CHICAGO (FRONTLINE MEDICAL NEWS) – Health care costs for heart failure patients spike dramatically in the last 6 months of life, with lack of adherence to guideline-directed outpatient medical therapy being the major modifiable factor driving the costs, Jason P. Swindle, Ph.D., reported at the annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology.

He presented a retrospective study of heart failure–related and total health care costs during the final 24 months of life for 48,026 Medicare Advantage managed care plan members with heart failure.

The researchers were interested in exploring possible racial/ethnic differences in costs, particularly in light of evidence that African Americans have a higher risk of heart failure and higher all-cause mortality. And while a first look at the data indicated racial differences in the size of end-of-life cost spikes, those differences lost their significance in multivariate analysis.

“Lack of guideline-directed outpatient heart failure therapy was a key. Also older age and the presence of coronary heart disease – those were really the big three items that were driving the spike in costs,” said Dr. Swindle of the Chicago office of Optum, a health care consulting group.

He was quick to add that, since the study was based upon administrative data, the lack of adherence to guideline-directed therapy may be unrelated to physician prescribing.

“We see the prescriptions that patients are actually filling. Patients may very well be seeing their cardiologist and being prescribed a medication, but they simply don’t fill the prescription,” he explained in an interview.

Over patients’ final 2 years of life, semiannual all-cause health care costs climbed from a baseline of roughly $10,000 during months 24-19 before death by about 4-fold during months 6-1 before death. Heart failure–related medical costs jumped 10-fold in Asians, 7.8-fold in Hispanics, 6.6-fold in African Americans, and 6.7-fold in whites. Most of the increases occurred in the final 6 months.

Zeroing in on the final 6 months of life, the mean cumulative total medical costs were $44,599, with heart failure–related medical costs accounting for $24,818 of that figure. Total medical costs averaged just under $5,000 during month 6 prior to death and rose roughly 3.5-fold over the remaining months.

This study was supported by Novartis Pharmaceuticals.