Background: The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) is the largest integrated health care system in the United States. Studies suggest that the VHA provides better preventive care and care for some chronic illnesses than does the private sector.
Objective: To assess the quality of cancer care for older patients provided by the VHA versus fee-for-service Medicare.
Design: Observational study of patients with cancer that was diagnosed between 2001 and 2004 who were followed through 2005.
Setting: VHA and non-VHA hospitals and office-based practices.
Patients: Men older than 65 years with incident colorectal, lung, or prostate cancer; lymphoma; or multiple myeloma.
Measurements: Rates of processes of care for colorectal, lung, or prostate cancer; lymphoma; or multiple myeloma. Rates were adjusted by using propensity score weighting.
Results: Compared with the fee-for-service Medicare population, the VHA population received diagnoses of colon (P < 0.001) and rectal (P = 0.007) cancer at earlier stages and had higher adjusted rates of curative surgery for colon cancer (92.7% vs. 90.5%; P < 0.010), standard chemotherapy for diffuse large B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma (71.1% vs. 59.3%; P < 0.001), and bisphosphonate therapy for multiple myeloma (62.1% vs. 50.4%; P < 0.001). The VHA population had lower adjusted rates of 3-dimensional conformal or intensity-modulated radiation therapy for prostate cancer treated with external-beam radiation therapy (61.6% vs. 86.0%; P < 0.001). Adjusted rates were similar for 9 other measures. Sensitivity analyses suggest that if patients with cancer in the VHA system have more severe comorbid illness than other patients, rates for most indicators would be higher in the VHA population than in the fee-for-service Medicare population.
Limitation: This study included only older men and did not include information about performance status, severity of comorbid illness, or patient preferences.
Conclusion: Care for older men with cancer in the VHA system was generally similar to or better than care for fee-for-service Medicare beneficiaries, although adoption of some expensive new technologies may be delayed in the VHA system.
Primary Funding Source: Department of Veterans Affairs.