Unbiased Analysis of Today's Healthcare Issues

Does spending improve outcomes?

Written By: Jason Shafrin - Mar• 12•10

From a paper by Weinstein and Skinner (NEJM 2010):

Moreover, there is considerable variation in health care expenditures and a weak or even negative association between spending and outcomes, such as mortality at the regional level and quality measures at the state level. This evidence has been interpreted to mean that cutting back on these putatively useless or harmful services would simultaneously reduce cost and improve health. In contrast, several cross-sectional studies that have shown positive associations between spending and outcomes have been interpreted to show that more spending leads to better outcomes.”

A recent study using chart-review data from the 1994–1995 Cooperative Cardiovascular Project categorized “…hospitals as either high-adopting facilities or low-adopting facilities, according to their rates of use of aspirin, beta-blockers, and coronary reperfusion in the treatment of acute myocardial infarction. The researchers found that the high-adopting hospitals had consistently better rates of risk-adjusted survival, at no additional cost to Medicare. But after stratification according to the hospitals’ adoption rates, there was a positive but diminishing effect of spending on the health outcome (12-month survival)…The cost-effectiveness ratios at the margin were $95,000 per life-year or more but with slightly better returns for the hospitals that were slower to adopt cost-effective practices…

Another study showed that regions that had high rates of revascularization for patients with acute myocardial infarction received good health value for the expenditure on the intervention.  Despite this, there was essentially a zero association between spending and outcomes across regions. The explanation is that the high-revascularization areas were also less likely to use beta-blockers and aspirin for their patients.

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