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1.  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
2.  The role of insurance in the achievement of universal coverage within a developing country context: South Africa as a case study 
BMC Public Health  2012;12(Suppl 1):S5.
Background
Achieving universal coverage as an objective needs to confront the reality of multiple mechanisms, with healthcare financing and provision occurring in both public and private settings. South Africa has both large and mature public and private health systems offering useful insights into how they can be effectively harmonized to optimise coverage. Private healthcare in South Africa has also gone through many phases and regulatory regimes which, through careful review, can help identify potential policy frameworks that can optimise their ability to deepen coverage in a manner that complements the basic coverage of public arrangements.
Research question
Using South Africa as a case study, this review examines whether private health systems are susceptible to regulation and therefore able to support an extension and deepening of coverage when complementing a pre-existing publicly funded and delivered health system?
Methods
The approach involves a review of different stages in the development of the South African private health system and its response to policy changes. The focus is on the time-bound characteristics of the health system and associated policy responses and opportunities. A distinction is consequently made between the early, largely unregulated, phases of development and more mature phases with alternative regulatory regimes.
Results
The private health system in South Africa has played an important supplementary role in achieving universal coverage throughout its history, but more especially in the post-Apartheid period. However, the quality of this role has been erratic, influenced predominantly by policy vacillation.
The private system expanded rapidly during the 1980s mainly due to the pre-existence of a mature health insurance system and a weakening public hospital system which could accommodate and facilitate an increased demand for private hospital services. This growth served to expand commercial interest in health insurance, in the form of regulated medical schemes, which until this point took the form of non-commercial occupational (employer-based) schemes. During the 1980s government acquiesced to industry lobbies arguing for the deregulation of health insurance from 1989, with an extreme deregulation occurring in 1994, evidently in anticipation of the change of government associated with the democratic dispensation. Dramatic unintended consequences followed, with substantial increases in provider and funder costs coinciding with uncontrolled discrimination against poor health risks.
Against significant industry opposition, including legal challenges, partial re-regulation took effect from 2000 which removed the discretion of schemes to discriminate against poor health risks. This included: the implementation of a strong regulator of health insurance; the establishment of one allowable vehicle able to provide health insurance; open enrolment, whereby schemes could not refuse membership applications; mandatory minimum benefit requirements; and a prohibition on setting contributions or premiums on the basis of health status. After a two-year lag, dramatically reduced cost trends and contributions became evident. Aside from generally tighter regulation across a range of fronts, this appears related to the need for schemes to compete more on the basis of healthcare provider costs than demographic risk profiles. Despite an incomplete reform improved equitable coverage and cost-containment was nevertheless achieved.
A more complete regulatory regime is consequently likely to deepen coverage by: further stabilising and even decreasing costs; enhanced risk pooling; and access for low income groups. This would occur if South Africa: improved the quality of free public services, thereby creating competitive constraints for medical schemes; introduced risk-equalisation, increasing the pressure on schemes to compete on the cost and quality of coverage rather than their risk profile; and through the establishment of improved price regulation.
Conclusions
The objective of universal coverage can be seen in two dimensions, horizontal extension and vertical deepening. Private systems play an important role in deepening coverage by mobilising revenue from income earners for health services over-and-above the horizontal extension role of public systems and related subsidies. South Africa provides an example of how this natural deepening occurs whether regulated or unregulated. It also demonstrates how poor regulation of mature private systems can severely undermine this role and diminish achievements below attainable levels of social protection. The mature South African system has demonstrated its sensitivity to regulatory design and responds rapidly to changes both positive and negative. When measures to enhance risk pooling are introduced, coverage is expanded and becomes increasingly fair and sustainable. When removed, however, the system becomes less stable and fair as costs rise and people with poor health status are systematically excluded from cover. This susceptibility to regulation therefore presents an opportunity to policymakers to achieve social protection objectives through the strategic management of markets rather than exclusively through less responsive systems based on tax-funded direct provision. This is especially relevant as private markets for healthcare are inevitable, with policy discretion reduced to a choice between functional or dysfunctional regimes.
doi:10.1186/1471-2458-12-S1-S5
PMCID: PMC3381693  PMID: 22992410
3.  “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
4.  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
5.  The Influence of Health Systems on Hypertension Awareness, Treatment, and Control: A Systematic Literature Review 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(7):e1001490.
Will Maimaris and colleagues systematically review the evidence that national or regional health systems, including place of care and medication co-pays, influence hypertension awareness, treatment, and control.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
Hypertension (HT) affects an estimated one billion people worldwide, nearly three-quarters of whom live in low- or middle-income countries (LMICs). In both developed and developing countries, only a minority of individuals with HT are adequately treated. The reasons are many but, as with other chronic diseases, they include weaknesses in health systems. We conducted a systematic review of the influence of national or regional health systems on HT awareness, treatment, and control.
Methods and Findings
Eligible studies were those that analyzed the impact of health systems arrangements at the regional or national level on HT awareness, treatment, control, or antihypertensive medication adherence. The following databases were searched on 13th May 2013: Medline, Embase, Global Health, LILACS, Africa-Wide Information, IMSEAR, IMEMR, and WPRIM. There were no date or language restrictions. Two authors independently assessed papers for inclusion, extracted data, and assessed risk of bias. A narrative synthesis of the findings was conducted. Meta-analysis was not conducted due to substantial methodological heterogeneity in included studies. 53 studies were included, 11 of which were carried out in LMICs. Most studies evaluated health system financing and only four evaluated the effect of either human, physical, social, or intellectual resources on HT outcomes. Reduced medication co-payments were associated with improved HT control and treatment adherence, mainly evaluated in US settings. On balance, health insurance coverage was associated with improved outcomes of HT care in US settings. Having a routine place of care or physician was associated with improved HT care.
Conclusions
This review supports the minimization of medication co-payments in health insurance plans, and although studies were largely conducted in the US, the principle is likely to apply more generally. Studies that identify and analyze complexities and links between health systems arrangements and their effects on HT management are required, particularly in LMICs.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
In 2008, one billion people, three-quarters of whom were living in low- and middle-income countries, had high blood pressure (hypertension). Worldwide, hypertension, which rarely has any symptoms, leads to about 7.5 million deaths annually from heart attacks, stroke, other cardiovascular diseases, and kidney disease. Hypertension, selected by the World Health Organization as the theme for World Health Day 2013, is diagnosed by measuring blood pressure, the force that blood circulating in the body exerts on the inside of large blood vessels. Blood pressure is highest when the heart is contracts to pump blood out (systolic blood pressure) and lowest when the heart relaxes and refills (diastolic blood pressure). Normal adult blood pressure is defined as a systolic blood pressure of less than 120 millimeters of mercury (mmHg) and a diastolic blood pressure of less than 80 mmHg (a blood pressure of less than 120/80 mmHg). A blood pressure reading of more than 140/90 mmHg indicates hypertension. Many factors affect blood pressure, but overweight people and individuals who eat fatty or salty foods are at high risk of developing hypertension.
Why Was This Study Done?
