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Family caregivers mitigate Medicare costs

NEW YORK, Feb. 15 (UPI) -- Medicare costs in the last six months of life are driven by the patient's abilities, the severity of the illness and family support, U.S. researchers say.

Lead author Dr. Amy Kelley and colleagues at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York and the University of California in Los Angeles say Medicare costs at the end of life are influenced more by patient characteristics than by regional factors such as the number of hospital beds available.

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Prior studies had shown dramatic geographic variation in Medicare costs among people with chronic illnesses near the end of life, but the researchers did not account for individual patient characteristics such as a person's ability to walk and take care of themselves, the study says.

"These new findings show that the reasons for wide variation in Medicare costs across the United States are much more complicated than previously thought," Kelley says in a statement.

The researchers examined 2,400 older adults from across the United States and characteristics of their local healthcare systems.

The study, published in The Annals of Internal Medicine, found impairment, decline in a person's function, or the ability to take care of him or herself, was a strong predictor of higher Medicare costs -- even more than their medical condition.

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"Having a caregiver available may help people avoid undesired hospital stays," Dr. Catherine Sarkisian of UCLA says.

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