Type of Insurance Linked to Length of Survival After Lung Surgery

At a single robotic-assisted pulmonary lobectomy center, patients with public insurance or combined public and private insurance fared worse than those with private insurance, according to a new retrospective analysis.

The study used public insurance status as a marker for low socioeconomic status (SES) and suggests that patients with combined insurance may constitute a separate population that deserves more attention.

Lower SES has been linked to later stage diagnoses and worse outcomes in NSCLC. Private insurance is a generally-accepted indicator of higher SES, while public insurance like Medicare or Medicaid, alone or in combination with private supplementary insurance, is an indicator of lower SES.

Although previous studies have found associations between patients having public health insurance and experiencing later-stage diagnoses and worse overall survival, there have been few studies of surgical outcomes, and almost no research has examined combination health insurance, according to Allison O. Dumitriu Carcoana, who presented the research during a poster session at the European Lung Cancer Congress 2023.

“This is an important insurance subgroup for us because the majority of our patients fall into this subgroup by being over 65 years old and thus qualifying for Medicare while also paying for a private supplement,” said Ms. Carcoana, who is a medical student at University of South Florida Health Morsani College of Medicine, Tampa.

A previous analysis by the group found an association between private insurance status and better discharge status, as well as higher 5-year overall survival. After accumulating an additional 278 patients, the researchers examined 10-year survival outcomes.

In the new analysis, 52% of 711 participants had combination insurance, while 28% had private insurance, and 20% had public insurance. The subgroups all had similar demographic and histological characteristics. The study was unique in that it found no between-group differences in higher stage at diagnosis, whereas previous studies have found a greater risk of higher stage diagnosis among individuals with public insurance. As expected, patients in the combined insurance group had a higher mean age (P less than .0001) and higher Charlson comorbidity index scores (= .0014), which in turn was associated with lower 10-year survival. The group also had the highest percentage of former smokers, while the public insurance group had the highest percentage of current smokers (P = .0003).

At both 5 and 10 years, the private insurance group had better OS than the group with public (less than .001) and the combination insurance group (= .08). Public health insurance was associated with worse OS at 5 years (hazard ratio, 1.83; P less than .005) but not at 10 years (HR, 1.18; = .51), while combination insurance was associated with worse OS at 10 years (HR, 1.72; = .02).

“We think that patients with public health insurance having the worst 5-year overall survival, despite their lower ages and fewer comorbid conditions, compared with patients with combination insurance, highlights the impact of lower socioeconomic status on health outcomes. These patients had the same tumor characteristics, BMI, sex, and race as our patients in the other two insurance groups. The only other significant risk factor [the group had besides having a higher proportion of patients with lower socioeconomic status was that it had a higher proportion of current smokers]. But the multivariate analyses showed that insurance status was an independent predictor of survival, regardless of smoking status or other comorbidities,” said Ms. Carcoana.

“At 10 years post-operatively, the survival curves have shifted and the combination patients had the worst 10-year overall survival. We attribute this to their higher number of comorbid conditions and increased age. In practice, [this means that] the group of patients with public insurance type, but no supplement, should be identified clinically, and the clinical team can initiate a discussion,” Ms. Carcoana said.

“Do these patients feel that they can make follow-up appointments, keep up with medication costs, and make the right lifestyle decisions postoperatively on their current insurance plan? If not, can they afford a private supplement? In our cohort specifically, it may also be important to do more preoperative counseling on the importance of smoking cessation,” she added.

The study is interesting, but it has some important limitations, according to Raja Flores, MD, who was not involved with the study. He noted that the authors didn’t include information about cancer stage, which is the most important predictor of survival. Also missing is operative mortality data.

The fact that the study includes a single surgeon has some disadvantages in terms of broader applicability, but it also controls for surgical technique. “Different surgeons have different ways of doing things, so if you had the same surgeon doing it the same way every time, you can look at other variables like insurance (status) and stage,” said Dr. Flores.

The results may also provide an argument against using robotic surgery in patients who do not have insurance, especially since they have not been proven to be better than standard minimally invasive surgery with no robotic assistance. With uninsured patients, “you’re using taxpayer money for a more expensive procedure that isn’t proving to be any better,” Dr. Flores explained.

The study was performed at a single center and cannot prove causation due to its retrospective nature.

Ms. Carcoana and Dr. Flores have no relevant financial disclosures.

This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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