Most individuals can achieve good hypertension control, which reduces death and disability from cardiovascular and kidney disease, by making lifestyle changes (mild hypertension) and/or by taking antihypertensive drugs. Yet, in both developed and developing countries, many people with hypertension are not aware of their condition and are not adequately treated. As with other chronic diseases, weaknesses in health care systems probably contribute to the inadequate treatment of hypertension. A health care system comprises all the organizations, institutions, and resources whose primary purpose is to improve health. Weaknesses in health care systems can exist at the national, regional, district, community, and household level. In this systematic review (a study that uses predefined criteria to identify all the research on a given topic), the researchers investigate how national and regional health care system arrangements influence hypertension awareness, treatment, and control. Actions that might influence hypertension care at this level of health care systems include providing treatment for hypertension at no or reduced cost, the introduction of financial incentives to healthcare practitioners for the diagnosis and treatment of hypertension, and enhanced insurance coverage in countries such as the US where people pay for health care through insurance policies.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified 53 studies that analyzed whether regional or national health care systems arrangements were associated with patient awareness of hypertension, treatment of hypertension, adherence to antihypertensive medication treatment, and control of hypertension. The researchers used an established conceptual framework for health care systems and an approach called narrative synthesis to analyze the results of these studies, most of which were conducted in the US (36 studies) and other high-income countries (eight studies). Nearly all the studies evaluated the effects of health system financing on hypertension outcomes, although several looked at the effects of delivery and governance of health systems on these outcomes. The researchers' analysis revealed an association between reduced medication co-payments (drug costs that are not covered by health insurance and that are paid by patients in countries without universal free healthcare) and improved hypertension control and treatment adherence, mainly in US settings. In addition, in US settings, health insurance coverage was associated with improved hypertension outcomes, as was having a routine physician or place of care.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that minimizing co-payments for health care and expansion of health insurance coverage in countries without universal free health care may improve the awareness, treatment, and control of hypertension. Although these findings are based mainly on US studies, they are likely to apply more generally but, importantly, these findings indicate that additional, high-quality studies are needed to unravel the impact of health systems arrangements on the management of hypertension. In particular, they reveal few studies in low- and middle-income countries where most of the global burden of hypertension lies and where weaknesses in health systems often result in deficiencies in the care of chronic diseases. Moreover, they highlight a need for studies that evaluate how aspects of health care systems other than financing (for example, delivery and governance mechanisms) and interactions between health care system arrangements affect hypertension outcomes. Without the results of such studies, governments and national and international organizations will not know the best ways to deal effectively with the global public-health crisis posed by hypertension.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001490.
The US National Heart Lung and Blood Institute has patient information about high blood pressure (in English and Spanish)
The American Heart Association provides information on high blood pressure (in several languages) and personal stories about dealing with high blood pressure
The UK National Health Service (NHS) Choices website provides detailed information for patients about hypertension and a personal story about hypertension
The World Health Organization provides information on controlling blood pressure and on health systems (in several languages); its "A Global Brief on Hypertension" was published on World Health Day 2013
MedlinePlus provides links to further information about high blood pressure (in English and Spanish)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001490
PMCID: PMC3728036  PMID: 23935461
6.  Quality of Private and Public Ambulatory Health Care in Low and Middle Income Countries: Systematic Review of Comparative Studies 
PLoS Medicine  2011;8(4):e1000433.
Paul Garner and colleagues conducted a systematic review of 80 studies to compare the quality of private versus public ambulatory health care in low- and middle-income countries.
Background
In developing countries, the private sector provides a substantial proportion of primary health care to low income groups for communicable and non-communicable diseases. These providers are therefore central to improving health outcomes. We need to know how their services compare to those of the public sector to inform policy options.
Methods and Findings
We summarised reliable research comparing the quality of formal private versus public ambulatory health care in low and middle income countries. We selected studies against inclusion criteria following a comprehensive search, yielding 80 studies. We compared quality under standard categories, converted values to a linear 100% scale, calculated differences between providers within studies, and summarised median values of the differences across studies. As the results for for-profit and not-for-profit providers were similar, we combined them. Overall, median values indicated that many services, irrespective of whether public or private, scored low on infrastructure, clinical competence, and practice. Overall, the private sector performed better in relation to drug supply, responsiveness, and effort. No difference between provider groups was detected for patient satisfaction or competence. Synthesis of qualitative components indicates the private sector is more client centred.
Conclusions
Although data are limited, quality in both provider groups seems poor, with the private sector performing better in drug availability and aspects of delivery of care, including responsiveness and effort, and possibly being more client orientated. Strategies seeking to influence quality in both groups are needed to improve care delivery and outcomes for the poor, including managing the increasing burden of non-communicable diseases.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
The provision of private (“for-profit” hospitals and self-employed practitioners, and “not-for-profit” non-government providers, including faith-based organizations) versus public health care services in low and middle income countries raises considerable ideological debate. Ideological arguments aside—which can be very passionate on both sides—there is general agreement that improving the quality of both public and private health care could have a major impact on improved health outcomes, especially as the private sector is so widely used in low and middle income countries. For example, almost three quarters and half of children from the poorest households of South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, respectively, seek health care from a private provider when they are ill. Private providers are also increasingly responsible for outpatient care for non-communicable diseases.
As a result of the mixed health care system in many low and middle income countries, adequate oversight and stewardship of the mixed system from the national government is essential yet often missing.
Why Was This Study Done?
An understanding of how quality and performance in the private sector compares with that in the public sector would help governments to prioritize where they need to concentrate their efforts. So, for example, if the private sector is generally providing poorer quality care than the public sector, then there is an imperative to improve the quality and outcomes; on the other hand, if the quality of care offered by the private sector is good, the policy priority is to influence the market to further improve access to such health care for low income groups.
In order to help with this comparison, the researchers wanted to systematically identify and summarize the results of studies that directly compared the quality of care offered by public providers with the one offered by “formal” private providers (recognized by law) and “informal” private providers (providers that are not legally recognized, such as lay health workers and shop keepers). For the purposes of this study the researchers focused their comparison on the private and public provision of outpatient care in low and middle income countries.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
In their literature review, the researchers searched for relevant studies reported in English, French, or German and published between January 1970 and April 2009. Only studies that compared private and public outpatient medical services in the same country, at the same time, using the same methods, and which met particular quality criteria, were included in the analysis. The researchers also had strict criteria for including qualitative studies, and they retrieved the full text of articles, contacted study authors where appropriate, and verified with a second researcher most (80%) of the extracted study data. In order to evaluate and compare the studies, the researchers converted study values to a linear 100% scale, calculated differences between providers within studies, and summarized the median values of the differences across studies.
The researchers identified a total of 8,812 relevant titles and abstracts and found 80 studies that included direct quantitative comparisons of public and private formal providers. Ten studies included qualitative data. Most studies were conducted after 1990, and mainly in sub-Saharan Africa (n = 39) and Asia and the Pacific (n = 23). Most studies did not report socio-economic status of public and private service users, and only five studies presented data by different income groups. No study compared the same individual providers working in public and private care settings. Only two studies compared public providers and private informal providers, so the authors excluded these from subsequent analysis.
For the formal sector, since the results for “for-profit” and “not-for-profit” providers were similar, the researchers decided to combine the results. Overall, the researchers found that the median values indicated that many services, irrespective of whether public or private, scored low (less than 50%) on infrastructure, clinical competence, and practice. Generally, the private sector performed better in relation to drug supply, responsiveness, and effort, but there was no detectable difference between provider groups for patient satisfaction. Furthermore, a synthesis of qualitative data suggested that the private sector may be more client-centered.
What Do These Findings Mean?
Based on the findings of this review, there is a clear need to consider the quality of primary health services in both the public and private sector in order to improve health outcomes in low and middle income countries. These findings also indicate that, for some aspects of care, on average the private sector provided better quality services. The overall low quality of care in both the formal private and public sector found in this review is worrying, and calls for the governments of low and middle income countries to find and implement effective strategies to improve the quality in both sectors. This is particularly important given the increasing volume of conditions that require relatively sophisticated, long-term ambulatory medical care, such as non-communicable diseases.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000433.
This study is further discussed in a PLoS Medicine Perspective by Jishnu Das
WHO has more information on health service delivery in low- and middle-income countries
WHO has more information on noncommunicable diseases
The World Bank's World Development Report for 2004 addresses health care for poor people
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000433
PMCID: PMC3075233  PMID: 21532746
7.  Evaluating Drug Prices, Availability, Affordability, and Price Components: Implications for Access to Drugs in Malaysia 
PLoS Medicine  2007;4(3):e82.
