Sam Watson’s journal round-up for 7th August 2017

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.

Financing transformative health systems towards achievement of the health Sustainable Development Goals: a model for projected resource needs in 67 low-income and middle-income countries. Lancet: Global Health [PubMedPublished 17th July 2017

Achieving universal health coverage is a key aspect of the UN’s sustainable development goals. However, what this means in practice is complicated. People need to be able to access health services free at the point of use, but once those services are accessed there needs to be sufficient labour, capital, skill, and quality to correctly diagnose and treat them. For many health systems worldwide, this will require large investments in infrastructure and staffing, but the potential cost of achieving these goals is unclear. This article sets out to estimate these costs. Clearly, this is a complicated task – health care systems are incredibly complex. From a basic microeconomic standpoint, one might need some understanding of the production function of different health care systems, and the marginal productivity of labour and capital inputs to these systems. There is generally good evidence of what is effective and cost-effective for the treatment of different diseases, and so given the amenable disease burden for a particular country, we could begin to understand what would be required to combat it. This is how this article tackles this question, more or less. They take a bottom-up costing approach to a wide range of interventions, governance requirements, and, where required, other interventions such as water and sanitation. However, there are other mechanisms at play. At national levels, economies of scale and scope play a role. Integration of care programs can reduce the costs, improve the quality, or both, of the individual programs. Similarly, the levels of investment considered are likely to have relevant macroeconomic effects, boosting employment, income, and subsequent socioeconomic indicators. Credit is due to the authors, they do consider financing and health impacts of investment, and their paper is the most comprehensive to date on the topic. However, their projections (~$300 billion annually) are perhaps more uncertain than they let on, a criticism I made of similar papers recently. While I should remind myself not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good, detailed case studies of particular countries may help me to see how the spreadsheet model may actually translate into real-world changes.

Precommitment, cash transfers, and timely arrival for birth: evidence from a randomized controlled trial in Nairobi Kenya. American Economic Review [RePEcPublished May 2017

A great proportion of the gains in life expectancy in recent years has been through the reduction of childhood mortality. The early years of life are some of the most precarious. A newborn child, if she survives past five years of age, will not face the same risk of dying until late adulthood. Many of the same risk factors that contribute to childhood mortality also contribute to maternal death rates and many low-income countries still face unacceptably high rates of dying for both mother and child. One way of tackling this is to ensure mothers have access to adequate antenatal and postnatal care. In Kenya, for example, the government legislated to provide free delivery services in government health facilities in 2013. However, Kenya still has some of the highest death rates for mother and child in the world. It is speculated that one reason for this is the delay in receiving services in the case of complications with a pregnancy. A potential cause of this delay in Nairobi is a lack of adequate planning from women who face a large number of heterogeneous treatment options for birth. This study presents an RCT in which pregnant women were offered a “precommitment transfer package”, which consisted of a cash transfer of 1000 KSh (~£7) during pregnancy and a further 1000 KSh if women stuck to a delivery plan they had earlier committed to. The transfer was found to increase the proportion of women arriving early to delivery facilities. The study was a fairly small pilot study and the results somewhat uncertain, but the intervention appears promising. Cost-effectiveness comparisons are warranted with other interventions aiming to achieve the same ends.

Bans on electronic cigarette sales to minors and smoking among high school students. Journal of Health Economics [PubMedPublished July 2017

