AHPP sponsors special journal issue on health service provider incentives

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A township health center in Shaanxi, PRC
Photo credit: 
Karen Eggleston
AHPP sponsors special journal issue on health service provider incentives

The Director of the Asia Health Policy Program, Karen Eggleston, served as guest editor of the International Journal of Healthcare Finance and Economics for the June 2009 issue. The eight papers of that issue evaluate different provider payment methods in comparative international perspective, with authors from Hungary, China, Thailand, the US, Switzerland, and Canada. These contributions illustrate how the array of incentives facing providers shapes their interpersonal, clinical, administrative, and investment decisions in ways that profoundly impact the performance of health care systems.

The collection leads off with a study by János Kornai, one of the most prominent scholars of socialism and post-socialist transition, and the originator of the concept of the soft budget constraint. Kornai’s paper examines the political economy of why soft budget constraints appear to be especially prevalent among health care providers, compared to other sectors of the economy.

Two other papers in the issue take up the challenge of empirically identifying the extent of soft budget constraints among hospitals and their impact on safety net services, quality of care, and efficiency, in the United States (Shen and Eggleston) and – even more preliminarily – in China (Eggleston and colleagues, AHPP working paper #8).

The impact of adopting National Health Insurance (NHI) and policies separating prescribing from dispensing are the subject of Kang-Hung Chang’s article entitled “The healer or the druggist: Effects of two health care policies in Taiwan on elderly patients’ choice between physician and pharmacist services” (AHPP working paper #5).

In “Does your health care depend on how your insurer pays providers? Variation in utilization and outcomes in Thailand” (AHPP working paper #4), Sanita Hirunrassamee of Chulalongkorn University and Sauwakon Ratanawijitrasin of Mahidol University study the impact of multiple provider payment methods in Thailand, providing striking evidence consistent with standard predictions of how payment incentives shape provider behavior. For example, patients whose insurers paid on a capitated or case basis (the 30 Baht and social security schemes) were less likely to receive new drugs than those for whom the insurer paid on a fee-for-service basis (civil servants). Patients with lung cancer were less likely to receive an MRI or a CT scan if payment involved supply-side cost sharing, compared to otherwise similar patients under fee-for-service. (This article is open access.)

The fourth paper in this special issue is entitled “Allocation of control rights and cooperation efficiency in public-private partnerships: Theory and evidence from the Chinese pharmaceutical industry” (AHPP working paper #6). Zhe Zhang and her colleagues use a survey of 140 pharmaceutical firms in China to explore the relationships between firms’ control rights within public-private partnerships and the firms’ investments.

Hai Fang, Hong Liu, and John A. Rizzo delve into another question of health service delivery design and accompanying supply-side incentives: requiring primary physician gatekeepers to monitor patient access to specialty care (AHPP working paper #2).

Direct comparisons of payment incentives in two or more countries are rare. In “An economic analysis of payment for health care services: The United States and Switzerland compared,” Peter Zweifel and Ming Tai-Seale compare the nationwide uniform fee schedule for ambulatory medical services in Switzerland with the resource-based relative value scale in the United States.

Several of the papers featured in this special issue were presented at the conference “Provider Payment Incentives in the Asia-Pacific” convened November 7-8, 2008 at the China Center for Economic Research (CCER) at Peking University in Beijing. That conference was sponsored by the Asia Health Policy Program of the Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center at Stanford University and CCER, with organizing team members from Stanford University, Peking University, and Seoul National University.

As Eggleston notes in the guest editorial to the special issue, AHPP and the other scholars associated with the issue “hope that these papers will contribute to more intellectual effort on how provider payment reforms, carefully designed and rigorously evaluated, can improve ‘value for money’ in health care.”