The assumption that health care spending skyrockets at the end of life might suggest that policy makers should target the last few months of life to control costs. However, spending patterns leading up to death have not been fully examined. We applied a new methodology to administrative claims data for older Medicare beneficiaries who died in 2012 to characterize trajectories of health care spending in the last year of life. After adjustment, we identified four unique spending trajectories among decedents: 48.7 percent had high persistent spending, 29.0 percent had moderate persistent spending, 10.2 percent had progressive spending, and 12.1 percent had late rise spending. High spending throughout the full year before death (approximately half of all decedents) was associated with having multiple chronic conditions but not any specific diseases. These findings suggest that spending at the end of life is a marker of general spending patterns often set in motion long before death.
Keywords: Elderly; Health care costs; Medicare; end-of-life care.
Project HOPE—The People-to-People Health Foundation, Inc.