Importance: Medicare hospice beneficiaries discontinue disease-modifying treatments because the hospice benefit limits access. While veterans have concurrent access to hospice care and Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center (VAMC)-provided treatments, the association of this with changes in treatment and costs of veterans' end-of-life care is unknown.
Objective: To determine whether increasing availability of hospice care, without restrictions on disease-modifying treatments, is associated with reduced aggressive treatments and medical care costs at the end of life.
Design, setting, and participants: A modified difference-in-differences study design, using facility fixed effects, compared patient outcomes during years with relatively high vs lower hospice use. This study evaluated 13 085 veterans newly diagnosed with stage IV non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) from 113 VAMCs with a minimum of 5 veterans diagnosed with stage IV NSCLC per year, between 2006 and 2012. Data analyses were conducted between January 2017 and July 2018.
Exposures: Using VA inpatient, outpatient, pharmacy claims, and similar Medicare data, we created VAMC-level annual aggregates of all patients who died of cancer for hospice use, cancer treatment, and/or concurrent receipt of both in the last month of life, dividing all VAMC years into quintiles of exposure to hospice availability.
Main outcomes and measures: Receipt of aggressive treatments (2 or more hospital admissions within 30 days, tube feeding, mechanical ventilation, intensive care unit [ICU] admission) and total costs in the first 6 months after diagnosis.
Results: Of the 13 085 veterans included in the study, 12 858 (98%) were men; 10 531 (81%) were white, and 5949 (46%) were older than 65 years. Veterans with NSCLC treated in a VAMC in the top hospice quintile (79% hospice users), relative to the bottom quintile (55% hospice users), were more than twice as likely to have concurrent cancer treatment after initiating hospice care (adjusted odds ratio [AOR], 2.28; 95% CI, 1.67-3.31). Nonetheless, for veterans with NSCLC seen in VAMCs in the top hospice quintile, the AOR of receiving aggressive treatment in the 6 months after diagnosis was 0.66 (95% CI, 0.53-0.81), and the AOR of ICU use was 0.78 (95% CI, 0.62-0.99) relative to patients seen in VAMCs in the bottom hospice quintile. The 6-month costs were lower by an estimated $266 (95% CI, -$358 to -$164) per day for the high-quintile group vs the low-quintile group. There was no survival difference.
Conclusions and relevance: Increasing the availability of hospice care without restricting treatment access for veterans with advanced lung cancer was associated with less aggressive medical treatment and significantly lower costs while still providing cancer treatment.