Both the United States and Canada offer government-financed health insurance for the elderly, but few studies have compared care at the end of life for cancer patients between the two systems.
We identified care for non–small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) patients who died of cancer at age 65 years and older during 1999–2003. Patients were identified from US Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER)–Medicare data (N = 13 533) and the Ontario Cancer Registry (N = 8100). Health claims during the last 5 months of life identified chemotherapy and emergency room use, hospitalizations, and supportive care. We estimated rates per person-months (PM) for short-term survivors (died <6 months after diagnosis) and longer-term survivors (died ≥6 months after diagnosis), adjusting for demographic differences. To test whether monthly rates in Ontario were statistically significantly different from the United States, standardized differences were computed, and a 99% confidence interval (CI) was constructed to account for the multiple tests performed. All statistical tests were two-sided.
Rates of chemotherapy use were statistically significantly higher for SEER–Medicare patients than Ontario patients in every month before death (short-term survivors at 5 months before death: SEER–Medicare, 33.2 patients per 100 PM vs Ontario, 9.5 per 100 PM, rate difference = 23.7 per 100 PM, 99% CI = 18.3 to 29.1 per 100 PM, P < .001; longer-term survivors at 5 months before death: SEER–Medicare, 24.4 patients per 100 PM vs Ontario, 14.5 per 100 PM, rate difference = 9.9 per 100 PM, 99% CI = 7.7 to 12.1 per 100 PM, P <. 001). During the last 30 days of life, fewer SEER–Medicare than Ontario patients were hospitalized (short-term survivors, 49.9 vs 78.6 patients per 100 PM, rate difference = 28.6 per 100 PM, 95% CI = 22.9 to 34.4 per 100 PM, P <. 001; longer-term survivors, 44.1 vs 67.1 patients per 100 PM, rate difference = 23.0 per 100 PM, 95% CI = 18.5 to 27.5 per 100 PM, P < .001).
NSCLC patients in both Ontario and the United States used extensive end-of-life care. Limited availability of hospice care in Ontario and differing attitudes between the United States and Ontario regarding end-of-life care may explain the differences in practice patterns.