Medical Malpractice

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Does tort reform lower medical costs?

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation wrote a paper titled Medical Malpractice: Impact of the crisis and effect of state tort reforms.  That report shows states that have passed tort reform to limit awards of noneconomic damages.  This analysis compares data from 100 highest cost and 100 lowest cost hospitals and groups them by those states.

The graph below compares spending in the last 2 years of Medicare decedents at lowest and highest cost hospitals arranged into 4 “tort” classes: in states with no tort reform, those with caps over $500K, those with caps $250K–$500K, and strict states with caps of no more than $250K.

For both lowest and highest cost hospitals, tort reform had virtually no cost differences for Medicare decedents during last 2 years of life.  For seniors, there appears to be little or no correlation between tort reform and medical savings.

Source: Center for Disease Control – Health, United States 2008 Figure 20

Does tort reform reduce medical care?

Another measure of medical care may be outcomes.  Extra efforts (and cost) may prolong life, especially for seniors.   In 100 highest cost hospitals, there were 130,000 deaths while 100 lowest cost hospitals incurred 65,000 deaths. One tentative conclusion is that chronically ill seniors may favor higher cost hospitals in hopes of getting extra care.

Measuring tort reform by outcomes is less conclusive.  One might expect that defensive medicine would improve life expectancy due to added, if wasteful procedures. But the data show a mixed result.  In states with moderate tort limits, there were fewer deaths at higher versus lower cost hospitals.  But in the extreme, or states with either no limits or very strict limits, there were more deaths in the higher versus lower cost hospitals.  It would be tenuous at best to conclude that tort reform has any meaningful impact on life expectancy.

Source: CDC – Health, U.S. 2008 Figure 20 & Dartmouth Atlas of Healthcare 

Does tort reform affect hospital quality?

The Dartmouth study uses Medicare data to compile costs and quality for hospitals.  The 200 sample hospitals in this analysis were derived from this Dartmouth data.  Using that data, the graph at left compares the technical quality measures of those 200 hospitals.

In this graph, there appears to be an INVERSE relationship between cost and tort reform.  The higher quality scores ALL were in the lowest cost hospitals, and quality declined for all hospitals in direct proportion to the extent of tort reforms.  Maybe this whole cause and effect is backwards.

The accepted argument is that tort reform is needed to reduce defensive medicine and lower costs.  Rather, a logical argument is that lawsuits or threats occur because quality is in fact low.  While tort reform may be desirable, it may not be as important as reforming hospital quality.

Source: CDC – Health, U.S. 2008 Figure 20 & Dartmouth Atlas of Healthcare

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Who Should Help Pay for Healthcare Reform

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Health care is expensive and is getting more so.  Further, the government is taking on a greater share as people age and move into the Medicare system.  Attempts that tweak the current system will likely fail to lower costs.  What is needed is a new model that would be phased in.

While the US does enjoy a quality system, it is not the top in comparison to many other industrialized countries.  However, the US does pay 50% or more of its GDP than do these same countries. And with its transaction based model, future cost increases will squeeze our productive sector.

Looking at several other countries, there is a clear difference in the health payment model.  In the U.S. the model has been relatively unchanged over decades.

One goes to a doctor or hospital, is billed for the encounter and the bill is paid by him, a health insurer or both.  It matters less whether the treatment resolved the health issue.

Other countries rely more on outcomes, where “bonus” payments are made to providers who solve the health issue.  Of course, it is risky to completely switch to this method overnight.  Rather it should be phased in over years.

Short term, however, increased costs are expected. And the fairest way to pay is to tax those who benefited more in the past.  Those who did benefit are a small group – the top 5%.

Some will argue that taxing the wealthy will cost jobs. But jobs are created not from income but from net worth, and gains there suggest that other factors weigh more heavily than marginal tax rates in job loss or creation.

Who is paying for healthcare today in the U.S.

