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1.  Picking up the bill - improving health-care utilisation in the Democratic Republic of Congo through user fee subsidisation: a before and after study 
User fees have been shown to constitute a major barrier to the utilisation of health-care, particularly in low-income countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Importantly, such barriers can lead to the exclusion of vulnerable individuals from health-care. In 2008, a donor-funded primary health-care programme began implementing user fee subsidisation in 20 health zones of the DRC. In this study, we quantified the short and long-term effects of this policy on health-care utilisation.
Sixteen health zones were included for analysis. Using routinely collected health-care utilisation data before and after policy implementation, interrupted time series regression was applied to quantify the temporal impact of the user fee policy in the studied health zones. Payment of salary supplements to health-care workers and provision of free drugs - the other components of the programme - were controlled for where possible.
Fourteen (88%) health zones showed an immediate positive effect in health-care utilisation rates (overall median increase of 19%, interquartile range 11 to 43) one month after the policy was introduced, and the effect was significant in seven zones (P <0.05). This initial effect was sustained or increased at 24 months in five health zones but was only significant in one health zone at P <0.05. Utilisation reduced over time in the remaining health zones (overall median increase of 4%, interquartile range −10 to 33). The modelled mean health-care utilisation rate initially increased significantly from 43 consultations/1000 population to 51 consultations/1000 population during the first month following implementation (P <0.01). However, the on-going effect was not significant (P =0.69).
Our research brings mixed findings on the effectiveness of user fee subsidisation as a strategy to increase the utilisation of services. Future work should focus on feasibility issues associated with the removal or reduction of user fees and how to sustain its effects on utilisation in the longer term.
PMCID: PMC4224700  PMID: 25370385
User fees; Subsidisation; Health-care utilisation; Operational research; DRC
2.  Footing the bill: the introduction of Medicare Benefits Schedule rebates for podiatry services in Australia 
The introduction of Medicare Benefits Schedule items for allied health professionals in 2004 was a pivotal event in the public funding of non-medical primary care services. This commentary seeks to provide supplementary discussion of the article by Menz (Utilisation of podiatry services in Australia under the Medicare Enhanced Primary Care program, 2004-2008 Journal of Foot and Ankle Research 2009, 2:30), by placing these findings within the context of the podiatry profession, clinical decision making and the broader health workforce and government policy.
PMCID: PMC2796998  PMID: 19968885
3.  High-billing general practitioners and family physicians in Ontario: how do they do it? An analysis of practice patterns of GP/FPs with annual billings over $400,000. 
BACKGROUND: To better understand the reasons why some fee-for-service physicians have high billing levels, the authors compared the practice and demographic characteristics of general practitioners and family physicians (GP/FPs) who submitted over $400,000 in annual Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) fee-for-service claims in 1994-95 with those of GP/FPs who billed between $35,000 and $400,000. METHODS: The authors describe the OHIP billing and physician characteristic data for fiscal year 1994-95. They used multivariate logistic regression to determine factors independently associated with high billing status. RESULTS: A total of 219 GP/FPs (2.5% of the GP/FPs in Ontario) billed over $400,000 in 1994-95. Of these, 14 had billing patterns similar to those of specialists, and 27 billed predominantly for diagnostic and therapeutic procedures (particularly physiotherapy). The remaining 178 (81.3%) billed for a mix of services similar to that of other GP/FPs but on average had 2.6 times the volume of patient assessments and a greater share of their total billings derived from diagnostic and therapeutic procedures (9.1% v. 5.6%). Multivariate analysis indicated that these high-volume GP/FPs were less likely than GP/FPs who billed between $35,000 and $400,000 to be 60 years of age or older (odds ratio [OR] 0.09, p < 0.05) and female (OR 0.21) and were more likely to be foreign graduates (OR 1.85) and practising in a region with low physician supply (OR 0.45 for each increase of 1 physician per 1000 population). Metropolitan Toronto was an outlier to the latter relation and was more likely to have high-volume GP/FPs (OR 16.89). INTERPRETATION: High-billing GP/FPs attained their high billing levels by maintaining large numbers of patient visits and by performing procedures. Further research is needed to determine the time spent per patient and the quality of care delivered by these physicians as well as the appropriateness of the procedures that they perform.
PMCID: PMC1229097  PMID: 9538852
4.  Reforming primary health care: is New Zealand's primary health care strategy achieving its early goals? 
In 2001, the New Zealand government introduced its Primary Health Care Strategy (PHCS), aimed at strengthening the role of primary health care, in order to improve health and to reduce inequalities in health. As part of the Strategy, new funding was provided to reduce the fees that patients pay when they use primary health care services in New Zealand, to improve access to services and to increase service use. In this article, we estimate the impact of the new funding on general practitioner and practice nurse visit fees paid by patients and on consultation rates. The analyses involved before-and-after monitoring of fees and consultation rates in a random sample of 99 general practices and covered the period from June 2001 (pre-Strategy) to mid-2005.
Fees fell particularly in Access (higher need, higher per capita funded) practices over time for doctor and nurse visits. Fees increased over time for many in Interim (lower need, lower per capita funded) practices, but they fell for patients aged 65 years and over as new funding was provided for this age group. There were increases in consultation rates across almost all age, funding model (Access or Interim), socio-demographic and ethnic groups. Increases were particularly high in Access practices.
The Strategy has resulted in lower fees for primary health care for many New Zealanders, and consultation rates have also increased over the past few years. However, fees have not fallen by as much as expected in government policy given the amount of extra public money spent since there are limited requirements for practices to reduce patients' fees in line with increases in public funding for primary care.
PMCID: PMC2588611  PMID: 18990236
5.  The construction of a decision tool to analyse local demand and local supply for GP care using a synthetic estimation model 
This study addresses the growing academic and policy interest in the appropriate provision of local healthcare services to the healthcare needs of local populations to increase health status and decrease healthcare costs. However, for most local areas information on the demand for primary care and supply is missing. The research goal is to examine the construction of a decision tool which enables healthcare planners to analyse local supply and demand in order to arrive at a better match.
