The impact of Medicare part D on income-related inequality in pharmaceutical expenditure

Natalie Carvalho, Dennis Petrie, Linkun Chen, Joshua A. Salomon, Philip Clarke

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2 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Income-related inequality measures such as the concentration index are often used to describe the unequal distribution of health, health care access, or expenditure in a single measure. This study demonstrates the use of such measures to evaluate the distributional impact of changes in health insurance coverage. We use the example of Medicare Part D in the United States, which increased access to prescription medications for Medicare beneficiaries from 2006. Methods: Using pooled cross-sectional samples from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey for 1997-2011, we estimated income-related inequality in drug expenditures over time using the concentration and generalised concentration indices. A difference-in-differences analysis investigated the change in inequality in drug expenditures, as measured using the concentration index and generalised concentration index, between the elderly (over 65 years) and near-elderly (54-63 years) pre- and post-implementation of Medicare Part D. Results: Medicare Part D increased public drug expenditure while out-of-pocket and private spending fell. Public drug expenditures favoured the poor during all study periods, but the degree of pro-poorness declined in the years immediately following the implementation of Part D, with the poor gaining less than the rich in both relative and absolute terms. Part D also appeared to result in a fall in the pro-richness of private insurance drug expenditure in absolute terms but have minimal distributional impact on out-of-pocket expenditure. These effects appeared to be short lived, with a return to the prevailing trends in both concentration and generalised concentration indices several years following the start of Part D. Conclusions: The implementation of Medicare Part D significantly reduced the degree of pro-poorness in public drug expenditure. The poor gained less of the increased public drug expenditure than the rich in both relative and absolute terms. This study demonstrates how income-related inequality measures can be used to estimate the impact of health system changes on inequalities in health expenditure and provides a guide for future evaluations.

Original languageEnglish
Article number57
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Journal for Equity in Health
Publication statusPublished - 16 Apr 2019


  • Concentration index
  • Health insurance, prescription drugs
  • Inequality
  • Medicare part D

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