Patients Aged <65 Years Face Higher Costs for Treatment of 4 Common Cancers

Tony Berberabe, MPH
Published: Wednesday, Jun 13, 2018
Matthew P. Banegas, PhD, MPH

Matthew P. Banegas, PhD, MPH

Patients younger than 65 years experienced net cancer costs that were higher for breast, colorectal, lung, and prostate cancer compared with patients who were 65 years and older, according to results from a study by the Center for Health Research at Kaiser Permanente Northwest in Portland, Oregon.1 Lead investigator, Matthew P. Banegas, PhD, MPH, said the findings help to fill in the gaps in the literature about cancer care costs, especially in younger populations.

In general, medical care costs were highest for lung cancer and lowest for prostate cancer. For example, mean 1-year mean total costs for lung cancer ranged from $50,700 (stage I) to $97,400 (stage IV) among those aged <65 years and from $44,000 (stage I) to $71,200 (stage IV) among patients aged ≥65 years (Figure). Net costs were defined as the difference in mean total costsbetween patients and controls who were enrolled in 4 health plans.

Much of the historical research that has been conducted uses data from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER)-Medicare linked database, which is not comprehensive. Banegas, an investigator with Kaiser Permanente Northwest, drew data from other sources, with the goal of advancing the potential for fruitful research.

“Although the SEER-Medicare database is an incredibly valuable source of data, it is limited to Medicare fee-for-service beneficiaries,” said Banegas. “That excludes people without Medicare or individuals who receive Medicare through private insurance, like Medicare Advantage,” he said.

Thirty-one percent of all Medicare enrollees receive their care through Medicare Advantage plans, said Banegas. “Because cancer is not just a disease of the aged, my colleagues and I thought it was important to improve our understanding and estimates of cancer care costs across all ages in the United States,” he said. “We want to highlight the high cost of cancer care in that under 65 population.”

The findings provide helpful inputs for economic analyses, comparative effectiveness studies, and tools such as the National Cancer Institute’s Cancer Intervention and Surveillance Modeling Network (CISNET), which aim to guide public health research and priorities, facilitating the development of optimal cancer control strategies. “We hope our findings are used in cost-effectiveness or comparative analyses, so researchers and policymakers can improve the quality of the cost inputs,” said Banegas.

Patients included in the study were members of 4 health plans that are part of the Cancer Research Network, which consists of Kaiser Permanente Washington (formerly Group Health Cooperative), Henry Ford Health System, Kaiser Permanente Colorado, and Kaiser Permanente Northwest. A total of 45,522 adults served as cases, compared with 314,887 frequency-matched controls who did not have a cancer history. The patients were stratified by age, sex, and health-plan eligibility. Eligible patients were diagnosed between January 1, 1988, and December 31, 2007, and had at least 30 days of continuous health-plan eligibility during the study period (January 1, 2000, through December 31, 2008).

Each of the 4 health plans has a tumor registry and an integrated electronic health record database. These plans provide both private and public health insurance coverage, including Medicare Advantage and Medicaid risk contracts.

Figure. Mean Total and Net Costs of Medical Care for Lung and Prostate Cancer

Figure. Mean Total and Net Costs of Medical Care for Lung and Prostate CancerAdapted from reference 1. Net costs were defined as the difference in mean total costs between patients and controls who were enrolled in 4 health plans.

aData represent first-year costs following diagnosis and first 5 years following diagnosis.


The findings will be important to healthcare systems, providers, and employers, said Banegas. “The younger age group and investments in early detection and prevention programs for employers can be impacted by the findings,” he said. “If we can identify those younger individuals through early diagnosis and provide routine preventive care, employers and health plans can avoid those future cancer costs, at later stages of disease.”


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