Aout 25 percent of the $650 billion of annual spending on Medicare goes for the treatment and care of elderly people in the final year of their lives, according to a new study. Per capita spending is nearly four times higher for those who die than for survivors.
In the long-standing national debate over how far the government should go in stretching limited resources to keep the oldest and sickest people alive, the conventional wisdom has been that the vast majority of beneficiaries making claims on Medicare in the final year of their lives are wizened people in their 80s or 90s confined to nursing home hospital beds.
But the new study by the Kaiser Family Foundation released on Thursday pokes a big hole in that assumption.
Of the 2.6 million Americans who died in this country in 2014, eight out of ten were enrolled in Medicare, the premier national health care program for seniors. However, the Kaiser study found that Medicare spent significantly more per capita on medical services and treatment for people in their late 60s and early 70s than on much older beneficiaries.
Indeed, the analysis concluded that per capita Medicare spending at the end of life actually declines with age – peaking at $43,353 for those 73 years old and then gradually declining to $33,381 for 85-year-olds and just $27,779 for people 90 and older.
The report says that it’s hardly surprising that a “disproportionate share” of Medicare resources goes to beneficiaries at the end of life. Many of those beneficiaries suffer serious illnesses like Alzheimer’s disease, congestive heart failure, kidney problems, cancer and multiple chronic conditions that require inpatient hospitalization, post-acute care and hospice.