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1.  Clinical Benefits, Costs, and Cost-Effectiveness of Neonatal Intensive Care in Mexico 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(12):e1000379.
Joshua Salomon and colleagues performed a cost-effectiveness analysis using health and economic outcomes following preterm birth in Mexico and showed that neonatal intensive care provided high value for the money in this setting.
Background
Neonatal intensive care improves survival, but is associated with high costs and disability amongst survivors. Recent health reform in Mexico launched a new subsidized insurance program, necessitating informed choices on the different interventions that might be covered by the program, including neonatal intensive care. The purpose of this study was to estimate the clinical outcomes, costs, and cost-effectiveness of neonatal intensive care in Mexico.
Methods and Findings
A cost-effectiveness analysis was conducted using a decision analytic model of health and economic outcomes following preterm birth. Model parameters governing health outcomes were estimated from Mexican vital registration and hospital discharge databases, supplemented with meta-analyses and systematic reviews from the published literature. Costs were estimated on the basis of data provided by the Ministry of Health in Mexico and World Health Organization price lists, supplemented with published studies from other countries as needed. The model estimated changes in clinical outcomes, life expectancy, disability-free life expectancy, lifetime costs, disability-adjusted life years (DALYs), and incremental cost-effectiveness ratios (ICERs) for neonatal intensive care compared to no intensive care. Uncertainty around the results was characterized using one-way sensitivity analyses and a multivariate probabilistic sensitivity analysis. In the base-case analysis, neonatal intensive care for infants born at 24–26, 27–29, and 30–33 weeks gestational age prolonged life expectancy by 28, 43, and 34 years and averted 9, 15, and 12 DALYs, at incremental costs per infant of US$11,400, US$9,500, and US$3,000, respectively, compared to an alternative of no intensive care. The ICERs of neonatal intensive care at 24–26, 27–29, and 30–33 weeks were US$1,200, US$650, and US$240, per DALY averted, respectively. The findings were robust to variation in parameter values over wide ranges in sensitivity analyses.
Conclusions
Incremental cost-effectiveness ratios for neonatal intensive care imply very high value for money on the basis of conventional benchmarks for cost-effectiveness analysis.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Most pregnancies last about 40 weeks but increasing numbers of babies are being born preterm, before they reach 37 weeks of gestation (the period during which a baby develops in its mother). In developed countries and some middle-income countries such as Mexico, improvements in the care of newborn babies (neonatal intensive care) mean that more preterm babies survive now than in the past. Nevertheless, preterm birth is still a major cause of infant death worldwide that challenges attainment of Target 5 of Millennium Development Goal 4—the reduction of the global under-five mortality rate by two-thirds of the 1990 rate by 2015 (the Millennium Development Goals, which were agreed by world leaders in 2000, aim to reduce world poverty). Furthermore, many preterm babies who survive have long-term health problems and disabilities such as cerebral palsy, deafness, or learning difficulties. The severity of these disabilities and their long-term costs to families and to society depend on the baby's degree of prematurity.
Why Was This Study Done?
Mexico recently reformed its health system in an effort to improve access to care, particularly for the poorest sections of its population, and to improve the quality of its health care. The central component of this health care reform is the System of Social Protection of Health (SSPH). The SSPH contains a family health insurance program—Seguro Popular—that aims to provide the 50 million uninsured people living in Mexico with free access to an explicit set of health care interventions. As with any insurance program, decisions have to be made about which interventions Seguro Poplar should cover. Should neonatal intensive care be covered, for example? Do the benefits of this intervention (increased survival of babies) outweigh the costs of neonatal care and of long-term care for survivors with disabilities? In other words, is neonatal intensive care cost-effective? In this study, the researchers investigate this question by estimating the clinical benefits, costs, and cost-effectiveness of neonatal intensive care in Mexico.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers built a decision analytic model, a mathematical model that combines evidence on the outcomes and costs of alternative treatments to help inform decisions about health care policy. They gathered data about the health outcomes of preterm births in Mexico from registers of births and deaths and from hospital discharge databases, and estimated the costs of neonatal intensive care and long-term care for disabled survivors using data from the Mexican Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization. They then applied their model, which estimates changes in parameters such as life expectancy, lifetime costs, disability-adjusted life years (DALYs; one DALY represents the loss of a year of healthy life), and incremental cost-effectiveness ratios (ICERs; the additional cost expended for each DALY averted) for neonatal intensive care compared to no intensive care, to a group of 2 million infants. Neonatal intensive care for infants born at 24–26, 27–29, and 30–33 weeks gestation prolonged life expectancy by 28, 43, and 34 years and averted 9, 15, and 12 DALYs at incremental costs of US$11,000, US$10,000, and US$3000, respectively, compared to no intensive care. The ICERs of neonatal intensive care for babies born at these times were US$1200, US$700, and US$300 per DALY averted, respectively.
What Do These Findings Mean?
Interventions with ICERs of less than a country's per capita gross domestic product (GDP) are highly cost-effective; those with ICERs of 1–3 times the per capita GDP are potentially cost-effective. Mexico's per capita GDP in 2005 was approximately US$8,200. Thus, neonatal intensive care could provide exceptional value for money in Mexico (and maybe in other middle-income countries), even for very premature babies. The accuracy of these findings inevitably depends on the assumptions used to build the decision analytic model and on the accuracy of the data fed into it, but the findings were little changed by a wide range of alterations that the researchers made to the model. Importantly, however, this cost-effectiveness analysis focuses on health and economic consequences of different intervention choices, and does not capture all aspects of well-being. Decisions regarding neonatal intensive care will need to be based on a full consideration of all relevant factors, including ethical issues, and cost-effectiveness analyses should continue to be updated as new data emerge on health outcomes and costs associated with neonatal intensive care.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000379.
The March of Dimes, a nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health, provides information on preterm birth (in English and Spanish)
The Nemours Foundation, another nonprofit organization for child health, also provides information on premature babies (in English and Spanish)
MedlinePlus provides links to other information on premature babies (in English and Spanish)
The United Nations Childrens Fund (UNICEF) works for children's rights, survival, development and protection around the world; it provides information on Millennium Development Goal 4 and its Childinfo website provides detailed statistics about child survival and health (some information in several languages)
A PLoS Medicine Policy Forum by Núria Homedes and Antonio Ugalde discusses health care reforms in Mexico
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000379
PMCID: PMC3001895  PMID: 21179496
2.  Characterizing the Epidemiological Transition in Mexico: National and Subnational Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors 
PLoS Medicine  2008;5(6):e125.
Background
Rates of diseases and injuries and the effects of their risk factors can have substantial subnational heterogeneity, especially in middle-income countries like Mexico. Subnational analysis of the burden of diseases, injuries, and risk factors can improve characterization of the epidemiological transition and identify policy priorities.
Methods and Findings
We estimated deaths and loss of healthy life years (measured in disability-adjusted life years [DALYs]) in 2004 from a comprehensive list of diseases and injuries, and 16 major risk factors, by sex and age for Mexico and its states. Data sources included the vital statistics, national censuses, health examination surveys, and published epidemiological studies. Mortality statistics were adjusted for underreporting, misreporting of age at death, and for misclassification and incomparability of cause-of-death assignment. Nationally, noncommunicable diseases caused 75% of total deaths and 68% of total DALYs, with another 14% of deaths and 18% of DALYs caused by undernutrition and communicable, maternal, and perinatal diseases. The leading causes of death were ischemic heart disease, diabetes mellitus, cerebrovascular disease, liver cirrhosis, and road traffic injuries. High body mass index, high blood glucose, and alcohol use were the leading risk factors for disease burden, causing 5.1%, 5.0%, and 7.3% of total burden of disease, respectively. Mexico City had the lowest mortality rates (4.2 per 1,000) and the Southern region the highest (5.0 per 1,000); under-five mortality in the Southern region was nearly twice that of Mexico City. In the Southern region undernutrition and communicable, maternal, and perinatal diseases caused 23% of DALYs; in Chiapas, they caused 29% of DALYs. At the same time, the absolute rates of noncommunicable disease and injury burdens were highest in the Southern region (105 DALYs per 1,000 population versus 97 nationally for noncommunicable diseases; 22 versus 19 for injuries).
Conclusions
Mexico is at an advanced stage in the epidemiologic transition, with the majority of the disease and injury burden from noncommunicable diseases. A unique characteristic of the epidemiological transition in Mexico is that overweight and obesity, high blood glucose, and alcohol use are responsible for larger burden of disease than other noncommunicable disease risks such as tobacco smoking. The Southern region is least advanced in the epidemiological transition and suffers from the largest burden of ill health in all disease and injury groups.
Gretchen Stevens and colleagues estimate deaths and loss of healthy life years (measured in disability-adjusted life years, DALYs) for Mexico as a whole and its 32 states.
Editors' Summary
Background.
The impact that a particular disease has upon a population is known as the “burden of disease.” This burden is estimated by considering how many deaths the disease causes and how much it disables those still living. The relative contributions of different diseases and injuries to the loss of healthy life from death and disability vary greatly among countries. Broadly speaking, in low-income countries (such as many African countries), infectious diseases and undernutrition are the major causes of ill health and death whereas in high-income countries (for example, the United States), noncommunicable diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and stroke are more important. As poor countries become richer, they experience a change in the pattern of disease away from infectious diseases and malnutrition and toward noncommunicable diseases. Health experts call this change the “epidemiological transition” (epidemiology is the study of the distribution and causes of diseases in populations). Governments need to know as much as possible about which diseases have the greatest burden—and about where the country is in the epidemiological transition—to help them implement effective health policies. For example, there is no point in setting up treatment centers for a specific infectious disease in a country where the disease no longer occurs. Equally importantly, governments need to know which lifestyle choices and other genetic and environmental factors affect the chances of people in their country developing specific diseases so that they can provide relevant educational and intervention programs.
Why Was This Study Done?
Most analyses of the burden of disease have been done at the national and global scale. However, in middle-income countries, different regions of the country may be at different stages of the epidemiological transition and may, therefore, have very different patterns of disease. In this study, the researchers investigate whether this is the case for Mexico, a middle-income country that has developed rapidly over the past few decades. Mexico recently reformed its health system to improve access to health care for the poor and underserved. Under this new system, individual states play an important role in allocating health-care resources (as they do in many other countries) so it is very important to know how the burden of disease varies in different states of the country.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers estimated deaths and loss of healthy life years caused by various diseases and injuries for Mexico and its states using data from death registers, censuses, health examination surveys, and epidemiological studies. Loss of healthy life years was measured using a metric called “disability-adjusted life years” (DALYs)—one DALY is equivalent to the loss of one year of healthy life because of premature death or disability. They also identified the major risk factors for these diseases and injuries across the country. Nationally, noncommunicable diseases (particularly heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and liver cirrhosis) caused 75% of deaths and 68% of DALYs. Undernutrition, infectious diseases, and problems occurring in mothers and infants around the time of birth (maternal and perinatal diseases) caused 14% of deaths and 18% of DALYs. The leading risk factors for disease in Mexico were being overweight, having high blood glucose, and alcohol use. When the researchers studied different regions of the country, they found that Mexico City had the lowest death rate whereas the relatively undeveloped Southern region of Mexico had the highest, particularly among young children. In Chiapas, the most southerly state of Mexico, undernutrition and infectious, maternal, and perinatal diseases caused nearly a third of DALYs. In addition to the highest infectious disease burden, the Southern region also had the highest noncommunicable disease and injury burden per head of population.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that Mexico as a nation is at an advanced stage of the epidemiological transition. In other words, because of the improvement in its economic status, the burden of disease caused by infectious diseases and undernutrition has decreased, and noncommunicable diseases now cause the largest share of the total burden of disease. However, the study also shows that the poorest regions of the country, which have the highest overall burden of disease, are lagging behind the richer regions in terms of their position in the epidemiological transition. Thus different health priorities need to be set in different regions of Mexico (and in other middle-income countries where the burden of disease is also likely to vary with region). Finally, the information provided by this study about the forces driving the epidemiological transition in Mexico, such as the importance of obesity and alcohol use, should help public-health officials decide how to improve the overall health of the Mexican population.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0050125.
A related PLoS Medicine Perspective by Martin Tobias further discusses this research
The World Health Organization provides information on the Global Burden of Disease Project including links to other burden of disease resources. It also provides detailed information on various aspects of health in Mexico (in several languages), and an explanation of DALYs
Read a detailed article on the “epidemiological transition” by Abdel Omran, who proposed this idea in 1971
A large amount of Mexican data is available online for Spanish speakers. Complete raw mortality statistics can be found on the Mexican Ministry of Health's Web site http://sinais.salud.gob.mx/sinais.php. Also online is the complete report of the ENSANUT survey (Encuesta Nacional de Salud y Nutrición 2006) http://www.insp.mx/ensanut/, which was one of the major data sources used to determine risk factor exposure
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0050125
PMCID: PMC2429945  PMID: 18563960
3.  Can Broader Diffusion of Value-Based Insurance Design Increase Benefits from US Health Care without Increasing Costs? Evidence from a Computer Simulation Model 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(2):e1000234.