The graph below shows 2006 funding of healthcare. With the aging of the population, Medicare creates increased government spending. Close to half of all health care is paid for by government.  For those worried about government getting involved, they are a little late. It’s already involved.

Private insurance is a major funds source, and most of that is provided through employers. Consumers with insurance through work see only out-of-pocket expenses. Even with costs rising, and with insured seeing higher cost sharing, they are still somewhat shielded from total health costs.

Conversely, those without insurance are exposed to the full brunt of higher health care costs.  Combining all people, the costs are not only a heavy burden, but that burden falls heavily on those who lose and do not have insurance.

Source: Center for Disease Control – Health, United States 2008 Figure 19

 What are others paying for healthcare today 

Some believe that the US costs are worth it.  We have high quality care and we pay for it.  But while quality is high, it is by no means the highest in the world.  And as the graph on the right shows, the US stands alone in how much it spends – some 50% more than other highest countries and almost doubles that of Japan.  These other countries must be doing something different and they are.

One factor is the payment business model. The US is primarily a transaction based system.  Higher rates, more revenue. More procedures, more revenues. The combined effect is healthcare costs that are not only more expensive, but rising faster than in the rest of the world.

As for tomorrow, we can learn by looking at components of growth in US health care spend, and how those trends portend future expenditures.

Source: OECD Health Data 2009, June 09

What healthcare increases may look like tomorrow

Aside from any current inequities in who pays for health care, these expenditures are not only rising but at an ever-increasing rate. The graph below shows the growth in costs from 1965. The spike in 1965-1970 was Medicare.

Population and general inflation are reasonably expected factors.  In addition, however, there is medical (price) inflation and intensity (more procedures) driving up costs.

Unless there is a major change in these trends, healthcare costs will consume an ever greater portion of GDP, and squeeze out productive output.

To bring this under control requires more than tweaking around the edges of the current healthcare model.  Other countries spend less on healthcare so how do other countries cover costs for less.

Source: Center for Disease Control – Health, United States 2008 Table 126

U.S. insurers & Medicare are very Transaction based

For decades, the U.S. has had a primarily transaction based model like figure 1 below.  You get treatment from a physician or hospital and pay for their time and expenses.

When Medicare began, it used this traditional model but quickly learned that costs were rising out of control. So they changed to a fixed price model like figure 2 below. But when Medicare squeezed down prices, some providers increased their volume to recoup part of their losses.

Managed care or HMO’s (not shown) had limited success in freezing total payments. But healthier groups can often select traditional coverage at lower cost, leaving HMO’s with more of the higher cost people. In short, reform with only a transaction based model will not likely succeed.


Other countries are more Outcomes based

What other countries did was adopt normal profit-making business models like figure 3 below where the goal is to offer rewards for greater productivity and improved quality, in a word — outcomes. 

It is the basis for most bonuses.  Also many contracts are include a bonus if a project comes in under budget and ahead of time. Healthcare payments in other countries rely far more on outcomes than the does the U.S. And it works.

Medicare is piloting this concept, paying small bonuses to providers who show better outcomes. As data is obtained, base amounts can be reduced and the outcome gradually increased bringing the U.S. closer to the world model.

Will private insurers adopt this model? Unless all insurers are required to do so, it is doubtful.  Alternately, a public option using this model would cause private insurers to voluntarily adopt as a way to remain competitive.

Can the U.S. afford more income taxes

Other industrialized countries are clearly providing quality health care at significantly lower costs than in the U.S.  But what about other taxes or more specifically, total taxes.

How does the U.S. compare in total taxes with these other countries?  The graph below shows tax components. Despite complaints about corporate rates, U.S. take is lower than most countries. Sales taxes are high but discretionary (no buy, no tax) as states rely heavily on this source.

Social Security and income taxes are two mandatory taxes affecting individuals and here the U.S. ranks near the bottom.  Without becoming just like Europe, some increase in mandatory taxes should let the U.S. remain competitive with the rest of the world.  And if real reform does come, higher initial costs can be expected to result in savings down the road as the U.S. costs approach other countries.

