. nursing home residents. “We found that although hospice use was associated with a reduction in aggressive end-of-life care, it was also associated with a net increase of $6,761 in Medicare expenditures per decedent in the last year of life,” writes the research team, led by Dr. Pedro Gozalo of Brown University. Gozalo told Reuters Health in a telephone interview that the higher costs may be due, in part, to the fact that more patients are being enrolled in hospice earlier and those patients are more likely to be suffering from dementia or other problems that make it difficult to predict how long they will live. In 2004, the mean hospice length of stay was 72 days; by 2009 it was just under 93 days. The study did not look at Medicare costs for people who receive hospice care in their homes, and who account for the majority of hospice cases. Of all the money Medicare spends on health care, one quarter is spent in the final year of a person’s life.
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