Using a computer simulation based on US data, R. Scott Braithwaite and colleagues calculate the benefits of value-based insurance design, in which patients pay less for highly cost-effective services.
Background
Evidence suggests that cost sharing (i.e.,copayments and deductibles) decreases health expenditures but also reduces essential care. Value-based insurance design (VBID) has been proposed to encourage essential care while controlling health expenditures. Our objective was to estimate the impact of broader diffusion of VBID on US health care benefits and costs.
Methods and Findings
We used a published computer simulation of costs and life expectancy gains from US health care to estimate the impact of broader diffusion of VBID. Two scenarios were analyzed: (1) applying VBID solely to pharmacy benefits and (2) applying VBID to both pharmacy benefits and other health care services (e.g., devices). We assumed that cost sharing would be eliminated for high-value services (<$100,000 per life-year), would remain unchanged for intermediate- or unknown-value services ($100,000–$300,000 per life-year or unknown), and would be increased for low-value services (>$300,000 per life-year). All costs are provided in 2003 US dollars. Our simulation estimated that approximately 60% of health expenditures in the US are spent on low-value services, 20% are spent on intermediate-value services, and 20% are spent on high-value services. Correspondingly, the vast majority (80%) of health expenditures would have cost sharing that is impacted by VBID. With prevailing patterns of cost sharing, health care conferred 4.70 life-years at a per-capita annual expenditure of US$5,688. Broader diffusion of VBID to pharmaceuticals increased the benefit conferred by health care by 0.03 to 0.05 additional life-years, without increasing costs and without increasing out-of-pocket payments. Broader diffusion of VBID to other health care services could increase the benefit conferred by health care by 0.24 to 0.44 additional life-years, also without increasing costs and without increasing overall out-of-pocket payments. Among those without health insurance, using cost saving from VBID to subsidize insurance coverage would increase the benefit conferred by health care by 1.21 life-years, a 31% increase.
Conclusion
Broader diffusion of VBID may amplify benefits from US health care without increasing health expenditures.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
More money is spent per person on health care in the US than in any other country. US health care expenditure accounts for 16.2% of the gross domestic product and this figure is rising. Indeed, the increase in health care costs is outstripping the economy's growth rate. Consequently, US policy makers and providers of health insurance—health care in the US is largely provided by the private sector and is paid for through private health insurance or through government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid—are looking for better ways to control health expenditures. Although some health care cost reductions can be achieved by increasing efficiency, controlling the quantity of health care consumed is an essential component of strategies designed to reduce health expenditures. These strategies can target health care providers (for example, by requiring primary care physicians to provide referrals before their patients' insurance provides cover for specialist care) or can target consumers, often through cost sharing. Nowadays, most insurance plans include several tiers of cost sharing in which patients pay a larger proportion of the costs of expensive interventions than of cheap interventions.
Why Was This Study Done?
Cost sharing decreases health expenditure but it can also reduce demand for essential care and thus reduce the quality of care. Consequently, some experts have proposed value-based insurance design (VBID), an approach in which the amount of cost sharing is set according to the “value” of an intervention rather than its cost. The value of an intervention is defined as the ratio of the additional benefits to the additional costs of the intervention when compared to the next best alternative intervention. Under VBID, cost sharing could be waived for office visits necessary to control blood pressure in people with diabetes, which deliver high-value care, but could be increased for high-tech scans for dementia, which deliver low-value care. VBID has been adopted by several private health insurance schemes and its core principal is endorsed by US policy makers. However, it is unclear whether wider use of VBID is warranted. In this study, the researchers use a computer simulation of the US health care system to estimate the impact of broader diffusion of VBID on US health care benefits and costs.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used their computer simulation to estimate the impact of applying VBID to cost sharing for drugs alone and to cost sharing for drugs, procedures, and other health care services for one million hypothetical US patients. In their simulation, the researchers eliminated cost sharing for services that cost less than US$100,000 per life-year gained (high-value services) and increased cost-sharing for services that cost more than US$300,000 per life-year gained (low-value services); cost-sharing remained unchanged for intermediate- or unknown-value services. With the current pattern of cost sharing, 60% of health expenditure is spent on low-value services and health care increases life expectancy by 4.70 years for an annual per person expenditure of US$5,688, the researchers report. With widespread application of VBID to cost sharing for drugs alone, health care increased life expectancy by an additional 0.03 to 0.05 years without increasing costs. With widespread application of VBID to cost sharing for other health care services, health care increased life expectancy by a further 0.24 to 0.44 years without additional costs. Finally, if the costs saved by applying VBID were used to subsidize insurance for the 15% of the US population currently without health insurance, the benefit conferred by health care among these people would increase by 1.21 life-years.
What Do These Findings Mean?
The findings of this study depend on the many assumptions included in the computer simulation, which, although complex, is a greatly simplified representation of the US health care system. Nevertheless, these findings suggest that if VBID were used more widely within the US health care system to encourage the use of high-value services, it might be possible to amplify the benefits from US health care without increasing health expenditures. Importantly, the money saved by VBID could be used to help fund universal insurance, a central aim of US health care reform. More research is needed, however, to determine the value of various health care interventions and to investigate whether other ways of linking value to cost sharing might yield even better gains in life expectancy at little or no additional cost.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000234.
Wikipedia has a page on health care in the United States (note that Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
Families USA works to promote high-quality affordable health care for all Americans and provides information about all aspects of US health care and about US health care reforms
The US Centers for Medicare and Medicaid provides information on the major government health insurance programs and on US national health expenditure statistics
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000234
PMCID: PMC2821897  PMID: 20169114
4.  United States-Mexico cross-border health insurance initiatives: Salud Migrante and Medicare in Mexico 
While U.S. health care reform will most likely reduce the overall number of uninsured Mexican-Americans, it does not address challenges related to health care coverage for undocumented Mexican immigrants, who will remain uninsured under the measures of the reform; documented low-income Mexican immigrants who have not met the five-year waiting period required for Medicaid benefits; or the growing number of retired U.S. citizens living in Mexico, who lack easy access to Medicare-supported services. This article reviews two promising binational initiatives that could help address these challenges—Salud Migrante and Medicare in Mexico; discusses their prospective applications within the context of U.S. health care reform; and identifies potential challenges to their implementation (legal, political, and regulatory), as well as the possible benefits, including coverage of uninsured Mexican immigrants, and their integration into the U.S. health care system (through Salud Migrante), and access to lower-cost Medicare-supported health care for U.S. retirees in Mexico (Medicare in Mexico).
PMCID: PMC4018207  PMID: 22427168
insurance; health; delivery of health care; border health; emigrants and immigrants; Medicare; Mexico; United States
5.  The quest for equity in Latin America: a comparative analysis of the health care reforms in Brazil and Colombia 
Introduction
Brazil and Colombia have pursued extensive reforms of their health care systems in the last couple of decades. The purported goals of such reforms were to improve access, increase efficiency and reduce health inequities. Notwithstanding their common goals, each country sought a very different pathway to achieve them. While Brazil attempted to reestablish a greater level of State control through a public national health system, Colombia embraced market competition under an employer-based social insurance scheme. This work thus aims to shed some light onto why they pursued divergent strategies and what that has meant in terms of health outcomes.
Methods
A critical review of the literature concerning equity frameworks, as well as the health care reforms in Brazil and Colombia was conducted. Then, the shortfall inequality values of crude mortality rate, infant mortality rate, under-five mortality rate, and life expectancy for the period 1960-2005 were calculated for both countries. Subsequently, bivariate and multivariate linear regression analyses were performed and controlled for possibly confounding factors.
Results
When controlling for the underlying historical time trend, both countries appear to have experienced a deceleration of the pace of improvements in the years following the reforms, for all the variables analyzed. In the case of Colombia, some of the previous gains in under-five mortality rate and crude mortality rate were, in fact, reversed.
Conclusions
Neither reform seems to have had a decisive positive impact on the health outcomes analyzed for the defined time period of this research. This, in turn, may be a consequence of both internal characteristics of the respective reforms and external factors beyond the direct control of health reformers. Among the internal characteristics: underfunding, unbridled decentralization and inequitable access to care seem to have been the main constraints. Conversely, international economic adversities, high levels of rural and urban violence, along with entrenched income inequalities seem to have accounted for the highest burden among external factors.
doi:10.1186/1475-9276-11-6
PMCID: PMC3317827  PMID: 22296659
Brazil; Colombia; health care reform; health care system; equity; health inequities; comparative analysis; health policy
6.  Consumers' Perspectives on National Health Insurance in South Africa: Using a Mobile Health Approach 
JMIR mHealth and uHealth  2014;2(4):e49.
Background
Building an equitable health system is a cornerstone of the World Health Organization (WHO) health system building block framework. Public participation in any such reform process facilitates successful implementation. South Africa has embarked on a major reform in health policy that aims at redressing inequity and enabling all citizens to have equal access to efficient and quality health services.
Objective
This research is based on a survey using Mxit as a mobile phone–based social media network. It was intended to encourage comments on the proposed National Health Insurance (NHI) and to raise awareness among South Africans about their rights to free and quality health care.
Methods
Data were gathered by means of a public e-consultation, and following a qualitative approach, were then examined and grouped in a theme analysis. The WHO building blocks were used as the conceptual framework in analysis and discussion of the identified themes.
Results
Major themes are the improvement of service delivery and patient-centered health care, enhanced accessibility of health care providers, and better health service surveillance. Furthermore, health care users demand stronger outcome-based rather than rule-based indicators of the health system’s governance. Intersectoral solidarity and collaboration between private and public health care providers are suggested. Respondents also propose a code of ethical values for health care professionals to address corruption in the health care system. It is noteworthy that measures for dealing with corruption or implementing ethical values are neither described in the WHO building blocks nor in the NHI.
Conclusions
The policy makers of the new health system for South Africa should address the lack of trust in the health care system that this study has exposed. Furthermore, the study reveals discrepancies between the everyday lived reality of public health care consumers and the intended health policy reform.
doi:10.2196/mhealth.3533
PMCID: PMC4259968  PMID: 25351980
health systems reform; public consultation; South Africa; National Health Insurance (NHI); health systems strengthening (HSS); WHO building blocks; social media, GINI Index
7.  “Working the System”—British American Tobacco's Influence on the European Union Treaty and Its Implications for Policy: An Analysis of Internal Tobacco Industry Documents 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(1):e1000202.
Katherine Smith and colleagues investigate the ways in which British American Tobacco influenced the European Union Treaty so that new EU policies advance the interests of major corporations, including those that produce products damaging to health.
Background
Impact assessment (IA) of all major European Union (EU) policies is now mandatory. The form of IA used has been criticised for favouring corporate interests by overemphasising economic impacts and failing to adequately assess health impacts. Our study sought to assess how, why, and in what ways corporations, and particularly the tobacco industry, influenced the EU's approach to IA.
Methods and Findings
In order to identify whether industry played a role in promoting this system of IA within the EU, we analysed internal documents from British American Tobacco (BAT) that were disclosed following a series of litigation cases in the United States. We combined this analysis with one of related literature and interviews with key informants. Our analysis demonstrates that from 1995 onwards BAT actively worked with other corporate actors to successfully promote a business-oriented form of IA that favoured large corporations. It appears that BAT favoured this form of IA because it could advance the company's European interests by establishing ground rules for policymaking that would: (i) provide an economic framework for evaluating all policy decisions, implicitly prioritising costs to businesses; (ii) secure early corporate involvement in policy discussions; (iii) bestow the corporate sector with a long-term advantage over other actors by increasing policymakers' dependence on information they supplied; and (iv) provide businesses with a persuasive means of challenging potential and existing legislation. The data reveal that an ensuing lobbying campaign, largely driven by BAT, helped secure binding changes to the EU Treaty via the Treaty of Amsterdam that required EU policymakers to minimise legislative burdens on businesses. Efforts subsequently focused on ensuring that these Treaty changes were translated into the application of a business orientated form of IA (cost–benefit analysis [CBA]) within EU policymaking procedures. Both the tobacco and chemical industries have since employed IA in apparent attempts to undermine key aspects of European policies designed to protect public health.