Source OECD in Figures 2008 – OECD © 2008 – ISBN 9789264055636

Looking at income tax as a source of new funds

Where does one look for new taxes. While there are several options, one key is to see who is earning what today.  The graph below displays the average after tax income for selected percentile groups.  The small blip at the furthest left is the average income of 60% of the U.S. Those in the 61% to 95% range average somewhat better.  Also noted is the greater number of households in these groups’ results in their paying the majority of income taxes.

But look at the highest 5% earners, and especially the top 1%.  That 1% averages over $1 million per household.  So if there is a tax increase, should all taxpayers contribute the same percent increase?  Or should increases be progressive as is the basic income tax structure.

One way to answer this is to see how income for these same households changed over time.

Source: Congressional Budget Office-Historical Effective Federal Tax Rates: 1979 -2005

Who benefited from income gains over 25 years

The graph below employs the same groups as above.  For several reasons, there has been a substantial income shift with enormous increases in income for the top 1%, with modest increase for the 95%-99% group.  ALL the rest of the percentile groups actually lost ground, and the lower the income bracket, the greater the loss.

Over the past 28 years, there has been a very sharp drop in marginal tax rates leading to two results.  First, high income earners keep more of their income.  But with high marginal rates, companies did not pay extremely high salaries and bonuses as most of it went towards taxes.  With lower marginal rates, executive compensation began an upward spiral that far exceeds their counterparts in other countries.

The combined effect of near runaway compensation and lower taxes is primarily responsible for the shift to the rich.

Source: Congressional Budget Office-Historical Effective Federal Tax Rates: 1979 -2005

Why are so many people afraid of higher tax rates

Some note that total revenues rose when Kennedy cut taxes and apply that logic to every tax change since.  But as the graph below shows, the marginal rate at that time was 90%.  Had the IRS run amuck? Actually, the U.S. raised taxes to pay down war debts, a good habit missing today. 

From the prior graph, one could assume that a fair way to apply new taxes to individuals is to tax those who gained the most relative to others from tax cuts in the past.

Today we have low marginal rates, major gains by the very rich, and a national debt that has been almost ignored. Not to increase taxes but to add to the national debt is to put a heavier burden on the next generations.

In conclusion, a logical and fair place to look for new sources of tax revenue is the top 5% of households.

Source: IRS – SOI Tax Stats – Historical Table 23

Net worth – the job generating engine

Some complain that taxing the income of the rich will cause a loss of jobs.  But income is not the prime determinant in job creation.  To start a business, one in fact, may have to give up current income. 

Businesses are started by those with net worth.  And if they are lucky, they can leverage that net worth with loans to fund their new enterprise.

The graph below shows the growth in net worth from 1989 for four selected percentile groups.  As one would expect, those less well off tend to work for others and their net worth (lower 50%) makes barely a blip on the scale.

Even the net worth of the 50%-90% groups is modest.  The greatest concentration of accumulated wealth is in the top 10%. And that group not only grew more in absolute dollars, but also as a percent gain over prior periods.

Source: Federal Reserve Board, 2007 Survey of Consumer Finance (March 9, 2009)

New worth grew more when tax rates were higher

The graph below details the increase in net worth over the prior period.  The lower 50% experienced inconsistent gains up and down.  Higher groups fared better but all were impacted by recessions.  Of note is that the two 3-year periods ending in 1998 and 2001 occurred during Clinton’s term where he had actually raised marginal tax rates.

One should skip the recession period of 2004. By 2007, the tax cuts of Bush’s term resulted in net worth increases, but they were significantly less than those of the Clinton period.

Obviously, there are additional factors at play, but to simply argue that any increase in marginal rates, and especially raises in the top brackets will result in loss of jobs is a tenuous argument not supported by this data.

Source: Federal Reserve Board, 2007 Survey of Consumer Finance (March 9, 2009)


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Cost and Access to Healthcare

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Health care reform is one of the most serious issues facing the United States today.  Past efforts at reform have been met with opposition from insurers, hospitals, doctors, business groups and political parties, and that opposition has stymied reform while the problems continued to worsen.

