Hospice Care Saves Dignity, Money

January 31, 2008

Hospice care not only helps increase the dignity and ease the suffering of people who are dying, but also provides significant savings to Medicare, according to a new Duke-led study.

The study, published in the journal Social Science & Medicine, used a nationally representative sample of Medicare beneficiaries sixty-five and older who died between 1993 and 2003. It matched hospice users to non-hospice users who were otherwise similar in terms of such things as age, race, and gender.

"We found that hospice reduced Medicare spending by an average of $2,309 per person compared to normal care, which typically includes expensive hospitalizations near death," says Don Taylor, assistant professor of public policy  and the study's primary author.

The results also show that for seven in ten hospice users, Medicare costs would be reduced if hospice had been used for a longer time. The median length of hospice use was fifteen days. But Taylor says the data show that patients who enter hospice care for the last seven to eight weeks of life "maximize cost savings to the program."

"This length of use also allows patients and their families to fully experience the benefits of hospice, such as bereavement counseling, palliative care, and respite for care-givers," he says.

"The hospice benefit appears to be that rare situation in health care where something that improves quality of life also saves money."