Conclusions
Our findings suggest that BAT and its corporate allies have fundamentally altered the way in which all EU policy is made by making a business-oriented form of IA mandatory. This increases the likelihood that the EU will produce policies that advance the interests of major corporations, including those that produce products damaging to health, rather than in the interests of its citizens. Given that the public health community, focusing on health IA, has largely welcomed the increasing policy interest in IA, this suggests that urgent consideration is required of the ways in which IA can be employed to undermine, as well as support, effective public health policies.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
The primary goal of public health, the branch of medicine concerned with the health of communities, is to improve lives by preventing disease. Public-health groups do this by assessing and monitoring the health of communities, by ensuring that populations have access to appropriate and cost-effective health care, and by helping to formulate public policies that safeguard human health. Until recently, most of the world's major public-health concerns related to infectious diseases. Nowadays, however, many major public-health concerns are linked to the goods made and marketed by large corporations such as fast food, alcohol, tobacco, and chemicals. In Europe, these corporations are regulated by policies drawn up both by member states and by the European Commission, the executive organ of the European Union (EU; an economic and political partnership among 27 democratic European countries). Thus, for example, the tobacco industry, which is widely recognized as a driver of the smoking epidemic, is regulated by Europe-wide tobacco control policies and member state level policies.
Why Was This Study Done?
Since 1997, the European Commission has been required by law to assess the economic, social (including health), and environmental consequences of new policy initiatives using a process called an “impact assessment” (IA). Because different types of IA examine the likely effects of policies on different aspects of daily life—a health impact assessment, for example, focuses on a policy's effect on health—the choice of IA can lead to different decisions being taken about new policies. Although the IA tool adopted by the European Commission aims to assess economic, environmental and social impacts, independent experts suggest this tool does not adequately assess health impacts. Instead, economic impacts receive the most attention, a situation that may favour the interests of large businesses. In this study, the researchers seek to identify how and why the EU's approach to IA developed. More specifically, the researchers analyze internal documents from British American Tobacco (BAT), which have been disclosed because of US litigation cases, to find out whether industry has played a role in promoting the EU's system of IA.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers analyzed 714 BAT internal documents (identified by searching the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library, which contains more than 10 million internal tobacco company documents) that concerned attempts made by BAT to influence regulatory reforms in Europe. They also analyzed related literature from other sources (for example, academic publications) and interviewed 16 relevant people (including people who had worked at the European Commission). This analysis shows that from 1995, BAT worked with other businesses to promote European regulatory reforms (in particular, the establishment of a business-orientated form of IA) that favor large corporations. A lobbying campaign, initiated by BAT but involving a “policy network” of other companies, first helped to secure binding changes to the EU Treaty that require policymakers to minimize legislative burdens on businesses. The analysis shows that after achieving this goal, which BAT described as an “important victory,” further lobbying ensured that these treaty changes were translated into the implementation of a business-orientated form of IA within the EU. Both the tobacco industry and the chemical industry, the researchers argue, have since used the IA to delay and/or weaken EU legislation intended to protect public health.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that BAT and its corporate allies have fundamentally altered the way in which EU policy is made by ensuring that all significant EU policy decisions have to be assessed using a business-orientated IA. As the authors note, this situation increases the likelihood that the EU will produce policies that favor big business rather than the health of its citizens. Furthermore, these findings suggest that by establishing a network of other industries to help in lobbying for EU Treaty changes, BAT was able to distance itself from the push to establish a business-orientated IA to the extent that Commission officials were unaware of the involvement of the tobacco industry in campaigns for IA. Thus, in future, to safeguard public health, policymakers and public-health groups must pay more attention to corporate efforts to shape decision-making processes. In addition, public-health groups must take account of the ways in which IA can be used to undermine as well as support effective public-health policies and they must collaborate more closely in their efforts to ensure effective national and international policy.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/0.1371/journal.pmed.1000202.
Wikipedia has a page on public health (note that Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
More information on the European Union (in several languages), on public health in the European Union, and on impact assessment by the European Commission is available
The Legacy Tobacco Documents Library is a public, searchable database of tobacco company internal documents detailing their advertising, manufacturing, marketing, sales, and scientific activities
The World Health Organization provides information about the dangers of tobacco (in several languages)
The Smoke Free Partnership contains more information about smoking prevalence in Europe and about European policies to tackle the public health issues associated with tobacco use
For more information about tobacco industry influence on policy see the 2009 World Health Organization report on tobacco industry interference with tobacco control
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000202
PMCID: PMC2797088  PMID: 20084098
8.  Health care reform in the USA: Recommendations from USA and non-USA radiologists 
World Journal of Radiology  2012;4(2):44-47.
AIM: To compare the opinions and recommendations of imaging specialists from United States (USA) and non-USA developed nations for USA health care reform.
METHODS: A survey was emailed out to 18 imaging specialists from 17 non-USA developed nation countries and 14 radiologists within the USA regarding health care reform. The questionnaire contained the following questions: what are the strengths of your health care system, what problems are present in your nation’s health care system, and what recommendations do you have for health care reform in the USA. USA and non-USA radiologists received the same questionnaire.
RESULTS: Strengths of the USA health care system include high quality care, autonomy, and access to timely care. Twelve of 14 (86%) USA radiologists identified medicolegal action as a major problem in their health care system and felt that medicolegal reform was a critical aspect of health care reform. None of the non-USA radiologists identified medicolegal aspects as a problem in their own country nor identified it as a subject for USA health care reform. Eleven of 14 (79%) USA radiologists and 16/18 (89%) non-USA radiologists identified universal health care coverage as an important recommendation for reform.
CONCLUSION: Without full universal coverage, meaningful health care reform will likely require medicolegal reform as an early and important aspect of improved and efficient health care.
doi:10.4329/wjr.v4.i2.44
PMCID: PMC3304092  PMID: 22423317
Health care reform; Health care policy
9.  Integration of care systems in Portugal: anatomy of recent reforms 
Background
Integrated care is increasingly present in the agenda of policy-makers, health professionals and researchers as a way to improve care services in relation to access, quality, user satisfaction and efficiency. These are overarching objectives of most sectoral reforms. However, health care and social care services and systems are more and more dependent on the performance of each other, imposing the logic of network. Demographic, epidemiologic and cultural changes result in pressure to increase efficiency and efficacy of services and organisations in both sectors and that is why integrated care has become so relevant in the last years.
Methods
We first used concept maps to organise and systematise information that we had gathered through deep literature review in order to set a framework where to base the subsequent work. Then, we interviewed informants at several levels of the health and social care systems and we built a list of major recent reforms addressing integrated care in Portugal. In a third step, we conducted two independent focus groups where those reforms were discussed and evaluated within the context of the concepts and frameworks identified from the literature. Results were confronted and reconciled, giving place to a list of requisites and guidelines that oriented further search for documentation on those reforms.
Results
Several important health reforms are in course in primary and hospital care in Portugal, while a so-called third level of care has been introduced with the launch of the National Network of Long-Term Integrated Care (RNCCI – Rede Nacional de Cuidados Continuados Integrados). The social care sector has itself been a subject of alternative models springing from opposite political orientations. All these changes are having repercussions on the way the systems work with each other as they are leading to ongoing and ill-evaluated reformulations on the way they are governed, financed, structured and operated.
Conclusions
Care integration is not absent from policy-making and implementation endeavour in Portugal. However, recurrent issues seem to be consistently hampering the efforts regarding the integration of care in the country. It is urgent to assess current situation as experienced by those closely involved and directly affected.
PMCID: PMC4113913  PMID: 25114663
care systems integration; health care reform; social care reform; Portugal
10.  Implementing the 2009 Institute of Medicine recommendations on resident physician work hours, supervision, and safety 
Long working hours and sleep deprivation have been a facet of physician training in the US since the advent of the modern residency system. However, the scientific evidence linking fatigue with deficits in human performance, accidents and errors in industries from aeronautics to medicine, nuclear power, and transportation has mounted over the last 40 years. This evidence has also spawned regulations to help ensure public safety across safety-sensitive industries, with the notable exception of medicine.
In late 2007, at the behest of the US Congress, the Institute of Medicine embarked on a year-long examination of the scientific evidence linking resident physician sleep deprivation with clinical performance deficits and medical errors. The Institute of Medicine’s report, entitled “Resident duty hours: Enhancing sleep, supervision and safety”, published in January 2009, recommended new limits on resident physician work hours and workload, increased supervision, a heightened focus on resident physician safety, training in structured handovers and quality improvement, more rigorous external oversight of work hours and other aspects of residency training, and the identification of expanded funding sources necessary to implement the recommended reforms successfully and protect the public and resident physicians themselves from preventable harm.
Given that resident physicians comprise almost a quarter of all physicians who work in hospitals, and that taxpayers, through Medicare and Medicaid, fund graduate medical education, the public has a deep investment in physician training. Patients expect to receive safe, high-quality care in the nation’s teaching hospitals. Because it is their safety that is at issue, their voices should be central in policy decisions affecting patient safety. It is likewise important to integrate the perspectives of resident physicians, policy makers, and other constituencies in designing new policies. However, since its release, discussion of the Institute of Medicine report has been largely confined to the medical education community, led by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME).
To begin gathering these perspectives and developing a plan to implement safer work hours for resident physicians, a conference entitled “Enhancing sleep, supervision and safety: What will it take to implement the Institute of Medicine recommendations?” was held at Harvard Medical School on June 17–18, 2010. This White Paper is a product of a diverse group of 26 representative stakeholders bringing relevant new information and innovative practices to bear on a critical patient safety problem. Given that our conference included experts from across disciplines with diverse perspectives and interests, not every recommendation was endorsed by each invited conference participant. However, every recommendation made here was endorsed by the majority of the group, and many were endorsed unanimously. Conference members participated in the process, reviewed the final product, and provided input before publication. Participants provided their individual perspectives, which do not necessarily represent the formal views of any organization.
In September 2010 the ACGME issued new rules to go into effect on July 1, 2011. Unfortunately, they stop considerably short of the Institute of Medicine’s recommendations and those endorsed by this conference. In particular, the ACGME only applied the limitation of 16 hours to first-year resident physicans. Thus, it is clear that policymakers, hospital administrators, and residency program directors who wish to implement safer health care systems must go far beyond what the ACGME will require. We hope this White Paper will serve as a guide and provide encouragement for that effort.
Resident physician workload and supervision
By the end of training, a resident physician should be able to practice independently. Yet much of resident physicians’ time is dominated by tasks with little educational value. The caseload can be so great that inadequate reflective time is left for learning based on clinical experiences. In addition, supervision is often vaguely defined and discontinuous. Medical malpractice data indicate that resident physicians are frequently named in lawsuits, most often for lack of supervision. The recommendations are: The ACGME should adjust resident physicians workload requirements to optimize educational value. Resident physicians as well as faculty should be involved in work redesign that eliminates nonessential and noneducational activity from resident physician dutiesMechanisms should be developed for identifying in real time when a resident physician’s workload is excessive, and processes developed to activate additional providersTeamwork should be actively encouraged in delivery of patient care. Historically, much of medical training has focused on individual knowledge, skills, and responsibility. As health care delivery has become more complex, it will be essential to train resident and attending physicians in effective teamwork that emphasizes collective responsibility for patient care and recognizes the signs, both individual and systemic, of a schedule and working conditions that are too demanding to be safeHospitals should embrace the opportunities that resident physician training redesign offers. Hospitals should recognize and act on the potential benefits of work redesign, eg, increased efficiency, reduced costs, improved quality of care, and resident physician and attending job satisfactionAttending physicians should supervise all hospital admissions. Resident physicians should directly discuss all admissions with attending physicians. Attending physicians should be both cognizant of and have input into the care patients are to receive upon admission to the hospitalInhouse supervision should be required for all critical care services, including emergency rooms, intensive care units, and trauma services. Resident physicians should not be left unsupervised to care for critically ill patients. In settings in which the acuity is high, physicians who have completed residency should provide direct supervision for resident physicians. Supervising physicians should always be physically in the hospital for supervision of resident physicians who care for critically ill patientsThe ACGME should explicitly define “good” supervision by specialty and by year of training. Explicit requirements for intensity and level of training for supervision of specific clinical scenarios should be providedCenters for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) should use graduate medical education funding to provide incentives to programs with proven, effective levels of supervision. Although this action would require federal legislation, reimbursement rules would help to ensure that hospitals pay attention to the importance of good supervision and require it from their training programs
Resident physician work hours
Although the IOM “Sleep, supervision and safety” report provides a comprehensive review and discussion of all aspects of graduate medical education training, the report’s focal point is its recommendations regarding the hours that resident physicians are currently required to work. A considerable body of scientific evidence, much of it cited by the Institute of Medicine report, describes deteriorating performance in fatigued humans, as well as specific studies on resident physician fatigue and preventable medical errors.
