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Health Econ. 2010 May;19(5):608-27. doi: 10.1002/hec.1498.

Health expenditure estimation and functional form: applications of the generalized gamma and extended estimating equations models.

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  • 1Center for Financing, Access and Cost Trends, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD 20850, USA.


Health-care expenditure regressions are used in a wide variety of economic analyses including risk adjustment and program and treatment evaluations. Recent articles demonstrated that generalized gamma models (GGMs) and extended estimating equations (EEE) models provide flexible approaches to deal with a variety of data problems encountered in expenditure estimation. To date there have been few empirical applications of these models to expenditures. We use data from the US Medical Expenditure Panel Survey to compare the bias, predictive accuracy, and marginal effects of GGM and EEE models with other commonly used regression models in a cross-validation study design. Health-care expenditure distributions vary in the degree of heteroskedasticity, skewness, and kurtosis by type of service and population. To examine the ability of estimators to address a range of data problems, we estimate models of total health expenditures and prescription drug expenditures for two populations, the elderly and privately insured adults. Our findings illustrate the need for researchers to examine their assumptions about link functions: the appropriate link function varies across our four distributions. The EEE model, which has a flexible link function, is a robust estimator that performs as well, or better, than the other models in each distribution.

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