National sample-based medical record data of general practitioners (GPs) were used to predict the local demand for GP care based on local populations using a synthetic estimation technique. Next, the surplus or deficit in local GP supply were calculated using the national GP registry. Subsequently, a dynamic internet tool was built to present demand, supply and the confrontation between supply and demand regarding GP care for local areas and their surroundings in the Netherlands.
Regression analysis showed a significant relationship between sociodemographic predictors of postcode areas and GP consultation time (F [14, 269,467] = 2,852.24; P <0.001). The statistical model could estimate GP consultation time for every postcode area with >1,000 inhabitants in the Netherlands covering 97% of the total population. Confronting these estimated demand figures with the actual GP supply resulted in the average GP workload and the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) GP too much/too few for local areas to cover the demand for GP care. An estimated shortage of one FTE GP or more was prevalent in about 19% of the postcode areas with >1,000 inhabitants if the surrounding postcode areas were taken into consideration. Underserved areas were mainly found in rural regions.
The constructed decision tool is freely accessible on the Internet and can be used as a starting point in the discussion on primary care service provision in local communities and it can make a considerable contribution to a primary care system which provides care when and where people need it.
PMCID: PMC4231547  PMID: 24161015
Health workforce planning; Local population demand; Synthetic estimation method; General practitioner care; Spatial microsimulation model; Decision tool
6.  Inequities in accessibility to and utilisation of maternal health services in Ghana after user-fee exemption: a descriptive study 
Inequities in accessibility to, and utilisation of maternal healthcare services impede progress towards attainment of the maternal health-related Millennium Development Goals. The objective of this study is to examine the extent to which maternal health services are utilised in Ghana, and whether inequities in accessibility to and utilization of services have been eliminated following the implementation of a user-fee exemption policy, that aims to reduce financial barriers to access, reduce inequities in access, and improve access to and use of birthing services.
We analyzed data from the 2007 Ghana Maternal Health Survey for inequities in access to and utilization of maternal health services. In measuring the inequities, frequency tables and cross-tabulations were used to compare rates of service utilization by region, residence and selected socio-demographic variables.
Findings show marginal increases in accessibility to and utilisation of skilled antenatal, delivery and postnatal care services following the policy implementation (2003–2007). However, large gradients of inequities exist between geographic regions, urban and rural areas, and different socio-demographic, religious and ethnic groupings. More urban women (40%) than rural, 53% more women in the highest wealth quintile than women in the lowest, 38% more women in the best performing region (Central Region) than the worst (Upper East Region), and 48% more women with at least secondary education than those with no formal education, accessed and used all components of skilled maternal health services in the five years preceding the survey. Our findings raise questions about the potential equity and distributional benefits of Ghana’s user-fee exemption policy, and the role of non-financial barriers or considerations.
Exempting user-fees for maternal health services is a promising policy option for improving access to maternal health care, but might be insufficient on its own to secure equitable access to maternal health services in Ghana. Ensuring equity in access will require moving beyond user-fee exemption to addressing wider issues of supply and demand factors and the social determinants of health, including redistributing healthcare resources and services, and redressing the positional vulnerability of women in their communities.
PMCID: PMC4318433  PMID: 25388288
User-fee exemption; Maternal health; Access; Inequity; Ghana
7.  Addressing medical coding and billing part II: a strategy for achieving compliance. A risk management approach for reducing coding and billing errors. 
Medical practice today, more than ever before, places greater demands on physicians to see more patients, provide more complex medical services and adhere to stricter regulatory rules, leaving little time for coding and billing. Yet, the need to adequately document medical records, appropriately apply billing codes and accurately charge insurers for medical services is essential to the medical practice's financial condition. Many physicians rely on office staff and billing companies to process their medical bills without ever reviewing the bills before they are submitted for payment. Some physicians may not be receiving the payment they deserve when they do not sufficiently oversee the medical practice's coding and billing patterns. This article emphasizes the importance of monitoring and auditing medical record documentation and coding application as a strategy for achieving compliance and reducing billing errors. When medical bills are submitted with missing and incorrect information, they may result in unpaid claims and loss of revenue to physicians. Addressing Medical Audits, Part I--A Strategy for Achieving Compliance--CMS, JCAHO, NCQA, published January 2002 in the Journal of the National Medical Association, stressed the importance of preparing the medical practice for audits. The article highlighted steps the medical practice can take to prepare for audits and presented examples of guidelines used by regulatory agencies to conduct both medical and financial audits. The Medicare Integrity Program was cited as an example of guidelines used by regulators to identify coding errors during an audit and deny payment to providers when improper billing occurs. For each denied claim, payments owed to the medical practice are are also denied. Health care is, no doubt, a costly endeavor for health care providers, consumers and insurers. The potential risk to physicians for improper billing may include loss of revenue, fraud investigations, financial sanction, disciplinary action and exclusion from participation in government programs. Part II of this article recommends an approach for assessing potential risk, preventing improper billing, and improving financial management of the medical practice.
PMCID: PMC2594405  PMID: 12078924
8.  Learning from the Legal History of Billing for Medical Fees 
Journal of General Internal Medicine  2008;23(8):1257-1260.
When patients pay for care out-of-pocket, physicians must balance their professional obligations to serve with the commercial demands of medical practice. Consumer-directed health care makes this problem newly pressing, but law and ethics have thought for millennia about how doctors should bill patients.
Historical Background
At various points in European history, the law restricted doctors’ ability to bill for their services, but this legal aversion to commercializing medicine did not take root in the American colonies. Rather, US law has always treated selling medical services the way it treats other sales. Yet doctors acted differently in a crucial way. Driven by the economics of medical practice before the spread of health insurance, doctors charged patients according to what they thought each patient could afford. The use of sliding fee scales persisted until widespread health insurance drove a standardization of fees.
