Category Archives: Health Care Costs

Dec 18 2014
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The Front Line of Medicine

For the 25th anniversary of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s (RWJF) Summer Medical and Dental Education Program (SMDEP), the Human Capital Blog is publishing scholar profiles, some reprinted from the program’s website. SMDEP is a six-week academic enrichment program that has created a pathway for more than 22,000 participants, opening the doors to life-changing opportunities. Following is a profile of Juan Jose Ferreris, MD, a member of the Class of 1989.

It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.’

The words of abolitionist Frederick Douglass resonate for Juan Jose Ferreris, a pediatrician and assistant clinical adjunct professor at University of Texas Health Science Center. He sees a straight line between the public funds allocated for children’s care and their well-being as adults.

“Kids receive less than 20 cents of every health care dollar. Meanwhile, 80 percent goes to adult end-of-life care. Why aren’t we spending those funds on people when they’re young, when it could make a genuine difference?”

Ferreris contends that money also shapes health in less obvious ways. Salaries of primary care physicians are well below those of more “glamorous” specialists. Some fledgling MDs, burdened with medical school debt, reason that they can’t afford not to specialize. Consequently, he says, only 3 percent of medical students choose primary care.

For Ferreris, who is both humbled and inspired by his young patients, building a Culture of Health necessitates recalibrating priorities.

“Nobody’s concentrating on the whole; they’re only looking at one part. And they’re not paying attention to the human—the brain, the spirit, the soul.

“We overlook that aspect...but it’s where I believe the primary care doctor has irreplaceable value.”

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Aug 21 2014
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RWJF Scholars in the News: Costs for blood tests, dentists testing for hypertension and HIV, fudging medical history, and more.

Around the country, print, broadcast, and online media outlets are covering the groundbreaking work of Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) leaders, scholars, fellows, alumni, and grantees. Some recent examples:

A new study uncovers vast variation in pricing for common blood tests by California hospitals, reports the Washington Post. Renee Hsia, MD, MSc, an RWJF Physician Faculty Scholars program alumna, says she was “very surprised” to see such variation among more than 160 hospitals studied. Hsia’s research found that during 2011, some hospitals charged as little as $10 and others as much as $10,169 for a basic cholesterol test. The study found no clear explanation for the price differences for what Hsia categorized as ten “simple and standard” tests in which blood samples are inserted into a machine that performs the analysis. Time magazine, the Boston Globe and Kaiser Health News also cover Hsia’s research.

Dentists could offer a variety of medical tests in the future, including diagnostic tests for health problems such as diabetes, hypertension and HIV, Harold Pollack, PhD, tells Ozy.com. The mouth, Pollack says, “is the gateway to the human body.” He is an RWJF Investigator Award in Health Policy Research recipient.  

“There’s an overabundance of evidence that shows hospitals that have better staffing have better outcomes when we look at things like mortality,” Matthew McHugh, PhD, JD, MPH, FAAN, tells the Santa Fe New Mexican. In an article about nurse staffing ratios, McHugh, an RWJF Nurse Faculty Scholars program alumnus, says hospital readmissions, failure to rescue patients in distress, and patient satisfaction also correlate with increased staffing. “If you compare any two hospitals—one that’s good at staffing and one that has not as good staffing, but are similar in other factors—the hospital with better staffing is much less likely to be penalized” for bad patient outcomes by Medicare and Medicaid, McHugh notes. 

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Apr 29 2014
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How Can Health Systems Effectively Serve Minority Communities? Shift the Cost-Access-Quality Axis.

To mark National Minority Health Month, the Human Capital Blog asked several Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) scholars to respond to questions about improving health care for all. In this post, Italo M. Brown, MPH, a rising fourth-year medical student at Meharry Medical College, responds to the question, “What are the challenges, needs, or opportunities for health systems to effectively serve minority communities?” Brown holds a BS from Morehouse College and an MPH from Boston University, School of Public Health. He is an alumnus of the Health Policy Scholars Program at the RWJF Center for Health Policy at Meharry Medical College.

