Quality and Equity of Care in the Veterans Affairs Health-Care System and in Medicare Advantage Health Plans

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BackgroundAfter an organizational transformation in the mid-1990s, the quality of care in the Veterans Affairs health-care system (VA) compared favorably with the quality of care in some private-sector settings. Whether this performance advantage has persisted, and also its relation to geographic and socioeconomic variations in care, is unknown.ObjectiveWe compared the quality and equity of care for older adults in the VA with that delivered in Medicare Advantage (MA) health plans using the same performance measures.Research DesignCross-sectional comparison.SubjectsA total of 293,554 observations from enrollees in 142 VA medical centers (VAMCs) and 5,768,573 observations from enrollees in 305 MA plans.MeasurementsAdherence to quality measures assessing diabetes, cardiovascular, and cancer screening care from 2000 to 2007.ResultsThe VA outperformed MA plans on 10 of 11 quality measures in the initial study year, and on all 12 measures in the final year. In 2006 and 2007, adjusted differences between the VA and MA ranged from 4.3 percentage points (95% CI, 3.2-5.4) for cholesterol testing in coronary heart disease to 30.8 percentage points (95% CI, 28.1-33.5) for colorectal cancer screening. For 9 of 12 measures, socioeconomic disparities (defined as the difference in performance rates between persons in the highest and lowest quartiles of area-level income and education) were lower in the VA than in MA. Across all measures, the mean interquartile range of performance was 6.7 percentage points for VAMCs and 14.5 percentage points for MA plans.ConclusionsAmong persons aged 65 years or older, the VA health-care system significantly outperformed private-sector MA plans and delivered care that was less variable by site, geographic region, and socioeconomic status.

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