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There are three expensive ways to die, and one of the three is almost twice the cost of the other two.  A new study published on Monday in the Annals of Internal Medicine looked at the total cost of care for patients on Medicare.  The question they wanted to know was which diseases had the greatest cost in the last 5 year of life.  The answer may surprise you.

A cancer patient average total cost of care was $173,383.  A patient who died of heart disease had an average cost of care of $175,136.  But for patients with dementia, their average cost of care rang in at $287,038. 

While Medicare covers about $100,000 in expenses for patients with each of these three diseases, the real sticker shock comes from out-of-pocket costs.  Dementia patients had out-of-pocket costs more than 80 percent higher than heart disease or cancer patients. 

According to Dr. Diane Meier, a professor geriatrics and palliative care at Mount Sinai Hospital, most families assume Medicare will pick up most of the cost, and are unprepared for the financial burden of caring for a family member with dementia.

Unlike heart treatments and cancer care, the care for a patient with dementia doesn’t center around traditional medical treatments, but ensuring the patients safety through constant care.  Families take on what can amount to a second job – providing care, speaking with doctors and nurses and other professionals.  That care, and time, can get expensive quickly.

The good news is that there are options for long term care.  And with the right planning, a complete spend-down to qualify for Medicaid can be avoided.

Source: New York Times, “Costs for Dementia Care Far Exceeding Other Diseases, Study Finds

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