The question before this conference was what work redesign and cultural changes are needed to reform work hours as recommended by the Institute of Medicine’s evidence-based report? Extensive scientific data demonstrate that shifts exceeding 12–16 hours without sleep are unsafe. Several principles should be followed in efforts to reduce consecutive hours below this level and achieve safer work schedules. The recommendations are: Limit resident physician work hours to 12–16 hour maximum shiftsA minimum of 10 hours off duty should be scheduled between shiftsResident physician input into work redesign should be actively solicitedSchedules should be designed that adhere to principles of sleep and circadian science; this includes careful consideration of the effects of multiple consecutive night shifts, and provision of adequate time off after night work, as specified in the IOM reportResident physicians should not be scheduled up to the maximum permissible limits; emergencies frequently occur that require resident physicians to stay longer than their scheduled shifts, and this should be anticipated in scheduling resident physicians’ work shiftsHospitals should anticipate the need for iterative improvement as new schedules are initiated; be prepared to learn from the initial phase-in, and change the plan as neededAs resident physician work hours are redesigned, attending physicians should also be considered; a potential consequence of resident physician work hour reduction and increased supervisory requirements may be an increase in work for attending physicians; this should be carefully monitored, and adjustments to attending physician work schedules made as needed to prevent unsafe work hours or working conditions for this group“Home call” should be brought under the overall limits of working hours; work load and hours should be monitored in each residency program to ensure that resident physicians and fellows on home call are getting sufficient sleepMedicare funding for graduate medical education in each hospital should be linked with adherence to the Institute of Medicine limits on resident physician work hours
Moonlighting by resident physicians
The Institute of Medicine report recommended including external as well as internal moonlighting in working hour limits. The recommendation is: All moonlighting work hours should be included in the ACGME working hour limits and actively monitored. Hospitals should formalize a moonlighting policy and establish systems for actively monitoring resident physician moonlighting
Safety of resident physicians
The “Sleep, supervision and safety” report also addresses fatigue-related harm done to resident physicians themselves. The report focuses on two main sources of physical injury to resident physicians impaired by fatigue, ie, needle-stick exposure to blood-borne pathogens and motor vehicle crashes. Providing safe transportation home for resident physicians is a logistical and financial challenge for hospitals. Educating physicians at all levels on the dangers of fatigue is clearly required to change driving behavior so that safe hospital-funded transport home is used effectively. Fatigue-related injury prevention (including not driving while drowsy) should be taught in medical school and during residency, and reinforced with attending physicians; hospitals and residency programs must be informed that resident physicians’ ability to judge their own level of impairment is impaired when they are sleep deprived; hence, leaving decisions about the capacity to drive to impaired resident physicians is not recommendedHospitals should provide transportation to all resident physicians who report feeling too tired to drive safely; in addition, although consecutive work should not exceed 16 hours, hospitals should provide transportation for all resident physicians who, because of unforeseen reasons or emergencies, work for longer than consecutive 24 hours; transportation under these circumstances should be automatically provided to house staff, and should not rely on self-identification or request
Training in effective handovers and quality improvement
Handover practice for resident physicians, attendings, and other health care providers has long been identified as a weak link in patient safety throughout health care settings. Policies to improve handovers of care must be tailored to fit the appropriate clinical scenario, recognizing that information overload can also be a problem. At the heart of improving handovers is the organizational effort to improve quality, an effort in which resident physicians have typically been insufficiently engaged. The recommendations are: Hospitals should train attending and resident physicians in effective handovers of careHospitals should create uniform processes for handovers that are tailored to meet each clinical setting; all handovers should be done verbally and face-to-face, but should also utilize written toolsWhen possible, hospitals should integrate hand-over tools into their electronic medical records (EMR) systems; these systems should be standardized to the extent possible across residency programs in a hospital, but may be tailored to the needs of specific programs and services; federal government should help subsidize adoption of electronic medical records by hospitals to improve signoutWhen feasible, handovers should be a team effort including nurses, patients, and familiesHospitals should include residents in their quality improvement and patient safety efforts; the ACGME should specify in their core competency requirements that resident physicians work on quality improvement projects; likewise, the Joint Commission should require that resident physicians be included in quality improvement and patient safety programs at teaching hospitals; hospital administrators and residency program directors should create opportunities for resident physicians to become involved in ongoing quality improvement projects and root cause analysis teams; feedback on successful quality improvement interventions should be shared with resident physicians and broadly disseminatedQuality improvement/patient safety concepts should be integral to the medical school curriculum; medical school deans should elevate the topics of patient safety, quality improvement, and teamwork; these concepts should be integrated throughout the medical school curriculum and reinforced throughout residency; mastery of these concepts by medical students should be tested on the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) stepsFederal government should support involvement of resident physicians in quality improvement efforts; initiatives to improve quality by including resident physicians in quality improvement projects should be financially supported by the Department of Health and Human Services
Monitoring and oversight of the ACGME
While the ACGME is a key stakeholder in residency training, external voices are essential to ensure that public interests are heard in the development and monitoring of standards. Consequently, the Institute of Medicine report recommended external oversight and monitoring through the Joint Commission and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). The recommendations are: Make comprehensive fatigue management a Joint Commission National Patient Safety Goal; fatigue is a safety concern not only for resident physicians, but also for nurses, attending physicians, and other health care workers; the Joint Commission should seek to ensure that all health care workers, not just resident physicians, are working as safely as possibleFederal government, including the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, should encourage development of comprehensive fatigue management programs which all health systems would eventually be required to implementMake ACGME compliance with working hours a “ condition of participation” for reimbursement of direct and indirect graduate medical education costs; financial incentives will greatly increase the adoption of and compliance with ACGME standards
Future financial support for implementation
The Institute of Medicine’s report estimates that $1.7 billion (in 2008 dollars) would be needed to implement its recommendations. Twenty-five percent of that amount ($376 million) will be required just to bring hospitals into compliance with the existing 2003 ACGME rules. Downstream savings to the health care system could potentially result from safer care, but these benefits typically do not accrue to hospitals and residency programs, who have been asked historically to bear the burden of residency reform costs. The recommendations are: The Institute of Medicine should convene a panel of stakeholders, including private and public funders of health care and graduate medical education, to lay down the concrete steps necessary to identify and allocate the resources needed to implement the recommendations contained in the IOM “Resident duty hours: Enhancing sleep, supervision and safety” report. Conference participants suggested several approaches to engage public and private support for this initiativeEfforts to find additional funding to implement the Institute of Medicine recommendations should focus more broadly on patient safety and health care delivery reform; policy efforts focused narrowly upon resident physician work hours are less likely to succeed than broad patient safety initiatives that include residency redesign as a key componentHospitals should view the Institute of Medicine recommendations as an opportunity to begin resident physician work redesign projects as the core of a business model that embraces safety and ultimately saves resourcesBoth the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Director of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services should take the Institute of Medicine recommendations into consideration when promulgating rules for innovation grantsThe National Health Care Workforce Commission should consider the Institute of Medicine recommendations when analyzing the nation’s physician workforce needs
Recommendations for future research
Conference participants concurred that convening the stakeholders and agreeing on a research agenda was key. Some observed that some sectors within the medical education community have been reluctant to act on the data. Several logical funders for future research were identified. But above all agencies, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is the only stakeholder that funds graduate medical education upstream and will reap savings downstream if preventable medical errors are reduced as a result of reform of resident physician work hours.
doi:10.2147/NSS.S19649
PMCID: PMC3630963  PMID: 23616719
resident; hospital; working hours; safety
11.  Lithuanian health care in transitional state: ethical problems 
BMC Public Health  2005;5:117.
Background
Throughout the economic and political reforms in post-communist countries, significant changes have also occurred in public morality. One of the tasks of the Lithuanian health policy is to create mechanisms for strengthening the significance of ethical considerations in the decision-making processes concerning health care of individuals and groups of individuals, as well as considering the positions of physicians and the health care system itself in a general way. Thus, health care ethics could be analyzed at two levels: the micro level (the ethics of doctor-patient relationships) and the macro level (the ethics of health policy-making, which can be realized by applying the principles of equal access, reasonable quality, affordable care and shared responsibilities). To date, the first level remains dominant, but the need arises for our attention to refocus now from the micro level to the patterns of managing and delivering care, managing the health care resources, and conducting business practices.
Discussion
In attempting to increase the efficiency of health services in Lithuania, a common strategy has been in place for the last fifteen years. Decentralization and privatization have been implemented as part of its policy to achieve greater efficiency. Although decentralization in theory is supposed to improve efficiency, in practice the reform of decentralization has still to be completely implemented in Lithuania. Debates on health policy in Lithuania also include the issue of private versus public health care. Although the approach of private health care is changing in a positive way, it is obvious that reduced access to health services is the most vulnerable aspect. In the Lithuanian Health Program adopted in July 1998, the target of equity was stressed, stating that by 2010, differences in health and health care between various socio-economic groups should be reduced by 25%.
Summary
The restructuring of health care system in Lithuania should be based on a balance between decentralization and centralization, and between public and private health care sectors. Successful transition requires a balanced role of the government. Today it is obvious in Lithuania that continuous encouragement to make sacrifices was not enough to induce the system to function well, and in an ethical manner.
doi:10.1186/1471-2458-5-117
PMCID: PMC1310618  PMID: 16281969
12.  The Fall and Rise of US Inequities in Premature Mortality: 1960–2002 
PLoS Medicine  2008;5(2):e46.
Background
Debates exist as to whether, as overall population health improves, the absolute and relative magnitude of income- and race/ethnicity-related health disparities necessarily increase—or derease. We accordingly decided to test the hypothesis that health inequities widen—or shrink—in a context of declining mortality rates, by examining annual US mortality data over a 42 year period.
Methods and Findings
Using US county mortality data from 1960–2002 and county median family income data from the 1960–2000 decennial censuses, we analyzed the rates of premature mortality (deaths among persons under age 65) and infant death (deaths among persons under age 1) by quintiles of county median family income weighted by county population size. Between 1960 and 2002, as US premature mortality and infant death rates declined in all county income quintiles, socioeconomic and racial/ethnic inequities in premature mortality and infant death (both relative and absolute) shrank between 1966 and 1980, especially for US populations of color; thereafter, the relative health inequities widened and the absolute differences barely changed in magnitude. Had all persons experienced the same yearly age-specific premature mortality rates as the white population living in the highest income quintile, between 1960 and 2002, 14% of the white premature deaths and 30% of the premature deaths among populations of color would not have occurred.
Conclusions
The observed trends refute arguments that health inequities inevitably widen—or shrink—as population health improves. Instead, the magnitude of health inequalities can fall or rise; it is our job to understand why.
Nancy Krieger and colleagues found evidence of decreasing, and then increasing or stagnating, socioeconomic and racial inequities in US premature mortality and infant death from 1960 to 2002.
Editors' Summary
Background
One of the biggest aims of public health advocates and governments is to improve the health of the population. Improving health increases people's quality of life and helps the population be more economically productive. But within populations are often persistent differences (usually called “disparities” or “inequities”) in the health of different subgroups—between women and men, different income groups, and people of different races/ethnicities, for example. Researchers study these differences so that policy makers and the broader public can be informed about what to do to intervene. For example, if we know that the health of certain subgroups of the population—such as the poor—is staying the same or even worsening as the overall health of the population is improving, policy makers could design programs and devote resources to specifically target the poor.
To study health disparities, researchers use both relative and absolute measures. Relative inequities refer to ratios, while absolute inequities refer to differences. For example, if one group's average income level increases from $1,000 to $10,000 and another group's from $2,000 to $20,000, the relative inequality between the groups stays the same (i.e., the ratio of incomes between the two groups is still 2) but the absolute difference between the two groups has increased from $1,000 to $10,000.
Examining the US population, Nancy Krieger and colleagues looked at trends over time in both relative and absolute differences in mortality between people in different income groups and between whites and people of color.
Why Was This Study Done?
There has been a lot of debate about whether disparities have been widening or narrowing as overall population health improves. Some research has found that both total health and health disparities are getting better with time. Other research has shown that overall health gains mask worsening disparities—such that the rich get healthier while the poor get sicker.
Having access to more data over a longer time frame meant that Krieger and colleagues could provide a more complete picture of this sometimes contradictory story. It also meant they could test their hypothesis about whether, as population health improves, health inequities necessarily widen or shrink within the time period between the 1960s through the 1990s during which certain events and policies likely would have had an impact on the mortality trends in that country.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
In order to investigate health inequities, the authors chose to look at two common measures of population health: rates of premature mortality (dying before the age of 65 years) and rates of infant mortality (death before the age of 1).
To determine mortality rates, the authors used death statistics data from different counties, which are routinely collected by state and national governments. To be able to rank mortality rates for different income groups, they used data on the median family incomes of people living within those counties (meaning half the families had income above, and half had incomes below, the median value). They calculated mortality rates for the total population and for whites versus people of color. They used data from 1960 through 2002. They compared rates for 1966–1980 with two other time periods: 1960–1965 and 1981–2002. They also examined trends in the annual mortality rates and in the annual relative and absolute disparites in these rates by county income level.
Over the whole period 1960–2002, the authors found that premature mortality (death before the age of 65) and infant mortality (death before the age of 1) decreased for all income groups. But they also found that disparities between income groups and between whites and people of color were not the same over this time period. In fact, the economic disparities narrowed then widened. First, they shrank between 1966 and 1980, especially for Americans of color. After 1980, however, the relative health inequities widened and the absolute differences did not change. The authors conclude that if all people in the US population experienced the same health gains as the most advantaged did during these 42 years (i.e., as the whites in the highest income groups), 14% of the premature deaths among whites and 30% of the premature deaths among people of color would have been prevented.
