Paul Mitchell’s journal round-up for 6th November 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.

A longitudinal study to assess the frequency and cost of antivascular endothelial therapy, and inequalities in access, in England between 2005 and 2015. BMJ Open [PubMed] Published 22nd October 2017

I am breaking one of my unwritten rules in a journal paper round-up by talking about colleagues’ work, but I feel it is too important not to provide a summary for a number of reasons. The study highlights the problems faced by regional healthcare purchasers in England when implementing national guideline recommendations on the cost-effectiveness of new treatments. The paper focuses on anti-vascular endothelial growth factor (anti-VEGF) medicines in particular, with two drugs, ranibizumab and aflibercept, offered to patients with a range of eye conditions, costing £550-800 per injection. Another drug, bevacizumab, that is closely related to ranibizumab and performs similarly in trials, could be provided at a fraction of the cost (£50-100 per injection), but it is currently unlicensed for eye conditions in the UK. This study investigates how the regional areas in England have coped with trying to provide the recommended drugs using administrative data from Hospital Episode Statistics in England between 2005-2015 by tracking their use since they have been recommended for a number of different eye conditions over the past decade. In 2014/15 the cost of these two new drugs for treating eye conditions alone was estimated at £447 million nationally. The distribution of where these drugs are provided is not equal, varying widely across regions after controlling for socio-demographics, suggesting an inequality of access associated with the introduction of these high-cost drugs over the past decade at a time of relatively low growth in national health spending. Although there are limitations associated with using data not intended for research purposes, the study shows how the most can be made from data routinely collected for non-research purposes. On a public policy level, it raises questions over the provision of such high-cost drugs, for which the authors state the NHS are currently paying more for than US insurers. Although it is important to be careful when comparing to unlicensed drugs, the authors point to clear evidence in the paper as to why their comparison is a reasonable one in this scenario, with a large opportunity cost associated with not including this option in national guidelines. If national recommendations continue to insist that such drugs be provided, clearer guidance is also required on how to disinvest from existing services at a regional level to reduce further examples of inequality in access in the future.

In search of a common currency: a comparison of seven EQ-5D-5L value sets. Health Economics [PubMed] Published 24th October 2017

For those of us out there who like a good valuation study, you will need to set yourself aside a good piece of time to work your way through this one. The new EQ-5D-5L measure of health status, with a primary purpose of generating quality-adjusted life years (QALYs) for economic evaluations, is now starting to have valuation studies emerging from different countries, whereby the relative importance of each of the measure dimensions and levels are quantified based on general population preferences. This study offers the first comparison of value sets across seven countries: 3 Western European (England, Netherlands, Spain), 1 North American (Canada), 1 South American (Uruguay), and two East Asian (Japan and South Korea). The authors in this paper aim to describe methodological differences between the seven value sets, compare the relative importance of dimensions, level decrements and scale length (i.e. quality/quantity trade-offs for QALYs), as well as developing a common (Western) currency across four of the value sets. In brief summary, there does appear to be similar trends across the three Western European countries: level decrements from levels 3 to 4 have the largest value, followed by levels 1 to 2. There is also a pattern in these three countries’ dimensions, whereby the two “symptom” dimensions (i.e. pain/discomfort, anxiety/depression) have equal importance to the other three “functioning” dimensions (i.e. mobility, self-care and usual activities). There are also clear differences with the other four value sets. Canada, although it also has the highest level decrements between levels 3 and 4 (49%), unusually has equal decrements for the remainder (17% x 3). For the other three countries, greater weight is attached to the three functioning dimensions relative to the two symptom dimensions. Although South Korea also has the greatest level decrements between level 3 and 4, it was greatest between level 4 and level 5 in Uruguay and levels 1 and 2 in Japan. Although the authors give a number of plausible reasons as to why these differences may occur, less justification is given in the choice of the four value sets they offer as a common currency, beyond the need to have a value set for countries that do not have one already. The most in-common value sets were the three Western European countries, so a Western European value set may have been more appropriate if the criterion was to have comparable values across countries. If the aim was really for a more international common currency, there are issues with the exclusion of non-Western countries’ value sets from their common currency version. Surely differences across cultures should be reflected in a common currency if they are apparent in different cultures and settings. A common currency should also have a better spread of regions geographically, with no country from Africa, the Middle East, Central and South Asia represented in this study, as well as no lower- and middle-income countries. Though this final criticism is out of the control of the authors based on current data availability.

