Health plan competition improves quality, right? Right??? – ctd.

Yesterday, Austin highlighted a paper that said competition might not increase quality. Here’s another paper that goes even further. “Quality and Equity of Care in the Veterans Affairs Health-Care System and in Medicare Advantage Health Plans“:

Background: After an organizational transformation in the mid-1990s, the quality of care in the Veterans Affairs health-care system(VA) compared favorably with the quality of care in some private sector settings. Whether this performance advantage has persisted, and also its relation to geographic and socioeconomic variations in care, is unknown.

Objective: We compared the quality and equity of care for older adults in the VA with that delivered in Medicare Advantage (MA) health plans using the same performance measures.

Research Design: Cross-sectional comparison.

Subjects: A total of 293,554 observations from enrollees in 142 VA medical centers (VAMCs) and 5,768,573 observations from enrollees in 305 MA plans.

Measurements: Adherence to quality measures assessing diabetes, cardiovascular, and cancer screening care from 2000 to 2007.

Using the same HEDIS type measures Austin described yesterday, this study compared the quality of the VA health care system to that of private Medicare Advantage. Remember, the VA isn’t just a single-payer system, a la Canada or Medicare, it’s a completely government run health care system a la the UK. Can you guess where this is headed?

Results: The VA outperformed MA plans on 10 of 11 quality measures in the initial study year, and on all 12 measures in the final year. In 2006 and 2007, adjusted differences between the VA and MA ranged from 4.3 percentage points (95% CI, 3.2-5.4) for cholesterol testing in coronary heart disease to 30.8 percentage points (95% CI, 28.1-33.5) for colorectal cancer screening. For 9 of 12 measures, socioeconomic disparities (defined as the difference in performance rates between persons in the highest and lowest quartiles of area-level income and education) were lower in the VA than in MA. Across all measures, the mean interquartile range of performance was 6.7 percentage points for VAMCs and 14.5 percentage points for MA plans.

For people over the age of 65, the VA outperformed private insurance (Medicare Advantage) on nearly all the measures of quality. The care it delivered was also more consistent across geography and socioeconomic status.

I know a lot of you believe that private market and competition are the cures for what ails us. Unfortunately, there’s just not a lot of evidence that’s true.


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