Background: For the most part, previous research on costs of cancer care has focused on the formal medical care costs. Research on home care for patients with cancer has emphasized direct care costs (expenditures). Among indirect costs, only loss of income to family members has been studied. However, a major component of indirect costs, the family labor expended to care for the patient with cancer, needs to be included for a more realistic appreciation of home care costs.
Methods: The costs of family labor are estimated by imputing monetary values for the time spent caring for the patient with cancer. The assigned monetary cost either is equated with income losses of the helper in question or is based on a putative market value of the expended labor time. In addition, out-of-pocket expenditures examined in this study cover all cancer care-related expenses for which the patient was not reimbursed by third parties. Data were obtained from a convenience sample of 192 patients with cancer and their families in lower Michigan.
Results: When family labor is included in the cost calculations, average cancer home care costs for a 3-month period ($4563) are not much lower than the costs of nursing home care. The substantial variation in home care costs (standard deviation [SD] = $4313) appears to be unrelated to the type of cancer diagnosis, type of treatment, or time since diagnosis but seems to be driven by the functional status of the patient and the family living arrangements.
Conclusions: Outpatient care for patients with cancer coupled with greater reliance on home care appear to be economically attractive because costs to families usually are underestimated.