The American Journal of Managed Care July 2009
Medicaid Beneficiaries With Congestive Heart Failure: Association of Medication Adherence With Healthcare Use and Costs
Higher medication adherence among Medicaid beneficiaries with congestive heart failure was associated with lower healthcare utilization and lower costs, and the relationship to costs was graded.
The relationship between medication adherence rates and total healthcare costs was stronger when the most adherent beneficiaries were segmented into finer subgroups (Table 3). Beneficiaries with adherence rates of 99% or higher (nearperfect adherence) had 6% lower total healthcare costs, including drug costs, than patients with adherence rates between 95% and less than 99% ($16,989 vs $18,141, P <.01). The association of CHF medication adherence with costs was higher in absolute US dollars for dual-eligible beneficiaries adherent patients had annual costs (Table 4). Among dualeligible beneficiaries, adherent patients had annual costs (including drug costs) that were $7913 lower than annual costs of nonadherent patients, or 24% of the nonadherent mean (P <.01). However, the difference between adherent and nonadherent beneficiaries among non–dual-eligible beneficiaries was only $2859 or 19% of the nonadherent mean (P <.01).
Potential Savings to Medicare From Improved Adherence In 2002, approximately 13% of community-dwelling Medicare beneficiaries had CHF, and their mean healthcare costs were about $24,000.36 Because more than 90% of Medicare enrollees reside in the community and the total number of enrollees in 2002 was about 40 million, roughly 5 million community-dwelling beneficiaries had CHF. Based on the association between medication adherence and healthcare costs for dual-eligible beneficiaries in this study, we estimated total costs to Medicare assuming that a fixed proportion of enrollees were adherent (≥80% MPR).
Because the mean annual healthcare costs for nonadherent dual eligibles were 23% higher than those for adherent dual eligibles, we estimated that the mean annual healthcare costs among nonadherent beneficiaries were $28,374 compared with $21,750 for adherent beneficiaries. If 60% of enrollees with CHF were adherent and that percentage rose to 80%, Medicare costs would be $6.6 billion lower, or about 2% of total Medicare spending. This estimate is sensitive to the initial proportion of beneficiaries who are presumed to be adherent. If 65% are adherent, then savings are about $5 billion. Moreover, these savings assume that Medicare could achieve higher mean patient adherence at little or no cost. However, because we had only 1 year of data, it is impossible to estimate the effect of persistent medication adherence from one year to the next.
We conducted sensitivity analyses by specific drug subclass and by the number of distinct subclasses filled by beneficiaries. First, we specified the MPR as a continuous variable and estimated costs at various MPR levels (50%, 75%, 80%, 85%, 95%, and 99%). Consistent with our primary results, healthcare costs decrease monotonically as the MPR rises (Table 5). Second, we estimated regressions for the top 4 CHF drug subclasses (ranked by the proportion of patients with ≥1 fill) in the sample (ACE inhibitors, antianginals, βblockers, and diuretics) using only the MPR calculated for that drug subclass. Results for this analysis were qualitatively similar to those of the main analysis.
A potential analytical limitation is that our measure of mean adherence depends on the number of CHF medications a patient fills. To test whether the association between healthcare costs and medication adherence varied among patients with differing numbers of unique drugs filled, we estimated regressions for the subgroups of patients with 1, 2, 3, and 4 or more unique CHF drugs filled. Across all 4 groups, results were qualitatively consistent with those of the main analysis (Table 5).
The final sensitivity analysis examined the decision to estimate the relationship between medication adherence and healthcare costs contemporaneously. Estimating models in this way cannot account for the potential of reverse causality that healthcare outcomes cause changes in medication adherence rather than vice versa. Although the results of this research do not suggest that better adherence results in fewer adverse health events and lower healthcare costs, the inclusion of healthy sample members who adhere regularly to medications and have few medical problems other than CHF might bias our results. To test this hypothesis, we examined 1998 healthcare use and estimated 4 separate models for patients with a (1) a Chronic Illness and Disability Payment System score of 1 or higher, (2) a diabetes diagnosis, (3) a diagnosis of coronary artery disease, and (4) hospitalization for any condition. For all 4 models, the association between the MPR and healthcare expenditures was qualitatively the same as that in the primary analysis.
In our study, higher medication adherence among Medicaid beneficiaries with CHF and those dually enrolled in Medicare was associated with a lower likelihood of hospitalization and ED use. This study’s finding that adherent patients were slightly less likely to have a hospitalization is lower in magnitude than previous results among patients with CHF in which magnitudes were 8 to 10 percentage points6 and 6.1% to 8.7%.23 Findings on ED use were also lower in magnitude, although qualitatively similar.8 Unlike other research on patients with CHF that did not find or did not examine other outcomes, this study also finds an association between CHF drug adherence and the number of hospitalizations, hospital days, and ED visits. That nonadherent beneficiaries are more likely than adherent beneficiaries to experience more of these adverse health events is likely important to state Medicaid agencies and to the federal government, as these events are expensive. Among patients in this research sample, the mean inpatient costs in 1999 among those with at least 1 visit were $19,432, or more than $6000 per visit. Given the persistent financial problems plaguing Medicare and the high mean cost of inpatient visits, improvement of CHF drug adherence among its beneficiaries (particularly dual eligibles) could result in considerable savings.
