For those of us who had hoped that American attitudes toward death were shifting in ways that would promote a wider reconstruction of the health-care system, there’s discouraging news from Health Affairs, the preeminent journal of health policy. It devotes its latest issue to “end-of-life” care and finds that — at least so far — the power to make health care more compassionate and cost-effective is limited.
Superficially, the vision seems to be triumphing, according to the 17 studies in Health Affairs. By one study, a third of American adults — and nearly half those 65 and older — have some sort of living will. From 1999 to 2015, the share of Americans who died in hospitals dropped from more than half to 37 percent. Over the same period, the number dying at home or in a hospice rose from less than a quarter to 38 percent. Moreover, at 8.5 percent of health costs, spending in the last year of life is lower in the United States than in some other countries.
But on inspection, the gains seem less impressive. The share of people with living wills has remained stuck for six years. According to another study in Health Affairs, the increase in hospice care is not substituting for expensive hospital care but adding to it. Said the study by Melissa Aldridge of Mount Sinai hospital in New York and Elizabeth Bradley of Vassar College: “What has emerged [is] a relatively new pattern of hospice use. . . . Hospice enrollment [has become] an ‘add-on’ in health care after the extensive use of other health care services and within days of death.”
Read more at the Washington Post.