Changing Mix of Medical Care Services: Stylized Facts and Implications for Price Indexes
The utilization of health care services has undergone several important shifts in recent years that have implications for the cost of medical care. We empirically document the presence of these shifts for a broad list of medical conditions and assess the implications for price indexes. Following the earlier literature, we compare the growth of two price measures: one that tracks expenditures for the services actually provided to treat conditions and another that holds the mix of those services fixed over time. Using retrospective claims data for a sample of commercially-insured patients, we find that, on average, expenditures to treat diseases rose 11% from 2003:1 to 2005:4 and would have risen even faster, 18%, had the mix of services remained fixed at the 2003:1 levels. This suggests that fixed-basket price indexes, as are used in the official statistics, could overstate true price growth significantly.
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