Medicare Spending Not Linked to Longer Cancer Survival

But U.S. patients in higher-spending regions have more, longer hospital stays

TUESDAY, March 12 (HealthDay News) -- Significant regional variations in Medicare spending for U.S. patients with advanced cancer are not linked to differences in survival, according to new research.

For the study, which was published March 12 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, researchers examined Medicare data on patients who had advanced lung, colorectal, pancreas, breast and prostate cancers between 2002 and 2007 and were in 80 different regions of the country.

Average Medicare spending on the patients varied by up to 41 percent between high- and low-spending regions. Despite this large difference, there was no direct link between regional spending and patient survival. Higher spending was, however, strongly associated with longer and more frequent hospital visits, according to a journal news release.

"The identification of inpatient hospitalization as a key driver of regional variation in advanced cancer spending is an important finding at a time when much attention on the cost of cancer care has been focused on the cost of chemotherapy," wrote Dr. Gabriel Brooks, of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and colleagues.

"Our findings suggest that health care providers should be incentivized to develop strategies aimed at reducing potentially avoidable hospitalizations and increasing timely access to palliative care for patients with advanced cancer -- goals that are consistent with patient-centered care," they concluded.

Cancer care accounts for about 10 percent of Medicare spending, and costs are highest for patients with advanced cancer, the news release noted.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute offers advice on coping with advanced cancer.

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