Findings

Red Pill or Blue Pill

Kevin Lewis

September 08, 2009

China's Health Care Reform: A Tentative Assessment

Winnie Yip & William Hsiao
China Economic Review, forthcoming

Abstract:
China has recently unveiled an ambitious new health care reform plan, entailing a doubling of government health spending as well as a number of concrete reforms. While the details of the plan have not yet been completely announced, we offer a preliminary assessment of how well the reform is likely to achieve its stated goal of assuring every citizen equal access to affordable basic health care. The reform is based on three fundamental tenets: strong role of government in health, commitment to equity, and a willingness to experiment with regulated market approaches. Within this framework, the reform offers a number of laudable changes to the health system, including an increase in public health financing, an expansion of primary health facilities and an increase in subsidies to achieve universal insurance coverage. However, it fails to address the root causes of the wastes and inefficiencies plaguing China's health care system, such as a fragments delivery system and provider incentives to over-provide expensive tests and services. We conclude that China should consider changing the provider payment method from fee-for-service to a prospective payment method such as DRG or capitation with pay-for-performance, and to develop purchasing agencies that represent the interests of the population so as to enhance competition.

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The effect of newer drugs on health spending: Do they really increase the costs?

Abdülkadr Cvan & Bülent Köksal
Health Economics, forthcoming

Abstract:
We analyze the influence of technological progress on pharmaceuticals on rising health expenditures using US State level panel data. Improvements in medical technology are believed to be partly responsible for rapidly rising health expenditures. Even if the technological progress in medicine improves health outcomes and life quality, it can also increase the expenditure on health care. Our findings suggest that newer drugs increase the spending on prescription drugs since they are usually more expensive than their predecessors. However, they lower the demand for other types of medical services, which causes the total spending to decline. We estimate that a 1-year decrease in the average age of prescribed drugs causes per capita health expenditures to decrease by $45.43. The biggest decline occurs in spending on hospital care due to newer drugs.

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Patient Education and the Impact of New Medical Research

Joseph Price & Kosali Simon
Journal of Health Economics, forthcoming

Abstract:
We examine the impact that medical research published in peer-reviewed journals has on the practice of medicine. We exploit the release of a recent New England Journal of Medicine article which demonstrated that the risks of attempting a vaginal birth after having a previous C-section birth (VBAC) were higher than previously thought. We find that immediately following this article, the national VBAC rate dropped by 16 percent and this change was largest among more educated mothers, particularly those with a graduate degree.

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Suboptimal provision of preventive healthcare due to expected enrollee turnover among private insurers

Bradley Herring
Health Economics, forthcoming

Abstract:
Many preventive healthcare procedures are widely recognized as cost-effective but have relatively low utilization rates in the US. Because preventive care is a present-period investment with a future-period expected financial return, enrollee turnover among private insurers lowers the expected return of this investment. In this paper, I present a simple theoretical model to illustrate the suboptimal provision of preventive healthcare that results from insurers free riding off of the provision from others. I also provide an empirical test of this hypothesis using data from the Community Tracking Study's Household Survey. I use lagged market-level measures of employment-induced insurer turnover to identify variation in insurers' expectations and test for the effect of turnover on several different measures of medical utilization. As expected, I find that turnover has a significantly negative effect on the utilization of preventive services and has no effect on the utilization of acute services used as a control.

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Has the time come for cost-effectiveness analysis in US health care?

Stirling Bryan, Shoshanna Sofaer, Taryn Siegelberg & Marthe Gold
Health Economics, Policy and Law, October 2009, Pages 425-443

Abstract:
Cost-effectiveness analysis (CEA) is a powerful analytic tool for assessing the value of health care interventions but it is a method used sparingly in the US. Despite its growing acceptance internationally and its endorsement in the academic literature, most policy analysts have assumed that US decision makers will resist using CEA to inform coverage decisions. This study sought to clarify the extent to which CEA is understood and accepted by US decision makers, including regulators, private and public insurers, and purchasers, and to identify their points of difficulty with its use. We conducted half-day workshops with a sample of six California-based health care organizations that spanned a range of public and private perspectives regarding coverage of health care services. Each workshop included an overview of CEA methods, a priority-setting exercise that asked participants (acting as ‘social decision makers') to rank condition treatment pairs prior to and following provision of cost-effectiveness information; and a facilitated discussion of obstacles and opportunities for using CEA in their own organizations. Pre and post-questionnaires inquired as to obstacles toward implementing CEA, attitudes toward rationing, and views on the use of CEA in Medicare and in private insurance coverage decision-making. In post-workshop surveys major obstacles identified included: fears of litigation, concerns about the quality and accuracy of studies that were commercially sponsored, and failure of CEAs to address shorter horizon cost implications. Over 90% of participants felt that CEA should be used as an input to Medicare coverage decisions and 75% supported its use in such decisions by private insurance plans. Despite the wide acceptance of CEA, at the conclusion of the workshop, 40% of the sample remained uncomfortable with support of ‘rationing' per se. We suggest that how cost-effectiveness analysis is framed will have important implications for its acceptability to US decision makers.