E-cigarettes have provoked quite a debate among public health researchers and campaigners as we’ve previously discussed. E-cigarettes are a substitute for tobacco smoking and are likely to be significantly less harmful. They may have contributed to large declines in the use of tobacco in the UK in the last few years. However, some have taken a “think of the children!” position. While e-cigarette use per se among adolescents may not be a significant public health issue, it could lead to increased use of tobacco. Others have countered that those young people using e-cigarettes would have been those that used tobacco anyway, so banning e-cigarettes among minors may lead them to go back to the tobacco. This paper takes data from repeated surveys of high school students in the US to estimate the effects of banning the sale of e-cigarettes to minors on the prevalence of tobacco smoking. Interestingly, bans appear to reduce tobacco smoking prevalence; the results appear fairly robust and the modelling is sensible. This conflicts with other recent similar studies. The authors argue that this shows that e-cigarettes and tobacco smoking are complements, so reducing one reduces the other. But I am not sure this explains the decline since no increase in youth smoking was observed as e-cigarettes became more popular. Certainly, such a ban would not have reduced smoking prevalence years ago. At the very least e-cigarettes have clearly had a significant effect on attitudes towards smoking. Perhaps smoking was on the decline anyway – but the authors estimate a model with state-specific time trends, and no declines were seen in control states. Whatever our prior beliefs about the efficacy of regulating or banning e-cigarettes, the evidence is complex, reflecting the complex behaviour of people towards drugs, alcohol, and tobacco.

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Thesis Thursday: Till Seuring

On the third Thursday of every month, we speak to a recent graduate about their thesis and their studies. This month’s guest is Dr Till Seuring who graduated with a PhD from the University of East Anglia. If you would like to suggest a candidate for an upcoming Thesis Thursday, get in touch.

Title
The economics of type 2 diabetes in middle-income countries
Supervisors
Marc Suhrcke, Max Bachmann, Pieter Serneels
Repository link
https://ueaeprints.uea.ac.uk/63278/

What made you want to study the economics of diabetes?

I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when I was 18. So while looking for a topic for my master’s thesis in development economics, I was wondering about how big of a problem diabetes – in particular, type 2 diabetes – would be in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), because I had never heard about it during my studies. Looking for data I found some on Mexico, where, as it turned out, diabetes was a huge problem and ended up writing my master’s thesis on the labour market effects of diabetes in Mexico. After that, I worked at the International Diabetes Federation as a health economist in a junior position for about a year and a half and at one of their conferences met Prof Marc Suhrcke, who is doing a lot of global health and non-communicable disease related work. We stayed in contact and in the end he offered me the possibility to pursue a PhD on diabetes in LMICs. So this is how I ended up at the University of East Anglia in Norwich studying the economics of diabetes.

Which sources of data did you use for your analyses, and how was your experience of using them?

I exclusively used household survey data that was publicly available. In my master’s thesis, I had already worked with the Mexican Family Life Survey, which is quite an extensive household survey covering many socioeconomic as well as health-related topics. I ended up using it for two of my thesis chapters. The nice thing about it is that it has a panel structure now with three waves, and the last waves also included information on HbA1c levels – a biomarker used to infer on blood glucose levels over the last three months – that I could use to detect people with undiagnosed diabetes in the survey. The second source of data was the China Health and Nutrition Survey, which has many of the same qualities, with even more waves of data. There are more and more surveys with high-quality data coming out so it will be exciting to explore them further in the future.

How did you try to identify the effects of diabetes as separate from other influences?

As in many other fields, there is great worry that diabetes might be endogenous when trying to investigate its relationship with economic outcomes. For example, personal characteristics (such as ambition) could affect your likelihood to be employed or your wage, but maybe also your exercise levels and consequently your risk to develop diabetes. Unfortunately, such things are very difficult to measure so that they often remain unobserved. Similarly, changes in income or job status could affect lifestyles that in turn could change the risk to develop diabetes, making estimates prone to selection biases and reverse causality. To deal with this, I used several strategies. In my first paper on Mexico, I used a commonly used instrumental variable strategy. My instrument was parental diabetes and we argued that, given our control variables, it was unrelated to employment status but predicted diabetes in the children due to the genetic component of diabetes. In the second paper on Mexico, I used fixed effects estimation to control for any time-invariant confounding. This strategy does not need an instrument, however, unobserved time-variant confounding or reverse causality may still be a problem. I tackled the latter in my last paper on the effect of diabetes on employment and behavioural outcomes in China, using a methodology mainly used in epidemiology called marginal structural models, which uses inverse probability weighting to account for the selection into diabetes on previous values of the outcomes of interest, e.g. changes in employment status or weight. Of course, in the absence of a true experiment, it still remains difficult to truly establish causality using observational data, so one still needs to be careful to not over-interpret these findings.

