The availability of new technologies propels healthcare spending, according to a new report by the BlueCross BlueShield Association that focuses on cancer care, cardiac services, newborn care and diagnostic imaging.
Published on the Web site of the healthcare policy journal Health Affairs, the report finds a general pattern that more availability is associated with higher use and more spending.
The researchers find the strongest association for freestanding diagnostic imaging and less evidence of such a relationship for neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) and cancer technologies.
For example, with diagnostic imaging for both the commercial and Medicare plans, more availability of freestanding MRI facilities is associated with a higher number of outpatient magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) procedures per population and higher spending on outpatient MRI. An increase of one freestanding or nonhospital MRI unit per million population is associated with an increase of 0.93% in per beneficiary spending on outpatient MRI among the commercially insured population, the study says.
The report considers a range of technologies, from outpatient diagnostic imaging to inpatient radiation oncology facilities, and links measures of technology supply to spending for both elderly and nonelderly populations. The researchers selected technologies with the potential to be important cost drivers due to their costliness or because they are used to treat serious, expensive conditions.
Specifically, they looked at the effects of changing availability of:
- MRI and computed tomography (CT) scanners
- cardiac catheterization facilities
- percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty (PTCA) facilities
- coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) facilities
- hospitals with implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) capabilities
- cardiac intensive care units (CICUs)
- radiation oncology facilities
- positron emission tomography (PET) scanners
"Policy efforts should allow for the possibility that effects vary among technologies and that price dynamics and other aspects of the population and context can matter," Baker concludes.