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Health Econ Rev. 2019 Mar 11;9(1):9. doi: 10.1186/s13561-019-0224-z.

Proximity to death and health care expenditure increase revisited: A 15-year panel analysis of elderly persons.

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Epidemiology, Biostatistics & Prevention Institute, University of Zurich, Hirschengraben, 84, CH-8001, Zurich, Switzerland.



Health care expenditures (HCE) are known to steepen with increasing age, but the contributions of biological age, morbidity, or proximity to death as cost drivers are debated. Age-associated HCE growth can be studied across two dimensions: within fixed groups of persons with the same birth year followed over time (birth cohort), or the same age classes (e.g. 66 to 70 year olds) at different time points (age-class analysis). Using health insurance claims data including morbidity and mortality information, HCE growth was analyzed in Swiss mandatory health insurance for the years 1996 to 2011 and compared across the two age dimensions.


Deflated HCE were analyzed for 104,000 persons from three birth cohorts (1921-25, 1926-30, 1931-35). Two-part regression models were adjusted for proximity-to-death (death within same or next calendar year) and morbidity indicators (hospitalization, high drug expenditures, and pharmaceutical cost groups from 2006 onwards). When analyzing HCE growth within birth cohorts, controlling for survival and morbidity status decreased age-associated HCE estimates by 31% to 51% compared to crude age averages. The total HCE volume share of decedents rose from 19% to 31% in the 1931-35 birth cohort and from 28% to 51% for the 1921-25 birth cohort. The analysis of same age classes (e.g. 71-75 year olds) over different years revealed no HCE growth (steepening) in excess of deflation for groups aged 75 years or less, and only moderate HCE growth for those ≥76 years. For the 76+ age classes, the population fraction of decedents decreased by -3% (age 76-80) and -15% (age 81-85) over time, whilst the total HCE volume share of decedent-associated HCE increased by +16% and +9%, with an HCE growth of +3.2% and +2.5% per year.


HCE growth was dominated by end-of-life HCE, but residual age-associated HCE growth remained pertinent, the extent of which however depended on morbidity indicator definitions. A better understanding of shifts in chronic disease prevalence with rising age, as well as associated HCE and survival impacts of treatment will be key for further refining future HCE projections.


Ageing; Health care expenditures; Morbidity; Proximity-to-death; Switzerland


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