Journal: Health affairs (Project Hope)
Legalization of medical marijuana has been one of the most controversial areas of state policy change over the past twenty years. However, little is known about whether medical marijuana is being used clinically to any significant degree. Using data on all prescriptions filled by Medicare Part D enrollees from 2010 to 2013, we found that the use of prescription drugs for which marijuana could serve as a clinical alternative fell significantly, once a medical marijuana law was implemented. National overall reductions in Medicare program and enrollee spending when states implemented medical marijuana laws were estimated to be $165.2 million per year in 2013. The availability of medical marijuana has a significant effect on prescribing patterns and spending in Medicare Part D.
The United States has poorer child health outcomes than other wealthy nations despite greater per capita spending on health care for children. To better understand this phenomenon, we examined mortality trends for the US and nineteen comparator nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development for children ages 0-19 from 1961 to 2010 using publicly available data. While child mortality progressively declined across all countries, mortality in the US has been higher than in peer nations since the 1980s. From 2001 to 2010 the risk of death in the US was 76 percent greater for infants and 57 percent greater for children ages 1-19. During this decade, children ages 15-19 were eighty-two times more likely to die from gun homicide in the US. Over the fifty-year study period, the lagging US performance amounted to over 600,000 excess deaths. Policy interventions should focus on infants and on children ages 15-19, the two age groups with the greatest disparities, by addressing perinatal causes of death, automobile accidents, and assaults by firearm.
Much has been written about the relationship between high medical expenses and the likelihood of filing for bankruptcy, but the relationship between receiving a cancer diagnosis and filing for bankruptcy is less well understood. We estimated the incidence and relative risk of bankruptcy for people age twenty-one or older diagnosed with cancer compared to people the same age without cancer by conducting a retrospective cohort analysis that used a variety of medical, personal, legal, and bankruptcy sources covering the Western District of Washington State in US Bankruptcy Court for the period 1995-2009. We found that cancer patients were 2.65 times more likely to go bankrupt than people without cancer. Younger cancer patients had 2-5 times higher rates of bankruptcy than cancer patients age sixty-five or older, which indicates that Medicare and Social Security may mitigate bankruptcy risk for the older group. The findings suggest that employers and governments may have a policy role to play in creating programs and incentives that could help people cover expenses in the first year following a cancer diagnosis.
We examined the impact of California’s early Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act on the use of payday loans, a form of high-interest borrowing used by low- and middle-income Americans. Using a data set for the period 2009-13 (roughly twenty-four months before and twenty-four months after the 2011-12 Medicaid expansion) that covered the universe of payday loans from five large payday lenders with locations around the United States, we used a difference-in-differences research design to assess the effect of the expansion on payday borrowing, comparing trends in early-expansion counties in California to those in counties nationwide that did not expand early. The early Medicaid expansion was associated with an 11 percent reduction in the number of loans taken out each month. It also reduced the number of unique borrowers each month and the amount of payday loan debt. We were unable to determine precisely how and for whom the expansion reduced payday borrowing, since to our knowledge, no data exist that directly link payday lending to insurance status. Nonetheless, our results suggest that Medicaid reduced the demand for high-interest loans and improved the financial health of American families.
Firearm-related deaths are the third leading cause of injury-related deaths in the United States. Yet limited data exist on contemporary epidemiological trends and risk factors for firearm-related injuries. Using data from the Nationwide Emergency Department Sample, we report epidemiological trends and quantify the clinical and financial burden associated with emergency department (ED) visits for firearm-related injuries. We identified 150,930 patients-representing a weighted total of 704,916 patients nationally-who presented alive to the ED in the period 2006-14 with firearm-related injuries. Such injuries were approximately nine times more common among male than female patients and highest among males ages 20-24. Of the patients who presented alive to the ED, 37.2 percent were admitted to inpatient care, while 8.3 percent died during their ED visit or inpatient admission. The mean per person ED and inpatient charges were $5,254 and $95,887, respectively, resulting in an annual financial burden of approximately $2.8 billion in ED and inpatient charges. Although future research is warranted to better understand firearm-related injuries, policy makers might consider implementing universal background checks for firearm purchases and limiting access to firearms for people with a history of violence or previous convictions to reduce the clinical and financial burden associated with these injuries.