Today, there is more general acceptance of the need for reform but the level has not occurred uniformly across all stakeholders.  Insurers are recognizing the need to drop the most onerous “pre-condition exclusions” and providers are recognizing the need to get more efficient themselves.  Consumers of healthcare are a more divided lot.

Those who have health insurance coverage through work and who have never suffered a significant illness or injury may think this problem applies more to other people.

Conversely, those who have experienced medical problems or have lost jobs and health insurance are more aware of what has gone wrong with the system and are looking for better access to health care and better control of costs.

What the following shows is that health care problems cut across virtually all characteristics with adverse trends occurring in all areas except Medicare Prescription Drugs.

Insurance through the workplace is down, premiums as a percent of compensation are up, out-of-pocket costs are rising, insurance coverage by age group, marital status, race and region are all declining, and more people are not getting needed medical care or drugs because of costs. Finally, all this is aggravated by the rise in unemployment that has put at risk health insurance coverage for millions more Americans.

Health insurance through work is declining

The graph below shows the percent of employees obtaining insurance through their workplace by 4 regions and the USA as a whole.  The trend is almost consistently downward beginning around the year 2000.  The Midwest which once had the highest percent of employees insured, has dropped some 8% in just 6 years.

The Northeast and Midwest do, however, continue to lead the South and West in terms of percent of employees covered, and all regions experienced a coverage downturn in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, a period of both slow growth and a recession.

If coverage declines in the current recession anything like that of 1991, there may be continued steep declines in workplace provided health insurance beyond the scope of this graph.

Source: Center for Disease Control – Health, United States 2008 Table 138

Health insurance is taking a bigger bite of income

The graph below shows the percent of total compensation going towards health insurance.  Since 2000, the trend in all regions is uniformly upward.  What the graph does not show is the percent of total compensation going towards co-pay and deductibles which are also rising.

The Midwest pays the highest percent of compensation, both currently and in the past.  The West and South, which at one time lagged behind the Northeast, are now tied.

With insurance a percent of compensation, the average compensation for these regions affects insurance. The South continues to lag due to low average compensation.  The Midwest insurance cost is mitigated somewhat as its compensation is lower versus the Northeast or the West.

From any viewpoint, health care costs are rising faster than compensation and putting a heavier burden on all.

Source: Center for Disease Control – Health, United States 2008 Table 135

More costly claims are becoming more common

Not only are insurance premiums taking a growing percent of compensation, but out-of-pocket costs are compounding the problem.  The graph below shows the percent of those having medical and drug claims whose out-of-pocket cost exceeded $2,000.

The trend is upward for all but children under the age of 18, and it is climbing most steeply for seniors 65 and older.  These steep increases for seniors has been mitigated by the Medicare Part D drug program whose effects are not yet evident in the time periods shown.

The message is that having insurance does not fully protect persons who are struck by illness or injury.  There are still risks of significant expenses.  And those who have never incurred serious illness or injury tend to be less aware of the out-of-pocket costs that they may incur.

Source: Center for Disease Control – Health, United States 2008 Table 133

Declining private health insurance favors no group

A graph above showed the decline in insurance coverage obtained through the workplace.  Although that is where most get their health insurance, the graphs below are for all persons under 65 and for all sources of insurance. Those with health insurance coverage have been on a downward trend for all classifications.

As expected, when a person gets older, health insurance becomes more important and that is born out in the upper right graph. Possibly a more disturbing trend is the lower graph where single, divorced or widowed people lag significantly behind married people. One conclusion is that families are very conscious of their children’s health care and covering them nearly always includes covering themselves … because that is how most insurance is sold.

Source: Center for Disease Control – Health, United States 2008 Table 137

People not getting needed costly medical care

The graph below shows the percent of people under the age of 65 who did not get needed medical care due to costs. More importantly, it only includes persons whose income exceeds 200 % of poverty level or about $44,000/year income for a family of four.

