Objective: The aim of this study was to review statistical techniques for estimating the mean population cost using health care cost data that, because of the inability to achieve complete follow-up until death, are right censored. The target audience is health service researchers without an advanced statistical background.
Methods: Data were sourced from longitudinal heart failure costs from Ontario, Canada, and administrative databases were used for estimating costs. The dataset consisted of 43,888 patients, with follow-up periods ranging from 1 to 1538 days (mean 576 days). The study was designed so that mean health care costs over 1080 days of follow-up were calculated using naïve estimators such as full-sample and uncensored case estimators. Reweighted estimators - specifically, the inverse probability weighted estimator - were calculated, as was phase-based costing. Costs were adjusted to 2008 Canadian dollars using the Bank of Canada consumer price index (http://www.bankofcanada.ca/en/cpi.html).
Results: Over the restricted follow-up of 1080 days, 32% of patients were censored. The full-sample estimator was found to underestimate mean cost ($30,420) compared with the reweighted estimators ($36,490). The phase-based costing estimate of $37,237 was similar to that of the simple reweighted estimator.
Conclusion: The authors recommend against the use of full-sample or uncensored case estimators when censored data are present. In the presence of heavy censoring, phase-based costing is an attractive alternative approach.
Keywords: health care costing; heart failure; incomplete data; phase-based costing; statistical techniques.