The focus of your PhD was on middle-income countries. Does diabetes present particular economic challenges in this setting?

Well, over the last 30 years many middle-income countries, especially in Asia but also Latin America, have gone from diabetes rates much below high-income countries to surpassing them. China today has about 100 million people with diabetes, sporting the largest diabetes population worldwide. While, as countries become richer, first the economically better-off populations tend to have a higher diabetes prevalence, in many middle-income countries diabetes is now affecting, in particular, the middle class and the poor, who often lack the financial resources to access treatment or to even be diagnosed. Consequently, many remain poorly treated and develop diabetes complications that can lead to amputations, loss of vision and cardiovascular problems. Once these complications appear, the associated medical expenditures can represent a very large economic burden, and as I have shown in this thesis, can also lead to income losses because people lose their jobs.

What advice would you give to policymakers looking to minimise the economic burden of diabetes?

The policy question is always the most difficult one, but I’ll try to give some answers. The results of the thesis suggest that there is a considerable economic burden of diabetes which disproportionately affects the poor, the uninsured and women. Further, many people remain undiagnosed and some of the results of the biomarker analysis I conducted in one of my papers suggest that diagnosis likely often happens too late to prevent adverse health outcomes. Therefore, earlier diagnosis may help to reduce the burden, the problem is that once people are diagnosed they will also need treatment, and it appears that even now many do not receive appropriate treatment. Therefore, simply aiming to diagnose more people will not be sufficient. Policymakers in these countries will need to make sure that they will also be able to offer treatment to everybody, in particular the disadvantaged groups. Otherwise, inequities will likely become even greater and healthcare systems even more overburdened. How this can be achieved is another question and more research will be needed. Promising areas could be a greater integration of diabetes treatment into the existing health care systems specialised in treating communicable diseases such as tuberculosis, which often are related to diabetes. This would both improve treatment and likely limit the amount of additional costs. Of course, investments in early life health, nutrition and education will also help to reduce the burden by improving health and thereby economic possibilities, so that people may never become diabetic or at least have better possibilities to cope with the disease.

Paul Mitchell’s journal round-up for 17th July 2017

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.

What goes wrong with the allocation of domestic and international resources for HIV? Health Economics [PubMedPublished 7th July 2017

Investment in foreign aid is coming under considered scrutiny as a number of leading western economies re-evaluate their role in the world and their obligations to countries with developing economies. Therefore, it is important for those who believe in the benefits of such investments to show that they are being done efficiently. This paper looks at how funding for HIV is distributed both domestically and internationally across countries, using multivariate regression analysis with instruments to control for reverse causality between financing and HIV prevalence, and domestic and international financing. The author is also concerned about countries free riding on international aid and estimates how countries ought to be allocating national resources to HIV using quintile regression to estimate what countries have fiscal space for expanding their current spending domestically. The results of the study show that domestic expenditure relative to GDP per capita is almost unit elastic, whereas it is inelastic with regards to HIV prevalence. Government effectiveness (as defined by the World Bank indices) has a statistically significant effect on domestic expenditure, although it is nonlinear, with gains more likely when moving up from a lower level of government effectiveness. International expenditure is inversely related to GDP per capita and HIV prevalence, and positively with government effectiveness, albeit the regression models for international expenditure had poor explanatory power. Countries with higher GDP per capita tended to dedicate more money towards HIV, however, the author reckons there is $3bn of fiscal space in countries such as South Africa and Nigeria to contribute more to HIV, freeing up international aid for other countries such as Cameroon, Ghana, Thailand, Pakistan and Columbia. The author is concerned that countries with higher GDP should be able to allocate more to HIV, but feels there are improvements to be made in how international aid is distributed too. Although there is plenty of food for thought in this paper, I was left wondering how this analysis can help in aiding a better allocation of resources. The normative model of what funding for HIV ought to be is from the viewpoint that this is the sole objective of countries of allocating resources, which is clearly contestable (the author even casts doubt as to whether this is true for international funding of HIV). Perhaps the other demands faced by national governments (e.g. funding for other diseases, education etc.) can be better reflected in future research in this area.