It is understandable that people with no medical insurance are less likely to get medical care due to costs. However, even some with insurance do not get that care because of co-pay and other out of pocket expense.  And roughly the same trend exists for those who lose health insurance for less than a year as for those who lose insurance for more than a year.

The graph shows an upward trend of 20% over a 10 year period and suggests little sign of change.  The decline in insurance coverage is aggravating the situation even more.

Source: Center for Disease Control – Health, United States 2008 Table 80

Those not getting needed medical care varies by age

The graph below is similar to prior but includes people over 65. As above, it only includes persons whose income is greater than 200 % of poverty level.

Those not getting needed medical care also varies by age, whether or not insured.  Both older people and children are less likely to skip needed medical care due to costs while the two middle age groups appear willing to risk skipping needed care.  Still, the trend for middle age groups is up.

Not getting needed medical attention can lead to more serious consequences if not treated promptly.  This is a risk that affects all people, not just the less well off.

Since these graphs end in 2006, they do not reflect the 2009 increase in unemployment that often leads to short periods of no health insurance for those who lost jobs.  And for many, those job losses extend for more than a year

Source: Center for Disease Control – Health, United States 2008 Table 80

People not getting needed costly medicines

The graph below shows the percent of people under the age of 65 who did not get prescription drugs due to costs. This graph also only includes persons whose income exceeds 200 % of poverty level or about $44,000/year income for a family of four.

Similar to the medical care graph, the trend is upward with more people forgoing needed drugs over the last 10 years.  However, there is a recent and measurable change in access by longer term uninsured as they appear to be getting some form of help with their prescriptions.

For those uninsured less than a year, the graph shows more skipping drugs, and the upward trend is worse than appears for basic medical care.

And like medical care, the steady decline in insurance coverage is aggravating the access to drugs even more.

Source: Center for Disease Control – Health, United States 2008 Table 80

Those not getting needed medicines varies by age

The graph below is similar to above but includes people over 65. As above, it only includes persons whose income is greater than 200 % of poverty level.

Those not getting prescription drugs also vary by age, whether or not insured.  A significant drop in not getting drugs among those over 65 was significantly affected by the introduction of Medicare Part D prescription drug program that lowered costs for seniors.

Though that program is not inexpensive, costs are lower, and so more are able to stay current on their medications.

Children are being adversely affected as drug costs continue to eat away at parents’ ability to buy drugs for them. Fortunately, this lack of access is at low overall levels but a potentially serious problem for those who are affected.

Source: Center for Disease Control – Health, United States 2008 Table 80

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Rationing or Waste in Healthcare

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Rationing is not getting needed care.  Waste is getting care not needed and causes rationing for those in need. One way to determine if there is waste is to compare large samples of people in areas of highest cost to those in lowest cost.  While some variation will exist because of cost of living factors, larger variations can only be explained by greater use of care in higher areas versus lower areas.

The method used compares selected components of health care.  Each category compares the highest 20% of population with the lowest 20%.  For national data, rankings mean there are two groups of nearly 60 million.  For Medicare and Medicaid, it is over 8 million each.  Age differences among these populations were minimal, though higher cost areas tended to be more urban than the lower cost population.

Differences between the highest and lowest were minor in some cases.  But in a number of categories, differences were huge.  Either millions in the United States are being under-served, or millions are being over-served wasting billions.

For the population as a whole, total health costs in the highest states were nearly 40% higher than the lowest cost states. In hospitals, the spread was slightly over 40%, while physicians were less than 30%.  Highest spreads were nursing home costs that were nearly three times higher.

In Medicare, hospital costs are 30% higher, but physician costs are some 70% higher for similar populations.  With all paying equally into Medicare, rationing already exists.

Despite these higher costs, a number of quality measures suggest that quality is actually better for lower cost states.

