There is much talk here in the U.S. as the new health care exchanges that the Obama administration has developed to lower health insurance costs open on October 1st. But I found an article this week that has some surprising results in another part of the health insurance world that impacts dementia patients.
A study conducted by NYU researchers found that dementia patients with managed care insurance were sent to the hospital less often to treat end-of-life health issues that would not improve their quality of life. Managed care organizations receive a lump sum payment for each patient, so they have an incentive to keep costs low by not encouraging unnecessary medical care. However, those with traditional Medicare which pays a fee for each service rendered were sent to the hospital more often. The difference in hospitalizations by insurance type was significant: only 4 percent for those with managed care vs. 16 percent for those with Medicare.
Managed care incentives to keep costs low can backfire on patients, sometimes limiting coverage of services that are not medically necessary but would improve quality of life. But in this instance, the focus on the financial aspect of healthcare actually benefits advanced stage dementia patients. My father was in and out of hospitals the last year of his life because his inpatient stays were completely covered by Medicare. But they did not improve his quality of life; in fact the sudden change of environment may have left him more mentally confused. The elderly are also at high risk for serious, even deadly hospital-acquired infections every time they spend time in an inpatient facility.
It’s one of those rare examples where shrewd and calculating financial decisions actually translates to compassionate action.