What Do These Findings Mean?
The findings provide an overview of the trends in inequities in premature and infant mortality over a long period of time. Different explanations for these trends can now be tested. The authors discuss several potential reasons for these trends, including generally rising incomes across America and changes related to specific diseases, such as the advent of HIV/AIDS, changes in smoking habits, and better management of cancer and cardiovascular disease. But they find that these do not explain the fall then rise of inequities. Instead, the authors suggest that explanations lie in the social programs of the 1960s and the subsequent roll-back of some of these programmes in the 1980s. The US “War on Poverty,” civil rights legislation, and the establishment of Medicare occurred in the mid 1960s, which were intended to reduce socioeconomic and racial/ethnic inequalities and improve access to health care. In the 1980s there was a general cutting back of welfare state provisions in America, which included cuts to public health and antipoverty programs, tax relief for the wealthy, and worsening inequity in the access to and quality of health care. Together, these wider events could explain the fall then rise trends in mortality disparities.
The authors say their findings are important to inform and help monitor the progress of various policies and programmes, including those such as the Healthy People 2010 initiative in America, which aims to increase the quality and years of healthy life and decrease health disparities by the end of this decade.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed. 0050046.
Healthy People 2010 was created by the US Department of Health and Human Services along with scientists inside and outside of government and includes a comprehensive set of disease prevention and health promotion objectives for the US to achieve by 2010, with two overarching goals: to increase quality and years of healthy life and to eliminate health disparities
Johan Mackenbach and colleagues provide an overview of mortality inequalities in six Western European countries—Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, England/Wales, and Italy—and conclude that eliminating mortality inequalities requires that more cardiovascular deaths among lower socioeconomic groups be prevented, as well as more attention be paid to rising death rates of lung cancer, breast cancer, respiratory disease, gastrointestinal disease, and injuries among women and men in the lower income groups.
The WHO Health for All program promotes health equity
A primer on absolute versus relative differences is provided by the American College of Physicians
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0050046
PMCID: PMC2253609  PMID: 18303941
13.  Health equity in an unequal country: the use of medical services in Chile 
Introduction
A recent health reform was implemented in Chile (the AUGE reform) with the objective of reducing the socioeconomic gaps to access healthcare. This reform did not seek to eliminate the private insurance system, which coexists with the public one, but to ensure minimum conditions of access to the entire population, at a reasonable cost and with a quality guarantee, to cover an important group of health conditions. This paper’s main objective is to enquire what has happened with the use of several healthcare services after the reform was fully implemented.
Methods
Concentration and Horizontal Inequity indices were estimated for the use of general practitioners, specialists, emergency room visits, laboratory and x-ray exams and hospitalization days. The change in such indices (pre and post-reform) was decomposed, following Zhong (2010). A “mean effect” (how these indices would change if the differential use in healthcare services were evenly distributed) and a “distribution effect” (how these indices would change with no change in average use) were obtained.
Results
Changes in concentration indices were mainly due to mean effects for all cases, except for specialists (where “distribution effect” prevailed) and hospitalization days (where none of these effects prevailed over others). This implies that by providing more services across socioeconomic groups, less inequality in the use of services was achieved. On the other hand, changes in horizontal inequity indices were due to distribution effects in the case of GP, ER visits and hospitalization days; and due to mean effect in the case of x-rays. In the first three cases indices reduced their pro-poorness implying that after the reform relatively higher socioeconomic groups used these services more (in relation to their needs). In the case of x-rays, increased use was responsible for improving its horizontal inequity index.
Conclusions
The increase in the average use of healthcare services after the AUGE reform has not always led to improved equity in the use of such services in most services. This indicates that there are still barriers to the equitable use of healthcare services (e.g. insufficient medical human resources, financial barriers, capacity constraints, etc.) that have remained after the reform.
doi:10.1186/1475-9276-11-81
PMCID: PMC3544610  PMID: 23249481
Equity; Inequality; Healthcare use; Chile; Household surveys
14.  Measuring the equity of inpatient utilization in Chinese rural areas 
Background
As an important outcome of the health system, equity in health service utilization has attracted an increasing amount of attention in the literature on health reform in China in recent years. The poor, who frequently require more services, are often the least able to pay, while the wealthy utilize disproportionately more services although they have less need. Whereas equity in health service utilization between richer and poorer populations has been studied in urban areas, the equity in health service utilization in rural areas has received little attention. With improving levels of economic development, the introduction of health insurance and increasing costs of health services, health service utilization patterns have changed dramatically in rural areas in recent years. However, previous studies have shown neither the extent of utilization inequity, nor which factors are associated with utilization inequity in rural China.
Methods
This paper uses previously unavailable country-wide data and focuses on income-related inequity of inpatient utilization and its determinants in Chinese rural areas. The data for this study come from the Chinese National Health Services Surveys (NHSS) conducted in 2003 and 2008. To measure the level of inequity in inpatient utilization over time, the concentration index, decomposition of the concentration index, and decomposition of change in the concentration index are employed.
Results
This study finds that even with the same need for inpatient services, richer individuals utilize more inpatient services than poorer individuals. Income is the principal determinant of this pro-rich inpatient utilization inequity- wealthier individuals are able to pay for more services and therefore use more services regardless of need. However, rising income and increased health insurance coverage have reduced the inequity in inpatient utilization in spite of increasing inpatient prices.
Conclusions
There remains a strong pro-rich inequity of inpatient utilization in rural China. However, a narrowing income gap between the rich and poor and greater access to health insurance has effectively reduced income inequality, equalizing access to care. This suggests that the most effective way to reduce the inequity is to narrow the gap of income between the rich and poor while adopting social risk protection.
doi:10.1186/1472-6963-11-201
PMCID: PMC3271237  PMID: 21854641
15.  Measuring Under-Five Mortality: Validation of New Low-Cost Methods 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(4):e1000253.
n/a
Background
There has been increasing interest in measuring under-five mortality as a health indicator and as a critical measure of human development. In countries with complete vital registration systems that capture all births and deaths, under-five mortality can be directly calculated. In the absence of a complete vital registration system, however, child mortality must be estimated using surveys that ask women to report the births and deaths of their children. Two survey methods exist for capturing this information: summary birth histories and complete birth histories. A summary birth history requires a minimum of only two questions: how many live births has each mother had and how many of them have survived. Indirect methods are then applied using the information from these two questions and the age of the mother to estimate under-five mortality going back in time prior to the survey. Estimates generated from complete birth histories are viewed as the most accurate when surveys are required to estimate under-five mortality, especially for the most recent time periods. However, it is much more costly and labor intensive to collect these detailed data, especially for the purpose of generating small area estimates. As a result, there is a demand for improvement of the methods employing summary birth history data to produce more accurate as well as subnational estimates of child mortality.
Methods and Findings
We used data from 166 Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) to develop new empirically based methods of estimating under-five mortality using children ever born and children dead data. We then validated them using both in- and out-of-sample analyses. We developed a range of methods on the basis of three dimensions of the problem: (1) approximating the average length of exposure to mortality from a mother's set of children using either maternal age or time since first birth; (2) using cohort and period measures of the fraction of children ever born that are dead; and (3) capturing country and regional variation in the age pattern of fertility and mortality. We focused on improving estimates in the most recent time periods prior to a survey where the traditional indirect methods fail. In addition, all of our methods incorporated uncertainty. Validated against under-five estimates generated from complete birth histories, our methods outperformed the standard indirect method by an average of 43.7% (95% confidence interval [CI] 41.2–45.2). In the 5 y prior to the survey, the new methods resulted in a 53.3% (95% CI 51.3–55.2) improvement. To illustrate the value of this method for local area estimation, we applied our new methods to an analysis of summary birth histories in the 1990, 2000, and 2005 Mexican censuses, generating subnational estimates of under-five mortality for each of 233 jurisdictions.
Conclusions
The new methods significantly improve the estimation of under-five mortality using summary birth history data. In areas without vital registration data, summary birth histories can provide accurate estimates of child mortality. Because only two questions are required of a female respondent to generate these data, they can easily be included in existing survey programs as well as routine censuses of the population. With the wider application of these methods to census data, countries now have the means to generate estimates for subnational areas and population subgroups, important for measuring and addressing health inequalities and developing local policy to improve child survival.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Every year, more than 8 million children die before their fifth birthdays. Most of these deaths occur in developing countries, and most are the result of diseases or combinations of diseases that could have been prevented or treated. Measles, for example, is a major killer in low-income countries and undernutrition contributes to one-third of childhood deaths. Faced with this largely avoidable loss of young lives, in 1990, the United Nations' World Summit for Children pledged to improve the survival of children. Later, in 2000, world leaders set a target of reducing child mortality to one-third of its 1990 level by 2015 as Millennium Development Goal 4. This goal, together with seven others, is designed to alleviate extreme poverty by 2015. In 2006, for the first time since mortality records began, annual deaths among children under five fell below 10 million as a result of public-health programs such as the Measles Initiative, which has reduced global measles mortality by more than two-thirds by vaccinating 500 million children, and the Nothing but Nets campaign, which distributed insecticide-treated antimalaria nets in Africa.
Why Was This Study Done?
Although global under-five mortality is declining, it is unlikely that Millennium Development Goal 4 will be reached by 2015. Indeed, in some countries, little or no progress is being made toward this goal. To improve progress and to monitor the effects of public-health interventions, accurate, up-to-date estimates of national and subnational child mortality rates are essential. In developed countries, vital registration systems—records of all births and deaths—mean that under-five mortality rates can be directly calculated. But many developing countries lack vital registration systems, and child mortality has to be estimated using data collected in surveys. In “complete birth history” surveys, mothers are asked numerous questions about each living child and each dead child. Such surveys can be used to estimate under-five mortality accurately for recent time periods but they are expensive and time-consuming. By contrast, in “summary birth history” surveys, each mother is simply asked how many live births she had and how many of her children have survived. Under-five mortality can be indirectly calculated from this information and the age of the mother, but the current methods for making this calculation cannot provide reliable estimates of under-five mortality more recently than 3 years before the survey. In this study, therefore, the researchers develop methods for estimating more recent under-five mortality rates from summary birth histories.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used data about all children born and dead children extracted from 169 Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS; a project started in 1984 to help developing countries collect data on health and population trends) covering 70 countries to develop four new methods to estimate under-five mortality. They tested these new methods and a method that combined all four approaches by comparing the estimates of under-five mortality provided by these methods and the standard indirect method to the estimates obtained from an analysis of the complete birth data in the DHS. The new methods all outperformed the standard indirect method, particularly for the most recent 5 years. The researchers also used their new methods to generate estimates of under-five mortality for each of the 233 jurisdictions in Mexico from summary birth histories collected in the 1990, 2000, and 2005 Mexico censuses. The overall trends of these subnational estimates, they report, mirrored those obtained from vital registration data.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that application of the new methods developed by the researchers could significantly improve the accuracy of estimates of under-five mortality based on summary birth history data. The researchers warn that although their methods can provide accurate estimates of recent under-five mortality, they might not capture rapid fluctuations in mortality such as those that occur during wars. However, they suggest, the two questions needed to generate the data required to apply these new methods could easily be included in existing survey programs and in routine censuses. Consequently, systematic application of the methods proposed in this study should provide policy makers with the information about levels, recent trends, and inequalities in child mortality that they need to accelerate efforts to reduce the global toll of childhood deaths.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000253.
This study and two related PLoS Medicine Research Articles by Obermeyer et al and by Murray et al are further discussed in a PLoS Medicine Perspective by Mathers and Boerma
The United Nations Childrens Fund (UNICEF) works for children's rights, survival, development and protection around the world; it provides information on Millennium Development Goal 4 and its Childinfo website provides detailed statistics about child survival and health (some information in several languages)
Further information about the Millennium Development Goals is available
The World Health Organization also has information about Millennium Development Goal 4 and provides estimates of child mortality rates
Information is also available about the Demographic and Health Surveys
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000253
PMCID: PMC2854123  PMID: 20405055
16.  Hospital Performance, the Local Economy, and the Local Workforce: Findings from a US National Longitudinal Study 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(6):e1000297.
Blustein and colleagues examine the associations between changes in hospital performance and their local economic resources. Locationally disadvantaged hospitals perform poorly on key indicators, raising concerns that pay-for-performance models may not reduce inequality.
Background
Pay-for-performance is an increasingly popular approach to improving health care quality, and the US government will soon implement pay-for-performance in hospitals nationwide. Yet hospital capacity to perform (and improve performance) likely depends on local resources. In this study, we quantify the association between hospital performance and local economic and human resources, and describe possible implications of pay-for-performance for socioeconomic equity.
