Medicare deaths, length of stay and costs decrease over past 15 years

According to a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, over the last 15 years the number of deaths, hospital stays and healthcare costs decreased among older Americans on Medicare.

"Although our health care system has its failings, we are making remarkable progress," said Dr. Harlan Krumholz, the study's lead author from Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.

"People are much better off today than they were 15 years ago," he told Reuters Health in an email. Researchers used data on over 68 million people on Medicare, the U.S. health insurance for the elderly and disabled.  In particular the study found:

  • Deaths from any cause fell among Medicare beneficiares from 5.3 to 4.45 percent between 1999 and 2013.  
  • The number of hospital stays per 100,000 people per year fell by 8,344 between 1999 and 2013.
  • The amount of money spent on care among those beneficiaries in hospitals fell by nearly $500 per beneficiary during that time.

Hospitalizations and costs during the last six months of life also fell among those beneficiaries on traditional Medicare, the researchers report in JAMA.  "The improvement in hospitalization rates represents millions of people not hospitalized in 2013 compared with what would have been had the rate from 1999 not decreased," Krumholz said. "And then among the smaller number being hospitalized, we found marked improvements in outcomes."

The study's findings varied depending on what region of the country the researchers looked at, but they note that the worst-performing regions in 2013 were performing better than the best-performing regions in 1999.

 Reuters, JAMA