Background
Malaysia's stable health care system is facing challenges with increasing medicine costs. To investigate these issues a survey was carried out to evaluate medicine prices, availability, affordability, and the structure of price components.
Methods and Findings
The methodology developed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and Health Action International (HAI) was used. Price and availability data for 48 medicines was collected from 20 public sector facilities, 32 private sector retail pharmacies and 20 dispensing doctors in four geographical regions of West Malaysia. Medicine prices were compared with international reference prices (IRPs) to obtain a median price ratio. The daily wage of the lowest paid unskilled government worker was used to gauge the affordability of medicines. Price component data were collected throughout the supply chain, and markups, taxes, and other distribution costs were identified. In private pharmacies, innovator brand (IB) prices were 16 times higher than the IRPs, while generics were 6.6 times higher. In dispensing doctor clinics, the figures were 15 times higher for innovator brands and 7.5 for generics. Dispensing doctors applied high markups of 50%–76% for IBs, and up to 316% for generics. Retail pharmacy markups were also high—25%–38% and 100%–140% for IBs and generics, respectively. In the public sector, where medicines are free, availability was low even for medicines on the National Essential Drugs List. For a month's treatment for peptic ulcer disease and hypertension people have to pay about a week's wages in the private sector.
Conclusions
The free market by definition does not control medicine prices, necessitating price monitoring and control mechanisms. Markups for generic products are greater than for IBs. Reducing the base price without controlling markups may increase profits for retailers and dispensing doctors without reducing the price paid by end users. To increase access and affordability, promotion of generic medicines and improved availability of medicines in the public sector are required.
Drug price and availability data were collected from West Malaysian public sector facilities, private sector retail pharmacies, and dispensing doctors. Mark-ups were higher on generic drugs than on innovator brands.
Editors' Summary
Background.
The World Health Organization has said that one-third of the people of the world cannot access the medicines they need. An important reason for this problem is that prices are often too high for people or government-funded health systems to afford. In developing countries, most people who need medicines have to pay for them out of their own pockets. Where the cost of drugs is covered by health systems, spending on medicines is a major part of the total healthcare budget. Governments use a variety of approaches to try to control the cost of drugs and make sure that essential medicines are affordable and not overpriced. According to the theory of “free market economics,” the costs of goods and services are determined by interactions between buyers and sellers and not by government intervention. However, free market economics does not work well at containing the costs of medicines, particularly new medicines, because new medicines are protected by patent law, which legally prevents others from making, using, or selling the medicine for a particular period of time. Therefore, without government intervention, there is nothing to help to push down prices.
Why Was This Study Done?
Malaysia is a middle-income country with a relatively effective public health system, but it is facing a rapid rise in drug costs. In Malaysia, medicine prices are determined by free-market economics, without any control by government. Government hospitals are expected to provide drugs free, but a substantial proportion of medicines are paid for by patients who buy them directly from private pharmacies or prescribing doctors. There is evidence that Malaysian patients have difficulties accessing the drugs they need and that cost is an important factor. Therefore, the researchers who wrote this paper wanted to examine the cost of different medicines in Malaysia, and their availability and affordability from different sources.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
In this research project, 48 drugs were studied, of which 28 were part of a “core list” identified by the World Health Organization as “essential drugs” on the basis of the global burden of disease. The remaining 20 reflected health care needs in Malaysia itself. The costs of each medicine were collected from government hospitals, private pharmacies, and dispensing doctors in four different regions of Malaysia. Data were collected for the “innovator brand” (made by the original patent holder) and for “generic” brands (an equivalent drug to the innovator brand, produced by a different company once the innovator brand no longer has an exclusive patent). The medicine prices were compared against international reference prices (IRP), which are the average prices offered by not-for-profit drug companies to developing countries. Finally, the researchers also compared the cost of the drugs with daily wages, in order to work out their “affordability.”
The researchers found that, irrespective of the source of medicines, prices were on average very much higher than the international reference price, ranging from 2.4 times the IRP for innovator brands accessed through public hospitals, to 16 times the IRP for innovator brands accessed through private pharmacies. The availability of medicines was also very poor, with only 25% of generic medicines available on average through the public sector. The affordability of many of the medicines studied was again very poor. For example, one month's supply of ranitidine (a drug for stomach ulcers) was equivalent to around three days' wages for a low-paid government worker, and one month's supply of fluoxetine (an antidepressant) would cost around 26 days' wages.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These results show that essential drugs are very expensive in Malaysia and are not universally available. Many people would not be able to pay for essential medicines. The cost of medicines in Malaysia seems to be much higher than in areas of India and Sri Lanka, although the researchers did not attempt to collect data in order to carry out an international comparison. It is possible that the high cost and low availability in Malaysia are the result of a lack of government regulation. Overall, the findings suggest that the government should set up mechanisms to prevent drug manufacturers from increasing prices too much and thus ensure greater access to essential medicines.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0040082.
Read a related PLoS Medicine Perspective article by Suzanne Hill
Information is available from the World Health Organization on Improving Access to Medicines
Information on medicine prices is available from Health Action International
Wikipedia has an entry on Patent (a type of intellectual property that is normally used to prevent other companies from selling a newly invented medicine). (Wikipedia is an internet encyclopedia anyone can edit.)
The Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative is an international collaboration between public organizations that aims to develop drugs for people suffering from neglected diseases
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0040082
PMCID: PMC1831730  PMID: 17388660
8.  Who Can't Pay for Health Care? 
BACKGROUND
In an era of rising health care costs, many Americans experience difficulty paying for needed health care services. With costs expected to continue rising, changes to private insurance plans and public programs aimed at containing costs may have a negative impact on Americans' ability to afford care.
OBJECTIVES
To provide estimates of the number of adults who avoid health care due to cost, and to assess the association of income, functional status, and type of insurance with the extent to which people with health insurance report financial barriers.
RESEARCH DESIGN
Cross-sectional observational study using data from the Commonwealth Fund 2001 Health Care Quality Survey, a nationally representative telephone survey.
PARTICIPANTS
U.S. adults age 18 and older (N=6,722).
MEASURES
Six measures of avoiding health care due to cost, including delaying or not seeking care; not filling prescription medicines; and not following recommended treatment plan.
RESULTS
The proportion of Americans with difficulty affording health care varies by income and health insurance coverage. Overall, 16.9% of Americans report at least 1 financial barrier. Among those with private insurance, the poor (28.4%), near poor (24.3%), and those with functional impairments (22.9%) were more likely to report avoiding care due to cost. In multivariate models, the uninsured are more likely (OR, 2.3; 95% CI, 1.7 to 3.0) to have trouble paying for care. Independent of insurance coverage and other demographic characteristics, the poor (OR, 3.6; 95% CI, 2.1 to 4.6), near poor (OR, 2.1; 95% CI, 1.9 to 3.7), and middle-income (OR, 1.8; 95% CI, 1.3 to 2.5) respondents as well as those with functional impairments (OR, 1.6; 95% CI, 1.3 to 2.0) are significantly more likely to avoid care due to cost.
CONCLUSIONS
Privately and publicly insured individuals who have low incomes or functional impairments encounter significant financial barriers to care despite having health insurance. Proposals to expand health insurance will need to address these barriers in order to be effective.
doi:10.1111/j.1525-1497.2005.0087.x
PMCID: PMC1490134  PMID: 15987324
health care affordability; insurance coverage; low-income populations; functional impairment
9.  Access and Cost Barriers to Mental Health Care by Insurance Status, 1999 to 2010 
Health affairs (Project Hope)  2013;32(10):1723-1730.