Can pay-for-performance to primary care providers stimulate appropriate use of antibiotics? Health Economics [PubMed] [RePEcPublished 7th July 2017

Antibiotic resistance is one of the largest challenges facing global health this century. This study from Sweden looks to see whether pay for performance (P4P) can have a role in the prescription practices of GPs when it comes to treating children with respiratory tract infection. P4P was introduced on a staggered basis across a number of regions in Sweden to incentivise primary care to use narrow spectrum penicillin as a first line treatment, as it is said to have a smaller impact on resistance. Taking advantage of data from the Swedish Prescribed Drug Register between 2006-2013, the authors conducted a difference in difference regression analysis to show the effect P4P had on the share of the incentivised antibiotic. They find a positive main effect of P4P on drug prescribing of 1.1 percentage points, that is also statistically significant. Of interest, the P4P in Sweden under analysis here was not directly linked to salaries of GPs but the health care centre. Although there are a number of limitations with the study that the authors clearly highlight in the discussion, it is a good example of how to make the most of routinely available data. It also highlights that although the share of the less resistant antibiotic went up, the national picture of usage of antibiotics did not reduce in line with a national policy aimed at doing so during the same time period. Even though Sweden is reported to be one of the lower users of antibiotics in Europe, it highlights the need to carefully think through how targets are achieved and where incentives might help in some areas to meet such targets.

Econometric modelling of multiple self-reports of health states: the switch from EQ-5D-3L to EQ-5D-5L in evaluating drug therapies for rheumatoid arthritis. Journal of Health Economics Published 4th July 2017

The EQ-5D is the most frequently used health state descriptive system for the generation of utility values for quality-adjusted life years (QALYs) in economic evaluation. To improve sensitivity and reduce floor and ceiling effects, the EuroQol team developed a five level version (5L) compared to the previous three level (3L) version. This study adds to recent evidence in this area of the unforeseen consequences of making this change to the descriptive system and also the valuation system used for the 5L. Using data from the National Data Bank for Rheumatic Diseases, where both 3L and 5L versions were completed simultaneously alongside other clinical measures, the authors construct a mapping between both versions of EQ-5D, informed by the response levels and the valuation systems that have been developed in the UK for the measures. They also test their mapping estimates on a previous economic evaluation for rheumatoid arthritis treatments. The descriptive results show that although there is a high correlation between both versions, and the 5L version achieves its aim of greater sensitivity, there is a systematic difference in utility scores generated using both versions, with an average 87% of the score of the 3L recorded compared to the 5L. Not only are there differences highlighted between value sets for the 3L and 5L but also the responses to dimensions across measures, where the mobility and pain dimensions do not align as one would expect. The new mapping developed in this paper highlights some of the issues with previous mapping methods used in practice, including the assumption of independence of dimension levels from one another that was used while the new valuation for the 5L was being developed. Although the case study they use to demonstrate the effect of using the different approaches in practice did not result in a different cost-effectiveness result, the study does manage to highlight that the assumption of 3L and 5L versions being substitutes for one another, both in terms of descriptive systems and value sets, does not hold. Although the authors are keen to highlight the benefits of their new mapping that produces a smooth distribution from actual to predicted 5L, decision makers will need to be clear about what descriptive system they now want for the generation of QALYs, given the discrepancies between 3L and 5L versions of EQ-5D, so that consistent results are obtained from economic evaluations.

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