Health care expenditure in the last five years of life is driven by morbidity, not age: A national study of spending trajectories in Danish decedents over age 65

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Background The high level of medical spending at the end of life is well-documented, but whether there is any real potential for cost reductions there is still in question, and studies have tended to overlook the costs of care. Aim To identify the most common health care spending trajectories over the last five years of life among older Danes, as well as the determinants of following a given trajectory. Methods We linked Danish health registries to obtain data on all health care expenditure (including hospital treatment, prescription drugs, primary care and costs of communal care) over the last five years of life for all Danish decedents above age 65 in the period 2013 through 2017. A latent class analysis identified the most common cost trajectories, which were then related to socio-economical characteristics and health status at five years before death. Results Total health care expenditures in the last five years of life were largely independent of age and cause of death. Costs of home care and residential care increased steeply with age at death whereas hospital costs decreased correspondingly. We found four main spending trajectories among decedents: 3 percent followed a late-rise trajectory, 11 percent had accelerating costs, and two groups of 43 percent each followed moderately or consistently high trajectories. The main predictor of total expenditure was the number of chronic diseases. Interpretation Spending at the end of life is largely determined by chronic disease, and age and cause of death only determine the distribution of expenses into care and cure.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0244061
JournalPLoS ONE
Volume15
Issue number12 December
ISSN1932-6203
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2020

ID: 255309977