The cost of mental health services has always been a great barrier to accessing care for people with mental health problems. This article documents changes in insurance coverage and cost for mental health services for people with public insurance, private insurance, and no coverage. Compared to 1999–2000, in 2009–10 people with mental health problems were more likely to have public insurance and less likely to have private insurance. Although access to specialty care remained relatively stable for people with mental illness, cost barriers to care increased among the uninsured and the privately insured who had serious mental illness. The rise in cost barriers among those with private insurance suggests that the current financing of care in the private insurance market is insufficient to alleviate cost burdens and has implications for reforms under the Affordable Care Act. People with mental health problems who are newly eligible to purchase private insurance under the act might still find high cost barriers to accessing care.
doi:10.1377/hlthaff.2013.0133
PMCID: PMC4236908  PMID: 24101061
10.  Crisis, leadership, consensus: The past and future federal role in health 
This paper touches on patterns of federal government involvement in the health sector since the late 18th century to the present and speculates on its role in the early decades of the 21st century. Throughout the history of the US, government involvement in the health sector came only in the face of crisis, only when there was widespread consensus, and only through sustained leadership. One of the first health-related acts of Congress came about as a matter of interstate commerce regarding the dilemma as to what to do about treating merchant seamen who had no affiliation with any state. Further federal actions were implemented to address epidemics, such as from yellow fever, that traveled from state to state through commercial ships. Each federal action was met with concern and resistance from states' rights advocates, who asserted that the health of the public was best left to the states and localities. It was not until the early part of the 20th century that a concern for social well-being, not merely commerce, drove the agenda for public health action. Two separate campaigns for national health insurance, as well as a rapid expansion of programs to serve the specific health needs of specific populations, led finally to the introduction of Medicaid and Medicare in the 1960s, the most dramatic example of government intervention in shaping the personal health care delivery system in the latter half of the 20th century. As health costs continued to rise and more and more Americans lacked adequate health insurance, a perceived crisis led President Clinton to launch his 1993 campaign to insure every American—the third attempt in this century to provide universal coverage. While the crisis was perceived by many, there was no consensus on action, and leadership outside government was missing. Today, the health care crisis still looms. Despite an economic boom, 1 million Americans lose their health insurance each year, with 41 million Americans, or 15% of the population, lacking coverage. Private premiums are going up again as federal programs are capped and the lack of a federal framework for quality assurance leads to growing problems of access and quality that will need to be addressed as we enter the 21st century. What role will government play?
doi:10.1007/BF02344675
PMCID: PMC3455986  PMID: 10924029
11.  Affordable Care Act Risk Adjustment: Overview, Context, and Challenges 
Medicare & Medicaid Research Review  2014;4(3):mmrr2014-004-03-a02.
Beginning in 2014, individuals and small businesses will be able to purchase private health insurance through competitive marketplaces. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) provides for a program of risk adjustment in the individual and small group markets in 2014 as Marketplaces are implemented and new market reforms take effect. The purpose of risk adjustment is to lessen or eliminate the influence of risk selection on the premiums that plans charge and the incentive for plans to avoid sicker enrollees.
This article —the first of three in the Medicare & Medicaid Research Review—describes the key program goal and issues in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) developed risk adjustment methodology, and identifies key choices in how the methodology responds to these issues. The goal of the HHS risk adjustment methodology is to compensate health insurance plans for differences in enrollee health mix so that plan premiums reflect differences in scope of coverage and other plan factors, but not differences in health status. The methodology includes a risk adjustment model and a risk transfer formula that together address this program goal as well as three issues specific to ACA risk adjustment: 1) new population; 2) cost and rating factors; and 3) balanced transfers within state/market. The risk adjustment model, described in the second article, estimates differences in health risks taking into account the new population and scope of coverage (actuarial value level). The transfer formula, described in the third article, calculates balanced transfers that are intended to account for health risk differences while preserving permissible premium differences.
doi:10.5600/mmrr.004.03.a02
PMCID: PMC4214269  PMID: 25364625
risk adjustment; affordable care act; ACA; risk transfers; risk selection; risk equalization; plan liability risk score; health insurance marketplaces
12.  Healthcare reform in the United States and China: pharmaceutical market implications 
Objectives
The United States and China are broadening health insurance coverage and increasing spending on pharmaceuticals, in contrast to other major economies that are reducing health spending and implementing a variety of drug price controls. This article analyzes the implications of health system reforms in the United States and China for national pharmaceutical markets. It follows a historical institutionalist approach that identifies path dependency in the design and operation of national health systems. On that basis, we estimate prescription sales for 2015 and 2020, analyze the sustainability of free-market pricing for drugs in the two countries, and assess future competitive dynamics in the pharmaceutical sector.
Methods
The institutional trajectories of health system reform and insurance coverage were studied for the United States and China. Next, data were collected from government, industry, and analyst reports on total healthcare spending and prescription drug expenditure by insurance status (in the United States) and by site of care (in China). Simple quantitative models were developed to estimate future drug spending based on insurance coverage, treatment locations, and health spending as a percentage of GDP.
Results
Both countries will see rising total pharmaceutical spending and will be the two largest country markets for prescription drugs through at least 2020. In dollar terms, the U.S. pharmaceutical market will be over $440 billion in 2015 and $700 billion in 2020; China’s prescription market will be over $155 billion in 2015 and grow further to $260 billion in 2020. In both countries, generics will increase their share of all prescriptions, but economic and structural incentives for new drug invention and brand-name prescribing by physicians will keep the share of patented drug sales high compared to countries with more direct government control over the pharmaceutical market.
Conclusions
Expanding private insurance contributes to spending on branded drugs, since insurers compete for market share rather than cost savings. Health system reforms presently being enacted in the United States and China align to historical institutional trajectories in each country, but leave unresolved a core tension between incentives for new drug invention and universal access to affordable medicines.
doi:10.1186/2052-3211-7-9
PMCID: PMC4117976  PMID: 25097759
Affordable care act; Drug prices; Health insurance; Health policy; Healthcare system; Pharmaceutical industry
13.  Comparative Performance of Private and Public Healthcare Systems in Low- and Middle-Income Countries: A Systematic Review 
PLoS Medicine  2012;9(6):e1001244.
A systematic review conducted by Sanjay Basu and colleagues reevaluates the evidence relating to comparative performance of public versus private sector healthcare delivery in low- and middle-income countries.
Introduction
Private sector healthcare delivery in low- and middle-income countries is sometimes argued to be more efficient, accountable, and sustainable than public sector delivery. Conversely, the public sector is often regarded as providing more equitable and evidence-based care. We performed a systematic review of research studies investigating the performance of private and public sector delivery in low- and middle-income countries.
Methods and Findings
Peer-reviewed studies including case studies, meta-analyses, reviews, and case-control analyses, as well as reports published by non-governmental organizations and international agencies, were systematically collected through large database searches, filtered through methodological inclusion criteria, and organized into six World Health Organization health system themes: accessibility and responsiveness; quality; outcomes; accountability, transparency, and regulation; fairness and equity; and efficiency. Of 1,178 potentially relevant unique citations, data were obtained from 102 articles describing studies conducted in low- and middle-income countries. Comparative cohort and cross-sectional studies suggested that providers in the private sector more frequently violated medical standards of practice and had poorer patient outcomes, but had greater reported timeliness and hospitality to patients. Reported efficiency tended to be lower in the private than in the public sector, resulting in part from perverse incentives for unnecessary testing and treatment. Public sector services experienced more limited availability of equipment, medications, and trained healthcare workers. When the definition of “private sector” included unlicensed and uncertified providers such as drug shop owners, most patients appeared to access care in the private sector; however, when unlicensed healthcare providers were excluded from the analysis, the majority of people accessed public sector care. “Competitive dynamics” for funding appeared between the two sectors, such that public funds and personnel were redirected to private sector development, followed by reductions in public sector service budgets and staff.
