Reading list

Declines in Employer-Sponsored Insurance between 2000 and 2008: Examining the Components of Coverage by Firm Size, by Jessica Vistnes, Alice Zawacki, Kosali Simon and Amy Taylor (Health Services Research)

Objective:  To examine trends in employer-sponsored health insurance coverage rates and its associated components between 2000 and 2008, to provide a baseline for later evaluations of the Affordable Care Act, and to provide information to policy makers as they design the implementation details of the law.

Data Sources:  Private sector employer data from the 2000, 2001, and 2008 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey-Insurance Component (MEPS-IC).

Study Design:  We examine time trends in employer offer, eligibility, and take-up rates. We add a new dimension to the literature by examining dependent coverage and decomposing its trends. We investigate heterogeneity in trends by firm size.

Data Collection:  The MEPS-IC is an annual survey, sponsored by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau. The MEPS-IC obtains information on establishment characteristics, whether an establishment offers health insurance, and details on up to four plans.

Principal Findings:  We find that coverage rates for workers declined in both small and large firms. In small firms, coverage declined due to a drop in both offer and take-up rates. In the largest firms, offer rates were stable and the decline was due to falling take-up rates. In addition, enrollment shifted toward single coverage and away from dependent coverage in both small and large firms. For small firms, this shift was due to declining offer and take-up rates for dependent coverage. In large firms, offers of dependent coverage were stable but take-up rates dropped. Within the category of dependent coverage, the availability of employee-plus-one plans increased in all firm size categories, but take-up rates for these plans declined in small firms.

LESS IS MORE. Overuse of Health Care Services in the United States: An Understudied Problem, by Deborah Korenstein, Raphael Falk, Elizabeth A. Howell, Tara Bishop and Salomeh Keyhani (Archives of Internal Medicine)

Background:  Overuse, the provision of health care services for which harms outweigh benefits, represents poor quality and contributes to high costs. A better understanding of overuse in US health care could inform efforts to reduce inappropriate care. We performed an extensive search for studies of overuse of therapeutic procedures, diagnostic tests, and medications in the United States and describe the state of the literature.

Methods:  We searched MEDLINE (1978-2009) for studies measuring US rates of overuse of procedures, tests, and medications, augmented by author tracking, reference tracking, and expert consultation. Four reviewers screened titles; 2 reviewers screened abstracts and full articles and extracted data including overuse rate, type of service, clinical area, and publication year.

Results:  We identified 172 articles measuring overuse: 53 concerned therapeutic procedures; 38, diagnostic tests; and 81, medications. Eighteen unique therapeutic procedures and 24 diagnostic services were evaluated, including 10 preventive diagnostic services. The most commonly studied services were antibiotics for upper respiratory tract infections (59 studies), coronary angiography (17 studies), carotid endarterectomy (13 studies), and coronary artery bypass grafting (10 studies). Overuse of carotid endarterectomy and antibiotics for upper respiratory tract infections declined over time.

Conclusions:  The robust evidence about overuse in the United States is limited to a few services. Reducing inappropriate care in the US health care system likely requires a more substantial investment in overuse research.

How Can We Know So Little About Physician Referrals? by Mitchell H. Katz (Archives of Internal Medicine)

A First Look at the Volume and Cost of Comparative Effectiveness Research in the United States, by AcademyHealth

Massachusetts Health Reforms: Uninsurance Remains Low, Self-Reported Health Status Improves As State Prepares To Tackle Costs, by Sharon K. Long, Karen Stockley and Heather Dahlen (Health Affairs)

The Massachusetts health reform initiative enacted into law in 2006 continued to fare well in 2010, with uninsurance rates remaining quite low and employer-sponsored insurance still strong. Access to health care also remained strong, and first-time reductions in emergency department visits and hospital inpatient stays suggested improvements in the effectiveness of health care delivery in the state. There were also improvements in self-reported health status. The affordability of health care, however, remains an issue for many people, as the state, like the nation, continues to struggle with the problem of rising health care costs. And although nearly two-thirds of adults continue to support reform, among nonsupporters there has been a marked shift from a neutral position toward opposition (17.0 percent opposed to reform in 2006 compared with 26.9 percent in 2010). Taken together, Massachusetts’s experience under the 2006 reform initiative, which became the template for the structure of the Affordable Care Act, highlights the potential gains and the challenges the nation now faces under federal health reform.

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