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Med Care. 2013 Oct;51(10):931-7. doi: 10.1097/MLR.0b013e3182a50278.

Service use at the end-of-life in Medicare advantage versus traditional Medicare.

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*Department of Health Policy, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, TN †Department of Health Care Policy, Harvard Medical School ‡Division of General Internal Medicine and Primary Care, Brigham and Women's Hospital §Department of Health Policy and Management, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston ∥Harvard Kennedy School ¶National Bureau of Economic Research, Cambridge #Division of General Medicine and Primary Care, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, MA.



Relative to traditional fee-for-service Medicare, managed care plans caring for Medicare beneficiaries may be better positioned to promote recommended services and discourage burdensome procedures with little clinical value at the end of life.


To compare end-of-life service use for enrollees in Medicare Advantage health maintenance organizations (MA-HMO) relative to similar individuals enrolled in traditional Medicare (TM).


For a national cohort of Medicare decedents continuously enrolled in MA-HMOs or TM in their year of death, 2003-2009, we obtained hospice enrollment information and individual-level Healthcare Effectiveness Data and Information Set utilization measures for MA-HMO decedents for up to 1 year before death. We developed comparable claims-based measures for TM decedents matched on age, sex, race, and location.


Hospice use in the year preceding death was higher among MA than TM decedents in 2003 (38% vs. 29%), but the gap narrowed over the study period (46% vs. 40% in 2009). Relative to TM, MA decedents had significantly lower rates of inpatient admissions (5%-14% lower), inpatient days (18%-29% lower), and emergency department visits (42%-54% lower). MA decedents initially had lower rates of ambulatory surgery and procedures that converged with TM rates by 2009 and had modestly lower rates of physician visits initially that surpassed TM rates by 2007.


Relative to comparable TM decedents in the same local areas, MA-HMO decedents more frequently enrolled in hospice and used fewer inpatient and emergency department services, demonstrating that MA plans provide less end-of-life care in hospital settings.

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