Conclusions
Studies evaluated in this systematic review do not support the claim that the private sector is usually more efficient, accountable, or medically effective than the public sector; however, the public sector appears frequently to lack timeliness and hospitality towards patients.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Health care can be provided through public and private providers. Public health care is usually provided by the government through national healthcare systems. Private health care can be provided through “for profit” hospitals and self-employed practitioners, and “not for profit” non-government providers, including faith-based organizations.
There is considerable ideological debate around whether low- and middle-income countries should strengthen public versus private healthcare services, but in reality, most low- and middle-income countries use both types of healthcare provision. Recently, as the global economic recession has put major constraints on government budgets—the major funding source for healthcare expenditures in most countries—disputes between the proponents of private and public systems have escalated, further fuelled by the recommendation of International Monetary Fund (an international finance institution) that countries increase the scope of private sector provision in health care as part of loan conditions to reduce government debt. However, critics of the private health sector believe that public healthcare provision is of most benefit to poor people and is the only way to achieve universal and equitable access to health care.
Why Was This Study Done?
Both sides of the public versus private healthcare debate draw on selected case reports to defend their viewpoints, but there is a widely held view that the private health system is more efficient than the public health system. Therefore, in order to inform policy, there is an urgent need for robust evidence to evaluate the quality and effectiveness of the health care provided through both systems. In this study, the authors reviewed all of the evidence in a systematic way to evaluate available data on public and private sector performance.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used eight databases and a comprehensive key word search to identify and review appropriate published data and studies of private and public sector performance in low- and middle-income countries. They assessed selected studies against the World Health Organization's six essential themes of health systems—accessibility and responsiveness; quality; outcomes; accountability, transparency, and regulation; fairness and equity; and efficiency—and conducted a narrative review of each theme.
Out of the 102 relevant studies included in their comparative analysis, 59 studies were research studies and 13 involved meta-analysis, with the rest involving case reports or reviews. The researchers found that study findings varied considerably across countries studied (one-third of studies were conducted in Africa and a third in Southeast Asia) and by the methods used.
Financial barriers to care (such as user fees) were reported for both public and private systems. Although studies report that patients in the private sector experience better timeliness and hospitality, studies suggest that providers in the private sector more frequently violate accepted medical standards and have lower reported efficiency.
What Do These Findings Mean?
This systematic review did not support previous views that private sector delivery of health care in low- and middle-income settings is more efficient, accountable, or effective than public sector delivery. Each system has its strengths and weaknesses, but importantly, in both sectors, there were financial barriers to care, and each had poor accountability and transparency. This systematic review highlights a limited and poor-quality evidence base regarding the comparative performance of the two systems.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001244.
A previous PLoS Medicine study examined the outpatient care provided by the public and private sector in low-income countries
The WHO website provides more information on healthcare systems
The World Bank website provides information on health system financing
Oxfam provides an argument against increased private health care in poor countries
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001244
PMCID: PMC3378609  PMID: 22723748
14.  A Longitudinal Study of Medicaid Coverage for Tobacco Dependence Treatments in Massachusetts and Associated Decreases in Hospitalizations for Cardiovascular Disease 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(12):e1000375.
Thomas Land and colleagues show that among Massachusetts Medicaid subscribers, use of a comprehensive tobacco cessation pharmacotherapy benefit was followed by a substantial decrease in claims for hospitalizations for acute myocardial infarction and acute coronary heart disease.
Background
Insurance coverage of tobacco cessation medications increases their use and reduces smoking prevalence in a population. However, uncertainty about the impact of this coverage on health care utilization and costs is a barrier to the broader adoption of this policy, especially by publicly funded state Medicaid insurance programs. Whether a publicly funded tobacco cessation benefit leads to decreased medical claims for tobacco-related diseases has not been studied. We examined the experience of Massachusetts, whose Medicaid program adopted comprehensive coverage of tobacco cessation medications in July 2006. Over 75,000 Medicaid subscribers used the benefit in the first 2.5 years. On the basis of earlier secondary survey work, it was estimated that smoking prevalence declined among subscribers by 10% during this period.
Methods and Findings
Using claims data, we compared the probability of hospitalization prior to use of the tobacco cessation pharmacotherapy benefit with the probability of hospitalization after benefit use among Massachusetts Medicaid beneficiaries, adjusting for demographics, comorbidities, seasonality, influenza cases, and the implementation of the statewide smoke-free air law using generalized estimating equations. Statistically significant annualized declines of 46% (95% confidence interval 2%–70%) and 49% (95% confidence interval 6%–72%) were observed in hospital admissions for acute myocardial infarction and other acute coronary heart disease diagnoses, respectively. There were no significant decreases in hospitalizations rates for respiratory diagnoses or seven other diagnostic groups evaluated.
Conclusions
Among Massachusetts Medicaid subscribers, use of a comprehensive tobacco cessation pharmacotherapy benefit was associated with a significant decrease in claims for hospitalizations for acute myocardial infarction and acute coronary heart disease, but no significant change in hospital claims for other diagnoses. For low-income smokers, removing the barriers to the use of smoking cessation pharmacotherapy has the potential to decrease short-term utilization of hospital services.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the world. Globally, it is responsible for one in ten deaths among adults. In developed countries, the death toll is even higher—in the USA and the UK, for example, one in five deaths are caused by cigarette smoking. In the USA alone, where a fifth of adults smoke, smoking accounts for more than 400,000 deaths every year; globally, smoking causes 5 million deaths per year. On average, smokers die 14 years earlier than nonsmokers, and half of all long-term smokers will die prematurely because of a smoking-related disease. These diseases include lung cancer, other types of cancer, heart disease, stroke, and lung diseases such as chronic airway obstruction, bronchitis, and emphysema. And, for every smoker who dies from one of these smoking-related diseases, another 20 will develop at least one serious disease because of their addiction to tobacco.
Why Was This Study Done?
About half of US smokers try to quit each year but most of these attempts fail. Many experts believe that counseling and/or treatment with tobacco cessation medications such as nicotine replacement products help smokers to quit. In the USA, where health care is paid for through private or state health insurance, there is some evidence that insurance coverage of tobacco cessation medications increases their use and reduces smoking prevalence. However, smoking cessation treatment is poorly covered by US health insurance programs, largely because of uncertainty about the impact of such coverage on health care costs. It is unknown, for example, whether the introduction of publicly funded tobacco cessation benefits decreases claims for treatment for tobacco-related diseases. In this longitudinal study (a study that follows a group of individuals over a period of time), the researchers ask whether the adoption of comprehensive coverage of tobacco cessation medications by the Massachusetts Medicaid program (MassHealth) in July 2006 has affected claims for treatment for tobacco-related diseases. During its first two and half years, more than 75,000 MassHealth subscribers used the tobacco cessation medication benefit and smoking prevalence among subscribers declined by approximately 10% (38.3% to 28.8%).
