Is There an “Efficient Frontier” for Medicare Payment Reform?

An Essay on Financial Health Risk Self-Selection

By Dr. David Edward Marcinko MBA CMP™


Health economist Austin Frakt PhD, of the Incidental Economist, alerted us to this recent publication “Achieving Cost Control, Care Coordination, and Quality Improvement through Incremental Payment System Reform”, by and from: (Averill, et al., JACM, 2010). The paper describes various Medicare payment reform methods.

The Abstract

The healthcare reform goal of increasing eligibility and coverage cannot be realized without simultaneously achieving control over healthcare costs. The reform of existing payment systems can provide the financial incentive for providers to deliver care in a more coordinated and efficient manner with minimal changes to existing payer and provider infrastructure. Pay for performance, best practice pricing, price discounting, alignment of incentives, the medical home, payment by episodes, and provider performance reports are a set of payment reforms that can result in lower costs, better coordination of care, improved quality of care, and increased consumer involvement. These reforms can produce immediate Medicare annual savings of $10 billion and create the framework for future savings by establishing financial incentives for long-term provider behavior changes that can lead to lower costs.

Patient Risk Sharing

Of course, the third dimension of risk [beyond traditional doctor/hospital provider and Medicare insurer] would be the risk borne by the patient insured (degree of cost-sharing or “consumer responsibility”). This relationship is represented diagrammatically right here:

Brief Review of MPT

Modern portfolio theory (MPT) attempts to maximize investment portfolio expected returns for a given level of risk by carefully choosing the proportions of various asset classes. As a mathematical formulation, the concept of diversification aims to select a collection of assets that collectively lowers risk [measured by standard deviation] more than any individual asset class. This pleasing point is known as the “efficient frontier.” And, it can be seen intuitively because different types of assets often change in value in opposite ways.

Is There an Insurance Efficient Frontier?

Health insurance [medical payment reform] econometric considerations may now be extended in this analogy to suggest that medical providers and CMS payers are the surrogates for two dimensions in the MPT. The third might be the risks borne by the patient insured (degree of cost-sharing or “consumer responsibility”), as above.


Then, patients could self-select where they wish to fall on the health insurance “efficient frontier”, balancing all three dimensions as in MPT, along with lifestyle and moral hazard considerations, etc.


And so, your thoughts and comments on this ME-P are appreciated. Is there an “efficient frontier” for Medicare payment reform?

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