Current Practice
Today, encouraged by Medicare rules and managed care discounts, providers use a perverse form of a sliding scale that charges the most to patients who can afford the least. Primary care physicians typically charge uninsured patients one third to one half more than they receive from insurers for basic office or hospital visits, and markups are substantially higher (2 to 2.5 times) for high-tech tests and specialists’ invasive procedures.
Ethical and professional principles might require providers to return to discounting fees for patients in straitened circumstances, but imposing such a duty formally (by law or by ethical code) on doctors would be harder both in principle and in practice than to impose such a duty on hospitals. Still, professional ethics should encourage physicians to give patients in economic trouble at least the benefit of the lowest rate they accept from an established payer.
PMCID: PMC2517971  PMID: 18414955
medical fees; billing; law; ethics
9.  Primary care physician supply and other key determinants of health care utilisation: the case of Switzerland 
The Swiss government decided to freeze new accreditations for physicians in private practice in Switzerland based on the assumption that demand-induced health care spending may be cut by limiting care offers. This legislation initiated an ongoing controversial public debate in Switzerland. The aim of this study is therefore the determination of socio-demographic and health system-related factors of per capita consultation rates with primary care physicians in the multicultural population of Switzerland.
The data were derived from the complete claims data of Swiss health insurers for 2004 and included 21.4 million consultations provided by 6564 Swiss primary care physicians on a fee-for-service basis. Socio-demographic data were obtained from the Swiss Federal Statistical Office. Utilisation-based health service areas were created and were used as observational units for statistical procedures. Multivariate and hierarchical models were applied to analyze the data.
Models within the study allowed the definition of 1018 primary care service areas with a median population of 3754 and an average per capita consultation rate of 2.95 per year. Statistical models yielded significant effects for various geographical, socio-demographic and cultural factors. The regional density of physicians in independent practice was also significantly associated with annual consultation rates and indicated an associated increase 0.10 for each additional primary care physician in a population of 10,000 inhabitants. Considerable differences across Swiss language regions were observed with reference to the supply of ambulatory health resources provided either by primary care physicians, specialists, or hospital-based ambulatory care.
The study documents a large small-area variation in utilisation and provision of health care resources in Switzerland. Effects of physician density appeared to be strongly related to Swiss language regions and may be rooted in the different cultural backgrounds of the served populations.
PMCID: PMC2242783  PMID: 18190705
10.  Out-of-pocket expenditures for primary health care in Tajikistan: a time-trend analysis 
Aligned with the international call for universal coverage of affordable and quality health care, the government of Tajikistan is undertaking reforms of its health system aiming amongst others at reducing the out-of-pocket expenditures (OPE) of patients seeking care. Household surveys were conducted in 2005, 2007, 2008 and 2011 to explore the scale and determinants of OPE of users in four district of Tajikistan, where health care is legally free of charge at the primary level.
Using the data from four cross-sectional household surveys conducted between 2005 and 2011, time trends in OPE for consultation fees, drugs and transport costs of adult users of family medicine services were analysed. To investigate differences along the economic status, an asset index was constructed using principal component analysis.
Adjusted for inflation, OPE for primary care have substantially increased in the period 2005 to 2011. While the proportion of patients reporting the payment of informal consultation fees to providers and their amount were constant over time, the proportion of patients reporting expenditures for drugs has increased, and the median amounts have doubled from 5.3 US$ to 10.7 US$. Thus, the expenditures on medicine represent the biggest financial burden for patients accessing a primary care facility. Regression models showed that in 2011 patients from the most remote district with spread-out villages reported significant higher expenditures on medicine. Besides the steady increase in the median amount for OPE, the proportion of patients reporting making an informal payment to their care provider showed great variations across district of residence (between 20% and 73%) and economic status (between 33% among the ‘worst-off’ group and 68% among the ‘better-off’ group).
In a context of limited governmental funds allocated to health and financing reforms aiming to improve financial access to primary care, the present paper indicates that in Tajikistan OPE – especially in relation to expenditures for drugs – have increased over time, and vary substantially across geographical areas and economic status. The fact that better-off households report disbursing more and in higher proportions hints towards a discrimination along the capacity to pay from providers. Increased public investments in the health sector, incentives for family doctors to provide PHC services free of charge and a strengthened drug control and supply system are necessary strategies to improve access of patients to services.
PMCID: PMC3614449  PMID: 23505990
Tajikistan; Informal payments; Out-of-pocket expenditure; Family medicine; Health reforms
11.  Geographical Inequalities in Use of Improved Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation across Sub-Saharan Africa: Mapping and Spatial Analysis of Cross-sectional Survey Data 
PLoS Medicine  2014;11(4):e1001626.
Using cross-sectional survey data, Rachel Pullan and colleagues map geographical inequalities in use of improved drinking water supply and sanitation across sub-Saharan Africa.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Understanding geographic inequalities in coverage of drinking-water supply and sanitation (WSS) will help track progress towards universal coverage of water and sanitation by identifying marginalized populations, thus helping to control a large number of infectious diseases. This paper uses household survey data to develop comprehensive maps of WSS coverage at high spatial resolution for sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Analysis is extended to investigate geographic heterogeneity and relative geographic inequality within countries.
Methods and Findings
Cluster-level data on household reported use of improved drinking-water supply, sanitation, and open defecation were abstracted from 138 national surveys undertaken from 1991–2012 in 41 countries. Spatially explicit logistic regression models were developed and fitted within a Bayesian framework, and used to predict coverage at the second administrative level (admin2, e.g., district) across SSA for 2012. Results reveal substantial geographical inequalities in predicted use of water and sanitation that exceed urban-rural disparities. The average range in coverage seen between admin2 within countries was 55% for improved drinking water, 54% for use of improved sanitation, and 59% for dependence upon open defecation. There was also some evidence that countries with higher levels of inequality relative to coverage in use of an improved drinking-water source also experienced higher levels of inequality in use of improved sanitation (rural populations r = 0.47, p = 0.002; urban populations r = 0.39, p = 0.01). Results are limited by the quantity of WSS data available, which varies considerably by country, and by the reliability and utility of available indicators.
