Durable Medical Equipment and Home Health Among the Largest Contributors to Area Variations in Use of Medicare Services

May 2012
Health Affairs , Vol. 31, No. 5
James D. Reschovsky, Arkadipta Ghosh, Kate A. Stewart, Deborah Chollet

Most analyses of geographic variation in Medicare spending have focused on total spending. However, focusing on the volume and intensity of specific categories of services delivered to patients could help identify ways to lower costs without having a negative impact on care. This research investigated how utilization in thirteen medical service categories in Medicare Parts A and B (for hospital and physician insurance, respectively) varied across sixty communities nationwide. Considerable geographic variation in the use of some service categories, although not all. It also found that local communities used very different combinations of types of services to produce medical care, that some service categories were substituted for others, and that the mix of service categories differed even among sites with high or low total medical utilization levels. Home health and durable medical equipment were major drivers of total geographic service use variation because of their variation across sites. They may therefore be appropriate targets for policy interventions directed at increasing efficiency. 

This research was funded by the Commonwealth Fund. Free access to the journal article is available at the Commonwealth Fund Web site.