Optimal Price Rules, Administered Prices and Suboptimal Prevention: Evidence from a Medicare Program
Pricing methodologies in Medicare vary from one component of the system to another, often leading to conflicting incentives. Failure to recognize linkages may result in inefficient allocation of resources and higher overall costs. To motivate the analysis, I derive pricing rules for a welfare-maximizing regulator. I show that while optimal inpatient payments are standard Ramsey prices, optimal outpatient payments must incorporate net loss due to unnecessary hospitalizations, as well as supply elasticities. Ignoring this leads the myopic regulator to underprovide preventive services. The dialysis program is a useful case for empirical investigation, since payments for maintenance care are more rigidly determined than payments for related hospital care. Given constant prices, empirical analysis focuses on the effect of dialysis intensity on hospital use. Results indicate that greater dialysis intensity reduces hospital use, even at levels considered more than “adequate”. A simple cost-benefit calculation suggests that for every dollar of additional spending on outpatient intensity, about $2 in hospital expenditures can be saved. This suggests that the current pricing structure within aspects of the Medicare program is inefficient, underscoring the problem of regulatory myopia. Copyright Kluwer Academic Publishers 2004
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