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Population-based estimates of health care utilization and expenditures by adults during the last 2 years of life in Canada’s single-payer health system

Rosella LC, Kornas K, Bornbaum C, Huang A, Watson T, Shuldiner J, Wodchis WP. JAMA Netw Open. 2020; 3(4):e201917. Epub 2020 Apr 1. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.1917


Importance — Measuring health care utilization and costs before death has the potential to initiate health care improvement.

Objective — To examine population-level trends in health care utilization and expenditures in the 2 years before death in Canada's single-payer health system.

Design, Setting, and Participants — This population-based cohort included 966 436 deaths among adult residents of Ontario, Canada, from January 2005 to December 2015, linked to health administrative and census data. Data for deaths from 2005 to 2013 were analyzed from November 1, 2016, through January 31, 2017. Analyses were updated from May 1, 2019, to June 15, 2019, to include deaths from 2014 and 2015.

Exposures — Sociodemographic exposures included age, sex, and neighborhood income quintiles, which were obtained by linking decedents' postal codes to census data. Aggregated Diagnosis Groups were used as a general health service morbidity-resource measure.

Main Outcomes and Measures — Health care services accessed for the last 2 years of life, including acute hospitalization episodes of care, intensive care unit visits, and emergency department visits. Total health care costs were calculated using a person-centered costing approach. The association of area-level income with high resource use 1 year before death was analyzed with Poisson regression analysis, controlling for age, sex, and Aggregated Diagnosis Groups.

Results — Among 966 436 decedents (483 038 [50.0%] men; mean [SD] age, 76.4 [14.96] years; 231 634 [24.0%] living in the lowest neighborhood income quintile), health care expenditures increased in the last 2 years of life during the study period (CAD$5.12 billion [US $3.83 billion] in 2005 vs CAD$7.84 billion [US $5.86 billion] in 2015). In the year before death, 758 770 decedents (78.5%) had at least 1 hospitalization episode of care, 266 987 (27.6%) had at least 1 intensive care unit admission, and 856 026 (88.6%) had at least 1 emergency department visit. Overall, deaths in hospital decreased from 37 984 (45.6%) in 2005 to 39 474 (41.5%) in 2015. Utilization in the last 2 years, 1 year, 180 days, and 30 days of life varied by resource utilization gradients. For example, the proportion of individuals visiting the emergency department was slightly higher among the top 5% of health care users compared with other utilization groups in the last 2 years of life (top 5%, 45 535 [94.2%]; top 6%-50%, 401 022 [92.2%]; bottom 50%, 409 469 [84.7%]) and 1 year of life (top 5%, 43 007 [89.0%]; top 6%-50%, 381 732 [87.8%]; bottom 50%, 380 859 [78.8%]); however, in the last 30 days of life, more than half of individuals in the top 6% to top 50% (223 262 [51.3%]) and bottom 50% (288 480 [59.7%]) visited an emergency department, compared with approximately one-third of individuals in the top 5% (16 916 [35.0%]). No meaningful associations were observed in high resource use between individuals in the highest income quintile compared with the lowest income quintile (rate ratio, 1.02; 95% CI, 0.99-1.05) after adjusting for relevant covariates.

Conclusions and Relevance — In this study, health care use and spending in the last 2 years of life in Ontario were high. These findings highlight a trend in hospital-centered care before death in a single-payer health system.

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