Health Finance Roundup—How algorithms could identify financial strain; 1980 phenomenon confounds analysts

A stethoscope and paper money.
Physicians often confuse financial strain with a lack of engagement from patients. (Getty/utah778)

Financial strain stops low-income patients from seeking care

Financial strain is the biggest factor for low-income patients making healthcare decisions. And, more often than not, those patients decide to forgo care in favor of essentials like food and rent, according to researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern’s Center for Patient-Centered Outcomes Research.

The study, published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, drew on information from 12 focus groups, which revealed that patients are often forced to forgo care because of costs, and that decision is frequently interpreted by physicians as noncompliance.

Researchers called on physicians to better recognize the signs of financial strain that could cause patients to skip medication or miss follow-up appointments. They also said algorithms could help identify patients susceptible to financial strain. Release

What happened to U.S. healthcare in 1980?

Roughly 40 years ago, the United States was in the middle of the pack in both healthcare spending and life expectancy compared to other countries. But in 1980, something happened that still confounds health economists.

As health spending grew at a faster rate beginning that year, life expectancy began to slow in the U.S. Soon, the country was spending more than its peers, but residents weren’t living as long as those in other countries, according to the New York Times’ Upshot blog.

Some experts say high inflation drove up healthcare costs beginning in the 1970s, which was quickly followed by expensive advancements in healthcare innovation. Others say a lack of coverage for low-income populations led to poorer overall health outcomes. Still, it’s a phenomenon that remains largely unexplained, writes Austin Frakt, director of the Partnered Evidence-Based Policy Resource Center at the V.A. Boston Healthcare System

“Even if we can’t fully explain why the United States diverged in terms of health care spending and outcomes after 1980, one thing is clear: History demonstrates that it is possible for the U.S. health system to perform on par with other wealthy countries,” he wrote. New York Times article

Pharma, healthcare spent $2.5 in digital ads in 2017

Pharmaceutical and healthcare companies spent more than $2.5 billion in 2017 on digital advertising, including ads on desktops, laptops and mobile devices.

Next year, ad spending is expected to break $3 billion, and by 2021, it will hit $4.5 billion, according to eMarketer, which tracks industry spending data. FiercePharma article

Urban Institute’s ‘Healthy America’ plan would reduce healthcare spending by $28.9B

A proposal by the Urban Institute that would provide universal access to health coverage would save a projected $28.9 billion in the first year, according to an analysis by the organization.

The proposal, called “Healthy America," combines private and public insurance options while also allowing people to keep their employer-sponsored coverage. Researchers said the plan would cap costs by “fostering competition among many insurers, capping provider payment rates, and addressing prescription drug pricing."

“This proposal is less ambitious than a single-payer system (i.e., Medicare for All), but it would get close to universal coverage with much lower increases in federal spending and less disruption for people currently enrolled in employer coverage or Medicare,” they wrote. Urban Institute article