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In our domestic health care system, we nurture the drive to improve patient outcomes, and apply evidence-based knowledge to solve contemporary health care challenges. Yet, studies have demonstrated that minorities are disproportionately affected by chronic conditions, and on average are less likely to receive ongoing care/management of their comorbidities. In addition, public health experts have asserted that social determinants of health (e.g., education level, family income, social capital) directly impact the minority community, and effectively convolute the pathway to care. 

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Apr 9 2014
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Heavy Workloads for Hospitalists Correlate to Longer Patient Stays

When workloads increase for hospitalists—the physicians who care exclusively for hospitalized patients—length of stay (LOS) and costs increase, too, according to a study published by JAMA Internal Medicine.

Researchers at Christiana Care Health System, a large academic community hospital system in Delaware, analyzed 20,241 inpatient admissions for 13,916 patients over a three-year period. Hospitalists had an average of 15.5 patient encounters per day, and LOS increased from 5.5 to 7.5 days as workloads increased at hospitals with occupancies under 75 percent.

Each additional patient seen by hospitalists increased costs by $262, although increasing workload did not affect outcomes such as mortality, 30-day readmission rates, and patient satisfaction.

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Jan 23 2014
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Human Capital News Roundup: Cost of childbirth, underuse of nurse practitioners, obesity through economic lens, and more.

Around the country, print, broadcast, and online media outlets are covering the groundbreaking work of Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) leaders, scholars, fellows, alumni, and grantees. Some recent examples:

Recent progress in preventing and treating cancer is not fully reflected in declining death rates from the disease, because improving survival rates for other diseases have resulted in longer lifespans, giving people more years during which cancer may strike. This is the key finding from a study by RWJF Health & Society Scholars alumnus Samir Soneji, PhD. HealthDay reports on Soneji’s research.

A study by Renee Hsia, MD, an RWJF Physician Faculty Scholars program alumna, examines childbirth costs at hospitals throughout California. Hsia found that costs for vaginal deliveries without complications range from $3,296 to $37,277. “The market doesn’t work and the system doesn’t regulate it, so hospitals can charge what they want,” she told the Boston Globe.

Having an incarcerated family member could lead to negative health outcomes, especially for women, according to a study carried by Medpage Today. RWJF Health & Society Scholars program alumna Hedwig Lee, PhD, found that for women, having an incarcerated family member was associated with an increased likelihood of self-reported diabetes, hypertension, heart attack or stroke, obesity, and fair or poor health.

Many health care providers are not making full use of nurse practitioners (NPs), partly due to the limitations of electronic health records (EHRs) and billing software, according a study from Lusine Poghosyan, PhD, MPH, RN, reports EHR Intelligence. Poghosyan, an RWJF Nurse Faculty Scholar, concluded that because such software fails to recognize NPs as providers of record, it restricts their access to patient data and does not accurately reflect their role in patient care.

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Jan 2 2014
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Cost-Conscious Care Training: A Missing Ingredient in Many Residency Programs

Given near-universal concern over rising health care costs, are new physicians being taught to keep costs in check?

Not enough of them, according to a research letter published in JAMA Internal Medicine in December. Lead author Mitesh Patel, MD, MBA, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Clinical Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania, and his research team analyzed survey responses from nearly 300 U.S. internal medicine residency programs. They found that fewer than 15 percent have curricula designed to teach residents to be more cost-conscious.

“Evidence shows that physicians who recently completed residency training practice medicine at a higher cost than more experienced physicians,” Patel and his team wrote. Among 295 programs that responded to a questionnaire on cost-conscious care in a 2012 survey from the Association of Program Directors in Internal Medicine, 14.9 percent indicated that they had a formal curriculum in cost-conscious care; another 49.8 percent responded that they did not, but were working on it.

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Sep 10 2013
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Consistency and Cost: Why Reducing Variability in Health Care Matters

Mark I. Neuman, MD, MPH, is director of fellowship research and research education for the division of emergency medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital, and an assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. The following blog, adapted from a commentary he co-authored in Pediatrics, originally appeared on Vector, the science and innovation blog of Boston Children's Hospital.

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It’s no secret that the U.S. health care system is in the midst of a financial crisis. As a nation, we spend nearly 18 percent of our Gross Domestic Product on health care, and health care costs remain the largest contributor to the national debt. In 2011 alone, the cost of maintaining the nation’s 5,700 hospitals exceeded $770 billion.

