Variation in Health Care Spending

by Sabrina I. Pacifici on October 2, 2013

“Health care in the United States is more expensive than in other developed countries, costing $2.7 trillion in 2011, or 17.9 percent of the national gross domestic product. Increasing costs strain budgets at all levels of government and threaten the solvency of Medicare, the nation’s largest health insurer. At the same time, despite advances in biomedical science, medicine, and public health, health care quality remains inconsistent. In fact, underuse, misuse, and overuse of various services often put patients in danger. Many efforts to improve this situation are focused on Medicare, which mainly pays practitioners on a fee-for-service basis and hospitals on a diagnoses-related group basis, which is a fee for a group of services related to a particular diagnosis. Research has long shown that Medicare spending varies greatly in different regions of the country even when expenditures are adjusted for variation in the costs of doing business, meaning that certain regions have much higher volume and/or intensity of services than others. Further, regions that deliver more services do not appear to achieve better health outcomes than those that deliver less. Variation in Health Care Spending investigates geographic variation in health care spending and quality for Medicare beneficiaries as well as other populations, and analyzes Medicare payment policies that could encourage high-value care. This report concludes that regional differences in Medicare and commercial health care spending and use are real and persist over time. Furthermore, there is much variation within geographic areas, no matter how broadly or narrowly these areas are defined.”

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