July 12, 2010 1:56PM

Study: Competition Saves Lives in Britain’s NHS

This interesting NBER study just came across the transom:

The effect of competition on the quality of health care remains a contested issue.  Most empirical estimates rely on inference from non experimental data. In contrast, this paper exploits a pro-competitive policy reform to provide estimates of the impact of competition on hospital outcomes. The English government introduced a policy in 2006 to promote competition between hospitals. Patients were given choice of location for hospital care and provided information on the quality and timeliness of care. Prices, previously negotiated between buyer and seller, were set centrally under a DRG type system...

Our results constitute some of the first evidence on the impacts of a market-based reform in the health care sector. We find strong evidence that under a regulated price regime that hospitals engage in quality competition and that the 2006 NHS reforms were successful. Within two years of implementation the NHS reforms resulted in significant improvements in mortality and reductions in length-of-stay without changes in total expenditure or increases in expenditure per patient. Our back of the envelope estimates suggest that the immediate net benefit of this policy is around £227 million. While this is small compared to the annual cost of the NHS of £100 billion, we have only calculated the value from decreases in death rates. Allowing for improvements in other less well measured aspects of quality will increase the benefit, as will any further falls in market concentration which may occur as the policy continues in operation. If the UK were to pursue policies that lead to deconcentration of hospital markets, the gains could be substantially larger.

These results suggest that competition is an important mechanism for enhancing the quality of care patients receive. Monopoly power is directly harmful to patients, in the worst way possible - it substantially increases their risk of death. The adoption of pro-market policies in European countries, as well as policies directed at increasing or maintaining competition such as antitrust enforcement, appear to have an important role to play in the functioning of the health sector and assuring patients’ well being.

The study is, "Death by Market Power: Reform, Competition and Patient Outcomes in the National Health Service," by Martin Gaynor (Carnegie-Mellon University), Rodrigo Moreno-Serra (Imperial College Business School), and Carol Propper (University of Bristol).