Low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) bear a disproportionately high burden of diseases in comparison to high-income countries, partly due to inequalities in the distribution of resources for health. Recent increases in health spending in these countries demonstrate a commitment to tackling the high burden of disease. However, evidence on the extent to which increased spending on health translates to better population health outcomes has been inconclusive. Some studies have reported improvements in population health with an increase in health spending whereas others have either found no effect or very limited effect to justify increased financial allocations to health. Differences across studies may be explained by differences in approaches adopted in estimating returns to health spending in LMICs.
Ijeoma Peace Edoka
Health status measurement issues arise across a wide spectrum of applications in empirical health economics research as well as in public policy, clinical, and regulatory contexts. It is fitting that economists and other researchers working in these domains devote scientific attention to the measurement of those phenomena most central to their investigations. While often accepted and used uncritically, the particular measures of health status used in empirical investigations can have sometimes subtle but nonetheless important implications for research findings and policy action. How health is characterized and measured at the individual level and how such individual-level measures are summarized to characterize the health of groups and populations are entwined considerations. Such measurement issues have become increasingly salient given the wealth of health data available from population surveys, administrative sources, and clinical records in which researchers may be confronted with competing options for how they go about characterizing and measuring health. While recent work in health economics has seen significant advances in the econometric methods used to estimate and interpret quantities like treatment effects, the literature has seen less focus on some of the central measurement issues necessarily involved in such exercises. As such, increased attention ought to be devoted to measuring and understanding health status concepts that are relevant to decision makers’ objectives as opposed to those that are merely statistically convenient.
Norman Bannenberg, Martin Karlsson, and Hendrik Schmitz
Long-term care (LTC) is arguably the sector of the economy that is most sensitive to population aging: its recipients are typically older than 80 years whereas most care providers are of working age. Thus, a number of ongoing societal trends interact in the determination of market outcomes in the LTC sector: trends in longevity and healthy life expectancy interact with changing family structures and norms in shaping the need for services. The supply side is additionally affected by changes in employment patterns, in particular regarding the transition into retirement, as well as by cross-regional imbalances in demographic and economic conditions. The economic literature on long-term care considers many of these issues, aims at understanding this steadily growing sector, and at guiding policy. Key economic studies on long-term care address determinants of the demand for long-term care, like disability and socio-economic status; the two most important providers: informal family caregivers and nursing homes; and the financing and funding of LTC.
Martin Karlsson, Tor Iversen, and Henning Øien
An open issue in the economics literature is whether healthcare expenditure (HCE) is so concentrated in the last years before death that the age profiles in spending will change when longevity increases. The seminal article “aging of Population and HealthCare Expenditure: A Red Herring?” by Zweifel and colleagues argued that that age is a distraction in explaining growth in HCE. The argument was based on the observation that age did not predict HCE after controlling for time to death (TTD). The authors were soon criticized for the use of a Heckman selection model in this context. Most of the recent literature makes use of variants of a two-part model and seems to give some role to age as well in the explanation. Age seems to matter more for long-term care expenditures (LTCE) than for acute hospital care. When disability is accounted for, the effects of age and TTD diminish. Not many articles validate their approach by comparing properties of different estimation models. In order to evaluate popular models used in the literature and to gain an understanding of the divergent results of previous studies, an empirical analysis based on a claims data set from Germany is conducted. This analysis generates a number of useful insights. There is a significant age gradient in HCE, most for LTCE, and costs of dying are substantial. These “costs of dying” have, however, a limited impact on the age gradient in HCE. These findings are interpreted as evidence against the red herring hypothesis as initially stated. The results indicate that the choice of estimation method makes little difference and if they differ, ordinary least squares regression tends to perform better than the alternatives. When validating the methods out of sample and out of period, there is no evidence that including TTD leads to better predictions of aggregate future HCE. It appears that the literature might benefit from focusing on the predictive power of the estimators instead of their actual fit to the data within the sample.
Eline Aas, Emily Burger, and Kine Pedersen
The objective of medical screening is to prevent future disease (secondary prevention) or to improve prognosis by detecting the disease at an earlier stage (early detection). This involves examination of individuals with no symptoms of disease. Introducing a screening program is resource demanding, therefore stakeholders emphasize the need for comprehensive evaluation, where costs and health outcomes are reasonably balanced, prior to population-based implementation. Economic evaluation of population-based screening programs involves quantifying health benefits (e.g., life-years gained) and monetary costs of all relevant screening strategies. The alternative strategies can vary by starting- and stopping-age, frequency of the screening and follow-up regimens after a positive test result. Following evaluation of all strategies, the efficiency frontier displays the efficient strategies and the country-specific cost-effectiveness threshold is used to determine the optimal, i.e., most cost-effective, screening strategy. Similar to other preventive interventions, the costs of screening are immediate, while the health benefits accumulate after several years. Hence, the effect of discounting can be substantial when estimating the net present value (NPV) of each strategy. Reporting both discounting and undiscounted results is recommended. In addition, intermediate outcome measures, such as number of positive tests, cases detected, and events prevented, can be valuable supplemental outcomes to report. Estimating the cost-effectiveness of alternative screening strategies is often based on decision-analytic models, synthesizing evidence from clinical trials, literature, guidelines, and registries. Decision-analytic modeling can include evidence from trials with intermediate or surrogate endpoints and extrapolate to long-term endpoints, such as incidence and mortality, by means of sophisticated calibration methods. Furthermore, decision-analytic models are unique, as a large number of screening alternatives can be evaluated simultaneously, which is not feasible in a randomized controlled trial (RCT). Still, evaluation of screening based on RCT data are valuable as both costs and health benefits are measured for the same individual, enabling more advanced analysis of the interaction of costs and health benefits. Evaluation of screening involves multiple stakeholders and other considerations besides cost-effectiveness, such as distributional concerns, severity of the disease, and capacity influence decision-making. Analysis of harm-benefit trade-offs is a useful tool to supplement cost-effectiveness analyses. Decision-analytic models are often based on 100% participation, which is rarely the case in practice. If those participating are different from those not choosing to participate, with regard to, for instance, risk of the disease or condition, this would result in selection bias, and the result in practice could deviate from the results based on 100% participation. The development of new diagnostics or preventive interventions requires re-evaluation of the cost-effectiveness of screening. For example, if treatment of a disease becomes more efficient, screening becomes less cost-effective. Similarly, the introduction of vaccines (e.g., HPV-vaccination for cervical cancer) may influence the cost-effectiveness of screening. With access to individual level data from registries, there is an opportunity to better represent heterogeneity and long-term consequences of screening on health behavior in the analysis.