This study identifies important geographic inequalities in use of WSS previously hidden within national statistics, confirming the necessity for targeted policies and metrics that reach the most marginalized populations. The presented maps and analysis approach can provide a mechanism for monitoring future reductions in inequality within countries, reflecting priorities of the post-2015 development agenda.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Access to a safe drinking-water supply (a water source that is protected from contamination) and to adequate sanitation facilities (toilets, improved latrines, and other facilities that prevent people coming into contact with human urine and feces) is essential for good health. Unimproved drinking-water sources and sanitation are responsible for 85% of deaths from diarrhea and 1% of the global burden of disease. They also increase the transmission of parasitic worms and other neglected tropical diseases. In 2000, world leaders set a target of reducing the proportion of the global population without access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation to half of the 1990 level by 2015 as part of Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 7 (“Ensure environmental sustainability”; the MDGs are designed to improve the social, economic, and health conditions in the world's poorest countries). Between 1990 and 2010, more than 2 billion people gained access to improved drinking-water sources and 1.8 billion gained access to improved sanitation. In 2011, 89% of the world's population had access to an improved drinking-water supply, 1% above the MDG target, and 64% had access to improved sanitation (the MDG target is 75%).
Why Was This Study Done?
Despite these encouraging figures, the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation (JMP) estimates that, globally, 768 million people relied on unimproved drinking-water sources, 2.5 billion people did not use an improved sanitation facility, and more than 1 billion people (15% of the global population) were defecating in the open in 2011. The JMP estimates for 2011 also reveal national and sub-national inequalities in drinking-water supply and sanitation coverage but a better understanding of geographic inequalities is needed to track progress towards universal coverage of access to improved water and sanitation and to identify the populations that need the most help to achieve this goal. Here, the researchers use cross-sectional household survey data and modern statistical approaches to produce a comprehensive map of the coverage of improved drinking-water supply and improved sanitation at high spatial resolution for sub-Saharan Africa and to investigate geographic inequalities in coverage. Cross-sectional household surveys collect health and other information from households at a single time-point, including data on use of safe water and improved sanitation.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers extracted data on reported household use of an improved drinking-water supply (for example, a piped water supply), improved sanitation facilities (for example, a flushing toilet), and open defecation from 138 national household surveys undertaken between 1991 and 2012 in 41 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. They developed statistical models to fit these data and used the models to estimate coverage at the district (second administrative) level across sub-Saharan Africa for 2012. For ten countries, the estimated coverage of access to improved drinking water at the district level within individual countries ranged from less than 25% to more than 75%. Within-country ranges of a similar magnitude were estimated for coverage of access to improved sanitation (21 countries) and for open defecation (16 countries). Notably, rural households in the districts with the lowest coverage of access to improved water supply and sanitation within a country were 1.5–8 times less likely to access improved drinking water, 2–18 times less likely to access improved sanitation, and 2–80 times more likely to defecate in the open than rural households in districts with the best coverage. Finally, countries with high levels of inequality in improved drinking-water source coverage also experienced high levels of inequality in improved sanitation coverage.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings identify important geographic inequalities in the coverage of access to improved water sources and sanitation that were previously hidden within national statistics. The accuracy of these findings depends on the accuracy of the data on water supplies and sanitation provided by household surveys, on the researchers' definitions for improved water supplies and sanitation, and on their statistical methods. Nevertheless, these findings confirm that, to achieve universal coverage of access to improved drinking-water sources and sanitation, strategies that target the areas with the lowest coverage are essential. Moreover, the maps and the analytical approach presented here provide the means for monitoring future reductions in inequalities in the coverage of access to improved water sources and sanitation and thus reflect a major priority of the post-2015 development agenda.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at
A PLOS Medicine Collection on water and sanitation is available
The World Health Organization (WHO) provides information on water, sanitation, and health (in several languages)
The WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation is the official United Nations mechanism tasked with monitoring progress toward MDG7, Target 7B; the JMP 2013 update report is available online (also available in French and Spanish through the JMP website)
The sub-national predictions resulting from this study and the final sub-national maps are available as a resource for researchers and planners
PMCID: PMC3979660  PMID: 24714528
12.  Hospital Performance, the Local Economy, and the Local Workforce: Findings from a US National Longitudinal Study 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(6):e1000297.
Blustein and colleagues examine the associations between changes in hospital performance and their local economic resources. Locationally disadvantaged hospitals perform poorly on key indicators, raising concerns that pay-for-performance models may not reduce inequality.
Pay-for-performance is an increasingly popular approach to improving health care quality, and the US government will soon implement pay-for-performance in hospitals nationwide. Yet hospital capacity to perform (and improve performance) likely depends on local resources. In this study, we quantify the association between hospital performance and local economic and human resources, and describe possible implications of pay-for-performance for socioeconomic equity.
Methods and Findings
We applied county-level measures of local economic and workforce resources to a national sample of US hospitals (n = 2,705), during the period 2004–2007. We analyzed performance for two common cardiac conditions (acute myocardial infarction [AMI] and heart failure [HF]), using process-of-care measures from the Hospital Quality Alliance [HQA], and isolated temporal trends and the contributions of individual resource dimensions on performance, using multivariable mixed models. Performance scores were translated into net scores for hospitals using the Performance Assessment Model, which has been suggested as a basis for reimbursement under Medicare's “Value-Based Purchasing” program. Our analyses showed that hospital performance is substantially associated with local economic and workforce resources. For example, for HF in 2004, hospitals located in counties with longstanding poverty had mean HQA composite scores of 73.0, compared with a mean of 84.1 for hospitals in counties without longstanding poverty (p<0.001). Hospitals located in counties in the lowest quartile with respect to college graduates in the workforce had mean HQA composite scores of 76.7, compared with a mean of 86.2 for hospitals in the highest quartile (p<0.001). Performance on AMI measures showed similar patterns. Performance improved generally over the study period. Nevertheless, by 2007—4 years after public reporting began—hospitals in locationally disadvantaged areas still lagged behind their locationally advantaged counterparts. This lag translated into substantially lower net scores under the Performance Assessment Model for hospital reimbursement.