Healthcare expenditures for the entire population

In 2006, the U.S. spent over 1.7 trillion dollars on health care. The graph below shows the analysis of expenditures:  37% went to hospitals, 25% to physicians, 7% to nursing homes, 12% to drugs, and 18% to other.

Not only are costs high but they are rising faster than the economy consuming ever more funds that might otherwise go for jobs, education and infrastructure.  The country is also jeopardizing its world competitiveness because other countries are able to offer quality health care at less cost.

The aging of the population is a compounding factor when it comes to Medicare spending.  Here the government plays a greater role at a time when seniors’ health puts greater demands on any healthcare system.  It will be almost 2050 before the baby boomer bubble works its way through and medical costs for seniors stabilize as a % of total spend.

Source: Center for Disease Control – Health, United States 2008 Figure 19.

Cost differences for the entire population

Rather than compare absolute costs, this report focuses on relative costs, high versus low, and for very large samples.  The graph below compares 8 categories comprising over 96% of total health care expenditures. The states included in each group may be different depending on the category.

Total health care spend in the highest states was 38% more than the lowest states. The highest hospitals that comprise 37% of total spend, were 42% above the lowest. Physicians accounting for 25% of spend were 28% higher.

Home health and Nursing home care showed the largest differences, approaching 200% or nearly three times higher than for the lowest cost states. These lowest cost areas may be providing less care than what is considered “enough” and /or have found family sources that help out internally without outside help.

 Source: Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, National Health Statistics Group

Medicare, a barometer for the total population

The graph below shows that while government plays an increasing role in the over 65 group, there is still a major portion of costs being paid for by the private sector.  And, after years of steady increase, total costs are accelerating due to the influx of baby boomers into this age group.

Comparing year to year national averages is too broad to draw actionable conclusions. Comparing a single city to another may be too narrow.  Fortunately, the government has in its favor a wealth of statistics for their programs. 

When comparing selected health components for very large populations, costs can only be explained by differences in volume of care.  Other government statistics show little difference in outcomes despite wide differences in service.

Medicare is the biggest government program, and below are some comparisons of interest.

Source: Center for Disease Control – Health, United States 2008 Table 141.

Cost differences for Medicare enrollees

The graph below compares 6 categories comprising over 96% of Medicare expenditures. The drug program Part D did not start in time to be reflected in these 2004 data. The sample is large with 8 million in each group.  States in each group may be different depending on the category.

When compared to the total population, Medicare‘s spread between physician and other professional service costs is far greater while hospital differences are less.

Home health care and nursing home care show similar large differences though the amount spent in these two areas is limited to 10-11% of all costs.  Medicare imposes more restraints in these extended care areas.  That may explain how, with nearly all nursing home residents being seniors, Medicare home and nursing costs are a relatively low proportion of the total.

Source: Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, National Health Statistics Group

Cost differences for Medicaid enrollees

The graph below compares 6 categories comprising 92% of Medicaid expenditures. Here there are differences not only in cost (highest cost more than double the lowest) but in the mix. For Medicaid, hospitals and doctors do not play as large a role.  Instead, costs tend more to drugs, nursing home care and other personal care.

This group covers poorer people of all age groups so their needs are more like the broader population in terms of mix with one exception.  Medicaid offers nursing home help with those costs being 19% of total spend.

There is another key difference from Medicare and that is the states contribute significantly to Medicaid, and states cut back some if funds are not available.  This plays a role in the greater difference between the highest and lowest cost states for all categories.  One can fairly assume that the lowest cost states get fewer services.

Source: Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, National Health Statistics Group

Hospitalization rate nearly 50% higher

Tracking discharges also tracks admissions and the graph below shows 45% more total discharges in the highest cost states.  Non ambulatory care sensitive (ACS) events have roughly comparable rates of discharge. On the other hand, ACS discharges are more than 50% higher than the lowest cost states.

The number of beds does not appear to be a factor as many lower cost states actually have more beds per capita.  Data is not available as to acute beds, though in any case, it is a doctor admitting a patient.  While higher cost states may have more doctors per capita, that difference is nowhere as high as the difference in admissions. 

