Working Paper 02-13 - Machines that go ‘ping’: medical technology and health expenditures in OECD countries
While rising health care expenditures as a percentage of national income is a well-known and widely documented feature across the industrialized world, it has proved difficult to quantify the effects of the underlying cost drivers. The main difficulty is to find suitable proxies to measure medical technological innovation, which is believed to be a major determinant of steadily increasing health spending. This paper's main contribution is the use of data on approved medical devices and drugs to proxy for medical technological progress. The effects of these variables on total real per capita health spending are estimated using a panel model for 18 OECD countries covering the period 1981-2009. The results confirm the substantial cost-increasing effect of medical technology, which may account for at least 50% of the explained historical growth of spending. Excluding the approval variables causes a significant upward bias of the estimated income elasticity of health spending and negatively affects some model specification tests. Despite the overall net positive effect of technology, the effect of two subgroups of approvals on expenditure is significantly negative. These subgroups can be thought of as representing ‘incremental medical innovation', while the positive effects are related to radically innovative pharmaceutical products and devices. The results are consistent with those reported in other studies which suggest that some new products, despite their high price when they are introduced, can ultimately save money by reducing spending on other medical interventions.
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