Hospital performance on clinical process measures is associated with the quantity and quality of local economic and human resources. Medicare's hospital pay-for-performance program may exacerbate inequalities across regions, if implemented as currently proposed. Policymakers in the US and beyond may need to take into consideration the balance between greater efficiency through pay-for-performance and socioeconomic equity.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
These days, many people are rewarded for working hard and efficiently by being given bonuses when they reach preset performance targets. With a rapidly aging population and rising health care costs, policy makers in many developed countries are considering ways of maximizing value for money, including rewarding health care providers when they meet targets, under “pay-for-performance.” In the UK, for example, a major pay-for-performance initiative—the Quality and Outcomes Framework—began in 2004. All the country's general practices (primary health care facilities that deal with all medical ailments) now detail their achievements in terms of numerous clinical quality indicators for common chronic conditions (for example, the regularity of blood sugar checks for people with diabetes). They are then rewarded on the basis of these results.
Why Was This Study Done?
In the US, the government is poised to implement a nationwide pay-for-performance program in hospitals within Medicare, the government program that provides health insurance to Americans aged 65 years or older, as well as people with disabilities. However, some observers are concerned about the effect that the proposed pay-for-performance program might have on the distribution of health care resources in the US. Pay-for-performance assumes that health care providers have the economic and human resources that they need to perform or to improve their performance. But, if a hospital's capacity to perform depends on local resources, payment based on performance might worsen existing health care inequalities because hospitals in under-resourced areas might lose funds to hospitals in more affluent regions. In other words, the government might act as a reverse Robin Hood, taking from the poor and giving to the rich. In this study, the researchers examine the association between hospital performance and local economic and human resources, to explore whether this scenario is a plausible result of the pending change in US hospital reimbursement.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
US hospitals have voluntarily reported their performance on indicators of clinical care (“process-of-care measures”) for acute myocardial infarction (AMI, heart attack), heart failure (HF), and pneumonia under the Hospital Quality Alliance (HQA) program since 2004. The researchers identified 2,705 hospitals that had fully reported process-of-care measures for AMI and HF in both 2004 and 2007. They then used the “Performance Assessment Model” (a methodology developed by the US Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to score hospital performance) to calculate scores for each hospital. Finally, they looked for associations between these scores and measures of the hospital's local economic and human resources such as population poverty levels and the percentage of college graduates in the workforce. Hospital performance was associated with local and economic workforce capacity, they report. Thus, hospitals in counties with longstanding poverty had lower average performance scores for HF and AMI than hospitals in affluent counties. Similarly, hospitals in counties with a low percentage of college graduates in the workforce had lower average performance scores than hospitals in counties where more of the workforce had been to college. Finally, although performance improved generally over the study period, hospitals in disadvantaged areas still lagged behind hospitals in advantaged areas in 2007.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that hospital performance (as measured by the clinical process measures considered here) is associated with the quantity and quality of local human and economic resources. Thus, the proposed Medicare hospital pay-for-performance program may exacerbate existing US health care inequalities by leading to the transfer of funds from hospitals in disadvantaged locations to those in advantaged locations. Although further studies are needed to confirm this conclusion, these findings have important implications for pay-for-performance programs in health care. They suggest that US policy makers may need to modify how they measure performance improvement—the current Performance Assessment Model gives hospitals that start from a low baseline less credit for improvements than those that start from a high baseline. This works against hospitals in disadvantaged locations, which start at a low baseline. Second and more generally, they suggest that there may be a tension between the efficiency goals of pay-for-performance and other equity goals of health care systems. In a world where resources vary across regions, the expectation that regions can perform equally may not be realistic.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at is an online resource for learning about the US health care system. It includes educational modules on such topics as the Medicare program and efforts to improve the quality of care
The Hospital Quality Alliance provides information on the quality of care in US hospitals
Information about the UK National Health Service Quality and Outcomes Framework pay-for-performance initiative for general practice surgeries is available
PMCID: PMC2893955  PMID: 20613863
13.  Song characteristics track bill morphology along a gradient of urbanization in house finches (Haemorhous mexicanus) 
Frontiers in Zoology  2014;11(1):83.
Urbanization can considerably impact animal ecology, evolution, and behavior. Among the new conditions that animals experience in cities is anthropogenic noise, which can limit the sound space available for animals to communicate using acoustic signals. Some urban bird species increase their song frequencies so that they can be heard above low-frequency background city noise. However, the ability to make such song modifications may be constrained by several morphological factors, including bill gape, size, and shape, thereby limiting the degree to which certain species can vocally adapt to urban settings. We examined the relationship between song characteristics and bill morphology in a species (the house finch, Haemorhous mexicanus) where both vocal performance and bill size are known to differ between city and rural animals.
We found that bills were longer and narrower in more disturbed, urban areas. We observed an increase in minimum song frequency of urban birds, and we also found that the upper frequency limit of songs decreased in direct relation to bill morphology.
These findings are consistent with the hypothesis that birds with longer beaks and therefore longer vocal tracts sing songs with lower maximum frequencies because longer tubes have lower-frequency resonances. Thus, for the first time, we reveal dual constraints (one biotic, one abiotic) on the song frequency range of urban animals. Urban foraging pressures may additionally interact with the acoustic environment to shape bill traits and vocal performance.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12983-014-0083-8) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4243808  PMID: 25426158
Urban impacts; Bill shape; Singing behavior; Noise pollution; Vocal communication
14.  Effects of implementing electronic medical records on primary care billings and payments: a before–after study 
CMAJ Open  2013;1(3):E120-E126.