One can conclude that there are major differences in how often doctors admit similar patients, especially when you consider some 16 million people in two sample groups.

Source: Kaiser State Health Facts – 50 State Comparison

While reimbursements more than 50% higher 

Of course, for every admission, there is a cost.  Using a still finer “filter”, the graph below shows wide differences depending on what services are performed.

Inpatient short stays are 50% higher.  But long stays are 200% or 3 times those of the lowest states. Diagnostic, laboratory and X-ray services are more than double the costs in the lowest states. Either the first group is getting excess care, or the second group’s care is being rationed.

The biggest difference was in home health and for once, higher may be better as it compare the highest cost states to the lowest cost states.  Home health is a more efficient use of funds than hospitalization or intermediate care facilities, so more may be better.  Or it can simply be more take advantage of the service because it is available.

Source: Dartmouth Atlas of Healthcare – Medicare reimbursement measures

Higher cost states have more specialists per capita

Aside from complaints that insurers make medical decisions there would be no decision to make without a request. In the graph below, the number of primary physicians is about the same with a slight tilt toward lowest cost states.

There is a measurable difference in the number of other physicians, including specialists.  As shown, primary care physicians are outnumbered by specialists.  And with admissions greater for the high cost group, it is logical to assign a greater share of hospitalizations to specialists.

Some people, especially those who are well insured claim that greater hospitalization and its attendant costs are worth it.  Leaving cost considerations aside, one might expect with all this extra care to have a lower mortality rate.  Alas, this is not the case.  More services do not necessarily yield better quality outcomes.

Source: Kaiser State Health Facts – 50 State Comparison

Mortality rate slightly worse in higher cost states

The basis for high and low states is Medicare’s mortality tables.  The data adjust mortality by age so a state with a greater proportion of very old people is not penalized.

As the graph below shows, mortality is consistently higher in more expensive areas.  What is even more interesting is that those without HMO coverage have a higher mortality rate than the total average.  For that to occur, mortality rates for seniors with HMO coverage must be lower than for those without HMO coverage.

For all the cynics who think HMO’s are “too restrictive”, the results for Medicare folks at least, speak otherwise.  And one factor is working in HMO’s favor.  They have a greater tendency to work in teams, and statistics show that better managed providers do work in teams, with perhaps the most familiar name being the Mayo Clinic.

Source: Dartmouth Atlas of Healthcare – 2005 Medicare Mortality Rates

While final services and costs are more than double 

So, did higher mortality result in lower costs? If a person dies, medical care stops.  The graph below compares cost averages in which the patient died.  It tracks costs of that final stay and also costs in the last six months leading to it.

For the highest states, all 7 categories shown costs are more than double those of the lowest states. Remember, this is a sample of 8 million people in each group, from states north and south, east and west. 

The data show that seniors in high cost states are incurring nearly five times the cost of being in intensive care or coronary care units. This applies not only to the final hospitalization but to repeat admissions to ICU/CCU in the six months preceding death.  And despite all that extra cost and effort in the last six months, it does not appear to lead to better quality or lower mortality.

Source: Dartmouth Atlas of Healthcare – State Performance Report

More doctors leads to more utilization

In the previous graphs, there are numerous examples of huge differences between high and low-cost states without a comparable difference in outcomes. That observation alone suggests that cost cutting will not necessarily reduce benefits.  While the majority of spend occurs in hospitals, it is the physicians who make the treatment decisions.

The graph below shows the total number of physicians per population by region.  Though not homogeneous, the New England and Mid Atlantic states tend to include the highest states using different criteria shown in the above graphs. 

And these areas clearly have significantly higher physician ratios than other areas.  True, there is much research occurring here, but only a portion of the difference would be due to those efforts.  In summary, there are numerous areas when cuts could safely occur without losing quality.

 Source: Center for Disease Control – Health, United States 2008 Table 109

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