If ever there was a time for a societal mandate to reduce health care costs, that time is now.

It’s widely accepted that one of the first steps to reining in runaway health care costs is reducing variability in the manner in which care is delivered. Well-defined and well-disseminated best practice guidelines can improve the reproducibility and standardization of care. In time, these guidelines may reduce costly and unnecessary tests and hospitalizations, while providing a platform on which to measure and enhance quality. More consistency may also allow providers to be more efficient with their time, space and personnel.

If it’s so costly, why is health care variability so abundant?

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Sep 3 2013
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The Real Cost of Hospital Care

Last spring, Time Magazine published a much-discussed article that looked at how hospitals set prices for the services they provide, and the wide variations in pricing from one hospital to another. But hardly anyone actually pays those seemingly outrageous prices, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Interdisciplinary Nursing Quality Research Initiative co-director Mark V. Pauly, PhD, says, because public and private insurance companies negotiate them down for their customers.

In the third video in a series of RWJF Clinical Scholars Health Policy Podcasts, Clinical Scholar Chileshe Nkonde-Price, MD, interviews Pauly, an economist, about the price of hospital care and the difference between posted prices and what consumers pay.

The video is republished with permission from the Leonard Davis Institute.

Apr 29 2013
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Dementia’s Growing Cost to Caregivers

Kathleen J. Mullen, PhD, is an alumna of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Scholars in Health Policy Research program, and an economist and associate director of the RAND Center for Disability Research at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation.

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Dementia, a chronic disease characterized by significant impairment of cognitive functioning, afflicts 15 of every 100 Americans over age 70 – and it is their caregivers who are perhaps most familiar with the disease’s effects.

Family members are often the ones who find themselves navigating the complex system of nursing homes, in-home health care, and health insurance (Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance), all while dealing with heartbreaking changes in the physical and mental functioning of their spouses, siblings, parents or grandparents. Indeed, my own family is struggling to sort through an overwhelming number of options and decisions to help ensure that my 86-year old grandmother receives the best available care now that she is unable to live without daily assistance.

For many families, a significant barrier to that best available care is cost: Caring for someone with dementia is extremely expensive. A recent RAND study, the results of which were published in the New England Journal of Medicine, offers some of the most comprehensive and credible estimates to date of the monetary costs of dementia in the United States. These costs include both out-of-pocket spending and spending by Medicare, Medicaid, and other third parties on nursing home and hospital stays, medical visits, outpatient surgery, home health care, special services (such as outpatient rehabilitation), prescription drugs, dental services, and other needs.

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Apr 5 2013
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Spending Money to Save Money in Health Care

Ashok Reddy, MD, is a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Clinical Scholar in residence at the University of Pennsylvania and a senior fellow at the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics.  This is part of a series of essays, reprinted from the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics’ eMagazine, in which scholars who attended the recent AcademyHealth National Health Policy Conference reflect on the experience.

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With the debate about the fiscal cliff and the sequester hanging so heavily over Washington, it was no surprise that congressional staffers at the AcademyHealth National Health Policy Conference seemed so exclusively focused on cutting health care spending. Some estimated that 30 percent of the $2.5 trillion spent on health care may provide little value; finding interventions that provide high-value care is a top priority that tends to obscure any other possibilities.

In this prevailing atmosphere of stark fiscal reality and gridlocked politics it can be hard to gain traction for the idea that investing in programs that prevent chronic diseases would ultimately decrease the costly long-term expenditures driven by those diseases. But that’s where traction is needed.

Take diabetes for instance. One estimate has the medical treatments for people with diabetes costing 2.4 times more than expenditures that would be incurred by the same group in the absence of diabetes. By preventing the development of diabetes in an individual you decrease the risk of heart attack, kidney failure and amputated extremities.

It is true that, so far, research in cost-effectiveness analyses has not shown that prevention reduces medical costs. Besides childhood vaccination and flu shots for the elderly, few health care services ‘save money.’ A 2010 Health Affairs article calculated that if 90 percent of the U.S. population used proven preventive services, it would save only 0.2 percent of health care spending.

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