Zirui Song*

Zirui Song*

Assistant Professor of Health Care Policy and of Medicine, Harvard Medical School
Internal Medicine Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital
*Harvard PhD Program in Health Policy Alumnus & Faculty Member

Dissertation Title: "Financial Incentives in Health Care Reform: Evaluating Payment Reform in Accountable Care Organizations and Competitive Bidding in Medicare"

Amidst mounting federal debt, slowing the growth of health care spending is one of the nation’s top domestic priorities. This dissertation evaluates three current policy ideas: (1) global payment within an accountable care contracting model, (2) physician fee cuts, and (3) expanding the role of competitive bidding in Medicare.

Chapter one studies the effect of global payment and pay-for-performance on health care spending and quality in accountable care organizations. I evaluate the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Alternative Quality Contract (AQC), which was implemented in 2009 with seven provider organizations comprising 380,000 enrollees. Using claims and quality data in a quasi-experimental difference-in-differences design, I find that the AQC was associated with a 1.9 percent reduction in medical spending and modest improvements in quality of chronic care management and pediatric care in year one.

Chapter two studies Medicare’s elimination of payments for consultations in the 2010 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule. This targeted fee cut (largely to specialists) was accompanied by a fee increase for office visits (billed more often by primary care physicians). Using claims data for 2.2 million Medicare beneficiaries, I test for discontinuities in spending, volume, and coding of outpatient physician encounters using interrupted time series analysis. I find that spending on physician encounters increased 6 percent after the policy, largely due to a coding effect and higher office visit fees. Slightly more than half of the increase was accounted for by primary care physician visits, with the rest by specialist visits.

Chapter three examines competitive bidding, which is at the center of several proposals to reform Medicare into a premium support program. In competitive bidding, private plans submit prices (bids) they are willing to accept to insure a Medicare beneficiary. In perfect competition, plans bid costs and thus bids are insensitive to the benchmark. Under imperfect competition, bids may move with the benchmark. I study the effect of benchmark changes on plan bids using Medicare Advantage data in a longitudinal market-level model. I find that a $1 increase in the benchmark leads to about a $0.50 increase in bids among Medicare managed care plans.

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