Several barriers to the adoption of electronic medical records (EMRs) by family physicians have been discussed, including the costs of implementation, impact on work flow and loss of productivity. We examined billings and payments received before and after implementation of EMRs among primary care physicians in the province of Ontario. We also examined billings and payments before and after switching from a fee-for-service to a capitation payment model, because EMR implementation coincided with primary care reform in the province.
We used information from the Electronic Medical Record Administrative Data Linked Database (EMRALD) to conduct a retrospective before–after study. The EMRALD database includes EMR data extracted from 183 community-based family physicians in Ontario. We included EMRALD physicians who were eligible to bill the Ontario Health Insurance Plan at least 18 months before and after the date they started using EMRs and had completed a full 18-month period before Mar. 31, 2011, when the study stopped. The main outcome measures were physicians’ monthly billings and payments for office visits and total annual payments received from all government sources. Two index dates were examined: the date physicians started using EMRs and were in a stable payment model (n = 64) and the date physicians switched from a fee-for-service to a capitation payment model (n = 42).
Monthly billings and payments for office visits did not decrease after the implementation of EMRs. The overall weighted mean annual payment from all government sources increased by 27.7% after the start of EMRs among EMRALD physicians; an increase was also observed among all other primary care physicians in Ontario, but it was not as great (14.4%). There was a decline in monthly billings and payments for office visits after physicians changed payment models, but an increase in their overall annual government payments.
Implementation of EMRs by primary care physicians did not result in decreased billings or government payments for office visits. Further economic analyses are needed to measure the effects of EMR implementation on productivity and the costs of implementing an EMR system, including the costs of nonclinical work by physicians and their staff.
PMCID: PMC3985899  PMID: 25077111
15.  A review of rural and remote health service indexes: are they relevant for the development of an Australian rural birth index? 
Policy informs the planning and delivery of rural and remote maternity services and influences the perinatal outcomes of the 30 per cent of Australian women and their babies who live outside the major cities. Currently however, there are no planning tools that identify the optimal level of birthing services for rural and remote communities in Australia. To address this, the Australian government has prioritised the development of a rigorous methodology in the Australian National Maternity Services Plan to inform the planning of rural and remote maternity services.
A review of the literature was undertaken to identify planning indexes with component variables as outlined in the Australian National Maternity Services Plan. The indexes were also relevant if they described need associated with a specific type and level of health service in rural and remote areas of high income countries. Only indexes that modelled a range of socioeconomic and or geographical variables, identified access or need for a specific service type in rural and remote communities were included in the review.
Four indexes, two Australian and two Canadian met the inclusion criteria. They used combinations of variables including: geographical placement of services; isolation from services and socioeconomic vulnerability to identify access to a type and level of health service in rural and remote areas within 60 minutes. Where geographic isolation reduces access to services for high needs populations, additional measures of disadvantage including indigeneity could strengthen vulnerability scores.
Current planning indexes are applicable for the development of an Australian rural birthing index. The variables in each of the indexes were relevant, however use of flexible sized catchments to accurately account for population births and weighting for extreme geographic isolation needs to be considered. Additionally, socioeconomic variables are required that will reflect need for services particularly for isolated high needs populations. These variables could be used with Australian data and appropriate cut-off points to confirm applicability for maternity services. All of the indexes used similar types of variables and are relevant for the development of an Australian Rural Birth Index.
PMCID: PMC4265404  PMID: 25491346
Indexes; Maternity services; Rural and remote; National maternity services plan
16.  Health systems research in the time of health system reform in India: a review 
Research on health systems is an important contributor to improving health system performance. Importantly, research on program and policy implementation can also create a culture of public accountability. In the last decade, significant health system reforms have been implemented in India. These include strengthening the public sector health system through the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM), and expansion of government-sponsored insurance schemes for the poor. This paper provides a situation analysis of health systems research during the reform period.
We reviewed 9,477 publications between 2005 and 2013 in two online databases, PubMed and IndMED. Articles were classified according to the WHO classification of health systems building blocks.
Our findings indicate the number of publications on health systems progressively increased every year from 92 in 2006 to 314 in 2012. The majority of papers were on service delivery (40%), with fewer on information (16%), medical technology and vaccines (15%), human resources (11%), governance (5%), and financing (8%). Around 70% of articles were lead by an author based in India, the majority by authors located in only four states. Several states, particularly in eastern and northeastern India, did not have a single paper published by a lead author located in a local institution. Moreover, many of these states were not the subject of a single published paper. Further, a few select institutions produced the bulk of research. Of the foreign author lead papers, 77% came from five countries (USA, UK, Canada, Australia, and Switzerland).
The growth of published research during the reform period in India is a positive development. However, bulk of this research is produced in a few states and by a few select institutions Further strengthening health systems research requires attention to neglected health systems domains like human resources, financing, and governance. Importantly, research capacity needs to be strengthened in states and institutions that have a scarcity of researchers, as well as states that have been the focus of little research. While more funding for health systems research is required, this funding needs to be targeted at deficient health systems domains, geographical areas, and institutions.
