Medicare spending on cancer care not linked to survival rates

Medicare spending for advanced cancer significantly varies across regions, but there is no direct link between higher regional spending and improved patient survival, according to a study published yesterday in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Advanced cancer spending varied by up to 41 percent between high- and low-spending regions. The Midwest and West contained the majority of low-spending regions, while high-spending regions were located in central New Jersey, Southern California and Louisiana, Medscape Medical News reported.

Researchers did find higher cancer care spending was strongly associated with more frequent and longer hospital stays, according to the research announcement.

"The identification of inpatient hospitalization as a key driver of regional variation in advanced cancer spending is an important finding at a time when much attention on the cost of cancer care has been focused on the cost of chemotherapy," the authors said in a statement.

To reduce avoidable hospitalizations, they call for incentivizing providers to make palliative care more accessible for advanced cancer patients.

"We want to make sure that money goes toward extending life and quality of life, and that patients have access to [a] range of options," Elizabeth Ward, PhD, national vice president of intramural research at the American Cancer Society, told Medscape. "We can optimize the cost of care, optimize care at home, and that will reduce the number of emergency room visits and hospitalizations, which increase costs." 

The findings follow an examination of oncology services at Intermountain Health Care, which concluded that cost and effectiveness are not inextricably linked. In certain cases, spending more money on some services improved overall outcomes, such as the use of pricier positron emission tomography (PET) scans that are far more accurate than other imaging options, FierceHealthFinance previously reported.

Examining the relationship between healthcare spending and outcomes is further complicated by research that found higher cancer spending was linked to longer life.

To learn more:
- here's the study abstract
- check out the research announcement
- read the Medscape article