Methods and Findings
We applied county-level measures of local economic and workforce resources to a national sample of US hospitals (n = 2,705), during the period 2004–2007. We analyzed performance for two common cardiac conditions (acute myocardial infarction [AMI] and heart failure [HF]), using process-of-care measures from the Hospital Quality Alliance [HQA], and isolated temporal trends and the contributions of individual resource dimensions on performance, using multivariable mixed models. Performance scores were translated into net scores for hospitals using the Performance Assessment Model, which has been suggested as a basis for reimbursement under Medicare's “Value-Based Purchasing” program. Our analyses showed that hospital performance is substantially associated with local economic and workforce resources. For example, for HF in 2004, hospitals located in counties with longstanding poverty had mean HQA composite scores of 73.0, compared with a mean of 84.1 for hospitals in counties without longstanding poverty (p<0.001). Hospitals located in counties in the lowest quartile with respect to college graduates in the workforce had mean HQA composite scores of 76.7, compared with a mean of 86.2 for hospitals in the highest quartile (p<0.001). Performance on AMI measures showed similar patterns. Performance improved generally over the study period. Nevertheless, by 2007—4 years after public reporting began—hospitals in locationally disadvantaged areas still lagged behind their locationally advantaged counterparts. This lag translated into substantially lower net scores under the Performance Assessment Model for hospital reimbursement.
Conclusions
Hospital performance on clinical process measures is associated with the quantity and quality of local economic and human resources. Medicare's hospital pay-for-performance program may exacerbate inequalities across regions, if implemented as currently proposed. Policymakers in the US and beyond may need to take into consideration the balance between greater efficiency through pay-for-performance and socioeconomic equity.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
These days, many people are rewarded for working hard and efficiently by being given bonuses when they reach preset performance targets. With a rapidly aging population and rising health care costs, policy makers in many developed countries are considering ways of maximizing value for money, including rewarding health care providers when they meet targets, under “pay-for-performance.” In the UK, for example, a major pay-for-performance initiative—the Quality and Outcomes Framework—began in 2004. All the country's general practices (primary health care facilities that deal with all medical ailments) now detail their achievements in terms of numerous clinical quality indicators for common chronic conditions (for example, the regularity of blood sugar checks for people with diabetes). They are then rewarded on the basis of these results.
Why Was This Study Done?
In the US, the government is poised to implement a nationwide pay-for-performance program in hospitals within Medicare, the government program that provides health insurance to Americans aged 65 years or older, as well as people with disabilities. However, some observers are concerned about the effect that the proposed pay-for-performance program might have on the distribution of health care resources in the US. Pay-for-performance assumes that health care providers have the economic and human resources that they need to perform or to improve their performance. But, if a hospital's capacity to perform depends on local resources, payment based on performance might worsen existing health care inequalities because hospitals in under-resourced areas might lose funds to hospitals in more affluent regions. In other words, the government might act as a reverse Robin Hood, taking from the poor and giving to the rich. In this study, the researchers examine the association between hospital performance and local economic and human resources, to explore whether this scenario is a plausible result of the pending change in US hospital reimbursement.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
US hospitals have voluntarily reported their performance on indicators of clinical care (“process-of-care measures”) for acute myocardial infarction (AMI, heart attack), heart failure (HF), and pneumonia under the Hospital Quality Alliance (HQA) program since 2004. The researchers identified 2,705 hospitals that had fully reported process-of-care measures for AMI and HF in both 2004 and 2007. They then used the “Performance Assessment Model” (a methodology developed by the US Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to score hospital performance) to calculate scores for each hospital. Finally, they looked for associations between these scores and measures of the hospital's local economic and human resources such as population poverty levels and the percentage of college graduates in the workforce. Hospital performance was associated with local and economic workforce capacity, they report. Thus, hospitals in counties with longstanding poverty had lower average performance scores for HF and AMI than hospitals in affluent counties. Similarly, hospitals in counties with a low percentage of college graduates in the workforce had lower average performance scores than hospitals in counties where more of the workforce had been to college. Finally, although performance improved generally over the study period, hospitals in disadvantaged areas still lagged behind hospitals in advantaged areas in 2007.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that hospital performance (as measured by the clinical process measures considered here) is associated with the quantity and quality of local human and economic resources. Thus, the proposed Medicare hospital pay-for-performance program may exacerbate existing US health care inequalities by leading to the transfer of funds from hospitals in disadvantaged locations to those in advantaged locations. Although further studies are needed to confirm this conclusion, these findings have important implications for pay-for-performance programs in health care. They suggest that US policy makers may need to modify how they measure performance improvement—the current Performance Assessment Model gives hospitals that start from a low baseline less credit for improvements than those that start from a high baseline. This works against hospitals in disadvantaged locations, which start at a low baseline. Second and more generally, they suggest that there may be a tension between the efficiency goals of pay-for-performance and other equity goals of health care systems. In a world where resources vary across regions, the expectation that regions can perform equally may not be realistic.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000297.
KaiserEDU.org is an online resource for learning about the US health care system. It includes educational modules on such topics as the Medicare program and efforts to improve the quality of care
The Hospital Quality Alliance provides information on the quality of care in US hospitals
Information about the UK National Health Service Quality and Outcomes Framework pay-for-performance initiative for general practice surgeries is available
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000297
PMCID: PMC2893955  PMID: 20613863
17.  Characterizing the Epidemiology of the 2009 Influenza A/H1N1 Pandemic in Mexico 
PLoS Medicine  2011;8(5):e1000436.
Gerardo Chowell and colleagues address whether school closures and other social distancing strategies were successful in reducing pandemic flu transmission in Mexico by analyzing the age- and state-specific incidence of influenza morbidity and mortality in 32 Mexican states.
Background
Mexico's local and national authorities initiated an intense public health response during the early stages of the 2009 A/H1N1 pandemic. In this study we analyzed the epidemiological patterns of the pandemic during April–December 2009 in Mexico and evaluated the impact of nonmedical interventions, school cycles, and demographic factors on influenza transmission.
Methods and Findings
We used influenza surveillance data compiled by the Mexican Institute for Social Security, representing 40% of the population, to study patterns in influenza-like illness (ILIs) hospitalizations, deaths, and case-fatality rate by pandemic wave and geographical region. We also estimated the reproduction number (R) on the basis of the growth rate of daily cases, and used a transmission model to evaluate the effectiveness of mitigation strategies initiated during the spring pandemic wave. A total of 117,626 ILI cases were identified during April–December 2009, of which 30.6% were tested for influenza, and 23.3% were positive for the influenza A/H1N1 pandemic virus. A three-wave pandemic profile was identified, with an initial wave in April–May (Mexico City area), a second wave in June–July (southeastern states), and a geographically widespread third wave in August–December. The median age of laboratory confirmed ILI cases was ∼18 years overall and increased to ∼31 years during autumn (p<0.0001). The case-fatality ratio among ILI cases was 1.2% overall, and highest (5.5%) among people over 60 years. The regional R estimates were 1.8–2.1, 1.6–1.9, and 1.2–1.3 for the spring, summer, and fall waves, respectively. We estimate that the 18-day period of mandatory school closures and other social distancing measures implemented in the greater Mexico City area was associated with a 29%–37% reduction in influenza transmission in spring 2009. In addition, an increase in R was observed in late May and early June in the southeast states, after mandatory school suspension resumed and before summer vacation started. State-specific fall pandemic waves began 2–5 weeks after school reopened for the fall term, coinciding with an age shift in influenza cases.
Conclusions
We documented three spatially heterogeneous waves of the 2009 A/H1N1 pandemic virus in Mexico, which were characterized by a relatively young age distribution of cases. Our study highlights the importance of school cycles on the transmission dynamics of this pandemic influenza strain and suggests that school closure and other mitigation measures could be useful to mitigate future influenza pandemics.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
From June 2009 to August 2010, the world was officially (according to specific World Health Organization [WHO] criteria—WHO phase 6 pandemic alert) in the grip of an Influenza A pandemic with a new strain of the H1N1 virus. The epidemic in Mexico, which had the second confirmed global case of H1N1 virus was first noted in early April 2009, when reports of respiratory hospitalizations and deaths among 62 young adults in Mexico alerted local health officials to the occurrence of atypical rates of respiratory illness. In line with its inter-institutional National Pandemic Influenza Preparedness and Response Plan, the Ministry of Health cancelled school attendance in the greater Mexico City area on April 24 and expanded these measures to the rest the country three days later. The Ministry of Health then implemented in Mexico City other “social distancing” strategies such as closing cinemas and restaurants and cancelling large public gatherings.
Why Was This Study Done?
School closures and other intense social distancing strategies can be very disruptive to the population, but as yet it is uncertain whether these measures were successful in reducing disease transmission. In addition, there have been no studies concentrating on recurrent pandemic waves in Mexico. So in this study the authors addressed these issues by analyzing the age- and state-specific incidence of influenza morbidity and mortality in 32 Mexican States and quantified the association between local influenza transmission rates, school cycles, and demographic factors.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used the epidemiological surveillance system of the Mexican Institute for Social Security—a Mexican health system that covers private sector workers and their families, a group representative of the general population, that comprises roughly 40% of the Mexican population (107 million individuals), with a network of 1,099 primary health care units and 259 hospitals nationwide. Then the researchers compiled state- and age-specific time series of incident influenza-like illness and H1N1 influenza cases by day of symptom onset to analyze the geographic dissemination patterns of the pandemic across Mexico and defined three temporally distinct pandemic waves in 2009: spring (April 1–May 20), summer (May 21–August 1), and fall (August 2–December 31). The researchers then applied a mathematical model of influenza transmission to daily case data to assess the effectiveness of mandatory school closures and other social distancing measures implemented during April 24–May 11, in reducing influenza transmission rates.
The Mexican Institute for Social Security reported a total of 117,626 people with influenza-like illness from April 1 to December 31, 2009, of which 36,044 were laboratory tested (30.6%) and 27,440 (23.3%) were confirmed with H1N1 influenza. During this period, 1,370 people with influenza-like illness died of which 585 (1.5 per 100,000) were confirmed to have H1N1 influenza. The median age of people with laboratory confirmed influenza like illness (H1N1) was 18 years overall but increased to 31 years during the autumn wave. The overall case-fatality ratio among people with influenza like illness was 1.2%, but highest (5.5%) among people over 60 years. The researchers found that the 18-day period of mandatory school closures and other social distancing measures implemented in the greater Mexico City area was associated with a substantial (29%–37%) reduction in influenza transmission in spring 2009 but increased in late May and early June in the southeast states, after mandatory school suspension resumed and before summer vacation started. State-specific pandemic waves began 2–5 weeks after school reopened for the fall term, coinciding with an age shift in influenza cases.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that the age distribution of pandemic influenza morbidity was greater in younger age groups, while the risk of severe disease was skewed towards older age groups, and that there were substantial geographical variation in pandemic patterns across Mexico, in part related to population size. But most importantly, these findings support the effectiveness of early mitigation efforts including mandatory school closures and cancellation of large public gatherings, reinforcing the importance of school cycles in the transmission of pandemic influenza. This analysis increases understanding of the age and transmission patterns of the Mexican 2009 influenza pandemic at various geographic scales, which is crucial for designing more efficient public health interventions against future influenza pandemics.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000436.
The World Health Organization provides information about the global response to the 2009 H1N1 pandemic
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000436
PMCID: PMC3101203  PMID: 21629683
18.  Configuring Balanced Scorecards for Measuring Health System Performance: Evidence from 5 Years' Evaluation in Afghanistan 
PLoS Medicine  2011;8(7):e1001066.
Anbrasi Edward and colleagues report the results of a balanced scorecard performance system used to examine 29 key performance indicators over a 5-year period in Afghanistan, between 2004 and 2008.
Background
In 2004, Afghanistan pioneered a balanced scorecard (BSC) performance system to manage the delivery of primary health care services. This study examines the trends of 29 key performance indicators over a 5-year period between 2004 and 2008.
Methods and Findings
Independent evaluations of performance in six domains were conducted annually through 5,500 patient observations and exit interviews and 1,500 provider interviews in >600 facilities selected by stratified random sampling in each province. Generalized estimating equation (GEE) models were used to assess trends in BSC parameters. There was a progressive improvement in the national median scores scaled from 0–100 between 2004 and 2008 in all six domains: patient and community satisfaction of services (65.3–84.5, p<0.0001); provider satisfaction (65.4–79.2, p<0.01); capacity for service provision (47.4–76.4, p<0.0001); quality of services (40.5–67.4, p<0.0001); and overall vision for pro-poor and pro-female health services (52.0–52.6). The financial domain also showed improvement until 2007 (84.4–95.7, p<0.01), after which user fees were eliminated. By 2008, all provinces achieved the upper benchmark of national median set in 2004.