PMCID: PMC4134119  PMID: 25106759
17.  Patient identified needs for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease versus billed services for care received 
The American Lung Association of Minnesota (ALAMN) was granted access to a 2004 administrative claims data from an upper mid-Western, independent practice association model health plan. Claims information, including demographics, prevalence, medication and oxygen therapy, and health care utilization, was extracted for 7,782 patients with COPD who were 40 years of age and older. In addition, ALAMN conducted a survey of 1,911 patients from Minnesota diagnosed with COPD. The survey queried the patients about demographics, treatment, medications, limitations, wants, and needs. This article compares and contrasts the information gained through the health plan administrative claims database with the findings from the COPD patient survey in areas of age, gender, types of provider primarily responsible for COPD care, spirometry use, medication therapy, pulmonary rehabilitation, oxygen therapy, and health care utilization. Primary care practitioners provided a majority of the COPD-related care. The claims evidence of spirometry use was 16%–62% of COPD patients had claims evidence of COPD-related medications. 25% of patients reported, and 23% of patients had claims evidence of, a hospitalization during the observation year. 16% of patients reported using pulmonary rehabilitation programs. The results indicate there is an opportunity to improve COPD diagnosis and management.
PMCID: PMC2629976  PMID: 18990969
chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; oxygen therapy; medication therapy; spirometry; chronic care; assessment
18.  Spatial analysis of elderly access to primary care services 
Admissions for Ambulatory Care Sensitive Conditions (ACSCs) are considered preventable admissions, because they are unlikely to occur when good preventive health care is received. Thus, high rates of admissions for ACSCs among the elderly (persons aged 65 or above who qualify for Medicare health insurance) are signals of poor preventive care utilization. The relevant geographic market to use in studying these admission rates is the primary care physician market. Our conceptual model assumes that local market conditions serving as interventions along the pathways to preventive care services utilization can impact ACSC admission rates.
We examine the relationships between market-level supply and demand factors on market-level rates of ACSC admissions among the elderly residing in the U.S. in the late 1990s. Using 6,475 natural markets in the mainland U.S. defined by The Health Resources and Services Administration's Primary Care Service Area Project, spatial regression is used to estimate the model, controlling for disease severity using detailed information from Medicare claims files. Our evidence suggests that elderly living in impoverished rural areas or in sprawling suburban places are about equally more likely to be admitted for ACSCs. Greater availability of physicians does not seem to matter, but greater prevalence of non-physician clinicians and international medical graduates, relative to U.S. medical graduates, does seem to reduce ACSC admissions, especially in poor rural areas.
The relative importance of non-physician clinicians and international medical graduates in providing primary care to the elderly in geographic areas of greatest need can inform the ongoing debate regarding whether there is an impending shortage of physicians in the United States. These findings support other authors who claim that the existing supply of physicians is perhaps adequate, however the distribution of them across the landscape may not be optimal. The finding that elderly who reside in sprawling urban areas have access impediments about equal to residents of poor rural communities is new, and demonstrates the value of conceptualizing and modelling impedance based on place and local context.
PMCID: PMC1482683  PMID: 16700904
19.  Decrease in Self-Reported Tanning Frequency among Utah Teens following the Passage of Utah Senate Bill 41: An Analysis of the Effects of Youth-Access Restriction Laws on Tanning Behaviors 
Journal of Skin Cancer  2014;2014:839601.
Introduction. Adolescent use of indoor tanning facilities is associated with an increased risk in later development of melanoma skin cancers. States that have imposed age restrictions on access to indoor tanning generally show lower self-reported rates of indoor tanning than states with no restrictions, but currently no studies have assessed indoor tanning use before and after such restrictions. Methods. In 2013, we compared self-reported indoor tanning data collected in the Prevention Needs Assessment (PNA) survey in 2011 to PNA 2013 data. We also assessed predictors of continued tanning after passage of the bill. Results. Prior to the passage of Senate Bill 41, 12% of students reported at least one incident of indoor tanning in the past 12 months. After passage, only 7% of students reported indoor tanning in the past 12 months (P < 0.0001). Students who continued indoor tanning were more likely to be older and female and to engage in other risk behaviors, including smoking and alcohol use. Lower parental education levels were also associated with continued tanning. Conclusion. Indoor tanning restrictions showed beneficial impact on tanning rates in adolescents in Utah. Stricter restrictions may show even greater impact than restrictions that allow for parental waivers. Stronger enforcement of bans is needed to further reduce youth access.
PMCID: PMC4158105  PMID: 25215240
20.  Living on the Edge: Demography of the Slender-Billed Gull in the Western Mediterranean 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(3):e92674.
Small and peripheral populations are typically vulnerable to local extinction processes but important for the metapopulation dynamics of species. The Slender-billed gull (Chroicocephalus genei) is a long-lived species breeding in unstable ephemeral coastal habitats. Their Western Mediterranean populations are relatively small and represent the edge of their global geographical distribution. At a local scale, using long-term data (14 years) on annual breeding success and capture-resights of marked individuals, we estimated and compared the vital rates and evaluated the connectivity of two Spanish populations (Ebro Delta and Doñana) varying in their local environmental conditions. At a metapopulation scale, we analyzed 22 years of data on breeding numbers to predict their future prospects by means of population demographic models. Local survival and breeding success of gulls from the Ebro Delta was lower than those from Doñana, which is likely the result of higher permanent emigration and/or winter mortality in the former. Gulls from the Ebro Delta wintered mostly in Mediterranean areas whereas those from Doñana did so in Atlantic coasts, where food availability is higher. Whereas adult local survival was constant, juvenile local survival showed temporal parallel variations between colonies, probably related to natal dispersal to other breeding colonies. Our results suggested that dispersal was higher at the Ebro Delta and gulls emigrating from their natal colonies settled preferentially in close patches. We found large fluctuations in breeding numbers among local populations probably related to the fact that the Slender-billed gull is a species adapted to unstable and unpredictable habitats with high abilities to disperse between suitable patches depending on environmental stochastic conditions during breeding.
PMCID: PMC3963922  PMID: 24664115
21.  Adapting to a Changing World: Unraveling the Role of Man-Made Habitats as Alternative Feeding Areas for Slender-Billed Gull (Chroicocephalus genei) 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(10):e47551.
