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Medscape Medical News
US Health System Failing America's Sickest Adults

Megan Brooks
August 30, 2016

Twelve million US adults have three or more chronic illnesses plus a functional limitation that makes it tough to perform basic activities of daily living, and the US health system is not meeting their needs, according to new research from the Commonwealth Fund.

"The sickest patients have the highest medical spending but cannot reliably get the healthcare they need, even though they have insurance," Commonwealth Fund President David Blumenthal, MD, said in a news release.

"This is a sign that our healthcare system is failing its most vulnerable patients. Helping patients with the greatest needs should be among the very highest priorities for efforts to improve our current system," he said.

"We have known for a long time that there are very sick patients facing challenges in daily living and that our healthcare system has to do a better job of caring for them," added coauthor Melinda Abrams, Commonwealth Fund vice president for delivery system reform.

"This research shows us who they are, what their needs are, and how the system is, or isn't, working for them right now. This gives us a clearer picture of how to help them get and afford the care they need, so they're able to live their lives to the fullest extent possible," Abrams said.

Using nationally representative data from the 2009-2011 Medicare Expenditure Panel Survey, the researchers found that 1 in 20 Americans (5%) aged 18 years and older living in the community (or about 12 million people) suffer three or more chronic illnesses in addition to having a functional impairment.

Patterns of healthcare use and spending for this "high-need" group differ from those of other adults, including the 79 million with three or more chronic illnesses but no functional limitation, the researchers report.

For example, for high-need adults, average yearly per-person spending on healthcare services and prescription drugs is nearly three times the average for adults with multiple chronic diseases only (no limitations) and more than four times the average for all US adults.

High-need adults spend more than twice as much on average on out-of-pocket expenses as adults in the total population, yet their annual median household income is less than half that of the overall population. Out-of-pocket spending for adults with multiple chronic diseases and no functional limitation is about a third less than that of high-need adults, and their annual median income is about the same as adults in the overall population.

Table. High-Need Adults Have Higher Healthcare Spending and Out-of-Pocket Costs

"We are asking the sickest people to pay the most, when they have the lowest incomes," coauthor Gerard Anderson, PhD, a professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said in the news release.

The report also notes that 20% of high-need adults went without or delayed receiving needed medical care or prescription medication in the past year, compared to just 8% of all Americans.

According to the authors, more than half of high-need adults are older than age 65, and nearly two thirds are women. They are also less educated than US adults overall and are more likely to be white, low-income, and publicly insured.

Improving Care for High-Need Patients

A separate report released today by the Commonwealth Fund looks at health system performance for high-need patients and finds significant room for improvement.

For example, it notes that the vast majority of high-need adults (96%) have some kind of health insurance, but that doesn't always guarantee access to care.

Thirty-two percent of high-need adults with private insurance have unmet medical needs, as do 28% of those with Medicaid, 15% of those with Medicare, and 14% of those with both Medicare and Medicaid. High-need Medicaid beneficiaries have a harder time getting referrals to specialists compared to high-need Medicare beneficiaries or individuals with private insurance, the report notes.

The authors say that efforts to improve healthcare and rein in costs have centered on patients with multiple chronic illnesses, and they say even more priority should be given to people with multiple chronic conditions and functional limitations.

"The health care system needs to work better for the highest-need, most-complex patients. This study's findings highlight the importance of tailoring interventions to address their needs," the authors write.

Specifically, they recommend that private insurers consider how benefits and provider networks can be improved to help high-need enrollees. State policy makers should consider how to ensure that high-need adults enrolled in Medicaid are able to access needed specialty care, they advise. Also, initiatives that seek to improve care for high-need patients should target those most apt to benefit and tailor programs to their unique characteristics and needs.

The Commonwealth Fund. "High-Need, High-Cost Patients: Who Are They and How Do They Use Health Care?" Published August 29, 2016.

The Commonwealth Fund. "Health System Performance for the High-Need Patient: A Look at Access to Care and Patient Care Experiences." Published August 29, 2016.

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Date: 2016-09-02 07:08 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I hope this is widely read and acted upon. Though even with my extremely basic knowledge of US healthcare, my response was... well, the polite version is 'Empty litter tray, Mycroft's brother!'

Date: 2016-09-04 01:55 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Yes, this!

Date: 2016-09-02 09:35 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I concur with ankaret's assessment of the situation. =n=

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