Thursday, July 30, 2015

The market for health insurance price comparison

Internet has provided multiple option for price comparison through website aggregators. On health insurance you can find several alternatives. Is this market competitive? Who wins and who losses?. This is the question asked in a recent article in The Economist:
Consumers should celebrate that; the firms’ losses are their gains. But there is a catch. Comparison sites, whether for insurance or something else, introduce a new layer of costs, including their own splashy advertising campaigns. In theory, competition in the market for comparison sites ought to keep those costs down. But in a recent paper, David Ronayne of Warwick University argues that consumers often lose out from comparison sites. They earn a commission for each shopper who uses them to buy insurance. That referral cost is incorporated into the price the consumer ends up paying. If the increased costs outweigh the saving the comparison enables, consumers end up worse off.
And the proposal:
How can you ensure the market for price comparison is competitive? Asking consumers to check multiple websites defeats the point of using them. One solution is to have only one site, but regulate it as a public utility. Alternatively, the government could run the site itself—much as the American government now runs comparison websites for health insurance under Obamacare.
I think that this is the right approach, why not apply it here?

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Regulating sugar sweetened beverages

Searching for Public Health Law’s Sweet Spot: The Regulation of Sugar-Sweetened Beverages

Nowadays, obesity prevention lies at the heart on any public health policy. If sugar sweetened beverages contribute decisively to obesity, then something should be done. What?. A recent PLOS article explains the options:
The main regulatory approaches are taxes, restrictions on the availability of SSBs in schools, restrictions on advertising and marketing, labeling requirements, and government procurement and benefits standards.
On taxes:
Savvy regulatory design has tremendous potential. For example, there is growing evidence that taxes that are more salient to consumers, such as those included in a good’s posted price (rather than being levied at the register), are more likely to influence purchasing behavior
On public procurement, a practical suggestion for immediate application:
Restrictions on which beverages may be purchased using government funds are a less visible form of regulation, but one with potential to change the consumption patterns of large numbers of people. Outside public schools, these standards are most germane in two areas: procurement standards for public institutions (e.g., government agencies, hospitals, and prisons) and restrictions on what recipients of government benefits for the indigent may buy with those funds.
The UK’s Government Buying Standards prohibit central government bodies from  procuring SSBs larger than 330 ml and encourage the wider public sector to follow the guidelines. Massachusetts  and many US counties and cities have adopted nutrition standards for government contracts, but most apply to a limited set of institutions, such as childcare facilities or youth centers.

PS. My former posts on the same topic.
PS. Article: The impact of sugar sweetened beverages on depression risk in adults.
PS. Report: Scenarios of Macro-economic Development for Catalonia on Horizon 2030
PS. Report: FBBVA Essential Public Services.
PS. Report: Chronicle of a premeditated offensive.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Efficiency in drug patents buyout

Panning for gold: sourcing pharmaceutical innovation

Once upon a time there were pharmaceutical firms that invested mostly in internal R+D departments. Long time ago, the door was opened to contracting out, buying patents and licensing. The most recent step is to the acquisition of firms with promising molecules.
A short article in Nature sheds some light about the efficiency of recent mergers and acquisitions. And the summary is:
Our analysis suggests that most companies have a considerable opportunity to get better at deploying capital and resources efficiently when sourcing innovation externally. In our experience, we have found that the best performers develop robust forecasts for the key assets, are fiscally disciplined, and set up their innovation-sourcing teams and transaction capabilities to ensure that the right internal expertise is brought to bear and to ensure smooth hand‑offs through the life cycle of a deal.
The success lies within, the internal expertise is crucial. Have a look at the figure and you'll notice that the most efficient (defined as the commercial impact of the products acquired relative to capital deployed in M&As) is Roche. This is not by chance.

