Association Between Hospice Enrollment and Total Health Care Costs for Insurers and Families, 2002-2018

JAMA Health Forum. 2022 Feb 11;3(2):e215104. doi: 10.1001/jamahealthforum.2021.5104. eCollection 2022 Feb.


Importance: Use of hospice has been demonstrated to be cost saving to the Medicare program and yet the extent to which hospice saves money across all payers, including whether it shifts costs to families, is unknown.

Objective: To estimate the association between hospice use and total health care costs including family out-of-pocket health care spending.

Design setting and participants: This retrospective cohort study of health care spending in the last 6 months of life used data from the nationally representative Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey (MCBS) between the years 2002 and 2018. Participants were MCBS participants who resided in the community and died between 2002 and 2018.

Exposures: Covariate balancing propensity scores were used to compare participants who used hospice (n = 2113) and those who did not (n = 3351), stratified by duration of hospice use.

Main outcomes and measures: Total health care expenditures were measured across payers (family out-of-pocket, Medicare, Medicare Advantage, Medicaid, private insurance, private health maintenance organizations, Veteran's Administration, and other) and by expenditure type (inpatient care, outpatient care, medical visits, skilled nursing, home health, hospice, durable medical equipment, and prescription drugs).

Results: The study population included 5464 decedents (mean age 78.7 years; 48% female) and 38% enrolled with hospice. Total health care expenditures were lower for those who used hospice compared with propensity score weighted non-hospice control participants for the last 3 days of life ($2813 lower; 95% CI, $2396-$3230); last week of life ($6806 lower; 95% CI, $6261-$7350); last 2 weeks of life ($8785 lower; 95% CI, $7971-$9600); last month of life ($11 747 lower; 95% CI, $10 072-$13 422); and last 3 months of life ($10 908 lower; 95% CI, $7283-$14 533). Family out-of-pocket expenditures were lower for hospice enrollees in the last 3 days of life ($71; 95% CI, $43-$100); last week of life ($216; 95% CI, $175-$256); last 2 weeks of life ($265; 95% CI, $149-$382); and last month of life ($670; 95% CI, $530-$811) compared with those who did not use hospice. Health care savings were associated with reductions in inpatient care.

Conclusions and relevance: In this population-based cohort study of community-dwelling Medicare beneficiaries, hospice enrollment was associated with lower total health care costs for the last 3 days to 3 months of life. Importantly, we found no evidence of cost shifting from Medicare to families related to hospice enrollment. The magnitude of lower out-of-pocket spending to families who enrolled with hospice is meaningful to many Americans, particularly those with lower socioeconomic status.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Health Care Costs
  • Humans
  • Insurance Carriers*
  • Male
  • Medicare*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • United States