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used MassHealth claims data and a statistical method called generalized estimating equations to compare the probability of hospitalization prior to the use of tobacco cessation medication benefit with the probability of hospitalization after benefit use among MassHealth subscribers. After adjusting for other factors that might have affected hospitalization such as influenza outbreaks and the implementation of the Massachusetts Smoke-Free Workplace Law in July 2004, there was a statistically significant annualized decline in hospital admissions for heart attack of 46% after use of the tobacco cessation medication benefit. That is, the calculated annual rate of admissions for heart attacks was 46% lower after use of the benefit than before among MassHealth beneficiaries. There was also a 49% annualized decline in admissions for coronary atherosclerosis, another smoking-related heart disease. There were no significant changes in hospitalization rates for lung diseases (including asthma, pneumonia, and chronic airway obstruction) or for seven other diagnostic groups.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that, among MassHealth subscribers, the use of a tobacco cessation medication benefit was followed by a significant decrease in claims for hospitalization for heart attack and for coronary atherosclerosis but not for other diseases. It does not, however, show that the reduced claims for hospitalization were associated with a reduction in smoking because smoking cessation was not recorded by MassHealth. Furthermore, it is possible that the people who used the tobacco cessation medication benefit shared other characteristics that reduced their chances of hospitalization for heart disease. For example, people using tobacco cessation medication might have been more likely to adhere to prescription schedules for medications such as statins that would also reduce their risk of heart disease. Finally, these findings might be unique to Massachusetts, so similar studies need to be undertaken in other states. Nevertheless, the results of this study suggest that, for low-income smokers, removing financial barriers to the use of smoking cessation medications has the potential to produce short-term decreases in the use of hospital services that will, hopefully, outweigh the costs of comprehensive tobacco cessation medication benefits.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000375.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Office on Smoking and Health has information on all aspects of smoking and health, including advice on how to quit
The UK National Health Service Choices Web site provides advice about quitting smoking; more advice on quitting is provided by Smokefree
The American Heart Association provides information on heart disease, including advice on how to quit smoking (in several languages)
Information about MassHealth is available, including information on smoking and tobacco use prevention
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000375
PMCID: PMC3000429  PMID: 21170313
15.  Eight Americas: Investigating Mortality Disparities across Races, Counties, and Race-Counties in the United States 
PLoS Medicine  2006;3(9):e260.
Background
The gap between the highest and lowest life expectancies for race-county combinations in the United States is over 35 y. We divided the race-county combinations of the US population into eight distinct groups, referred to as the “eight Americas,” to explore the causes of the disparities that can inform specific public health intervention policies and programs.
Methods and Findings
The eight Americas were defined based on race, location of the county of residence, population density, race-specific county-level per capita income, and cumulative homicide rate. Data sources for population and mortality figures were the Bureau of the Census and the National Center for Health Statistics. We estimated life expectancy, the risk of mortality from specific diseases, health insurance, and health-care utilization for the eight Americas. The life expectancy gap between the 3.4 million high-risk urban black males and the 5.6 million Asian females was 20.7 y in 2001. Within the sexes, the life expectancy gap between the best-off and the worst-off groups was 15.4 y for males (Asians versus high-risk urban blacks) and 12.8 y for females (Asians versus low-income southern rural blacks). Mortality disparities among the eight Americas were largest for young (15–44 y) and middle-aged (45–59 y) adults, especially for men. The disparities were caused primarily by a number of chronic diseases and injuries with well-established risk factors. Between 1982 and 2001, the ordering of life expectancy among the eight Americas and the absolute difference between the advantaged and disadvantaged groups remained largely unchanged. Self-reported health plan coverage was lowest for western Native Americans and low-income southern rural blacks. Crude self-reported health-care utilization, however, was slightly higher for the more disadvantaged populations.
Conclusions
Disparities in mortality across the eight Americas, each consisting of millions or tens of millions of Americans, are enormous by all international standards. The observed disparities in life expectancy cannot be explained by race, income, or basic health-care access and utilization alone. Because policies aimed at reducing fundamental socioeconomic inequalities are currently practically absent in the US, health disparities will have to be at least partly addressed through public health strategies that reduce risk factors for chronic diseases and injuries.
US mortality rates were calculated according to "race-county" units and divided into the "eight Americas", across which there are enormous disparities in life expectancy.
Editors' Summary
Background.
It has been recognized for a long time that the number of years that people in the United States can expect to live (“life expectancy”) varies enormously. For example, white Americans tend to live longer than black Americans, and life expectancy is much greater in some of the roughly 3,000 counties of the US than it is in others. However, there is a lack of information and understanding on how big a part is played in “health inequalities” by specific diseases and injuries, by risk factors (such as tobacco, alcohol, and obesity), and by variations in access to effective health care.
Why Was This Study Done?
The researchers wanted to find a way of dividing the people of the US into groups based on a small number of characteristics—such as location of county of residence, race, and income—that would help demonstrate the most important factors accounting for differences in life expectancy.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used figures from the US Census Bureau and the National Center for Health Statistics to calculate mortality (death) rates for the years 1982–2001. They took note of the county of residence and of the race of all the people who died during that period of time. This enabled them to calculate the mortality rates for all 8,221 “race-county units” (all of the individuals of a given race in a given county). They experimented with different ways of combining the race-counties into a small and manageable number of groups. They eventually settled on the idea of there being “eight Americas,” defined on the basis of race-county, population density, income, and homicide rate. Each group contains millions or tens of millions of people. For each of the eight groups the researchers estimated life expectancy, the risk of mortality from specific diseases, the proportion of people who had health insurance, and people's routine encounters with health-care services. (The researchers also created maps of life expectancies for the US counties.) They describe their eight Americas as follows: Asians, northland low-income rural whites, Middle America, low-income whites in Appalachia and the Mississippi Valley, western Native Americans, black Middle America, low-income southern rural blacks, and high-risk urban blacks.
Many striking differences in life expectancy were found between the eight groups. For example, in 2001, the life expectancy gap between the 3.4 million high-risk urban black males and the 5.6 million Asian females was nearly 21 years. Within the sexes, the life expectancy gap between the best-off and the worst-off groups was 15.4 years for males (Asians versus high-risk urban blacks) and 12.8 years for females (Asians versus low-income rural blacks in the South). The causes of death that were mainly responsible for these variations were various chronic diseases and injury. The gaps between best-off and worst-off were similar in 2001 to what they were in 1987.
What Do These Findings Mean?
Health inequalities in the US are large and are showing no sign of reducing. Social and economic reforms would certainly help change the situation. At the same time, the public health system should also improve the way in which it deals with risk factors for chronic diseases and injuries so that groups with the highest death rates receive larger benefits.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0030260.
A Perspective article by Gregory Pappas in this issue of PLoS Medicine (DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.0030357) discusses the methods of this piece of research and the findings
The American Medical Students' Association deals with the question “What are Health Disparities?” on its web site
The National Institutes of Health's “Strategic Research Plan to Reduce and Ultimately Eliminate Health Disparities” may be seen at the NIH web site
The Office of Minority Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a Web page called “Eliminating Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities”
The issue of health inequalities in the US has also been dealt with by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0030260
PMCID: PMC1564165  PMID: 16968116
16.  An analysis of trends and determinants of health insurance and healthcare utilisation in the Russian population between 2000 and 2004: the 'inverse care law' in action 
Background
The break-up of the USSR brought considerable disruption to health services in Russia. The uptake of compulsory health insurance rose rapidly after its introduction in 1993. However, by 2000 coverage was still incomplete, especially amongst the disadvantaged. By this time, however, the state health service had become more stable, and the private sector was growing. This paper describes subsequent trends and determinants of healthcare insurance coverage in Russia, and its relationship with health service utilisation, as well as the role of the private sector.
Methods
Data were from the Russia Longitudinal Monitoring Survey, an annual household panel survey (2000–4) from 38 centres across the Russian Federation. Annual trends in insurance coverage were measured (2000–4). Cross-sectional multivariate analyses of the determinants of health insurance and its relationship with health care utilisation were performed in working-age people (18–59 years) using 2004 data.
Results
Between 2000 and 2004, coverage by the compulsory insurance scheme increased from 88% to 94% of adults; however 10% of working-age men remained uninsured. Compulsory health insurance coverage was lower amongst the poor, unemployed, unhealthy and people outside the main cities. The uninsured were less likely to seek medical help for new health problems. 3% of respondents had supplementary (private) insurance, and rising utilisation of private healthcare was greatest amongst the more educated and wealthy.
