Chris Sampson’s journal round-up for 5th September 2016

Every Monday our authors provide a round-up of some of the most recently published peer reviewed articles from the field. We don’t cover everything, or even what’s most important – just a few papers that have interested the author. Visit our Resources page for links to more journals or follow the HealthEconBot. If you’d like to write one of our weekly journal round-ups, get in touch.

The effect of complementary private health insurance on the use of health care services. International Journal of Health Economics and Management Published 31st August 2016

Moral hazard is one of the key ideas taught to fledgling health economists, but having taken flight you don’t hear all that much about it. That’s because most of us live in Europe, enjoying our universal publicly funded health care systems. But I quite like papers that remind me that moral hazard is still a going concern and that my MSc was relevant. This paper looks at the impact of complementary private health insurance – that is, alongside a national health service. There aren’t so many studies of moral hazard in this setting. Private health insurance (let’s call it PHI) might decrease use of public health care (let’s call it NHS), but it might also increase pressure on the NHS by creating additional demand. For example, people might need a referral from an NHS GP in order to qualify for PHI coverage. This study uses cross-sectional questionnaire data from Denmark, collected from 5447 individuals for the purpose of this study. The questionnaire collected all sorts of data relating to health care use and sociodemographics. People who gave ‘Don’t know’ or ‘Other’ responses were dropped, meaning that only 4362 were analysed. 49% of the sample had PHI – the ‘treatment’ of interest. The authors use a bivariate probit model with propensity score matching to predict health care use. Furthermore, an instrumental variable is used to improve identification. Having PHI seems to increase use of services, with strong effects for prescription medicine, dentist visits and chiropractors. This suggests that PHI coverage may contribute to increasing national health care costs. There are some major limitations to this study, which the authors acknowledge. The response rate was 41%, and the sample wasn’t particularly representative. The one thing I can’t get my head around is the authors’ identification strategy. The instrumental variable chosen was whether or not an individual wears glasses, as in this case PHI is particularly favourable. Even controlling for the covariates used in this analysis, I cannot see (no pun intended) how this could be unrelated to health care use.

The value of disease prevention vs treatment. Journal of Health Economics Published 29th August 2016

The public’s view of pharma just keeps getting worse“, apparently. One probably-entirely-made-up-but-sort-of-reasonable-sounding thing I’ve heard Joe Public say in the past is that Pharma would like us all to remain sickly cash cows. New treatments = milk. Prevention is just… soya. That analogy made no sense, but there are also more reasoned arguments that we spend too much on treatment and too little on prevention. There are also numerous studies characterising people’s preferences regarding prevention and treatment under different conditions. This study builds on this background by developing a utility model of disease valuation in order to derive willingness-to-pay values for reductions in incidence (prevention), mortality (treatment) or deterioration in quality of life (palliative care). The basis for the model is 3 possible states – healthy, ill and dead – through which people can progress in only one direction (i.e. there is no cure). The ‘ill’ state relates to a specific disease and has a value somewhere between 1 (healthy) and 0 (dead). The authors use the model to determine – for example – how willingness to pay for improvement in the ‘ill’ state might be affected by the mortality rate. Two key implications of the model are that i) when the risk of dying from a disease is greater than the incidence rate, prevention is more valuable than treatment and ii) when the incidence rate is greater than the decline in quality of life, prevention is more valuable than palliative care. The model is also used to incorporate probability weighting to give a more realistic characterisation of people’s risk preferences. In most cases, the two previous findings will hold. An interesting finding of this part of the analysis is that it seems to partly explain people’s disproportionately strong preferences for treating more severe diseases. The model suggests that prevention is more valuable than treatment for most real-world situations, and so we’ve probably got the balance all wrong.

Does one size fit all? Assessing the preferences of older and younger people for attributes of quality of life. Quality of Life Research [PubMed] Published 23rd August 2016

