The Costs of Decedents in the Medicare Program: Implications for Payments to Medicare+Choice Plans

Melinda Beeuwkes Buntin, Alan M. Garber, Mark McClellan, Joseph P. Newhouse

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective. To discuss and quantify the incentives that Medicare managed care plans have to avoid (through selective enrollment or disenrollment) people who are at risk for very high costs, focusing on Medicare beneficiaries in the last year of life-a group that accounts for more than one-quarter of Medicare's annual expenditures. Data Source. Medicare administrative claims for 1994 and 1995. Study Design. We calculated the payment a plan would have received under three risk-adjustment systems for each beneficiary in our 1995 sample based on his or her age, gender, county of residence, original reason for Medicare entitlement, and principal inpatient diagnoses received during any hospital stays in 1994. We compared these amounts to the actual costs incurred by those beneficiaries. We then looked for clinical categories that were predictive of costs, including costs in a beneficiary's last year of life, not accounted for by the risk adjusters. Data Extraction Methods. The analyses were conducted using claims for a 5 percent random sample of Medicare beneficiaries who died in 1995 and a matched group of survivors. Principal Findings. Medicare is currently implementing the Principal Inpatient Diagnostic Cost Groups (PIP-DCG) risk adjustment payment system to address the problem of risk selection in the Medicare+Choice program. We quantify the strong financial disincentives to enroll terminally ill beneficiaries that plans still have under this risk adjustment system. We also show that up to one-third of the selection observed between Medicare HMOs and the traditional fee-for-service system could be due to differential enrollment of decedents. A risk adjustment system that incorporated more of the available diagnostic information would attenuate this disincentive; however, plans could still use clinical information (not included in the risk adjustment scheme) to identify beneficiaries whose expected costs exceed expected payments. Conclusions. More disaggregated prospective risk adjustment methods and alternative payment systems that compensate plans for delivering care to certain classes of patients should be considered to ensure access to high-quality managed care for all beneficiaries.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)111-130
Number of pages20
JournalHealth services research
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • End-of-life costs
  • Managed care
  • Medicare
  • Risk adjustment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy


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