Conclusions
The BSC has been successfully employed to assess and improve health service capacity and service delivery using performance benchmarking during the 5-year period. However, scorecard reconfigurations are needed to integrate effectiveness and efficiency measures and accommodate changes in health systems policy and strategy architecture to ensure its continued relevance and effectiveness as a comprehensive health system performance measure. The process of BSC design and implementation can serve as a valuable prototype for health policy planners managing performance in similar health care contexts.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Traditionally, the performance of a health system (the complete network of health care agencies, facilities, and providers in a defined geographical region) has been measured in terms of health outcomes: how many people have been treated, how many got better, and how many died. But, nowadays, with increased demand for improved governance and accountability, policy makers are seeking comprehensive performance measures that show in detail how innovations designed to strengthen health systems are affecting service delivery and health outcomes. One such performance measure is the “balanced scorecard,” an integrated management and measurement tool that enables organizations to clarify their vision and strategy and translate them into action. The balanced scorecard—essentially a list of key performance indicators and performance benchmarks in several domains—was originally developed for industry but is now becoming a popular strategic management tool in the health sector. For example, balanced scorecards have been successfully integrated into the Dutch and Italian public health care systems.
Why Was This Study Done?
Little is known about the use of balanced scorecards in the national public health care systems of developing countries but the introduction of performance management into health system reform in fragile states in particular (developing countries where the state fails to perform the fundamental functions necessary to meet its citizens' basic needs and expectations) could help to promote governance and leadership, and facilitate essential policy changes. One fragile state that has introduced the balanced scorecard system for public health care management is Afghanistan, which emerged from decades of conflict in 2002 with some of the world's worst health indicators. To deal with an extremely high burden of disease, the Ministry of Public Health (MOPH) designed a Basic Package of Health Services (BPHS), which is delivered by nongovernmental organizations and MOPH agencies. In 2004, the MOPH introduced the National Health Service Performance Assessment (NHSPA), an annual country-wide assessment of service provision and patient satisfaction and pioneered a balanced scorecard, which uses data collected in the NHSPA, to manage the delivery of primary health care services. In this study, the researchers examine the trends between 2004 and 2008 of the 29 key performance indicators in six domains included in this balanced scorecard, and consider the potential and limitations of the scorecard as a management tool to measure and improve health service delivery in Afghanistan and other similar countries.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
Each year of the study, a random sample of 25 facilities (district hospitals and comprehensive and basic health centers) in 28 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces was chosen (one province did not have functional facilities in 2004 and the other five missing provinces were inaccessible because of ongoing conflicts). NHSPA surveyors collected approximately 5,000 patient observations, 5,000 exit interviews with patients or their caregivers, and 1,500 health provider interviews by observing consultations involving five children under 5 years old and five patients over 5 years old in each facility. The researchers then used this information to evaluate the key performance indicators in the balanced scorecard and a statistical method called generalized estimating equation modeling to assess trends in these indicators. They report that there was a progressive improvement in national average scores in all six domains (patients and community satisfaction with services, provider satisfaction, capacity for service provision, quality of services, overall vision for pro-poor and pro-female health services, and financial systems) between 2004 and 2008.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that the balanced scorecard was successfully used to improve health system capacity and service delivery through performance benchmarking over the 5-year study period. Importantly, the use of the balanced scorecard helped to show the effects of investments, facilitate policy change, and create a more evidence-based decision-making culture in Afghanistan's primary health care system. However, the researchers warn that the continuing success of the balanced scorecard in Afghanistan will depend on its ability to accommodate changes in health systems policy. Furthermore, reconfigurations of the scorecard are needed to include measures of the overall effectiveness and efficiency of the health system such as mortality rates. More generally, the researchers conclude that the balanced scorecard offers a promising measure of health system performance that could be used to examine the effectiveness of health care strategies and innovations in other fragile and developing countries.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001066.
A 2010 article entitled An Afghan Success Story: The Balanced Scorecard and Improved Health Services in The Globe, a newsletter produced by the Department of International Health at the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, provides a detailed description of the balanced scorecard used in this study
Wikipedia has a page on health systems and on balanced scorecards (note that Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
The World Health Organization country profile of Afghanistan provides information on the country's health system and burden of disease (in several languages)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001066
PMCID: PMC3144209  PMID: 21814499
19.  Turkish health system reform from the people’s perspective: a cross sectional study 
Background
Since 2003, Turkey has implemented major health care reforms to develop easily accessible, high-quality, efficient, and effective healthcare services for the population. The purpose of this study was to bring out opinions of the Turkish people on health system reform process, focusing on several aspects of health system and assessing whether the public prefer the current health system or that provided a decade ago.
Methods
A cross sectional survey study was carried out in Turkey to collect data on people’s opinions on the healthcare reforms. Data was collected via self administered household’s structured questionnaire. A five-point Likert-type scale was used to score the closed comparative statements. Each statement had response categories ranging from (1) “strongly agree” to (5) “strongly disagree.” A total of 482 heads of households (response rate: 71.7%) with the mean age of (46.60 years) were selected using a multi stage sampling technique from seven geographical regions in Turkey from October 2011 to January 2012. Multiple logistic regressions were performed to identify significant contributing factors in this study.
Results
Employing descriptive statistics it is observed that among the respondents, more than two third of the population believes that the changes have had positive effects on the health system. A vast majority of respondents (82.0%) believed that there was an increase in accessibility, 73.7% thought more availability of health resources, 72.6% alleged improved quality of care, and 72.6% believed better attitude of politician/mass media due to the changes in the last 10 years. Indeed, the majority of respondents (77.6%) prefer the current health care system than the past. In multivariate analysis, there was a statistically significant relationship between characteristics and opinions of the respondents. The elderly, married females, perceived themselves healthy and those who believe that people are happier now than 10 years ago have a more positive opinion of the changes. While, the single unemployed from rural region who perceived themselves as unhealthy and believe that people are unhappy now compare to ten years ago showed less positive opinions.
Conclusions
Hence, we conclude that from the people’s perspective overall the health system reforms were most likely successful.
doi:10.1186/1472-6963-14-30
PMCID: PMC3932508  PMID: 24447374
Perspectives; Health reform; Turkey
20.  Implementation of Mexico’s Health Promotion Operational Model 
Preventing Chronic Disease  2008;6(1):A32.
Mexico is undergoing profound health reform, extending health insurance to previously uninsured populations and changing the way health care services are delivered. Legislation enacted in 2003 and implemented in 2004 mandated funding and infrastructure that will allow 52% of Mexico's population to access medical care at no cost by 2010. This ambitious social reform has not been without challenges, particularly financial sustainability. Health promotion, because of its potential to prevent or delay chronic diseases and injuries and their associated costs, is a key component of health care reform (1).
In 2006, the Ministry of Health's General Directorate of Health Promotion developed the Health Promotion Operational Model. Based on Ottawa Charter functions, the model integrates health promotion activities within the overall health care system. The main goal of this model is to build strong human capital and to improve organizational capacity for health promotion starting at the local level by training health care personnel to implement health promotion activities. Organizational development workshops started in 2006, and implementation plans in all 32 Mexican states were in place by end of 2008 (2).
PMCID: PMC2644590  PMID: 19080038
21.  Inpatient care of the elderly in Brazil and India: Assessing social inequalities 
Social Science & Medicine (1982)  2012;75(12):2394-2402.
The rapidly growing older adult populations in Brazil and India present major challenges for health systems in these countries, especially with regard to the equitable provision of inpatient care. The objective of this study was to contrast inequalities in both the receipt of inpatient care and the length of time that care was received among adults aged over 60 in two large countries with different modes of health service delivery. Using the Brazilian National Household Survey from 2003 and the Indian National Sample Survey Organisation survey from 2004 inequalities by wealth (measured by income in Brazil and consumption in India) were assessed using concentration curves and indices. Inequalities were also examined through the use of zero-truncated negative binomial models, studying differences in receipt of care and length of stay by region, health insurance, education and reported health status. Results indicated that there was no evidence of inequality in Brazil for both receipt and length of stay by income per capita. However, in India there was a pro-rich bias in the receipt of care, although once care was received there was no difference by consumption per capita for the length of stay. In both countries the higher educated and those with health insurance were more likely to receive care, while the higher educated had longer stays in hospital in Brazil. The health system reforms that have been undertaken in Brazil could be credited as a driver for reducing healthcare inequalities amongst the elderly, while the significant differences by wealth in India shows that reform is still needed to ensure the poor have access to inpatient care. Health reforms that move towards a more public funding model of service delivery in India may reduce inequality in elderly inpatient care in the country.
Highlights
► Increasing numbers of individuals surviving to older ages in Brazil and India means that inpatient care is a growing issue. ► Receipt of inpatient time and length of stay are analysed for adults over 60 years in Brazil in 2003 and India in 2004. ► Both the receipt of care and the length of stay in hospital for elderly in Brazil do not show any inequality by wealth. ► In India the rich are more likely to be admitted to hospital than the poor, but there are no differences for length of stay. ► The higher educated and those with health insurance in both countries are most likely to obtain inpatient care.
doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2012.09.015
PMCID: PMC3657183  PMID: 23041128
Inpatient; Brazil; India; Inequalities; Health system
22.  Web-Based Asynchronous Teleconsulting for Consumers in Colombia: A Case Study 
Background
Fourteen years after the reform to Colombia’s health system, the promises of universality, improved equity, efficiency, and better quality of care have not materialized. Remote areas remain underserved and access to care very limited. Recognizing teleconsultation as an effective way to improve access to health care and health information, a noncommercial open-access Web-based application for teleconsultation called Doctor Chat was developed.
Objective
The objective was to report the experience of the Center for Virtual Education and Simulation eHealth (Centro de Educación Virtual y Simulación e-Salud) with open-access Web-based asynchronous teleconsultation for consumers in Colombia.
Methods
A teleconsultation service in Spanish was developed and implemented in 2006. Teleconsultation requests were classified on three axes: (1) the purpose of the query, (2) the specialty, and (3) the geographic area of the query. Content analysis was performed on the free-text queries submitted to Doctor Chat, and descriptive statistics were gathered for each of the data categories (name, email, city, country, age, and gender).
Results
From September 2006 to March 2007, there were 270 asynchronous teleconsultations documented from 102 (37.8%) men and 168 (62.2%) women. On average, 1.4 requests were received per day. By age group, the largest number of requests (n = 80; 30%) were from users 24-29 years, followed by users (n = 66; 24%) 18-23 years. Requests were mainly from Colombia (n = 204; 75.6%) but also from Spain (n = 17; 6.3%), Mexico (n = 11; 4.1%), and other countries. In Colombia, 137 requests (67.2%) originated in Bogotá, the nation’s capital, 25 (12.4%) from other main cities of the country, 40 (19.7%) from intermediate cities, and 2 (0.7%) from remote areas. The purpose of the majority of requests was for information about symptoms, health-related problems, or diseases (n = 149; 55.2%) and medications/treatments (n = 70; 25.9%). By specialty, information was most requested for gynecology and obstetrics (n = 71; 26%), dermatology (n = 28; 10%), urology (n = 22; 8%), and gastroenterology (n = 18; 7%), with anesthesiology, critical care, physical medicine and rehabilitation, and pathology being the least requested (n = 0; 0%). Overall, sexual and reproductive health (n = 93; 34%) issues constituted the main query subject. The average time to deliver a response was 120 hours in 2006 and 59 hours in 2007. Only 19 out of 270 users (7%) completed a survey with comments and perceptions about the system, of which 18 out of 19 (95%) corresponded to positive perceptions and 1 out of 19 (5%) expressed dissatisfaction with the service.
Conclusion
The implementation of a Web-based teleconsulting service in Colombia appeared to be an innovative way to improve access to health care and information in the community and encouraged open and explicit discussion. Extending the service to underserved areas could improve access to health services and health information and could potentially improve economic indicators such as waiting times for consultations and the rate of pregnancy among teenagers; however, cultural, infrastructural, and Internet connectivity barriers are to be solved before successful implementation can derive population-wide positive impacts.
doi:10.2196/jmir.9.4.e33
PMCID: PMC2223188  PMID: 17954469
Case study; Colombia; consultation, remote; eHealth; teleconsultation; telemedicine
23.  Effect of Removing Direct Payment for Health Care on Utilisation and Health Outcomes in Ghanaian Children: A Randomised Controlled Trial 
PLoS Medicine  2009;6(1):e1000007.
Background
Delays in accessing care for malaria and other diseases can lead to disease progression, and user fees are a known barrier to accessing health care. Governments are introducing free health care to improve health outcomes. Free health care affects treatment seeking, and it is therefore assumed to lead to improved health outcomes, but there is no direct trial evidence of the impact of removing out-of-pocket payments on health outcomes in developing countries. This trial was designed to test the impact of free health care on health outcomes directly.