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Operating on commission: Analyzing how physician financial incentives affect surgery rates

Jason Shafrin
Health Economics, forthcoming

Abstract:
This paper employs a nationally representative, household-based dataset in order to test how the compensation method of both the specialists and the primary care providers affects surgery rates. After controlling for adverse selection, I find that when specialists are paid through a fee-for-service scheme rather than on a capitation basis, surgery rates increase 78%. The impact of primary care physician compensation on surgery rates depends on whether or not referral restrictions are present.

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The Formation and Evolution of Physician Treatment Styles: An Application to Cesarean Sections

Andrew Epstein & Sean Nicholson
Journal of Health Economics, forthcoming

Abstract:
Small-area-variation studies have shown that physician treatment styles differ substantially both between and within markets, controlling for patient characteristics. Using data on the universe of deliveries in Florida and New York over a 15-year period, we examine why treatment styles differ across obstetricians at a point in time and why styles change over time. We find that variation in c-section rates across physicians within a market is about twice as large as variation between markets. Surprisingly, residency programs explain no more than four percent of the variation in physicians' risk-adjusted c-section rates, even among newly-trained physicians. Although we find evidence that physicians learn from their peers, they do not substantially revise their prior beliefs regarding treatment due to the local exchange of information. Our results indicate that physicians are not likely to converge over time to a community standard; thus, within-market variation in treatment styles is likely to persist.
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Medical technology adoption, uncertainty, and irreversibilities: Is a bird in the hand really worth more than in the bush?

Joshua Graff Zivin & Matthew Neidell
Health Economics, forthcoming

Abstract:
The influence of current medical technology adoption decisions on the use of future potential interventions is often overlooked. Some health interventions, once exercised, restrict future potential interventions for both related and unrelated medical conditions. For example, treatment of a patient with an antibiotic may lead to resistance in that patient that precludes future treatment with the same or related compounds. This irreversibility raises the value of treatment modalities that preserve future treatment options. Surprisingly, partial reversibility with or without learning can either increase or decrease this value, depending on the distribution of patient types within the treated population. Evaluations that ignore these option values miss an important part of the welfare equation that is becoming increasingly important as individuals live longer and the stock of medical treatments increases.

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Age and Choice in Health Insurance: Evidence from a Discrete Choice Experiment

Karolin Becker & Peter Zweifel
The Patient: Patient-Centered Outcomes Research, Spring 2008, Pages 27-40

Background: A uniform package of benefits and uniform cost sharing are elements of regulation inherent in most social health insurance systems. Both elements risk burdening the population with a welfare loss if preferences for risk and insurance attributes differ. This suggests the introduction of more choice in social health insurance packages may be advantageous; however, it is widely believed that this would not benefit the elderly.

Objective: To examine the relationship between age and willingness to pay (WTP) for additional options in Swiss social health insurance.

Methods: A discrete choice experiment was developed using six attributes (deductibles, co-payment, access to alternative medicines, medication choice, access to innovation, and monthly premium) that are currently in debate within the context of Swiss health insurance. These attributes have been shown to be important in the choice of insurance contract. Using statistical design optimization procedures, the number of choice sets was reduced to 27 and randomly split into three groups. One choice was included twice to test for consistency. Two random effects probit models were developed: a simple model where marginal utilities and WTP values were not allowed to vary according to socioeconomic characteristics, and a more complex model where the values were permitted to depend on socioeconomic variables. A representative telephone survey of 1000 people aged >24 years living in the German- and French-speaking parts of Switzerland was conducted. Participants were asked to compare the status quo (i.e. their current insurance contract) with ten hypothetical alternatives. In addition, participants were asked questions concerning utilization of healthcare services; overall satisfaction with the healthcare system, insurer and insurance policy; and a general preference for new elements in the insurance package. Socioeconomic variables surveyed were age, sex, total household income, education (seven categories ranging from primary school to university degree), place of residence, occupation, and marital status.
 Results: All chosen elements proved relevant for choice in the simple model. Accounting for socioeconomic characteristics in the comprehensive model reveals preference heterogeneity for contract attributes, but also for the propensity to consider deviating from the status quo and choosing an alternative health insurance contract.

Conclusion: The findings suggest that while the elderly do exhibit a stronger status quo bias than younger age groups, they require less rather than more specific compensation for selected cutbacks, indicating a potential for contracts that induce self-rationing in return for lower premiums.

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Geographic Variations in a Model of Physician Treatment Choice with Social Interactions

Mary Burke, Gary Fournier & Kislaya Prasad
Federal Reserve Bank Working Paper, May 2009

Abstract:
Location-specific norms of behavior are a widespread phenomenon. In the case of medical practice, numerous studies have found that geographic location exerts a strong influence on the choice of treatments and procedures. This paper shows how the presence of social influence on treatment decisions can help to explain this phenomenon. We construct a theoretical model in which physicians' treatment choices depend on patients' characteristics and on the recent choices of nearby peer — either because there are local knowledge spillovers or because physicians want to conform to local practice patterns. In our model, regional differences in the patient mix give rise to geographically divergent treatment pattern — the treatment a patient receives depends on where she lives. Investigation of Florida data reveals significant geographic variation in treatment rates consistent with the predictions of our model. Implications for patient welfare are explored.


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