The relationship between CHF drug adherence and total costs was stark. When the MPR threshold of 80% was used, total costs for adherent patients were almost $6000 lower per year (Table 2). Although no other research has reported such a relationship for patients with CHF, one other study6 found differences for commercially insured patients with hypertension and hypercholesterolemia.
This study also finds that the association between total healthcare expenditures and patient adherence is a graded one, challenging the 80% threshold used throughout the literature on medication adherence. Total healthcare costs of patients with adherence rates of 95% or higher were more than $3000 lower (almost 15%) than those of patients with adherence rates between 80% and less than 95% (Table 3). This result suggests that Medicaid agencies and the CMS could benefit substantially from interventions that improve beneficiaries’ adherence to CHF drug therapy (as long as the cost of these interventions does not exceed their potential savings).
Total healthcare costs of patients with near-perfect medication adherence (≥99%) compared with patients whose medication adherence was slightly lower (95% to <99%) were about $1150 per year (6%) less than those of patients with slightly lower medication adherence (Table 3). Whether it would be cost-effective for Medicaid agencies or the CMS to encourage near-perfect adherence compared with adherence at least 95% of the time is dependent on how much more costly it is to these agencies to achieve near-perfect adherence rates among their beneficiaries. Future research should consider quantifying how much it might cost these agencies to improve medication adherence for patients with CHF who are already very adherent.
There are some limitations related to the use of administrative claims data and reverse causality. First, using pharmacy data to measure adherence can inform us that a prescription was filled but cannot confirm that patients take medications as directed. As in other medication adherence studies, we cannot account for this bias. Further research is needed on the association of patients’ estimated medication adherence from claims with their reported adherence, possibly from surveys. Second, it was impossible to determine the severity of illness among patients with CHF by any means other than proxy measures. The association of medication adherence with healthcare utilization and costs might be different among patients having lower CHF severity compared with patients having higher severity. Future research should carefully address the association of CHF severity to inform policy makers of the risks of medication nonadherence among beneficiaries in the poorest of health. Third, our data did not allow us to account for important socioeconomic factors such as income or years of education. Because these factors are likely associated with drug adherence, their inclusion may have explained some of the variation in medication adherence across the sample. In particular, some research suggests that adherence to physician-recommended drug regimens (including adherence to a placebo) is associated with enhanced patient outcomes, indicating that researchers should attempt (whenever feasible) to examine as many factors as possible when estimating the association between adherence and patient outcomes.37-40
An additional limitation to this study concerns our inability to determine whether it is truly medication adherence that is the only factor associated with lower healthcare utilization and costs. It is possible that patients who are adherent to medications are also adherent to other types of treatments (such as exercise and diet), but it is impossible with these data to assess adherence to these treatments. Further research should attempt to compare adherence to pharmaceutical and nonpharmaceutical therapies versus their joint association with healthcare utilization and costs.
Finally, because we measured medication adherence, healthcare use, and healthcare costs contemporaneously, our results might be biased by reverse causality that high healthcare costs could cause low medication adherence. However, the intent was not to suggest a direction of causality but merely an association. Moreover, if the primary results were biased in some way, we should expect to find no significant association between medication adherence and healthcare costs among patients in poor health at baseline. Yet, sensitivity analyses dispute this hypothesis.
Author Affiliations: Mathematica Policy Research, Inc (DE, ADB, JMV, DSB), Princeton, NJ; Ortho-McNeil Janssen Scientific Affairs, LLC (MSK), Raritan, NJ.
Author Disclosure: The authors (DE, ADB, JMV, DSB, MSK) report no relationship or financial interest with any entity that would pose a conflict of interest with the subject matter of this article.
Funding Source: This research was funded by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services under contract 500-00-0047.
Authorship Information: Concept and design (DE, ADB, JMV, MSK); acquisition of data (DSB, MSK); analysis and interpretation of data (DE, JMV, MSK); drafting of the manuscript (DE, ADB, JMV); critical revision of the manuscript for important intellectual content (ADB, JMV); statistical analysis (DE, MSK); administrative, technical, or logistic support (DSB); supervision (JMV); and programming (DSB).
Address correspondence to: Dominick Esposito, PhD, Mathematica Policy Research, Inc, 600 Alexander Pk, Princeton, NJ 08540. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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