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Cost-effectiveness of financial incentives for improving diet and health through Medicare and Medicaid: A microsimulation study

PLoS Medicine - Ma, 19/03/2019 - 22:00

by Yujin Lee, Dariush Mozaffarian, Stephen Sy, Yue Huang, Junxiu Liu, Parke E. Wilde, Shafika Abrahams-Gessel, Thiago de Souza Veiga Jardim, Thomas A. Gaziano, Renata Micha


Economic incentives through health insurance may promote healthier behaviors. Little is known about health and economic impacts of incentivizing diet, a leading risk factor for diabetes and cardiovascular disease (CVD), through Medicare and Medicaid.

Methods and findings

A validated microsimulation model (CVD-PREDICT) estimated CVD and diabetes cases prevented, quality-adjusted life years (QALYs), health-related costs (formal healthcare, informal healthcare, and lost-productivity costs), and incremental cost-effectiveness ratios (ICERs) of two policy scenarios for adults within Medicare and Medicaid, compared to a base case of no new intervention: (1) 30% subsidy on fruits and vegetables (“F&V incentive”) and (2) 30% subsidy on broader healthful foods including F&V, whole grains, nuts/seeds, seafood, and plant oils (“healthy food incentive”). Inputs included national demographic and dietary data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2009–2014, policy effects and diet-disease effects from meta-analyses, and policy and health-related costs from established sources. Overall, 82 million adults (35–80 years old) were on Medicare and/or Medicaid. The mean (SD) age was 68.1 (11.4) years, 56.2% were female, and 25.5% were non-whites. Health and cost impacts were simulated over the lifetime of current Medicare and Medicaid participants (average simulated years = 18.3 years). The F&V incentive was estimated to prevent 1.93 million CVD events, gain 4.64 million QALYs, and save $39.7 billion in formal healthcare costs. For the healthy food incentive, corresponding gains were 3.28 million CVD and 0.12 million diabetes cases prevented, 8.40 million QALYs gained, and $100.2 billion in formal healthcare costs saved, respectively. From a healthcare perspective, both scenarios were cost-effective at 5 years and beyond, with lifetime ICERs of $18,184/QALY (F&V incentive) and $13,194/QALY (healthy food incentive). From a societal perspective including informal healthcare costs and lost productivity, respective ICERs were $14,576/QALY and $9,497/QALY. Results were robust in probabilistic sensitivity analyses and a range of one-way sensitivity and subgroup analyses, including by different durations of the intervention (5, 10, and 20 years and lifetime), food subsidy levels (20%, 50%), insurance groups (Medicare, Medicaid, and dual-eligible), and beneficiary characteristics within each insurance group (age, race/ethnicity, education, income, and Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program [SNAP] status). Simulation studies such as this one provide quantitative estimates of benefits and uncertainty but cannot directly prove health and economic impacts.


Economic incentives for healthier foods through Medicare and Medicaid could generate substantial health gains and be highly cost-effective.

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