Conclusion
Despite high population insurance coverage, a multiply disadvantaged uninsured minority remains, with low utilisation of health services. Universal insurance could therefore increase access, and potentially contribute to reducing avoidable healthcare-related mortality. Meanwhile, the socioeconomically advantaged are turning increasingly to a growing private sector.
doi:10.1186/1472-6963-9-68
PMCID: PMC2684531  PMID: 19397799
17.  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
18.  Basing care reforms on evidence: The Kenya health sector costing model 
Background
The Government of the Republic of Kenya is in the process of implementing health care reforms. However, poor knowledge about costs of health care services is perceived as a major obstacle towards evidence-based, effective and efficient health care reforms. Against this background, the Ministry of Health of Kenya in cooperation with its development partners conducted a comprehensive costing exercise and subsequently developed the Kenya Health Sector Costing Model in order to fill this data gap.
Methods
Based on standard methodology of costing of health care services in developing countries, standard questionnaires and analyses were employed in 207 health care facilities representing different trustees (e.g. Government, Faith Based/Nongovernmental, private-for-profit organisations), levels of care and regions (urban, rural). In addition, a total of 1369 patients were randomly selected and asked about their demand-sided costs. A standard step-down costing methodology was applied to calculate the costs per service unit and per diagnosis of the financial year 2006/2007.
Results
The total costs of essential health care services in Kenya were calculated as 690 million Euros or 18.65 Euro per capita. 54% were incurred by public sector facilities, 17% by Faith Based and other Nongovernmental facilities and 23% in the private sector. Some 6% of the total cost is due to the overall administration provided directly by the Ministry and its decentralised organs. Around 37% of this cost is absorbed by salaries and 22% by drugs and medical supplies. Generally, costs of lower levels of care are lower than of higher levels, but health centres are an exemption. They have higher costs per service unit than district hospitals.
Conclusions
The results of this study signify that the costs of health care services are quite high compared with the Kenyan domestic product, but a major share are fixed costs so that an increasing coverage does not necessarily increase the health care costs proportionally. Instead, productivity will rise in particular in under-utilized private health care institutions. The results of this study also show that private-for-profit health care facilities are not only the luxurious providers catering exclusively for the rich but also play an important role in the service provision for the poorer population. The study findings also demonstrated a high degree of cost variability across private providers, suggesting differences in quality and efficiencies.
doi:10.1186/1472-6963-11-128
PMCID: PMC3129293  PMID: 21619567
19.  Why not private health insurance? 1. Insurance made easy 
How realistic are proposals to expand the financing of Canadian health care through private insurance, either in a parallel stream or an expanded supplementary tier? Any successful business requires that revenues exceed expenditures. Under a voluntary health insurance plan those at highest risk would be the most likely to seek coverage; insurers working within a competitive market would have to limit their financial risk through such mechanisms as "risk selection" to avoid clients likely to incur high costs and/or imposing caps on the costs covered. It is unlikely that parallel private plans will have a market if a comprehensive public insurance system continues to exist and function well. Although supplementary plans are more congruous with insurance principles, they would raise costs for purchasers and would probably not provide full open-ended coverage to all potential clients. Insurance principles suggest that voluntary insurance plans that shift costs to the private sector would damage the publicly funded system and would be unable to cover costs for all services required.
PMCID: PMC1230586  PMID: 10497613
20.  Anonymous HIV workplace surveys as an advocacy tool for affordable private health insurance in Namibia 
Background
With an estimated adult HIV prevalence of 15%, Namibia is in need of innovative health financing strategies that can alleviate the burden on the public sector. Affordable and private health insurances were recently developed in Namibia, and they include coverage for HIV/AIDS. This article reports on the efficacy of HIV workplace surveys as a tool to increase uptake of these insurances by employees in the Namibian formal business sector. In addition, the burden of HIV among this population was examined by sector.
Methods
Cross-sectional anonymous HIV prevalence surveys were conducted in 24 private companies in Namibia between November 2006 and December 2007. Non-invasive oral fluid-based HIV antibody rapid tests were used. Anonymous test results were provided to the companies in a confidential report and through presentations to their management, during which the advantages of affordable private health insurance and the available insurance products were discussed. Impact assessment was conducted in October 2008, when new health insurance uptake by these companies was evaluated.
Results
Of 8500 targeted employees, 6521 were screened for HIV; mean participation rate was 78.6%. Overall 15.0% (95% CI 14.2-15.9%) of employees tested HIV positive (range 3.0-23.9% across companies). The mining sector had the highest percentage of HIV-positive employees (21.0%); the information technology (IT) sector had the lowest percentage (4.0%). Out of 6205 previously uninsured employees, 61% had enrolled in private health insurance by October 2008. The majority of these new insurances (78%) covered HIV/AIDS only.
Conclusion
The proportion of HIV-positive formal sector employees in Namibia is in line with national prevalence estimates and varies widely by employment sector. Following the surveys, there was a considerable increase in private health insurance uptake. This suggests that anonymous HIV workplace surveys can serve as a tool to motivate private companies to provide health insurance to their workforce. Health insurance taken up by those who are able to pay the fees will alleviate the burden on the public sector.
doi:10.1186/1758-2652-12-32
PMCID: PMC2788345
21.  Who gives birth in private facilities in Asia? A look at six countries 
Health Policy and Planning  2014;29(Suppl 1):i38-i47.
Over the past two decades, multilateral organizations have encouraged increased engagement with private healthcare providers in developing countries. As these efforts progress, there are concerns regarding how private delivery care may effect maternal health outcomes. Currently available data do not allow for an in-depth study of the direct effect of increasing private sector use on maternal health across countries. As a first step, however, we use demographic and health surveys (DHS) data to (1) examine trends in growth of delivery care provided by private facilities and (2) describe who is using the private sector within the healthcare system. As Asia has shown strong increases in institutional coverage of delivery care in the last decade, we will examine trends in six Asian countries. We hypothesize that if the private sector competes for clients based on perceived quality, their clientele will be wealthier, more educated and live in an area where there are enough health facilities to allow for competition. We test this hypothesis by examining factors of socio-demographic, economic and physical access and actual/perceived need related to a mother’s choice to deliver in a health facility and then, among women delivering in a facility, their use of a private provider. Results show a significant trend towards greater use of private sector delivery care over the last decade. Wealth and education are related to private sector delivery care in about half of our countries, but are not as universally related to use as we would expect. A previous private facility birth predicted repeat private facility use across nearly all countries. In two countries (Cambodia and India), primiparity also predicted private facility use. More in-depth work is needed to truly understand the behaviour of the private sector in these countries; these results warn against making generalizations about private sector delivery care.
doi:10.1093/heapol/czt103
PMCID: PMC4095919  PMID: 25012797
Maternal health; private sector; Asia; delivery care
22.  Health Services Research and Data Linkages: Issues, Methods, and Directions for the Future 
Health Services Research  2010;45(5 Pt 2):1468-1488.
Background
Research on pressing health services and policy issues requires access to complete, accurate, and timely patient and organizational data.
Aim
This paper describes how administrative and health records (including electronic medical records) can be linked for comparative effectiveness and health services research.
Materials and Methods
We categorize the major agents (i.e., who owns and controls data and who carries out the data linkage) into three areas: (1) individual investigators; (2) government sponsored linked data bases; and (3) public–private partnerships that facilitate linkage of data owned by private organizations. We describe challenges that may be encountered in the linkage process, and the benefits of combining secondary databases with primary qualitative and quantitative sources. We use cancer care research to illustrate our points.
Results
To fill the gaps in the existing data infrastructure, additional steps are required to foster collaboration among institutions, researchers, and public and private components of the health care sector. Without such effort, independent researchers, governmental agencies, and nonprofit organizations are likely to continue building upon a fragmented and costly system with limited access.
Discussion
Without the development and support for emerging information technologies across multiple health care settings, the potential for data collected for clinical and transactional purposes to benefit the research community and, ultimately, the patient population may go unrealized.