Mexico implemented a 1 peso per liter excise tax on sugar-sweetened beverages on January 1, 2014, and a previous study found a 6 percent reduction in purchases of taxed beverages in 2014. In this study we estimated changes in beverage purchases for 2014 and 2015. We used store purchase data for 6,645 households from January 2012 to December 2015. Changes in purchases of taxed and untaxed beverages in the study period were estimated using two models, which compared 2014 and 2015 purchases with predicted (counterfactual) purchases based on trends in 2012-13. Purchases of taxed beverages decreased 5.5 percent in 2014 and 9.7 percent in 2015, yielding an average reduction of 7.6 percent over the study period. Households at the lowest socioeconomic level had the largest decreases in purchases of taxed beverages in both years. Purchases of untaxed beverage increased 2.1 percent in the study period. Findings from Mexico may encourage other countries to use fiscal policies to reduce consumption of unhealthy beverages along with other interventions to reduce the burden of chronic disease.
Populationwide mammography screening has been associated with a substantial rise in false-positive mammography findings and breast cancer overdiagnosis. However, there is a lack of current data on the associated costs in the United States. We present costs due to false-positive mammograms and breast cancer overdiagnoses among women ages 40-59, based on expenditure data from a major US health care insurance plan for 702,154 women in the years 2011-13. The average expenditures for each false-positive mammogram, invasive breast cancer, and ductal carcinoma in situ in the twelve months following diagnosis were $852, $51,837 and $12,369, respectively. This translates to a national cost of $4 billion each year. The costs associated with false-positive mammograms and breast cancer overdiagnoses appear to be much higher than previously documented. Screening has the potential to save lives. However, the economic impact of false-positive mammography results and breast cancer overdiagnoses must be considered in the debate about the appropriate populations for screening.
Decisions by states about whether to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) have implications for hospitals' financial health. We hypothesized that Medicaid expansion of eligibility for childless adults prevents hospital closures because increased Medicaid coverage for previously uninsured people reduces uncompensated care expenditures and strengthens hospitals' financial position. We tested this hypothesis using data for the period 2008-16 on hospital closures and financial performance. We found that the ACA’s Medicaid expansion was associated with improved hospital financial performance and substantially lower likelihoods of closure, especially in rural markets and counties with large numbers of uninsured adults before Medicaid expansion. Future congressional efforts to reform Medicaid policy should consider the strong relationship between Medicaid coverage levels and the financial viability of hospitals. Our results imply that reverting to pre-ACA eligibility levels would lead to particularly large increases in rural hospital closures. Such closures could lead to reduced access to care and a loss of highly skilled jobs, which could have detrimental impacts on local economies.
Evidence suggests that growth in providers' prices drives growth in health care spending on the privately insured. However, existing work has not systematically differentiated between the growth rate of hospital prices and that of physician prices. We analyzed growth in both types of prices for inpatient and hospital-based outpatient services using actual negotiated prices paid by insurers. We found that in the period 2007-14 hospital prices grew substantially faster than physician prices. For inpatient care, hospital prices grew 42 percent, while physician prices grew 18 percent. Similarly, for hospital-based outpatient care, hospital prices grew 25 percent, while physician prices grew 6 percent. A majority of the growth in payments for inpatient and hospital-based outpatient care was driven by growth in hospital prices, not physician prices. Our work suggests that efforts to reduce health care spending should be primarily focused on addressing growth in hospital rather than physician prices. Policy makers should consider a range of options to address hospital price growth, including antitrust enforcement, administered pricing, the use of reference pricing, and incentivizing referring physicians to make more cost-efficient referrals.
The growing awareness of the wide variation in health care prices, increased availability of price data, and increased patient cost sharing are expected to drive patients to shop for lower-cost medical services. We conducted a nationally representative survey of 2,996 nonelderly US adults who had received medical care in the previous twelve months to assess how frequently patients are price shopping for care and the barriers they face in doing so. Only 13 percent of respondents who had some out-of-pocket spending in their last health care encounter had sought information about their expected spending before receiving care, and just 3 percent had compared costs across providers before receiving care. The low rates of price shopping do not appear to be driven by opposition to the idea: The majority of respondents believed that price shopping for care is important and did not believe that higher-cost providers were of higher quality. Common barriers to shopping included difficulty obtaining price information and a desire not to disrupt existing provider relationships.