Reading list

Do High-Cost Hospitals Deliver Better Care? Evidence from Ambulance Referral Patterns, by Joseph J. Doyle, Jr., John A. Graves, Jonathan Gruber and Samuel Kleiner (The National Bureau of Economic Research)

Endogenous patient sorting across hospitals can confound performance comparisons. This paper provides a new lens to compare hospital performance for emergency patients: plausibly exogenous variation in ambulance-company assignment. Ambulances are effectively randomly assigned to patients in the same area based on rotational dispatch mechanisms. Using Medicare data from 2002-2008, we show that ambulance company assignment importantly affects hospital choice for patients in the same zip code. Using data for New York state from 2000-2006 that matches exact patient addresses to hospital discharge records, we show that patients who live very near each other but on either side of ambulance-dispatch boundaries go to different types of hospitals. Both strategies show that higher-cost hospitals have significantly lower one-year mortality rates compared to lower-cost hospitals. We find that common indicators of hospital quality, such as indicators for “appropriate care” for heart attacks, are generally not associated with better patient outcomes. On the other hand, we find that measures of “leading edge” hospitals, such as teaching hospitals and hospitals that quickly adopt the latest technologies, are associated with better outcomes, but have little impact on the estimated mortality-hospital cost relationship. We also find that hospital procedure intensity is a key determinant of the mortality-cost relationship, suggesting that treatment intensity, and not differences in quality reflected in prices, drives much of our findings. The evidence also suggests that there are diminishing returns to hospital spending and treatment intensity.

Is There “Too Much” Inequality in Health Spending Across Income Groups? by Laurence Ales, Roozbeh Hosseini and Larry E. Jones (The National Bureau of Economic Research)

In this paper we study the efficient allocation of health resources across individuals. We focus on the relation between health resources and income (taken as a proxy for productivity). In particular we determine the efficient level of the health care social safety net for the indigent. We assume that individuals have different life cycle profiles of productivity. Health care increases survival probability. We adopt the classical approach of welfare economics by considering how a central planner with an egalitarian (ex-ante) perspective would allocate resources. We show that, under the efficient allocation, health care spending increases with labor productivity, but only during the working years. Post retirement, everyone would get the same health care. Quantitatively, we find that the amount of inequality across the income distribution in the data is larger that what would be justified solely on the basis of production efficiency, but not drastically so. As a rough summary, in U.S. data top to bottom spending ratios are about 1.5 for most of the life cycle. Efficiency implies a decline from about 2 (at age 25) to 1 at retirement. We find larger inefficiencies in the lower part of the income distribution and in post retirement ages.

Remedies for Sick Insurance, by Daniel L. McFadden, Carlos E. Noton and Pau Olivella (The National Bureau of Economic Research)

This expository paper describes the factors that contribute to failure of health insurance markets, and the regulatory mechanisms that have been and can be used to combat these failures. Standardized contracts and creditable coverage mandates are discussed, along with premium support, enrollment mandates, guaranteed issue, and risk adjustment, as remedies for selection-related market damage. An overall conclusion of the paper is that the design and management of creditable coverage mandates are likely to be key determinants of the performance of the health insurance exchanges that are a core provision of the PPACA of 2010. Enrollment mandates, premium subsidies, and risk adjustment can improve the stability and relative efficiency of the exchanges, but with carefully designed creditable coverage mandates are not necessarily critical for their operation.

Incentives in Health: Different Prescriptions for Physicians and Patients, by George Loewenstein, Kevin G. Volpp and David A. Asch (The Journal of the American Medical Association)


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