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Assessing the impact of high deductible health plans on health-care utilization and cost: a changes-in-changes approach

Authors

  • Bijan J. Borah,

    Corresponding author
    1. College of Medicine and Division of Health Care Policy and Research, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN, USA
    • College of Medicine and Division of Health Care Policy and Research, Mayo Clinic, 200 First Street SW, Rochester, MN 55905, USA
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  • Marguerite E. Burns,

    1. Department of Population Medicine, Harvard Medical School and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute, Boston, MA, USA
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  • Nilay D. Shah

    1. College of Medicine and Division of Health Care Policy and Research, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN, USA
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Abstract

High deductible health plans (HDHPs) have become an increasingly common form of benefit design used by employers to manage health-care costs. Numerous studies have evaluated the uptake and impact of HDHPs on health-care utilization. Most studies have employed the standard difference-in-differences (DID) methodology. In this paper, we employ three alternative methodologies to evaluate a natural experiment in which a traditional health plan was fully replaced by a HDHP. We implement the standard DID and the quantile difference-in-differences (QDID) estimators to evaluate the impact of the HDHP on following six outcomes: overall cost, medical cost, pharmacy cost, outpatient visit count, inpatient visit count and emergency room visit count. We compare these results to a changes-in-changes (CIC) estimator, a generalized version of the standard (DID) estimator. We find that both the DID and CIC models yielded similar results, while the QDID model provided additional insights on the HDHP impact across different parts of the outcome distributions. Overall, introduction of HDHP had no impact on health-care costs, positive impact on the number of outpatient visits and mixed impacts on the inpatient and emergency room visit counts. The QDID estimates suggest HDHP introduction generally impacted subjects in upper percentiles (50th, 75th and 90th). Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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