Importance: New US health care payment models have increasingly incentivized health care systems to promote health and reduce health care spending at the population level, with Medicare beneficiaries representing one of the largest populations affected by new payment models. Identifying novel strategies to promote health and reduce health care spending is necessary.
Objective: To assess whether the overall well-being of a population is associated with health care spending for people 65 years of age or older.
Design, setting, and participants: This US national, population-based cross-sectional study examined the association between county well-being and Medicare fee-for-service (FFS) spending. Population well-being, a holistic assessment of the overall health of the population comprising interrelated domains, including physical, mental, and social health, as measured by the Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index (2010), was linked to the mean spending per Medicare FFS beneficiary (2010) and county characteristics data for all US counties assessed. The data were adjusted for prevalence of 4 low-variation conditions (hip fracture, stroke, colorectal cancer, and acute myocardial infarction) and regional penetration of Medicare Advantage. Data analyses were conducted October 13, 2016, to October 31, 2017.
Main outcomes and measures: Mean spending per Medicare FFS beneficiary per county.
Results: In total, 2998 counties were assessed using county-level mean values, with 4 to 7317 participants (mean [SD] number of participants, 755 ) per county. The mean (SD) values of the demographic characteristics of the participants were 50.8% (1.3%) female, 74.9% (16.5%) white, 12.1% (13.0%) black, 4.0% (5.3%) Asian, and 13.7% (14.8%) Hispanic with a mean (SD) of the median county age of 38.2 (4.4) years. Medicare spent a mean (SE) of $992 ($110) less per Medicare FFS beneficiary in counties in the highest quintile of well-being compared with counties in the lowest well-being quintile. This inverse association persisted after accounting for key population characteristics such as median household income and contextual factors such as urbanicity and health care system capacity. Medicare spent a mean (SE) of $1233 ($104) less per Medicare FFS beneficiary in counties with the greatest access to basic needs than in those with the lowest access.
Conclusions and relevance: In this US national study, the overall well-being of a geographically defined population was inversely associated with its health care spending for people 65 years and older. Identifying this association between well-being and health care spending at the population level may help to lay the foundation for further study to first illuminate the mechanisms underlying the association and to second study interventions aimed at creating greater well-being and lower health care spending at the population level.