Health care costs are generally highest in the year before death, and much attention has been directed toward reducing costs for end-of-life care. However, it is unknown whether cardiovascular risk profile earlier in life influences health care costs in the last year of life. This study addresses this question.
Prospective cohort of adults from the Chicago Heart Association Detection Project in Industry included 6582 participants (40% women), aged 33 to 64 years at baseline examination (1967-1973), who died at ages 66 to 99 years. Medicare billing records (1984-2002) were used to obtain cardiovascular disease–related and total charges (adjusted to year 2002 dollars) for inpatient and outpatient services during the last year of life. Participants were classified as having favorable levels of all major cardiovascular risk factors (low risk), that is, serum cholesterol level lower than 200 mg/dL (<5.2 mmol/L), blood pressure 120/80 mm Hg or lower and no antihypertensive medication, body mass index (calculated as weight in kilograms divided by the square of height in meters) lower than 25, no current smoking, no diabetes, and no electrocardiographic abnormalities, or unfavorable levels of any 1 only, any 2 only, any 3 only, or 4 or more of these risk factors.
In the last year of life, average Medicare charges were lowest for low-risk persons. For example, cardiovascular disease–related and total charges were lower by $10 367 and $15 318 compared with those with 4 or more unfavorable risk factors; the fewer the unfavorable risk factors, the lower the Medicare charges (P for trends <.001). Analyses by sex showed similar patterns.
Favorable cardiovascular risk profile earlier in life is associated with lower Medicare charges at the end of life.