Research Briefs and Snapshots

Ending the Opioid and Overdose Crisis

Mar. 30, 2021

The pandemic has worsened an existing drug overdose crisis that claimed the lives of more than 81,000 people in the U.S. from May 2019-June 2020. As the Biden-Harris administration firms up and implements its proposed response to the opioid epidemic, this brief provides evidence-based recommendations to consider.


We focus our recommendations on the evidence and our experience in three areas: reducing the demand for opioids through policies that increase access to prevention, treatment, and recovery services; reducing the harms from opioid use through strategies that reduce morbidity and mortality; and reducing the supply of opioids through opioid stewardship that limits prescribing by the medical community and promotes adequate pain management. We also address the accountability of the pharmaceutical industry in contributing to the crisis and recommend ways to target settlement funds for maximal impact on the communities most affected.

Public and Political Opinion on Medicaid

Issue Brief
Mar. 29, 2021

Medicaid has long been a political litmus test and a target for substantial programmatic changes. But what does the public feel about Medicaid, especially during a pandemic? In this study, the authors analyze more than one million Medicaid-related tweets from December 1, 2018 to September 30, 2020. They found a high volume of political posts on Twitter around Medicaid topics, peaking in January 2020 in the context of news about Medicaid expansion and the prior administration’s Medicaid block grant proposal. As the pandemic hit, the number of Twitter posts about Medicaid and the pandemic increased, and the volume of political tweets on other Medicaid topics dropped. The posts themselves also appeared to be less polarized. These patterns suggest that when the public sees Medicaid operate as a safety net, the program is far less polarizing than partisan politics might indicate. Highlighting Medicaid’s role during the pandemic could help strengthen public support for the program in non-crisis times and better position it to respond to future economic downturns.

The Future of Value-Based Payment: A Road Map to 2030

Feb. 18, 2021

The 2020s require a new strategy that moves from a short-term focus on testing new payment models to a long-term focus on expanding models that are most likely to generate substantial savings and improve quality. This white paper outlines a new direction for the federal government—primarily through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS)—to chart over the next decade aimed at completing the transition to a health care system that pays for value and reduced health disparities, rather than high volumes of services.

The Future of Value-Based Payment

Feb. 18, 2021

A decade of innovation and experimentation has failed to transform the health care system to one that pays for value rather than volume. It is now time to reconsider how value-based payment models can generate substantial savings and improve quality and health equity. Experts from the University of Pennsylvania, with input from a national panel of experts, reviewed the effectiveness of past payment reforms implemented by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and made recommendations about how to accelerate and complete the nation’s transformation to value-based payment. This brief summarizes recommendations that provide a path toward widespread adoption and success of alternative payment models, producing better health outcomes for all Americans, reducing wasteful spending, improving health equity, and more effectively stewarding taxpayer funds to support other national priorities.

Expanding Scope of Practice After COVID-19

Feb. 15, 2021

To expand access to health care during the COVID-19 pandemic, many states relaxed or waived regulations that define the scope of health professional practice. This experience highlights the need to ensure that all health care professionals practice to the full extent of their capabilities—an issue that predates and will outlast the pandemic. In a virtual conference on November 20, 2020, Penn LDI and Penn Nursing brought together experts in law, economics, nursing, medicine, and dentistry to discuss current gaps in health professional scope of practice, what we have learned from COVID-19, and how to rethink scope of practice to better meet community and public health needs.

Pennsylvania Scope of Practice Policy Brief

Jan. 28, 2021

Pennsylvania is one of 28 states that has not expanded the scope of practice in its licensure laws for certified registered nurse practitioners (NPs), who must maintain formal collaborative agreements with physicians to practice. For many years, proposals to update licensure and adapt it to make it more compatible with current models of collaborative care could not overcome legislative logjams. Recognizing an opportunity to break the logjam, the University of Pennsylvania held a virtual workshop on November 20, 2020, bringing together researchers, health professionals, and consumers to chart a new path forward. This policy brief summarizes their recommendations to update scope of practice regulation to better meet the primary care needs of Pennsylvanians.

Health Screening for Emerging and Non-Communicable Disease Burdens Among the Global Poor

Research Brief
Jan. 26, 2021

Among adults in rural Malawi, population health screening for high blood pressure (BP) led to a 22-percentage point drop in the likelihood of being hypertensive four years later. Individuals with elevated BP received a referral letter upon initial screening; at follow-up, they had lower BP and higher self-reported mental health than individuals with similar BP who were just below the threshold for referral. Population health screenings can reduce the burden of non-communicable diseases in low-income countries.