Quantifying the relationship between capability and health in older people: can’t map, won’t map. Medical Decision Making [PubMed] Published 23rd October 2017

The EQ-5D is one of many ways quality of life can be measured within economic evaluations. A more recent way based on Amartya Sen’s capability approach has attempted to develop outcome measures that move beyond health-related aspects of quality of life captured by EQ-5D and similar measures used in the generation of QALYs. This study examines the relationship between the EQ-5D and the ICECAP-O capability measure in three different patient populations included in the Medical Crises in Older People programme in England. The authors propose a reasonable hypothesis that health could be considered a conversion factor for a person’s broader capability set, and so it is plausible to test how well the EQ-5D-3L dimension values and overall score can map onto the ICECAP-O overall score. Through numerous regressions performed, the strongest relationship between the two measures in this sample was an R-squared of 0.35. Interestingly, the dimensions on the EQ-5D that had a significant relationship with the ICECAP-O score were a mix of dimensions with a focus on functioning (i.e. self-care, usual activities) and symptoms (anxiety/depression), so overall capability on ICECAP-O appears to be related, at least to a small degree, to both health components of EQ-5D discussed in this round-up’s previous paper. The authors suggest it provides further evidence of the complementary data provided by EQ-5D and ICECAP-O, but the causal relationship, as the authors suggest, between both measures remains under-researched. Longitudinal data analysis would provide a more definitive answer to the question of how much interaction there is between these two measures and their dimensions as health and capability changes over time in response to different treatments and care provision.

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Lazaros Andronis’s journal round-up for 4th September 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.

The effect of spending cuts on teen pregnancy. Journal of Health Economics [PubMed] Published July 2017

High teenage pregnancy rates are an important concern that features high in many countries’ social policy agendas. In the UK, a country which has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the world, efforts to tackle the issue have been spearheaded by the Teenage Pregnancy Strategy, an initiative aiming to halve under-18 pregnancy rates by offering access to sex education and contraception. However, the recent spending cuts have led to reductions in grants to local authorities, many of which have, in turn, limited or cut a number of teenage pregnancy-related programmes. This has led to vocal opposition by politicians and organisations, who argue that cuts jeopardise the reductions in teenage pregnancy rates seen in previous years. In this paper, Paton and Wright set out to examine whether this is the case; that is, whether cuts to Teenage Pregnancy Strategy-related services have had an impact on teenage pregnancy rates. To do so, the authors used panel data from 149 local authorities in England collected between 2009 and 2014. To capture changes in teenage pregnancy rates across local authorities over the specified period, the authors used a fixed effects model which assumed that under-18 conception rates are a function of annual expenditure on teenage pregnancy services per 13-17 year female in the local authority, and a set of other socioeconomic variables acting as controls. Area and year dummies were also included in the model to account for unobservable effects that relate to particular years and localities and a number of additional analysis were run to get around spurious correlations between expenditure and pregnancy rates. Overall, findings showed that areas which implemented bigger cuts to teenage pregnancy-targeting programmes have, on average, seen larger drops in teenage pregnancy rates. However, these drops are, in absolute terms, small (e.g. a 10% reduction in expenditure is associated with a 0.25% decrease in teenage conception rates). Various explanations can be put forward to interpret these findings, one of which is that cuts might have trimmed off superfluous or underperforming elements of the programme. If this is the case, Paton and Wright’s findings offer some support to arguments that spending cuts may not always be bad for the public.

