The Charlson comorbidity index can be used prospectively to identify patients who will incur high future costs

PLoS One. 2014 Dec 3;9(12):e112479. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0112479. eCollection 2014.


Background: Reducing health care costs requires the ability to identify patients most likely to incur high costs. Our objective was to evaluate the ability of the Charlson comorbidity score to predict the individuals who would incur high costs in the subsequent year and to contrast its predictive ability with other commonly used predictors.

Methods: We contrasted the prior year Charlson comorbidity index, costs, Diagnostic Cost Group (DCG) and hospitalization as predictors of subsequent year costs from claims data of fund that provides comprehensive health benefits to a large union of health care workers. Total costs in the subsequent year was the principal outcome.

Results: Of the 181,764 predominantly Black and Latino beneficiaries, 70% were adults (mean age 45.7 years; 62% women). As the comorbidity index increased, total yearly costs increased significantly (P<.001). At lower comorbidity, the costs were similar across different chronic diseases. Using regression to predict total costs, top 5th and 10th percentile of costs, the comorbidity index, prior costs and DCG achieved almost identical explained variance in both adults and children.

Conclusions and relevance: The comorbidity index predicted health costs in the subsequent year, performing as well as prior cost and DCG in identifying those in the top 5% or 10%. The comorbidity index can be used prospectively to identify patients who are likely to incur high costs.

Trial registration: NCT01761253.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Chronic Disease / economics*
  • Chronic Disease / epidemiology*
  • Comorbidity
  • Female
  • Health Care Costs / trends*
  • Hospitalization / economics
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Economic
  • Prospective Studies
  • Regression Analysis
  • Young Adult

Associated data


Grant support

The authors have no support or funding to report.