There has been much hubbub about the New Yorker article comparing El Paso to McAllen and virtually nothing about Richard Cooper’s article, ”States With More Health Care Spending Have Better Quality Health Care: Lessons About Medicare.” (December 4, 2008 Health Affairs – Web Exclusive). It is easy to understand why.
The New Yorker analysis resonates to the mythology that pervades thinking about health - that there is great variability in costs of health care because in some areas physicians are not doing what is good treatment but rather taking actions that will only increase their income. The suggestion is made that where there are high Medicare costs it is because there is much waste and the suggestion is stretched to explain all the waste in health care.
Cooper’s analysis however looks at all health spending instead of the slice represented by Medicare data. Cooper finds that, “Medicare spending per enrollee correlates poorly with total health care spending per capita.” He takes it one step further with the data he presents to state that regional variation in Medicare is not a valid measure of how well the health care system is working.
My question is simple - then why do we keep using Medicare data the way we do?