Conclusion
The current environment is characterized by budget and technical challenges, but investments in data infrastructure are arguably cost-effective given the need to reform our health care system and to monitor the impact of health reform initiatives.
doi:10.1111/j.1475-6773.2010.01142.x
PMCID: PMC2965887  PMID: 21054367
Administrative data; comparative effectiveness research; health information technology; electronic medical records; health services research; secondary data analysis
23.  Examining the Scope of Multibusiness Health Care Firms: Implications for Strategy and Financial Performance 
Health Services Research  2007;42(4):1691-1717.
Objective
Use theory and data to examine the scope of corporate strategies for multibusiness health care firms, also known as organized or integrated health care delivery systems.
Data Sources
Data are from the 2000 HIMSS Analytics Annual Survey of integrated health care delivery systems (IHDS), which provides complete information on businesses owned by IHDS.
Study Design
Scope defined as the breadth and type of businesses in which a firm chooses to compete is measured across seven separate business areas: (1) health plans, (2) ambulatory, (3) acute, (4) subacute, (5) home health, (6) other related nonpatient care businesses, and (7) external collaborations. Theories on strategy and organizational configurations along with measures of scope and a novel dataset were used to classify 796 firms into five mutually exclusive groups. The bases for classification were two competitive dimensions of scope: (1) breadth of businesses and (2) mix of existing core businesses versus new noncore businesses.
Data Extraction Methods
Unit of analysis is the multibusiness health care firm. Sample consists of 796 firms, defined as nonprofit organizations that own two or more direct patient care businesses in two or more separate areas across the health care value chain. Firms were clustered into five mutually exclusive organizational configurations with unique scope characteristics revealing a new taxonomy of corporate strategies.
Principal Findings
Analysis of the scope variables revealed five strategic types (along with the number of firms and distinguishing features of each strategy) defined as follows: (1) Core Service Provider (340 firms with the smallest scope providing core set of patient care services), (2) Mission Based (52 firms with the next smallest scope offering core set of services to underserved populations), (3) Contractor (266 firms with medium scope and contracting with physician groups), (4) Health Plan Focus (83 firms with large scope and providing health plans), and (5) Entrepreneur (55 firms with the largest scope offering both a core set of services and investing in a variety of new noncore business opportunities including many for-profit ventures). Significant differences in financial performance among the strategies were found when controlling for payer reimbursement conditions. Specifically, in an unfavorable condition with high Medicaid and low commercial insurance, the Mission Based strategy performs significantly worse while the Entrepreneur strategy performs surprisingly well, in comparison with the other strategies.
Conclusions
Findings suggest: (a) scope can be used to classify a large number of multibusiness health care firms into a taxonomy representing a small group of distinct corporate strategies, which are recognizable by senior management in the health care industry, (b) no single strategy dominates in performance across different payer profiles, instead there appears to be complementarities or fit between strategy and payer profiles that determines which firms perform well and which do not under different conditions, and (c) senior management of nonprofit health care firms are cross-subsidizing unprofitable patient care through ownership of nonpatient care businesses including for-profit ventures.
doi:10.1111/j.1475-6773.2006.00686.x
PMCID: PMC1955267  PMID: 17610444
Corporate strategy; scope; organizational configurations; mobility barriers; multibusiness health care firms
24.  Access to Care After Massachusetts’ Health Care Reform: A Safety Net Hospital Patient Survey 
Journal of General Internal Medicine  2012;27(11):1548-1554.
ABSTRACT
BACKGROUND
Massachusetts’ health care reform substantially decreased the percentage of uninsured residents. However, less is known about how reform affected access to care, especially according to insurance type.
OBJECTIVE
To assess access to care in Massachusetts after implementation of health care reform, based on insurance status and type.
DESIGN AND PARTICIPANTS
We surveyed a convenience sample of 431 patients presenting to the Emergency Department of Massachusetts’ second largest safety net hospital between July 25, 2009 and March 20, 2010.
MAIN MEASURES
Demographic and clinical characteristics, insurance coverage, measures of access to care and cost-related barriers to care.
KEY RESULTS
Patients with Commonwealth Care and Medicaid, the two forms of insurance most often newly-acquired under the reform, reported similar or higher utilization of and access to outpatient visits and rates of having a usual source of care, compared with the privately insured. Compared with the privately insured, a significantly higher proportion of patients with Medicaid or Commonwealth Care Type 1 (minimal cost sharing) reported delaying or not getting dental care (42.2 % vs. 27.1 %) or medication (30.0 % vs. 7.0 %) due to cost; those with Medicaid also experienced cost-related barriers to seeing a specialist (14.6 % vs. 3.5 %) or getting recommended tests (15.6 % vs. 5.9 %). Those with Commonwealth Care Types 2 and 3 (greater cost sharing) reported significantly more cost-related barriers to obtaining care than the privately insured (45.0 % vs. 16.0 %), to seeing a primary care doctor (25.0 % vs. 6.0 %) or dental provider (58.3 % vs. 27.1 %), and to obtaining medication (20.8 % vs. 7.0 %). No differences in cost-related barriers to preventive care were found between the privately and publicly insured.
CONCLUSIONS
Access to care improved less than access to insurance following Massachusetts’ health care reform. Many newly insured residents obtained Medicaid or state subsidized private insurance; cost-related barriers to access were worse for these patients than for the privately insured.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s11606-012-2173-7) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
doi:10.1007/s11606-012-2173-7
PMCID: PMC3475814  PMID: 22825807
access to care; health insurance; health disparities; health care reform; health care policy
25.  Beyond "medical tourism": Canadian companies marketing medical travel 
Background
Despite having access to medically necessary care available through publicly funded provincial health care systems, some Canadians travel for treatment provided at international medical facilities as well as for-profit clinics found in several Canadian provinces. Canadians travel abroad for orthopaedic surgery, bariatric surgery, ophthalmologic surgery, stem cell injections, “Liberation therapy” for multiple sclerosis, and additional interventions. Both responding to public interest in medical travel and playing an important part in promoting the notion of a global marketplace for health services, many Canadian companies market medical travel.
Methods
Research began with the goal of locating all medical tourism companies based in Canada. Various strategies were used to find such businesses. During the search process it became apparent that many Canadian business promoting medical travel are not medical tourism companies. To the contrary, numerous types of businesses promote medical travel. Once businesses promoting medical travel were identified, content analysis was used to extract information from company websites. Company websites were analyzed to establish: 1) where in Canada these businesses are located; 2) the destination countries and health care facilities that they market; 3) the medical procedures they promote; 4) core marketing messages; and 5) whether businesses market air travel, hotel accommodations, and holiday tours in addition to medical procedures.
Results
Searches conducted from 2006 to 2011 resulted in identification of thirty-five Canadian businesses currently marketing various kinds of medical travel. The research project began with what seemed to be the straightforward goal of establishing how many medical tourism companies are based in Canada. Refinement of categories resulted in the identification of eighteen businesses fitting the category of what most researchers would identify as medical tourism companies. Seven other businesses market regional, cross-border health services available in the United States and intranational travel to clinics in Canada. In contrast to medical tourism companies, they do not market holiday tours in addition to medical care. Two companies occupy a narrow market niche and promote testing for CCSVI and “Liberation therapy” for multiple sclerosis. Three additional companies offer bariatric surgery and cosmetic surgery at facilities in Mexico. Four businesses offer health insurance products intended to cover the cost of obtaining privately financed health care in the U.S. These businesses also help their clients arrange treatment beyond Canada’s borders. Finally, one medical travel company based in Canada markets health services primarily to U.S. citizens.
Conclusions
This article uses content analysis of websites of Canadian companies marketing medical travel to provide insight into Canada’s medical travel industry. The article reveals a complex marketplace with different types of companies taking distinct approaches to marketing medical travel.
doi:10.1186/1744-8603-8-16
PMCID: PMC3503750  PMID: 22703873
Medical tourism; Canada; Transnational healthcare; Globalization; Websites

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