Healthcare costs and hospital admissions surge in final year of life

By Geir O'Rourke

25 Jul 2022

Spending on key health services is 14 times higher for people in their final year of life than for other Australians and more than 20 times higher for those who die of cancer, a new report shows.

The analysis by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has also found wide variations in spending depending on the cause of death, with colorectal cancer patients attracting almost double the funding in their final year compared to those who died of heart failure.

The figures, published on Thursday, were based on the combined cost of ED presentations, hospitalisations, Medicare services and PBS prescriptions to the health system.

Overall, $296 billion or an average of $45.6 billion annually was spent on the four health service types over the study period, from July 2010 to December 2016.

Of this, some 8% ($23.6 billion or an average of $3.6 billion per year) was spent on services for people in their last year of life – an average of $24,000 per person.

However, the average cost was heavily dependent on the cause of death – with cancer patients and those dying of infectious or parasitic diseases (typically streptococcal and other sepsis), both costing about $35,000 in their final year of life.

In the case of cancer patients, this reflected an average of nearly 100 MBS services, some 3.6 hospital admissions and over 60 PBS prescriptions over the year, according to the data.

By contrast, spending on patients who died of mental and behavioural disorders was just over $9,000 on average, the study authors found.

They also found spending varied by age, ranging from $16,600 per person aged 20–29 to $37,100 per person aged 60–69.

Average costs per person fell after the age of 70, down to $17,000 per person aged 80 and over.

This coincided with moves into permanent residential aged care, the cost of which was excluded from the study, the authors stressed.

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