Duty Hour Reform and the Outcomes of Patients Treated by New Surgeons

Research Brief
Dec. 10, 2020

Despite concerns that duty hour reform might adversely affect the performance of new surgeons, this national study found no impact on patient outcomes, including 30-day mortality rates, failure-to-rescue, length of stay, and use of intensive care units. These findings should allay fears that reduced work hours during residency would produce surgeons less prepared for practice than their more experienced colleagues.

Are There Enough Experienced Physicians to Treat Patients Hospitalized With COVID?

Research Brief
Kira Rysinka, MD
Nov. 16, 2020

In this national study of 438,895 physicians, 45% provided care to hospitalized patients and 7% provided critical care. At the high estimate of patients requiring hospitalization at the projected peak of the pandemic, 18 states and Washington, DC would have patient to physician ratios greater than 15:1 (a level associated with poor outcomes among hospitalized patients). There was considerable geographic variation in the availability of physicians: 41% of hospital service areas did not have a physician with critical care experience.

FDA Restrictions on Mifepristone: Time for a Change?

Issue Brief
Sep. 10, 2020

Mifepristone, a drug used to manage early miscarriage or end an early pregnancy, carries unique restrictions imposed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Patients are required to pick up the drug in person
from a doctor or a clinic, even though they can take the drug at home. In July, a federal court ruled that the FDA must suspend these restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, for patients seeking an early abortion,
although the ruling did not apply to women with an early pregnancy loss. But the challenges to FDA restrictions on mifepristone predate the pandemic. This Issue Brief provides the context for this ongoing controversy, and
reviews recent evidence on the clinical and cost effectiveness of mifepristone for the medical management of first trimester miscarriage.

Chronic Hospital Nurse Understaffing Meets COVID-19

Research Brief
Aug. 18, 2020

A study of hospitals in New York and Illinois at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic found that most did not meet benchmark patient-to-nurse staffing ratios for medical-surgical or intensive care units. New York City hospitals had especially low staffing ratios. Understaffed hospitals were associated with less job satisfaction among nurses, unfavorable grades for patient safety and quality of care, and hesitance by nurses and patients to recommend their hospitals. 

Characteristics of U.S. Nursing Homes With COVID-19 Cases

Jul. 29, 2020

COVID-19 has had a major impact on U.S. nursing homes, resulting in a large and disproportionate share of COVID-19 deaths. Starting in April 2020, nursing homes were required to report COVID-19 cases to their state health department. Linking these reports to Medicare quality data, the authors examined the characteristics of 8,943 nursing homes in 23 states and Washington, D.C. Using data collected between April 22 and 29, they described the differences between facilities that reported COVID-19 cases (34%) and those that did not report cases.

What Do We Know About Health Insurance Choice?

Issue Brief
Jun. 30, 2020

From choosing a doctor to selecting an insurance plan, choices pervade nearly all aspects of our health care system. However, there is little agreement among policymakers and the public about what constitutes “choice,” which choices are important, and how and whether patients should be asked to make various health care choices. Although Americans claim to value having health insurance choices, research shows that when presented with options, people do not actually like to choose. Other studies suggest that people frequently make health insurance decisions that leave them worse off, or not much better than before. At Penn LDI’s Medicare for All and Beyond conference, a panel of researchers and policy experts discussed the current evidence around health insurance choice and implications for future health care reform efforts. This brief summarizes the panel’s key takeaways.

Payment and Pricing Decisions in Health Care Reform

Issue Brief
Jun. 23, 2020

Any effort to reform health insurance in the United States must tackle the prices we pay for health care. There are many complex challenges to addressing prices. Some proposals build on the existing Medicare fee schedule, while others suggest promoting alternative payment mechanisms—or even starting from scratch. The stakes are substantial, as many reform proposals rely on reining in prices to achieve the savings necessary to expand health insurance to the uninsured. At Penn’s LDI Medicare for All and Beyond conference, a panel of researchers, hospital administrators, and policy experts considered issues related to health care payment and pricing that any health care reform proposal must address, including the implications of rate setting for providers and patients. At what level should these rates be set to assure access and quality of care, while incentivizing innovation and rewarding excellence?

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