There’s plenty of talk nowadays about the idea that QALYs don’t reflect the most important objects of value for particular groups of people, especially older people. Non-health improvements in quality of life might be more important. Whether we’re using EQ-5D, SF-6D, HUI3 or your personally preferred multi-attribute utility measure, the idea is that they’re measuring the same thing. But they’re not. They consistently give systematically different results. This study sought to find out if older people value quality of life attributes used in these measures differently to younger people. The authors elicit preferences for different domains using a web-based survey of two groups of 500 people: over 65s and 18-64 year olds. Individuals were presented with 12 descriptors from the EQ-5D, AQoL and ASCOT and asked to complete both a ranking and a best worst exercise. Socioeconomic data were also collected. The two cohorts ranked the domains differently, but perhaps not as differently as we might expect. ‘Independence’ was important to both groups, with 36% of over 65s and 20% of 18-64 year olds ranking it first. Physical mobility, mental health and pain also ranked highly for both groups. Older people ranked control, self-care and vision more highly than younger people, who in turn ranked safety, social relationships, dignity, sleep and hearing more highly. The results from the ranking exercise and the best worst exercise were similar. So, non-health attributes matter to everyone and older people’s preferences differ to younger people’s. But so what? We could probably find differences between a sample of men and a sample of women, or between an urban and a rural population. The question is: which differences matter? Studies like this are useful, but they can’t tell us how we ought to handle heterogeneous preferences.

From representing views to representativeness of views: Illustrating a new (Q2S) approach in the context of health care priority setting in nine European countries. Social Science & Medicine [PubMedPublished 22nd August 2016

Asking the public what they think; it’s a dangerous game (nb Brexit, Boaty McBoatface, Mrs Brown’s Boys). But there are good grounds for doing so when it comes to health care resource allocation. This paper comes from an ongoing research project that I’ve written about on a couple of occasions. A previous paper used Q methodology and identified 5 viewpoints regarding the fundamental basis for the allocation of resources in health care, titled: 1) ‘egalitarianism, entitlement and equality of access’, 2) ‘severity and the magnitude of health gains’, 3) ‘fair innings, young people and maximising health benefits’, 4) ‘the intrinsic value of life and healthy living’ and 5) ‘quality life is more important than simply staying alive’. This study developed a new methodology called Q2S, designed to extract features from the viewpoints elicited through the original Q study and create a survey to find out how these different viewpoints are represented in society. Data were collected from 39,560 respondents from 9 European countries. Participants were presented with a series of descriptions with which to identify agreement on a 7-point Likert scale from “very unlike my point of view” to “very much like my point of view”. 41% of respondents gave their highest score to a single viewpoint, while the rest tied across two or more viewpoints and were subsequently asked to identify which one would best reflect their view. 43% of respondents were allocated to Viewpoint 1. This viewpoint asserts that health care is a basic right, that treatment effectiveness is essentially irrelevant because all life has the same value, and that scarcity is not a concern. It was predominant in all 9 countries. Gulp! Next up with 17% was Viewpoint 2, which is a bit closer to health maximisation but with a preference for allocation to life-saving treatment and more severe health states. Viewpoint 3 was not popular, with only 4% of people identifying it as most like their point of view. The authors identify various associations between sociodemographic variables and likelihood of particular viewpoints. There’s a lot of food for thought in this paper. Where do you sit? My position changes depending on how revolutionary I’m feeling.

Photo credit: Antony Theobald (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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One thought on “Chris Sampson’s journal round-up for 5th September 2016

  1. At the moment I don’t have institutional access to a lot of papers so rely on summaries so apologies if I misunderstand/misrepresent anything authors say in the papers discussed.

    W.r.t. the importance of independence by age: the effects of age and relationship status are confounded – at least for ICECAP (And I’m willing to bet for major health instruments) – we showed this in our 2010 SSM re-analysis of the valuation data. It was confirmed in a much larger (n=2500) study with a wider age range in a chapter in our BWS book. Widows by far have the highest desire for independence (since they’re stuffed if they lose it – as clinicians repeatedly tell me, based on what their patients say), whereas those with a spouse are not so concerned (they have a potential carer).

    Your question “how we ought to handle heterogeneous preferences” links in with my answer to your blog of a couple of weeks ago. You simply ensure you’ve quota sampled to properly identify all heterogeneity (mean and variance) and then (assuming you want a traditional public preference based tariff) simply reweight at analysis stage. The heterogeneity is properly accounted for in the data….of course that steers clear (yet again) of the normative issue as to whether we SHOULD take account of the differences that are out there.

    W.r.t. the Q-based paper, shame they used Likert scales. This research question looks like it was tailor made for Case 1 BWS instead to net out the Likert biases. However, I do have a lot of sympathy for Q-based methodologies as they are attempting to do a similar thing to BWS. I just have a series of reservations about their practicality and some of the assumptions they impose.

    Liked by 1 person

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