Young adults’ experiences of neighbourhood smoking-related norms and practices: a qualitative study exploring place-based social inequalities in smoking. Social Science & Medicine [PubMed] Published September 2017

Smoking is a universal problem affecting millions of people around the world and Canada’s young adults are no exception. As in most countries, smoking prevalence and initiation is highest amongst young groups, which is bad news, as many people who start smoking at a young age continue to smoke throughout adulthood. Evidence suggests that there is a strong socioeconomic gradient in smoking, which can be seen in the fact that smoking prevalence is unequally distributed according to education and neighbourhood-level deprivation, being a greater problem in more deprived areas. This offers an opportunity for local-level interventions that may be more effective than national strategies. Though, to come up with such interventions, policy makers need to understand how neighbourhoods might shape, encourage or tolerate certain attitudes towards smoking. To understand this, Glenn and colleagues saw smoking as a practice that is closely related to local smoking norms and social structures, and sought to get young adult smokers’ views on how their neighbourhood affects their attitudes towards smoking. Within this context, the authors carried out a number of focus groups with young adult smokers who lived in four different neighbourhoods, during which they asked questions such as “do you think your neighbourhood might be encouraging or discouraging people to smoke?” Findings showed that some social norms, attitudes and practices were common among neighbourhoods of the same SES. Participants from low-SES neighbourhoods reported more tolerant and permissive local smoking norms, whereas in more affluent neighbourhoods, participants felt that smoking was more contained and regulated. While young smokers from high SES neighbourhoods expressed some degree of alignment and agency with local smoking norms and practices, smokers in low SES described smoking as inevitable in their neighbourhood. Of interest is how individuals living in different SES areas saw anti-smoking regulations: while young smokers in affluent areas advocate social responsibility (and downplay the role of regulations), their counterparts in poorer areas called for more protection and spoke in favour of greater government intervention and smoking restrictions. Glenn and colleagues’ findings serve to highlight the importance of context in designing public health measures, especially when such measures affect different groups in entirely different ways.

Cigarette taxes, smoking—and exercise? Health Economics [PubMed] Published August 2017

Evidence suggests that rises in cigarette taxes have a positive effect on smoking reduction and/or cessation. However, it is also plausible that the effect of tax hikes extends beyond smoking, to decisions about exercise. To explore whether this proposition is supported by empirical evidence, Conway and Niles put together a simple conceptual framework, which assumes that individuals aim to maximise the utility they get from exercise, smoking, health (or weight management) and other goods subject to market inputs (e.g. medical care, diet aids) and time and budget constraints. Much of the data for this analysis came from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) in the US, which includes survey participants’ demographic characteristics (age, gender), as well as answers to questions about physical activities and exercise (e.g. intensity and time per week spent on activities) and smoking behaviour (e.g. current smoking status, number of cigarettes smoked per day). Survey data were subsequently combined with changes in cigarette taxes and other state-level variables. Conway and Niles’s results suggest that increased cigarette costs reduce both smoking and exercise, with the decline in exercise being more pronounced among heavy and regular smokers. However, the direction of the effect varied according to one’s age and smoking experience (e.g. higher cigarette cost increased physical activity among recent quitters), which highlights the need for caution in drawing conclusions about the exact mechanism that underpins this relationship. Encouraging smoking cessation and promoting physical exercise are important and desirable public health objectives, but, as Conway and Niles’s findings suggest, pursuing both of them at the same time may not always be plausible.

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Thesis Thursday: Estela Capelas Barbosa

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 Estela Capelas Barbosa who graduated with a PhD from the University of York. If you would like to suggest a candidate for an upcoming Thesis Thursday, get in touch.

Title
Overall unfair inequality in health care: an application to Brazil
Supervisor
Richard Cookson
Repository link
http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/16649/

What’s the difference between fair and unfair inequality, and why is it important to distinguish the two?

