Health policy has often been in the news headlines this month.
To cite three examples, CDC released a new report about causes of death. CMS published data showing wide variations in hospital charges for common procedures. And, in the context of a newly-reported Oregon Medicaid expansion study, states have been making decisions about Medicaid expansion.
Let's look at the mental health policy stories behind the headlines.
Suicide on the Rise
The CDC reported this month that as of 2009, there were more deaths from suicide in the United States than there were from motor vehicle accidents.
Suicide rates increased by over 28 percent among men and women aged 35-64 from 1999 to 2010. While men were three times more likely to commit suicide, the rate increased more for women (32 percent) than for men (27 percent).
Suicide rates are highest in the west, but they are increasing in 39 states.
Men are most likely to commit suicide with firearms, women with poison. The most rapidly growing cause is suffocation.
During the same period, results were down slightly among elders, and up slightly among youth. CDC speculated that the bad economy could be affecting rates. It also noted that baby boomers have had elevated suicide rates throughout their lives.
So what are we doing about this? The recent Medicaid and Medicare debates suggest a whole lot less than we should be.
Oregon Study Links Medicaid Expansion to Reductions in Mental Illness
By now, everyone knows that the Florida legislature decided not to expand Medicaid to over 1 million residents.
Florida isn’t alone – it looks like elected officials in approximately half the states will turn down Medicaid expansion for at least this year, and forfeit billions of dollars that could be used for patient care.
Many expansion opponents latched onto a study published this month in the New England Journal of Medicine to support the case against expansion. The study analyzed the results of an Oregon Medicaid expansion program over a two-year period. It concluded that the Oregon expansion had no effect “on the prevalence or diagnosis of hypertension or high cholesterol levels or on the use of medication for these conditions.”
Expansion proponents looked for a silver lining, arguing that the study also showed that Oregon’s expansion improved access to care and increased the use of preventive services.
But both seemed to overlook the study’s most definitive conclusion – diagnoses of depression went down by 30 percent among those covered by the Medicaid expansion.
Mental Health America notes that depression has been estimated to cost $77 billion annually. So how many billions could we save by cutting depression rates by 30 percent?
And why isn’t this garnering all the headlines?
New CMS Data Show Wide Variations in Payments for Psychosis Care
This past week, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released data on charges for hospitals throughout the country. The release attracted plenty of attention, because there were wide variations in what different hospitals charged for the “same level of care.”
CMS wants high-charging hospitals to lower their charges.
Those charges, however, may not be the most important numbers in the data. The real headline is in what Medicare actually pays for the “same level care” throughout the country.
If you suffer from psychosis, you’re better off being hospitalized in Maryland – where Medicare pays an average of $11,277 per discharge, twice as much as it does in a half dozen other states – than in any other place in the country.
The variation in payments in states – even within geographic regions – was astonishing. I put a table with the numbers for all the states on my State Rankings page, but here are just a few examples. Alabama hospitals were paid only $5,256 per discharge, while those in Florida were paid $7,006 and those in Georgia $6,605. Connecticut hospitals were paid $8,239 (note: the overall number of discharges was very small for Connecticut), while those in Massachusetts were paid $7,494. North Carolina hospitals were paid $6,188; those in Virginia were paid $5,851 and those in the District of Columbia were paid $9,444. California and Oregon hospitals were paid $8,916 and $8,816, respectively, but Washington hospitals were paid only $6,504.
You can see information for all the states here.
When we look at the three reports together, they certainly beg at least this question. Is this really the best we can do?
Paul Gionfriddo will be speaking at the breakfast meeting of the Middlesex (CT) County Coalition on Housing and Homelessness on Friday, May 17, at 8 a.m. It is open to the public; RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org.
To reach Paul Gionfriddo via email: email@example.com. Twitter: @pgionfriddo. Facebook: www.facebook.com/paul.gionfriddo. LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/paulgionfriddo/