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Massachusetts and Hawaii Offer the Most Cost-Effective Health Insurance Coverage

What makes a state’s health insurance successful for its citizens? It should be affordable, it should cover a lot of people, and it should manage its members well, keeping people healthy as measured both by preventive care as well as actual health outcomes.

It turns out that, using those criteria, the state with the highest Health Insurance Success Score (HISS) is Massachusetts. One would expect high quality, good outcomes and of course close to 100% coverage in the Bay State, but it also — quite surprisingly — ranks 5th in affordability, as described below.

Hawaii is a very close second. (One could also argue that Hawaii’s circumstances are unique and non-comparable because that state differentially attracts and retains healthy residents, but the analysis eschewed all subjectivity and second-guessing of the data.) Texas is last, one point behind Arkansas. In both the best and worst listings, there is a noticeable gap between the two states at the extremes and their respective runner-up pelotons.

Out of a potential overall score of 4 to 204 (4 would be a #1 ranking in all 4 categories), the top ten states would be:

The bottom ten states would be:

The 51-state (including DC) ranking may be obtained gratis from the author.

Affordability is measured using the Commonwealth Fund’s recent report on family health plan cost and annual deductibles by state, and is compared to the family income of that state. For instance, health insurance costs about the same in Maine as in Massachusetts…but Massachusetts median family income is about 40% higher. Therefore (and also because the annual deductible is lower in Massachusetts) Massachusetts ranks 5th in affordability while Maine ranks 46th, with health insurance taking a 34.8% bite of a median family’s income. (Massachusetts policies also pay for more services, like infertility treatments, but no attempt was made to capture and control for differences in covered services among states.)

Coverage is tallied using a recent Gallup-Healthways poll, which correlates with other sources.

Quality was derived by assigning the HEDIS health plan ranks to the states in which the health plans are listed as doing business. For instance, Harvard-Pilgrim Health Care, the country’s highest-rated plan, does business in Massachusetts and Maine, so each of those states would score a “1”for that plan and then lower scores for the other plans doing business in those states. Using the example of Hawaii, NCQA ranks four health plans doing business there. Those plans are ranked 37, 80, 104, and 286. The average of those four rankings is 127, good enough for second place behind Massachusetts, where the average plan licensed to sell health insurance is ranked 57.

Outcomes were trickier to measure. Though the criteria were equally weighted to avoid any element of subjectivity (and those who would like to weight the criteria can obtain the analysis from me and apply their own weightings), in my personal opinion, chronic disease outcomes matter a great deal. Health plans expend tremendous resources trying to improve them, as do employers through wellness programs and the states themselves through public health initiatives. Chronic disease outcomes are a combination of avoiding the onset of chronic disease plus keeping people who have chronic disease out of the hospital. The combination of those two endeavors can be summed into the rate of chronic disease inpatient events vs. the state’s population. Of course there was an adjustment for age in the commercially insured population using census data, as people 45-65 are much more likely to have chronic disease events than younger people.

Chronic disease events paid for with private insurance were gleaned from the AHRQ’s Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project (HCUP) database.

Principal diagnosis event rates would be the basket of ICD9s used by DMPC for its comparisons across health plans and employers in the five so-called “common chronic” conditions: asthma, coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and diabetes. (15 states still don’t report to HCUP. Their event rates were assumed to be average for their age distribution.)

HCUP provides total numbers of events. That figure is then divided by the Kaiser Family Foundation’s estimate of commercially insured people by state, in order to produce an event rate.

As mentioned, rankings were equally weighted to avoid subjectivity, but another stealth subjective factor is the choice of variables to rank. For instance, the current rankings reveal that, while high per capita income correlates loosely with top performance, low income correlates tightly with poor performance. And health status does correlate with people’s wealth, above and beyond anything that a state’s health insurers or medical system might do. If the adverse event rates are considered to be a function of both age and income instead of age alone and therefore to score high a state must “outperform” the expectation created by its own wealth, the rankings change as follows, with some movement among and in and out of the best ten but mostly compression of the top scores:

The lowest-ranked states are still the lowest-ranked states, even accounting for the more limited financial resources of their populations:

This HISS analysis is fully replicable. All the variables are completely objective and available to everyone using the links. The analysis itself – which is free for journalists, academic researchers, bloggers, federal employees and retainer-level members of the Disease Management Purchasing Consortium — may be obtained from the author. Rather than defend this analysis as definitive (and as many limitations as I could think of are listed on my website), I instead encourage people to improve upon this analysis and will be of assistance to anyone who would like to refine it.

Al Lewis, called “the country’s leading outcomes measurement guru” in the 9th Annual Report on the Disease Management and Wellness Industries, is president of the Disease Management Purchasing Consortium, www.dismgmt.com. He was founder and first president of the Care Continuum Alliance. An excerpt from his forthcoming book Why Nobody Believes the Numbers: The Outcomes Measurement Guide for Grown-Ups may be downloaded here. You can email Lewis for more info at diseasmgmt@aol.com.

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Shirly PertuitCecil McbridePaxton Pricefibromyalgia treatmentPeter1 Recent comment authors
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Shirly Pertuit
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Paxton Price
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Let’s see, Cape Cod or Honolulu? Hard to decide where to move to. Maybe my wife will finally agree to move when I show her we’ll save a ton on insurance.

fibromyalgia treatment
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Excellent ! will be active !