PS. Unfortunately, the study doesn't reflects any consideration to value in health or lobbying efforts in drug prices.
PS. FT's summer books 2015 

Monday, July 13, 2015

A closely guarded secret (2)

Direct Access Testing is the next battle for a new market for lab testing. This is at least what Theranos considers and has been lobbying for. Last December in The New Yorker there was an explanation about the firm and its goals. Afterwards JAMA added some caveats on the secretive way of conducting business and I wrote a post on that. Now The Economist has published an article with the details of the current situation about their business model.
Selling tests directly to the patient is a controversial issue. As in most of prescriptions, patients don't know enough to prescribe for themselves. However, how much is enough?. Arizona is starting to liberalise such prescriptions after Theranos successful lobbying efforts. Professional societies reflect in a position paper their perspectives on the issue.
My view is very straightforward: avoiding commercialism in health care. Under insurance coverage, prescriptions should be required after being cleared by regulators. Without insurance coverage, recreational tests have also to be licensed by regulatory authorities under a disclosure process that has not been the Theranos case. Nowadays, it still remains a secret. Selected tests could be accepted without prescription according to its implications on Health and information accuracy.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Beware of competition in healthcare

Competition among Health Care Providers – Investigating Policy Options in the European Union

Let's imagine an official in European Commission. They are in favour of more competition in health care and asks an expert committee to assess the issue. This is the concrete answer in selected statements from the report:
First, and foremost, introducing or increasing competition in the provision of health care services is a delicate policy exercise. The conditions for success and risks for failure need to be carefully assessed. In the right context, introducing competition may help to meet some health system objectives, although it is unlikely to contribute simultaneously and positively to all.

Neither economic theory nor empirical evidence support the conclusion that competition should be promoted in all health services

Neither competition nor strict reliance on government regulation will solve all health system problems. Attempts to avoid or correct market failure can result in government failure and vice versa.

Provider competition can contribute to improving value in health service delivery, but details about where, when and how to introduce competition are critical. Competition in health care provision will not solve all health system problems and may have adverse effects.

Competition is unlikely to achieve improvement in all aspect of health system performance at the same time. It will not solve all the trade-offs policy makers face between different, sometimes conflicting, health system objectives.

Competition can at the same time increase the number of services provided and billed, creating uncertainty in relation to overall health care costs. That is, the introduction of competition may well result in increased costs and add to fiscal pressures. Increased costs may, or may not, be justified by additional health benefits to the population (or some parts of the population).

As competition is an instrument, sound policy evaluation studies are needed to assess and judge its effects. Such empirical studies are currently rare and even absent in some countries.

The introduction of competition has uncertain effects on equity of access to health care, as it is conditional on the effects above and on the heterogeneity of patients. Empirical work has found that the introduction of competition among hospitals, in the UK, produced little or no result in equity terms. This limited evidence does not allow for general presumptions about the effects of competition on equity of access to health care.
Now it is crystal clear. The official has had a precise answer that it is exactly the opposite they were expecting. I've said the same in this blog several times. Take care.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Implications of real world data

Breaking New Ground with RWE

Some decades ago evidence based medicine was the key issue in understanding effectiveness in health care and drugs. Right now the new term is Real World Evidence. You'll not find it in the wikipedia, instead I would suggest you look at this IMS report:
RWE is drawn from robust anonymous patient-level data using sound scientific and commercial analytics. It is not about amassing "Big Data" so much as performing targeted analyses on ever expanding healthcare datasets.
While RWE is known to complement data from Randomized Clinical Trials (RCTs), its real potential is in moving decisions away from perceptions and broad extrapolations to the actual facts about patient journeys and outcomes. With innovations in data and technology, RWE is replacing other information sources such as non-behavioral primary market research (PMR), standard market reports, consumption/market data purchases, observational studies, and even selected spending on RCTs.
Its impact could be large if drug prescription decisions and pricing takes into account the outcomes from the "patient journey" as they say. This is a new paradigm with uncertain spillovers. The true evidence based medicine with the power of big data. We must be aware of it and follow it closely.

PS. How to introduce innovative medicines?. Have a look at this workshop.