Not all inequality is the same. Whilst most inequality in health and health care is unwanted, one could argue that some inequality is even desirable. For example, we all agree that women should receive more care than men because they have a higher need for health care. The same argument could be used for children. Therefore, when looking into inequality, from a philosophical point of view, it is important to distinguish between inequality that is deemed fair (as in my women’s example) and that considered unfair. But there is a catch! Because ‘fair’ and ‘unfair’ are normative value judgements, different people may have different views as to what is fair or unfair. That’s why, in the thesis, I worked hard to come up with a framework that was flexible enough to allow for different views of fair and unfair.

Your thesis describes a novel way of thinking about inequality. What led you to believe that other conceptualisations were inadequate?

Previously, inequality in health care was either dealt with in overall terms, using a Gini coefficient type of analysis, or focused on income and socioeconomic inequality (see Wagstaff and Van Doorslaer, 2004). As a field researcher in Brazil, I had first-hand experience that there was more to unfair inequality than income. I remember personally meeting a very wealthy man that had many difficulties in accessing the healthcare system simply because he lived in a very remote rural area of the country. I wanted to better understand this and look beyond income to explain inequality in Brazil. Thus, neither of the well-established methods seemed really appropriate for my analysis. I knew I could adjust my Gini for need, but this type of analysis did not explicitly allow for a distinction between unfair and fair inequality. At the other extreme, income-related inequality was just a very narrow definition of unfairness. Although the established methods were my starting point, I agreed with Fleurbaey and Schokkaert that there could be yet another way of looking at inequality in health care, and I drew inspiration from their proposed method for health and made adjustments and modifications for the application to health care.

What were some of your key findings about the sources of inequality, and how were they measured in your data?

I guess my most important finding is that the sources of unfair inequality have changed between 1998 and 2013. For example, the contribution of income to unfair inequality decreased in this time for physician visits and mammography screening, yet for cervical screening it nearly doubled between 2003 and 2013. I have also found that there are other sources of inequality which are important (sometimes even more than income), as for example having private health insurance, education, living in urban areas and region.

As to my data, it came from Health Supplement of the Brazilian National Household Sample Survey for the years 1998, 2003 and 2008 and the first National Health Survey, conducted in 2013 (see www.ibge.gov.br). The surveys use standardised questionnaires and rely on self-report for most questions, particularly those related to health care coverage and health status.

Your analysis looks at a relatively long period of time. What can you tell us about long-term trends in Brazil?

It is difficult to talk about long-term trends in Brazil at the moment. Our (universal) healthcare system has only been in place since 1988 and, since the last wave of data (in 2013), there has been a strong political movement to dismantle the national system and sell it to the private sector. I guess the movement to reduce and/or privatise the NHS also exists here, but, unlike in the UK, our national system has always been massively under-resourced, so it is not as highly-regarded by the population.

Having said that, it is fair to say that in its first 25 years of existence, Brazil has accomplished a lot in terms of healthcare (I have described – in Portuguese – some of the achievements and challenges). The Brazilian National Health System covers over 200 million people and accounts for nearly 500 thousand hospital beds. In terms of inequality, over time, it has decreased for physician visits and cervical screening, though for mammography there is no clear trend.

What would you like to see policymakers in Brazil prioritise in respect to reducing inequality?

First and foremost, I would like policymakers to understand that over three-quarters of the Brazilian population relies on the national system as their one and only health care provider. Second, I would like to reinforce the idea that social inequality in health care in Brazil is not only and indeed not primarily related to income. In fact, other social variables such as education, region, urban or rural residency and health insurance status are as important or even more important than income. This implies that there are supply side actions that can be taken, which should be much easier to implement. For example, more health care equipment, such as MRIs and CT scanners could be purchased for the North and Northeast regions. This could potentially reduce unfair inequality. Policies can also be directed at improving access to care in rural regions, although this factor is not as important a contributor to inequality as it used to be. I guess the overall message is: there are several things that can be done to reduce unfair inequality in Brazil, but all depend on political will and understanding the importance of the healthcare system for the health of the population.