Methods and Findings
2,194 households containing 2,592 Ghanaian children under 5 y old were randomised into a prepayment scheme allowing free primary care including drugs, or to a control group whose families paid user fees for health care (normal practice); 165 children whose families had previously paid to enrol in the prepayment scheme formed an observational arm. The primary outcome was moderate anaemia (haemoglobin [Hb] < 8 g/dl); major secondary outcomes were health care utilisation, severe anaemia, and mortality. At baseline the randomised groups were similar. Introducing free primary health care altered the health care seeking behaviour of households; those randomised to the intervention arm used formal health care more and nonformal care less than the control group. Introducing free primary health care did not lead to any measurable difference in any health outcome. The primary outcome of moderate anaemia was detected in 37 (3.1%) children in the control and 36 children (3.2%) in the intervention arm (adjusted odds ratio 1.05, 95% confidence interval 0.66–1.67). There were four deaths in the control and five in the intervention group. Mean Hb concentration, severe anaemia, parasite prevalence, and anthropometric measurements were similar in each group. Families who previously self-enrolled in the prepayment scheme were significantly less poor, had better health measures, and used services more frequently than those in the randomised group.
Conclusions
In the study setting, removing out-of-pocket payments for health care had an impact on health care-seeking behaviour but not on the health outcomes measured.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov (#NCT00146692).
Evelyn Ansah and colleagues report on whether removing user fees has an impact on health care-seeking behavior and health outcomes in households with children in Ghana.
Editors' Summary
Background.
Every year, about 10 million children worldwide die before their fifth birthday. About half these deaths occur in developing countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Here, 166 children out of every 1,000 die before they are five. A handful of preventable diseases—acute respiratory infections, diarrhea, malaria, measles, and HIV/AIDS—are responsible for most of these deaths. For all these diseases, delays in accessing medical care contribute to the high death rate. In the case of malaria, for example, children are rarely taken to a clinic or hospital (formal health care) when they first develop symptoms, which include fever, chills, and anemia (lack of red blood cells). Instead, they are taken to traditional healers or given home remedies (informal health care). When they are finally taken to a clinic, it is often too late to save their lives. Many factors contribute to this delay in seeking formal health care. Sometimes, health care simply isn't available. In other instances, parents may worry about the quality of the service provided or may not seek formal health care because of their sociocultural beliefs. Finally, many parents cannot afford the travel costs and loss of earnings involved in taking their child to a clinic or the cost of the treatment itself.
Why Was This Study Done?
The financial cost of seeking formal health care is often the major barrier to accessing health care in poor countries. Consequently, the governments of several developing countries have introduced free health care in an effort to improve their nation's health. Such initiatives have increased the use of formal health care in several African countries; the introduction of user fees in Ghana in the early 1980s had the opposite effect. It is generally assumed that an increase in formal health care utilization improves health—but is this true? In this study, the researchers investigate the effect of removing direct payment for health care on health service utilization and health outcomes in Ghanaian children in a randomized controlled trial (a trial in which participants are randomly assigned to an “intervention” group or “control” group and various predefined outcomes are measured).
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers enrolled nearly 2,600 children under the age of 5 y living in a poor region of Ghana. Half were assigned to the group in which a prepayment scheme (paid for by the trial) provided free primary and basic secondary health care—this was the intervention arm. The rest were assigned to the control group in which families paid for health care. The trial's main outcome was the percentage of children with moderate anemia at the end of the malaria transmission season, an indicator of the effect of the intervention on malaria-related illness. Other outcomes included health care utilization (calculated from household diaries), severe anemia, and death. The researchers report that the children in the intervention arm attended formal health care facilities slightly more often and informal health care providers slightly less often than those in the control arm. About 3% of the children in both groups had moderate anemia at the end of the malaria transmission season. In addition, similar numbers of deaths, cases of severe anemia, fever episodes, and known infections with the malaria parasite were recorded in both groups of children.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that, in this setting, the removal of out-of-pocket payments for health care changed health care-seeking behavior but not health outcomes in children. This lack of a measured effect does not necessarily mean that the provision of free health care has no effect on children's health—it could be that the increase in health care utilization in the intervention arm compared to the control arm was too modest to produce a clear effect on health. Alternatively, in Ghana, the indirect costs of seeking health care may be more important than the direct cost of paying for treatment. Although the findings of this trial may not be generalizable to other countries, they nevertheless raise the possibility that providing free health care might not be the most cost-effective way of improving health in all developing countries. Importantly, they also suggest that changes in health care utilization should not be used in future trials as a proxy measure of improvements in health.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000007.
This research article is further discussed in a PLoS Medicine Perspective by Valéry Ridde and Slim Haddad
The World Health Organization provides information on child health and on global efforts to reduce child mortality, Millennium Development Goal 4; it also provides information about health in Ghana
The United Nations Web site provides further information on all the Millennium Development Goals, which were agreed to by the nations of the world in 2000 with the aim of ending extreme poverty by 2015 (in several languages)
The UK Department for International Development also provides information on the progress that is being made toward reducing child mortality
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000007
PMCID: PMC2613422  PMID: 19127975
24.  Inequities in access to health care in different health systems: a study in municipalities of central Colombia and north-eastern Brazil 
Introduction
Health system reforms are undertaken with the aim of improving equity of access to health care. Their impact is generally analyzed based on health care utilization, without distinguishing between levels of care. This study aims to analyze inequities in access to the continuum of care in municipalities of Brazil and Colombia.
Methods
A cross-sectional study was conducted based on a survey of a multistage probability sample of people who had had at least one health problem in the prior three months (2,163 in Colombia and 2,167 in Brazil). The outcome variables were dichotomous variables on the utilization of curative and preventive services. The main independent variables were income, being the holder of a private health plan and, in Colombia, type of insurance scheme of the General System of Social Security in Health (SGSSS). For each country, the prevalence of the outcome variables was calculated overall and stratified by levels of per capita income, SGSSS insurance schemes and private health plan. Prevalence ratios were computed by means of Poisson regression models with robust variance, controlling for health care need.
Results
There are inequities in favor of individuals of a higher socioeconomic status: in Colombia, in the three different care levels (primary, outpatient secondary and emergency care) and preventive activities; and in Brazil, in the use of outpatient secondary care services and preventive activities, whilst lower-income individuals make greater use of the primary care services. In both countries, inequity in the use of outpatient secondary care is more pronounced than in the other care levels. Income in both countries, insurance scheme enrollment in Colombia and holding a private health plan in Brazil all contribute to the presence of inequities in utilization.
Conclusions
Twenty years after the introduction of reforms implemented to improve equity in access to health care, inequities, defined in terms of unequal use for equal need, are still present in both countries. The design of the health systems appears to determine access to the health services: two insurance schemes in Colombia with different benefits packages and a segmented system in Brazil, with a significant private component.
doi:10.1186/1475-9276-13-10
PMCID: PMC3917695  PMID: 24479581
Access to health care; Inequities; Primary health care; Secondary care; Emergency care; Preventive health services; Colombia; Brazil
25.  Changes in Drug Utilization during a Gap in Insurance Coverage: An Examination of the Medicare Part D Coverage Gap 
PLoS Medicine  2011;8(8):e1001075.
Jennifer Polinski and colleagues estimated the effect of the "coverage gap" during which US Medicare beneficiaries are fully responsible for drug costs and found that the gap was associated with a doubling in discontinuing essential medications.
Background
Nations are struggling to expand access to essential medications while curbing rising health and drug spending. While the US government's Medicare Part D drug insurance benefit expanded elderly citizens' access to drugs, it also includes a controversial period called the “coverage gap” during which beneficiaries are fully responsible for drug costs. We examined the impact of entering the coverage gap on drug discontinuation, switching to another drug for the same indication, and drug adherence. While increased discontinuation of and adherence to essential medications is a regrettable response, increased switching to less expensive but therapeutically interchangeable medications is a positive response to minimize costs.
Methods and Findings
We followed 663,850 Medicare beneficiaries enrolled in Part D or retiree drug plans with prescription and health claims in 2006 and/or 2007 to determine who reached the gap spending threshold, n = 217,131 (33%). In multivariate Cox proportional hazards models, we compared drug discontinuation and switching rates in selected drug classes after reaching the threshold between all 1,993 who had no financial assistance during the coverage gap (exposed) versus 9,965 multivariate propensity score-matched comparators with financial assistance (unexposed). Multivariate logistic regressions compared drug adherence (≤80% versus >80% of days covered). Beneficiaries reached the gap spending threshold on average 222 d ±79. At the drug level, exposed beneficiaries were twice as likely to discontinue (hazard ratio [HR]  = 2.00, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.64–2.43) but less likely to switch a drug (HR  = 0.60, 0.46–0.78) after reaching the threshold. Gap-exposed beneficiaries were slightly more likely to have reduced adherence (OR  = 1.07, 0.98–1.18).
Conclusions
A lack of financial assistance after reaching the gap spending threshold was associated with a doubling in discontinuing essential medications but not switching drugs in 2006 and 2007. Blunt cost-containment features such as the coverage gap have an adverse impact on drug utilization that may conceivably affect health outcomes.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Every year, more effective drugs for more diseases become available. But the availability of so many drugs poses a problem. How can governments provide their citizens with access to essential medications but control drug costs? Many different approaches have been tried, among them the “coverage gap” or “donut hole” approach that the US government has incorporated into its Medicare program. Medicare is the US government's health insurance program for people aged 65 or older and for younger people with specific conditions. Nearly 50 million US citizens are enrolled in Medicare. In 2006, the government introduced a prescription drug insurance benefit called Medicare Part D to help patients pay for their drugs. Until recently, beneficiaries of this scheme had to pay all their drug costs after their drug spending reached an initial threshold in any calendar year ($2,830 in 2010). Beneficiaries remained in this coverage gap (although people on low incomes received subsidies to help them pay for their drugs) until their out-of-pocket spending reached a catastrophic coverage spending threshold ($4,550 in 2010) or a new year started, after which the Part D benefit paid for most drug costs. Importantly, the 2010 US health reforms have mandated a gradual reduction in the amount that Medicare Part D enrollees have to pay for their prescriptions when they reach the coverage gap.
Why Was This Study Done?
Three to four million Medicare Part D beneficiaries reach the coverage gap every year (nearly 15% of all Part D beneficiaries). Supporters of the coverage gap concept argue that withdrawal of benefits increases beneficiaries' awareness of medication costs and encourages switching to cost-effective therapeutic options. However, critics argue that the coverage gap is likely to lead to decreased drug utilization, increased use of health services, and adverse outcomes. In this study, the researchers examine the impact of entering the coverage gap on drug discontinuation, switching to another drug for the same indication, and drug adherence (whether patients take their prescribed drugs regularly).
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers studied 663,850 Medicare beneficiaries enrolled in Part D or in retiree drug plans (which provide coverage under a employer's group health plan after retirement; the retiree drug plans included in this study did not have coverage gaps) who made prescription claims in 2006 and/or 2007. A third of these individuals reached the gap spending threshold. The researchers used detailed statistical analyses to compare the drug discontinuation, switching, and adherence rates of 1,993 beneficiaries who had no financial assistance during the coverage gap (exposed beneficiaries) with those of 9,965 matched beneficiaries who had financial assistance during the coverage gap (unexposed). On average, beneficiaries reached the gap spending threshold 222 days into the year (mid August). In a drug-level analysis, exposed beneficiaries were twice as likely to discontinue a drug and slightly more likely to have reduced drug adherence than unexposed beneficiaries but 40% less likely to switch a drug after reaching the threshold. Similar results were obtained in a beneficiary-level analysis in which discontinuation, switching, and adherence rates were considered in terms of the complete drug regimen of individual beneficiaries.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that, among the Medicare beneficiaries investigated, a lack of financial assistance to pay for drugs after reaching the coverage gap spending threshold led to a doubling in the rate of drug discontinuation and a slight reduction in drug adherence. Surprisingly, lack of financial assistance resulted in a decrease in drug switching even though the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services advise patients to consider switching to generic or low-cost drugs. Importantly, the researchers estimate that, for the whole Medicare population, the lack of financial assistance to pay for drugs could result in an additional 18,000 patients discontinuing one or more prescription drug per year. Although this study did not directly investigate the effect of the coverage gap on patient outcomes, these findings suggest that this and other blunt cost-containment approaches could adversely affect health outcomes through their effects on drug utilization. Thus, insurance strategies that specifically promote the use of drugs with high benefit but low cost might be a better approach for governments seeking to improve the health of their citizens while reining in drug costs.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001075.
The US Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Medicare and Medicaid provides information on all aspects of Medicare, including general advice on bridging the coverage gap and an information sheet on bridging the coverage gap in 2011
Medicare.gov, the official US government website for Medicare, provides information on all aspects of Medicare (in English and Spanish), including a description of Part D prescription drug coverage
An information sheet from the Kaiser Family Foundation explains the key changes to the Medicare Part D drug benefit coverage gap that were introduced in the 2010 health care reforms
MedlinePlus provides links to further information about Medicare (in English and Spanish)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001075
PMCID: PMC3156689  PMID: 21857811

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