Current rates of wildlife habitat loss have placed increasing demands on managers to develop, validate and implement tools aimed at improving our ability to evaluate such impacts on wildlife. Here, we present a case study conducted at the Natural Area of Doñana (SW Spain) where remote sensing and stable isotope (δ13C, δ15N) analyses of individuals were combined to unravel (1) the effect of variations in availability of natural food resources (i.e. from natural marshes) on reproductive performance of a Slender-billed Gull (Chroicocephalus genei) population, and (2) the role of two adjacent, artificial systems (a fish farm and saltmines) as alternate anthropogenic feeding areas. Based on long-term (1983–2004) remote-sensing, we inferred the average extent of flooded area at the marshland (a proxy to natural resource availability) annually. Estimated flooded areas (ranging from extreme drought [ca. 151 ha, 1995] to high moisture [15,049 ha, 2004]) were positively related to reproductive success of gulls (estimated for the 1993–2004 period, and ranging from ca. 0 to 1.7 fledglings per breeding pairs), suggesting that habitat availability played a role in determining their reproductive performance. Based on blood δ13C and δ15N values of fledglings, 2001–2004, and a Bayesian isotopic mixing model, we conclude that saltmines acted as the main alternative foraging habitat for gulls, with relative contributions increasing as the extent of marshland decreased. Although adjacent, anthropogenic systems have been established as the preferred breeding sites for this gull population, dietary switches towards exploitation of alternative (anthropogenic) food resources negatively affected the reproductive output of this species, thus challenging the perception that these man-made systems are necessarily a reliable buffer against loss of natural feeding habitats. The methodology and results derived from this study could be extended to a large suite of threatened natural communities worldwide, thus providing a useful framework for management and conservation.
PMCID: PMC3477125  PMID: 23094062
22.  The index of rural access: an innovative integrated approach for measuring primary care access 
The problem of access to health care is of growing concern for rural and remote populations. Many Australian rural health funding programs currently use simplistic rurality or remoteness classifications as proxy measures of access. This paper outlines the development of an alternative method for the measurement of access to primary care, based on combining the three key access elements of spatial accessibility (availability and proximity), population health needs and mobility.
The recently developed two-step floating catchment area (2SFCA) method provides a basis for measuring primary care access in rural populations. In this paper, a number of improvements are added to the 2SFCA method in order to overcome limitations associated with its current restriction to a single catchment size and the omission of any distance decay function. Additionally, small-area measures for the two additional elements, health needs and mobility are developed. By utilising this improved 2SFCA method, the three access elements are integrated into a single measure of access. This index has been developed within the state of Victoria, Australia.
The resultant index, the Index of Rural Access, provides a more sensitive and appropriate measure of access compared to existing classifications which currently underpin policy measures designed to overcome problems of limited access to health services. The most powerful aspect of this new index is its ability to identify access differences within rural populations at a much finer geographical scale. This index highlights that many rural areas of Victoria have been incorrectly classified by existing measures as homogenous in regards to their access.
The Index of Rural Access provides the first truly integrated index of access to primary care. This new index can be used to better target the distribution of limited government health care funding allocated to address problems of poor access to primary health care services in rural areas.
PMCID: PMC2720961  PMID: 19624859
23.  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.
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).
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
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
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, 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)
PMCID: PMC3156689  PMID: 21857811
24.  GP and nurses' perceptions of how after hours care for people receiving palliative care at home could be improved: a mixed methods study 
BMC Palliative Care  2009;8:13.
Primary health care providers play a dominant role in the provision of palliative care (PC) in Australia but many gaps in after hours service remain. In some rural areas only 19% of people receiving palliative care achieve their goal of dying at home. This study, which builds on an earlier qualitative phase of the project, investigates the gaps in care from the perspective of general practitioners (GPs) and PC nurses.
Questionnaires, developed from the outcomes of the earlier phase, and containing both structured and open ended questions, were distributed through Divisions of General Practice (1 urban, 1 rural, 1 mixed) to GPs (n = 524) and through a special interest group to palliative care nurses (n = 122) in both rural and urban areas.
Questionnaires were returned by 114 GPs (22%) and 52 nurses (43%). The majority of GPs were associated with a practice which provided some after hours services but PC was not a strong focus for most. This was reflected in low levels of PC training, limited awareness of the existence of after hours triage services in their area, and of the availability of Enhanced Primary Care (EPC) Medicare items for care planning for palliative patients. However, more than half of both nurses and GPs were aware of accessible PC resources.
Factors such as poor communication and limited availability of after hours services were identified the as most likely to impact negatively on service provision. Strategies considered most likely to improve after hours services were individual patient protocols, palliative care trained respite carers and regular multidisciplinary meetings that included the GP.
While some of the identified gaps can only be met by long term funding and policy change, educational tools for use in training programs in PC for health professionals, which focus on the utilisation of EPC Medicare items in palliative care planning, the development of advance care plans and good communication between members of multidisciplinary teams, which include the GP, may enhance after hours service provision for patients receiving palliative care at home. The role of locums in after PC is an area for further research
PMCID: PMC2753575  PMID: 19751527
25.  Balance billing: the patients' perspective 
We study the effects of 'balance billing', i.e., allowing physicians to charge a fee from patients in addition to the fee paid by Medicare. First, we show that on pure efficiency grounds the optimal Medicare fee under balance billing is zero. An active Medicare policy thus can only be justified when distributional concerns are accounted for. Extending the analysis by Glazer and McGuire, we therefore analyze the optimal policy from the patients' point of view. We demonstrate that, from the patients' perspective, a positive fee can be superior under balance billing. Furthermore, patient welfare can be lower if balance billing is prohibited. In particular, this is the case if the administrative costs of Medicare are large. However, we cannot rule out that prohibiting balance billing may be superior. Finally, we show that payer fee discrimination increases patient welfare if Medicare's administrative costs are high or if Medicare's optimal fee under balance billing implies lower quality for fee-only patients.
JEL-classification: I11, I18, H51
PMCID: PMC3496471  PMID: 22827899
physician reimbursement; price controls; Medicare

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