Nate Ogden
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Nate Ogden

http://www.dol.gov/ebsa/pdf/ACASelfFundedHealthPlansReport032811.pdf

Dafny, Ho, and Varela (2010) estimated a hedonic pricing model, using the LEHID, to conclude that employees prefered self-insured plans over fully-insured plans. The authors found the self-insurance preference to be above and beyond the appeal of lower premium payments (which are controlled for in the model). Given that self-insurance allows an employer to choose not to offer state-mandated benefits, this result suggests that employees valued the other attributes of self-insured plans more highly than they valued the state-mandated benefits that would be available under a fully-insured plan.

Nate Ogden
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Nate Ogden

http://www.ebri.org/pdf/FFE114.11Feb09.Final.pdf

45% of people with group coverage are in fully insured plans. That means 55% are in self funded plans. How can you measure quality with a opinion poll that excludes 55% of the population, that sounds like a major fault.

Al Lewis
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Whoa, guys… You are both raising points that can be argued, and that’s precisely why I am offering all the backup to folks to do further analysis. I personally like the idea of adjusting for some demographic factors, but I don’t know that one should “adjust” for diet and smoking rates etc. since if you ask most insurors and some employers, improvements in those factors are a focus of their DM and wellness efforts. And smoking rates are driven in large part by taxes on cigarettes, which tend to be lower in the South and border states. So unlike demographics… Read more »

Nate Ogden
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Nate Ogden

“That may in fact be because in their desire to attract businesses that could locate anywhere, some poorer states overlook the hidden costs created by low-wage businesses.” What would these be? Retail and fast food is pretty consistant across all states. Your remaining low wage jobs like Timber, Coal, Construction, etc are located where the trees, Coal, building need is. What location flexible business do they target? Auto, its comming from Blue states and is still more dominate in Blue States. Your not going to grow cotton in Mass no matter how much you pay per hour. Some other industries… Read more »

Peter1
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Peter1

“diet, genetic disease, poverty are not symptoms or curable by a healthcare system. If your trying to compare the effectivness of a system you must measure from the same base or an adjusted base that equalizes the populations.” No, but they’re all treatable by an affordable, accessible health care system, and the south’s failures are all inter-connected. You can’t judge a health care system in a vacuum of other social factors. The south continues to tell it’s citizens that unions are evil but low wages , poor access to health care, and poverty are the just alternatives. “are junk science”… Read more »

Nate Ogden
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Nate Ogden

Which is why all these studies getting press about american life expectancy are junk science written by quack academics who should be dragged out of their ivory tower and have some common sense beaten into them. Any system would look good if it only cared for Japanese or higher income white europeans. Take those exact same systems and plan them in Africa or South America they wont accomplish anything.Ugonda with the NHS isn’t going to see their life expectancy jumo 50%. You must control for what is a result of the system and what is the result out non measured… Read more »

Peter1
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Peter1

So what are we trying to adjust for? If the south is poorer, their diet worse, their education less, their environment less safe, their health plan cost to income worse, their rates of chronic disease higher, and their ethic and cultural mix skewed – let’s factor out the negatives so that we can cover up the facts and say it’s a great place to live if health care were not a factor?

Nate Ogden
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Nate Ogden

diet, genetic disease, poverty are not symptoms or curable by a healthcare system. If your trying to compare the effectivness of a system you must measure from the same base or an adjusted base that equalizes the populations. Otherwise a poor system starting with better inputs would appear better then a great system starting with a terrible input.

Nate Ogden
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Nate Ogden

ethnic and racial make up and those trends should all be adjusted for. A state with a large population of recent immigrants would have a much different health make up then HI which has a much moe stable population. Like the terrible life expectancy studies going around again factors that can’t be controlled by the health system should not be counted against the health system. allowance for plan type, while some states have 20%+ HMO pentration others have next to none. Its seems a lot of your measures would tend to favor HMOs or more managed plans In regards to… Read more »

Al Lewis
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It sounds like I should do an adjustment for a state’s ethnic and racial makeup in the next round? As mentioned above I would do another round when the new HCUP data comes in. I could add this adjustment as well. Expect something in January -February. Expect Alabama to shine. It was the best-performing state in its region in this analysis, so any adjustment that elevates southern states in general will elevate Alabama the most. Blue Cross is probably a more dominant carrier in Alabama than in almost any other state, and BCBSAL has won many awards for its excellent… Read more »

Roger
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Roger

The south has some core differences that will skew the results. I have always heard that the south has more medical problems than the north. Some of this is due to diet but also due to the environment. Also, the south has a higher black and Hispanic population that is both underinsured and has some differences in terms of health care, lifestyle, treatments and results, Shouldn’t the analysis be adjusted for regional bias since it isn’t the system that causes or prevents this. I don’t know how to normalize the data for diet and environment and cultural norms. I don’t… Read more »

Al Lewis
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Cedric and Steve, I can’t access you via the links in your comments, which are not to email addresses. (Your emails are not published.) Bill, you didn’t leave an email. If you are interested just contact me directly at alewis@dismgmt.com Nate, I would totally agree that my state-average HEDIS quality ratings are a blunt instrument to measure quality. As mentioned in the article, you are welcome to the HISS analysis if you would like to refine it further. (There was, however, enough clustering of quality ratings by state that I doubt adding self-insured non-NCQA plans would change the relative ratings… Read more »

Nate Ogden
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Nate Ogden

How does the quality measure adjust for the fact that 30-40% of the insured population is not in a plan rated by NCQA? Your inserting a bias against States that have a higher population of self funded members when in fact self funded plans perform considerably better on average then the NCQA plans. I also don’t see how you can measure affordability on the state level. A large portion of insured premium is determined by state insurance laws, coverage mandates etc. The income in Boston or the rich areas is many magnatude higher then the poor areas compared to the… Read more »